- A good bike light is a difference maker. And by “good,” we mean “good for you” — is it portable enough for you? Is it bright enough? Does it fit your needs?
- If you find the right light, you will almost certainly ride your bike more. And more bike rides / fewer car rides is a win on multiple fronts.
- Once you decide to buy a bike light, you will very quickly realize just how many options there are to choose from…
Considerations (Some Obvious, Some Not)
Lumens: How Many Do You Need?
Well, you need the number of lumens that will keep you safe. (Yep, a nice circular answer.)
Bike lights come in a range of 50 to more than 800 lumens. Most front lights with less than 300 lumens seem to be more about making the cyclist visible to cars than actually illuminating the route. Of course, if you’re looking for lights designed for serious night races / 24-hour masochism glorified as “endurance races,” you’ll find options that run up to 3600 lumens.
The lumens required for safety revolve around a few variables.
(1) How familiar are you with the routes you ride? If your night riding is on the same route every night, you may not need as much light because you know the terrain better. On the other hand, if you find yourself using the light for unfamiliar routes frequently, you are probably going to want a more powerful light, something in the 500 to 800 lumen range.
(2) If your route involves higher speeds, then you need a light that illuminates longer distances so that you can stop before impacting an obstacle. If, on the other hand, your ride is mostly low speed, your light need not illuminate as far, and something in the 150 – 300 range will probably suffice.
(3) How many bells and whistles do you want or need? Do you prefer enough settings so that you can adjust your light to the exact riding conditions, Or do you prefer one setting that will work for a broad range of conditions?
Personally, after several months of riding with a number of different lights, I found that:
– 300 lumens was the lower limit of what I would consider to be useful for daily commuting.
– 500 lumens was a very nice light level that balanced illumination and battery life.
– 800 lumens is quite bright, but given the low speeds on my commute, I didn’t feel like I needed the extra light. Perhaps if I had unpaved sections, more challenging terrain, or high speed downhills, the added light might be more important.
Weight: Does It Matter?
Keep in mind that weight of a light and its number of features are often in an inverse relationship.
Another relationship that seems to hold true across many lights is that the heavier the light, the longer the battery life.
Be sure to think about how much you want to fiddle with settings to get the light just right and how often you are willing to have to charge the light.
All but one of the lights in this review utilize a USB to microUSB cable for charging. You can still find lights that operate on batteries, but between the cost, added weight, and increased environmental impact, we aren’t sure why you would or should?
Even after contemplating these questions, I was still surprised by one factor I had not considered…
Quality of the Light Mount / Handlebar Interface
The quality of the mount that attaches the light to the bike can make or break a user’s overall experience. Consider where on your bars you plan to mount the light, and consider if you use bar tape or not on that area.
Now onto the lights!
Next: Front Lights