Best bike lights for road cycling
26th Dec 2012 | 08:00
Top options for urban/commuting use
Modern bike lights can be split into two main categories – lights for road/commuting use and lights for mountain bike use. It's important to be clear what type you're after, as they differ vastly in terms of light output, run time, weight and expense.
Mountain bike lights are largely about power – they need to light up unlit trails in dark woods littered with rocks, roots and other obstacles, generally only for short periods at a time. You can find out more about them in our Buyer's Guide to Mountain Bike Lights and Best Mountain Bike Lights round-up.
Road/commuter lights, on the other hand, are designed primarily to make the cyclist visible to other road users. Factors such as battery life, weight and side visibility are more important than pure power. Prices are a lot lower, too. These are the lights we'll be looking at in this article, which includes a comprehensive list of the best ones we've tested this winter.
Best light sets (these contain front & rear lights)
Niterider Mako 200/Solas USB
£89.99 / US$94.99
Bettering the excellent Lezyne Macro/Micro (see below) on run times and visibility, and with a front beam that’s almost as good for seeing with, these are winners in terms of a good all-round setup. The ratchet-style mount is easy to fit, but could be a little more secure where the lights clip in; also it’s quite easy to turn them on accidentally when they’re in your bag. Other than that, these are great: one purchase lets you both see and be seen, and you just pop them into a USB outlet for a couple of hours and you’re ready to go again. www.niterider.com / www.2pure.co.uk
Lezyne Macro Front Drive/Micro Rear LED
£84.99 / US$119.98
Two neat and simple lights that both offer good performance and simple band-on fittings. The front gives off a usable beam pattern with good contrast definition that’s easy to ride quickly with, yet also provides decent visibility. The rear could do with slightly better side visibility, but we’re picking holes in what is essentially a great set. We’d like to see better rubber covers on the switches, but again this is a tiny niggle. The rear light tended to vibrate a little after longer rides on a 27.2mm seatpost, but on larger seatposts this wasn’t a problem. www.lezyne.com / www.upgradebikes.co.uk
Topeak HighLite Combo II
£24.99 / US$29.95
A year or so ago these would have been criticised for the choice of battery, but the price of CR2032 cells has fallen dramatically (you can now buy a card of 10-12 cells for £3-£4). Given that, and the long run times, they’re one of the cheapest light sets to run. They’re also well made and offer very good visibility, though the front beam isn’t strong enough to see with on unlit roads – but then at this price they’re not designed for that. They’re quick and easy to fit, though the rear isn’t tool-free, and recessed buttons mean they shouldn’t get accidentally switched on. www.topeak.com / www.extrauk.co.uk
CatEye Econom (front) and Rapid 3 (rear)
£59.99 / US$97
CatEye's Econom front light has a useful beam pattern which is friendly to other road users and offers just enough power for riding quite quickly on road. Windows on the side of the light add a little to the already-good peripheral visibility. This set mates it with CatEye's Rapid 3 rear light, which offers great visibility without being too in-your-face. All this is topped off with the top quality construction we’ve come to expect from CatEye. And the rear light switches back on in the mode in which it was turned off. www.cateye.com / www.zyro.co.uk
Knog Boomer USB Twin Pack
£62.99 / US$79.90
These lights may be pricey but they offer enough to make them worth the extra money. The front light has a lens that focuses the LED to give enough light to ride by. The rear is very bright and has one constant and three flashing modes. They both ran for about 4hr 30min in constant mode. They also have a translucent body that magnifies the light, making these excellent for all-round visibility. www.knog.com.au / www.todayscyclist.co.uk
Revolution Flash Silicone
£9.99 / US$16.10
With front and rear lights offered separately, these lights pack quite a punch for the money. The front lens focuses the single LED into a direct and powerful light and is just enough forurban commuting. The light has two constant modes, and one flashing. In the constant setting it ran for two hours 30 minutes, and nearly 12 hours in flashing mode. The rear light also has two modes, constant and flashing. They're guaranteed for 500 recharges. www.edinburghbicycle.com
£10.99 / US$20
These lights may have a novelty skull-shaped silicone casing but the powerful LEDs inside are impressively bright. The lights offer excellent visibility but, as the LEDs are exposed and not behind a lens, you can’t use the front light to see with. Claimed runtime is 100 hours – we ran them for 24 hours on constant without any drop in brightness. The long hook-eyed loops mean these will fit to almost anything. www.skully.com.tw / www.ison-distribution.com
Best front lights
Cateye Nano Shot+ EL-625RC
£99.99 / US$120
Cateye’s light is tough and durable, the mount is simple and solid, and the power button at the rear is stiff enough to prevent accidental turning on – though you might have to hold the light while operating it to stop it twisting around the bar. The beam pattern is really good, with a hot spot in the middle that gives a long reach, and controlled spill for peripheral vision and visibility. It also features a mode we love called Hyper-constant, where one LED is on full power and the other flashes, giving good riding light and visibility together for just over two hours. www.cateye.com / www.zyro.co.uk
Trelock LS950 Ion
£129.99 / US$N/A
The price might seem steep, but this is a great light for all-round use, with an excellent beam pattern, simple and quick controls with digital display, excellent side visibility, and whopping run times in real world riding use.
Lumicycle LED3SI Elite26
£200 / $317
Amazingly well built, with excellent visibility and more than enough power for riding as quick as you want, and yet this Lumicycle light manages to be adaptable enough through the four output settings to be great around lit town streets too. The quality of the beam pattern and the visibility it offers thanks to the Glow-Ring lens bezel more than make up for two shortcomings: to get into flashing mode with the light on, you have to turn it off, and the mounting isn’t one-size-fits-all. www.lumicycle.com
The following lights all scored four stars in tests by Cycling Plus and Triathlon Plus.
- Gemini Olympia 1800 (6 cell) (£209.99 / US$299.99)
- Moon Meteor (£60 / US$N/A)
- Light & Motion Urban 200 (£89.99 / US$99.99)
- CatEye Nano Shot HL-EL620RC(£59.99 / US$90)
- Exposure Spark(£79.99 / US$140)
- Light & Motion Stella 300 (£169.99 / US$149)
- Moon X-Power 500 (£119.99 / US$N/A)
Best rear lights
£32 / US$N/A
Giving off an even glow that is visible even from 90 degrees to the side, the Comet is a very good rear light. There are six settings; the most impressive is overdrive where it kicked enough light out to illuminate the entire back wheel and road below. This is ideal when angled downwards (to reduce glare), and yet it still ran for nearly two hours. One very good thing about the light is that it comes with a mount for the saddle rails – if you have an aero section seatpost, being able to mount it to the saddle rails is a godsend. The only drawback we could find is that the button is difficult enough to locate when riding without wearing gloves. Stick on some gloves and it’s hit or miss. www.raleigh.co.uk
Topeak RedLite Mega
£24.99 / US$40
Offering excellent visibility without being distractingly bright, Topeak's RedLite Mega rear light is a well built bit of kit. It survived all of our abusive testing and offers great all-round visibility with a simple to fit but secure mounting system. There are some flashing modes which are a little on the gimmicky side, but beyond that the fact remains that this is still one of the best rear lights out there for being seen from behind and surviving life in the cold and wet winter months. www.topeak.com / www.extrauk.co.uk
The following lights all scored four stars in tests by Cycling Plus and Triathlon Plus.
- Light & Motion Vis 180 Micro (£39.99 / US$49)
- Electron Tristar (£14.99 / US$N/A)
- Fibre Flare (£27.99 / US$39.99)
- Moon Shield 60 (£44.99 / US$72)
- RSP Urban (£20 / US$N/A)
For more reviews, see the Lights section of our Bikes & Gear browser.
What should I look for?
What you need from a light depends a lot on the type of riding that you’ll be doing. If your commute takes you onto unlit roads or you’re up for some fast winter training times, you’ll need something that has a bright, far-reaching beam to light the road in front of you. Rechargeable batteries and battery indicator lights are useful when you’re out and about regularly.
If you’re keeping to street-lit areas with traffic, it’s all about being noticed by other road users – there are a lot of relatively inexpensive lights out there with long run times that will keep you visible from a range of angles without dazzling other road users. A light setup that attracts attention is what’s needed, but don’t just stop at lights, because this is where a reflective vest, sash, or backpack cover can come in very handy too.
Most lights use LEDs. Light emitting diodes emit light by being switched on and off quite quickly. If switched on and off for different lengths of time, it’s possible to increase or reduce light output. They’re very dependent upon the voltage for their efficiency.
Light mounts needs to be strong enough to hold the light over eye-rattling bumps, but also offer a quick-release style system that lets the light be easily and quickly removed. Mounts that require no tools to fit are a bonus, but this is by no means a necessary feature.
Switches and modes
The switch should be easy to use when riding, but hard to turn on accidentally to prevent the dreaded flat battery experience when you get your light out of your bag. They need to be well sealed, and offer at least one flashing mode and constant.
Some lights feature a beam pattern similar to that of a car or motorbike. This means the top of the beam pattern is essentially cut off, allowing a nice bright light to be used without it spilling upwards and dazzling other road users.