It’s hard to believe that something so small and seemingly insignificant could be so important. Whether you’re riding at night, in adverse weather conditions or casually cruising on a bright and sunny day, a front and rear bike light are items you don’t want to leave home without. You can make an easy argument that in addition to a helmet, bike lights are the most important accessory a cyclist can buy. They make commuting in low or no-light situations safer, and can also extend your riding window, allowing you to ride on or off road in the early morning, evening, or even in the middle of the night. Here’s our quick rundown of bike light features:
Lumens are a measurement of the total amount of visible light emitted from a source. While flawed, this final measure still offers a somewhat accurate means of comparing the brightness of different lights, especially those from the same manufacturer. Here’s a basic breakdown of lumen output levels.
25-50 lumens: Safety lights to let drivers see you
100-200 lumens: Bright enough to actually be able to see with
200-300 lumens: Great for road riding
400+ lumens: Appropriate for road and mountain bike riding
600+ lumens: So bright motorists will think a UFO is about to abduct them
Virtually all of today’s bike lights use some form of light emitting diodes (LED). Compared to the halogen and HID bulbs used of the past, LEDs have longer run times, are brighter and have a longer lifespan. Halogens might have to be replaced yearly. LEDs last the life of the light. LED’s are also less fragile, making them perfect for withstanding the rigors of mountain biking — and even the occasional crash.
Different light patterns are cast depending on the bulb and its reflector. The most common patterns are floods and spots. Floods project light in a broad swath, usually around 30 degrees. For the same lumens its light is less bright and more diffuse than a spotlight. But the wider coverage enables you to see potholes that are not in your direct line of sight, and even the loops and turns of a rocky mountain bike trail. However, distant objects are harder to see when using a floodlight. Spots, on the other hand, have a tighter, 10-degree lighted area and more concentrated pattern, making them suited for a rider wanting to see farther up. Spotlights are great for faster road rides.
Modern rechargeable lighting systems commonly use two types of batteries: Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries are lighter for comparable run times than Nickel Cadmium (NiCad) and sealed lead acid (SLA) batteries. They are reasonably priced and last a long time. Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) use the same batteries found in modern electronic gadgets like iPods and mobile phones. These batteries have a much higher energy density than traditional bike light batteries like NiMH. This means that Li-Ion batteries store more electrons by volume than other batteries which in turn means you can have longer run times with a lighter battery.
Daytime Running Lights
While lights are important no matter what time of day you’re riding, Daytime Running Lights are often overlooked or just flat-out ignored by riders. However, studies have shown that running your lights during the daytime helps keep you safe by improving rider visibility and increasing driver awareness. With just 35 lumens, a simple press of a button can keep you visible up to one mile. In addition to a high intensity spot light for distance, you also need a disruptive light pattern to grab attention. Safety flash modes are the key to standing out on the road during the day. Combined with Hi-Vis clothing, a flashing daytime light will help keep you visible in just about any environment.
Every year, bike-light technology is improving. If you’re an active rider, it’s always good to check-in once in a while to see what’s available on the market. This year, we’re really excited about the New Lezyne and Axiom bike lights that just came out. Here are some of our top pics from this new line:
Lezyne Hecto Drive 350XL Cycling Light Combo
Exclusive to Performance Bicycle, the Lezyne Hecto Drive 350XL light combo is a multi-purpose LED cycling light that is compact, durable and heat-dissipating. With 350 lumens, this light is ideal for long distance road riding. The Hecto has a Mode Memory function that returns to the selected mode after turning it off; a very handy function to have, especially when you’re on the move. But the real cool thing about this light is Lezyne’s Maximum Optical Reflection, a lens with built-in side visibility. It also has an integrated USB stick for easy charging.
The KTV taillight has a max of only 7 lumens. But it has the safety flash modes essential to daytime riding, plus memory mode function as well as side visibility cutouts for 180 degrees of visibility. Both lights are weather resistant with a durable, silicon rubber strap that allows you to place the lights virtually anywhere on your bike. For under $50, this is a great Light Combo that’s very versatile, for just about any environment. A good all-around light combo.
Lezyne Micro Drive 1100XL Cycling Light
This compact headlight packs a whopping 1100 lumens! If you want to go bright, the Micro Drive 1100 is one of the brightest we carry. Like the Hecto, the Micro is weather resistant and made from a lightweight and durable aluminum cast with heat-dissipating qualities. And with 1100 lumens, you’re going to need it! Lezyne’s Maximum Optical Reflection lens and Memory Mode function are featured and the Micro’s unique design actually maximizes side visibility for increased safety. The runtime on this is 78 hours on the lowest setting of 15 lumens and 1 hour and 20 minutes when using the full 1100 lumens. If you want a light that’s tough, dependable and simple to use with an incredible output, the Lezyne Micro Drive is the light to get.
NiteRider Lumina 550 Headlight Combo
The NiteRider Lumina 550 Headlight Combo is one of our bestselling bike lights. At 550 lumens, this headlight is plenty bright and very versatile, with four operating modes including daylight flash mode. NiteRider’s patented “Intellicharge” makes charging twice as fast. The Lumina’s runtime lasts up to 21 hours using the lowest setting.
The Sabre 50 is also plenty bright for a tail light, with 6 different operating modes including a variety of daylight flashing modes. Runtime for this light is 7.5 hours on its lowest setting. Both lights are USB chargeable.
Axiom Lazerbeam 180 Tail Light
At 180 lumens, this tail light is an awesome sight! Designed with a high precision optical lens this high-intensity red LED will light up the road. The Axiom Lazerbeam 180 features 8 operation modes, good for both daytime and night time riding, and includes a built-in USB rechargeable lithium polymer battery. Memory Mode will, of course, keep your original setting and a tool-free seatpost, seat rail mount and belt clip are included for easy installation. This a great tail light for any riding condition.
The type of lights you need will depend primarily on the type of environment and time of day, you will be riding in. If you’re a commuter in an urban area, it will not be necessary to ride with a high output light at night, since there will be other ambient lighting to help light your way. So, in this case, a mid-range light would do the trick. (50 to 300 Lumens should be fine.) However, in a more rural setting, you’ll need a higher output when riding at night. In this scenario, there will be little to no ambient light available, so not only do you need to be seen by passing vehicles, you’ll need that high-output to also see where you’re going. For daytime riding, a mid-range light combo with a daylight flash mode should be perfect. But, if you’re on a serious budget, any light is better than no light, and there’s also some very good, low-intensity lights available on the market as well. Just don’t forget to turn them on!
For more information, be sure to check out our Buyers Guide to Lights and Accessories.