Bike lights are a crucial safety addition for summer rides that can stretch into twilight hours. Most bike lights have multiple power settings and promise a long battery life.
Some riders want a steady light for visibility while others prefer a flashing option to attract attention, especially for those with photosensitive epilepsy or who are sensitive to blinking lights.
The brightness of your bike light can make a huge difference to the safety of you and other riders as well as motorists and pedestrians. For example, a rear light that’s too bright can easily blind other road users, so it should have an adjustable brightness setting to avoid this issue.
A rear light’s brightness is typically measured in lumens. A brighter light will illuminate a larger area to help you spot potential hazards. It will also have a power-saving mode to keep the light on longer so you can ride safer at night.
The brightness of a headlight will depend on the conditions you will be riding in. For example, if you are in areas with plenty of street lighting, then a lower brightness is likely sufficient. On the other hand, if you are heading out on dark back roads and trails, a brighter light will be required. Most lights have multiple settings, with the most common being a steady brightness and a flashing option.
The beam pattern of a bike light can greatly affect its effectiveness. For instance, you may need a narrower spot light to illuminate your path on city streets with lots of streetlights or a brighter, wider headlight for off-road riding.
Some lights, such as a flashing rear blinker, are designed to make you stand out to drivers by drawing attention with an erratic pattern. Those types of lights are often USB-chargeable and mount to handlebars with a simple rubber band or Velcro system.
Other lights, such as a front fog light, offer a wide distribution of light with little backlight to increase visibility in foggy or dusty conditions. The KC Fog Beam is great to pair with your high-beam headlights.
Modern rechargeable batteries in bike lights can be recharged hundreds of times before they run out of power. However, it’s important to keep them charged and in a good condition.
Compared to older halogen and metal-halide bulbs, LEDs produce much more light per watt. This has helped to make lights lighter and with longer run times.
Most bike lights have multiple power settings, and most have flash modes to signal your presence to other road users. Some have an accelerometer that senses your slowing or stopping, and switches to a brighter mode to alert drivers of your actions.
Complaints of blinding glare from other riders’ lights have led to the development of new low-cost bike lights with horizontal beam cutoffs. The Cateye Volt 700 and Cygolite Expilion are two examples.
Lights serve two purposes, one to make cyclists visible to others and the other to illuminate the road and surroundings. For the former, a bright light with an attention-grabbing flash pattern is needed. For the latter, more akin to a headlight on a car, the aim is to see where you’re going, ideally at a comfortable speed.
Lighting laws in many places require riders to use a front and rear light, especially for road cycling at night and in areas with limited or no street lights. These lights are a critical component of cyclist safety and a key reason why many people choose to ride at night.
Over the past decade big improvements have been made to light output and weight thanks to efficient LED lamps that put out more light per watt and lithium batteries that pack more power into smaller packages. Look for durable, no-slip attachments; a quick-release for easy removal of the battery pack for charging and theft prevention; and a battery indicator that signals when it’s time to recharge.