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Best bike lights: stay seen while riding

Cyclist magazine
5 Nov 2020

A selection of the best front and back bike lights for winter and night cycling, plus what to look for when buying

The nights have drawn in and it’s increasingly essential to find yourself a good set of bike lights. Useful if you want to add some daytime visibility, a pair is a legal requirement for anyone out on the road after sunset. Happily, the latest bike lights are easily small and bright enough to help you see and be seen.

Spanning everything from diminutive units that can be attached in multiple positions, to smart systems that can communicate with your bike computer and auto-adjust to match your speed, we’ve pulled together a selection of the latest and greatest.

Which bike lights are best for me?

With better LEDs, lenses and batteries, some bicycle lights are now as powerful as those found on motorbikes. Great for illuminating the road and riding in unlit areas, they can be overkill when used in built-up areas.

Generally speaking, if you’re cycling in town, look for something that kicks out a broad beam, while if you’re planning to ride off the beaten track you’ll want a more focused beam to help spot upcoming obstacles.

The brightest lights will often have a lower setting for built-up areas. Using this will prevent dazzling oncoming traffic and preserve your battery.

How bright do my lights need to be?

Measuring output should be a simple task, but sadly there is no industry standard – so manufacturers can sometimes get a little carried away.

Most quote a figure in lumens, which is the total light output. However, lux (a measure of lumens per unit of area), gives a more representative figure.

A rule of thumb is that front lights described as producing 400 lumens or more will normally give some useful forward illumination while being more than bright enough to stand out in traffic. Those kicking out over 800 lumens will let you ride at pace away from overhead lighting.

On the rear of the bike, anything above 20 lumens will give drivers no excuse for missing you.

If you want to also use your rear light as a daytime running lamp, look for something with a pulse setting above 50 lumens. It’ll need the extra power to stand out during daylight hours.

Here’s our pick of the best front and rear bike lights to keep you cycling through the winter

1. Cateye Sync Range 

A suite of lights, all of which can be synchronised and controlled via the front unit or an app on your phone. Allowing front, rear and supplementary lights to be switched on and off simultaneously, a smartphone is required to first link each to the network.

Front Sync Core 500 LM

 

With a chunky 500 lumens output and enhanced side visibility, the Core 500 LM lets you activate any other paired lights via its single button. Formerly small for such a bright light, other brands may have since overhauled Cateye when it comes to maximum output.

Still, the Core 500’s build quality remains impressive, plus it’s compatible with Cayeye’s extensive and easy-to-fit range of brackets. With a round beam pattern and OptiCube lens, it'll do for short excursions down unlit roads when used on full-power, although doing so will drain the battery in around two hours.

Thankfully longer performance is given by the nine hours provided in medium mode, while this can be stretched to around 120 hours if used in flashing mode.

Rear Sync Kinetic

With a built-in accelerometer, the Kinetic knows when you’re slowing down, and will let following traffic know too. It does this by firing off a burst of high-intensity flashes as you decelerate.

Bright enough to also function as a daytime running light, it has a maximum 50 lumen output and can sync with all other products in the range via BlueTooth.

Sync Wearable

Added to a backpack, helmet or jacket, the 50 lumen Sync Wearable can be placed wherever you feel the need for extra illumination.

Lasting for up to 45 hours if used on the slowest flashing mode, these USB rechargeable dots are a powerful, if expensive way to add extra visibility.

2. Bontrager Ion Pro RT/Flare RT Light Set

Ion Pro RT

With ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart connectivity, the Ion Pro RT can connect to Garmin or Bontrager head units and can be controlled from there to come on when you set out for a ride.

Despite its small size, it crams in 1,300 lumens, easily enough to light your way off-road. Although this will see you burn through the battery in an hour and a half, switching down to 400 lumens will give you a respectable six-hour run-time.

Flare Rt2 

This rear light packs in the same smart synchronising feature set as the Ion Pro RT. With up to 90 lumens for six hours available the Rt2 has a maximum run time of 13.5 hours plus a 30 minute low battery mode in case you get caught out.

Along with five lighting modes, there is an ambient light sensor to allow auto-brightness and it’s all powered by a single CREE LED.

Buy now from Trek Bikes for £44.99

3. NiteRider Lumina 850 and Sabre 80 light Set

NiteRider has a good reputation for making robust lights. The Lumina 850 is actually one of its smaller options, but while the size and output might be less than its bigger siblings, the build quality is just as bombproof.

Made of a mix of aluminium and composite material, the Lumina’s 850 lumen output and Collimator lens provide enough light to see where you’re going, even when riding at a reasonable pace.

Leave it on full-gas and you’ll get a 1.5 hour burn time, while its lowest 150 lumen flash settings provide up to 35 hours of light. Once you drop to 20% juice remaining, this is indicated by a red coloured LED hidden behind the light’s on/off button.

A pleasingly chunky light, the slightly unwieldy size of its bracket is less welcome, although not enough to spoil the product.

Bringing up the rear is the matching 80 lumen Sabre unit. Equally robust, it’s output is more than enough for riding on lonely roads. Like the Lumina, it also features a daytime flash setting.

Depending on the mode employed, expect a burn time between 1.5 and over 10 hours. Its quick-to-fit rubber seatpost mount is better than the fixing on the Lumina, while the light itself also includes a clothing clip for fitting it to yourself or a backpack or pannier.

4. Beryl Laserlight and Pixel

Beryl Front Laserlight 

UK-based Beryl makes a range of smart lighting solutions, including the laser-projecting lights embedded on TfL’s rental fleet. The posher of its consumer units also manages a similar trick.

With an aluminium casing, 300 lumen output, and an extremely neat and robust metal clamp mechanism, the Laserlight’s main party-piece is its ability to project a green laser outline of a cyclist ahead of its user.

Letting other road users know of your imminent arrival, it’s a great extra on an otherwise strong product.

Buy now from Beryl for £125

Beryl Pixel

A lot cheaper, but almost as smart is the brand’s dual-colour Pixel light. This USB rechargeable light can switch from white to red at the push of a button.

Making it a great additional option to have in your illumination armoury, it provides a 10 hour run-time, pleasing pulsing mode and minimal 18g weight. Clipping onto rider or bicycle, it’s also IP54 waterproof rated.

Buy now from Beryl for £19.99

5. Garmin Varia Lights

Garmin Varia UT800 Smart Headlight

This clever 800 lumen headlight manages several tricks that count towards justifying its high headline price. First, when paired to your Garmin it’ll adjust its brightness relative to your speed.

If that wasn’t smart enough, it’ll also display its remaining battery via your computer, where you can also cycle through its various modes. Well suited to use away from traffic, its battery life is OK, lasting an hour-and-a-half on full-power or three at 400 lumens and six at 200 lumens.

Mounting using the same attachment found on many action cameras, it twins neatly with out-front style computer mounts.

Garmin Varia RTL510 Radar Taillight

With a battery life between six and 15 hours, Garmin’s radar warning system is impressive. Either linking to a compatible Garmin or separately available Radar display unit, the RTL510 tracks vehicles as they approach from behind indicating number and speed.

As drivers approach, the flash gets more frequent which serves to make you more visible the closer they get while saving battery life in between.

It has three modes and an output that ranges between 20 to 65 Lumens to show where you’re at. The weight including mount is 100g.

6. Lezyne Hecto and Strip Drives

Lezyne Hecto Drive 500XL 

Housed in a rigid aluminium housing, the Hecto Drive 500XL is actually quite small given its 500 lumen output.

Using a single LED, it provides enough of a beam to give useful illumination for short detours away from overhead lighting, such as when cutting through a park. However, its single-hour run time when used at full-blast make this an option for occasional use only.

Instead, stepping down to 100 lumens will give you four hours to play with, while used in pulse mode this can be stretched to 15. With an integrated USB stick charger hidden in its butt, there are no cables to lose, while the easy to wrap strap is equally user-friendly.

Lezyne Strip Drive 150

Bright enough to use as a daytime running light, this latest version of Lezyne’s Strip Drive features a new wide-angle lens to provide around 270° of visibility.

With five LEDs running down its centre and multiple flashing modes, you’ll be sure to find one you’re happy with. Recently streamlined, it now charges via a micro USB cable rather than the integrated adapter found on the former design.

Kicking out a maximum of 150 lumens, used in its ultra-endurance three-lumen mode it’ll last for up to 57 hours. Although the more useful modes will see it run for somewhere between six and eight.

Available as a pair for £70

7. Exposure Trace Pack light set

At just 35g each thanks to a lightweight aluminium body, the Trace MK2 and TraceR DayBright Pack combine perfectly to give their rider better daytime visibility, especially in city landscapes.

In fact, the pulse pattern hardwired into the TraceR DayBright has been designed specifically to cut through the hustle-bustle of urban traffic allowing you to be seen from a kilometre away.

Beyond daytime city riding, this light set can do the job as the sun begins to set out in the darkened country lanes relying on a series of modes and settings while the battery life is also pretty solid.

Buy the Exposure Trace Pack light set from Wiggle for £85

8. Blackburn Dayblazer 400 front and Click rear light set

Blackburn’s budget light set provides just enough illumination to see by – and more than enough to be seen with. Of course, illuminating where you’re going is dependant on cranking the front unit up to its 400 lumen maximum.

This might see the battery exhausted in an hour, but for average length commutes or occasional use it’s impressive.

Whichever mode you use, you’ll be able to keep an eye on the charge remaining via a traffic-light style indicator house behind the on/off button.

Included in the excellent value set, the smaller Click rear light puts out 20 lumens. With just two light modes, constant or flashing, we just wish the 1.5/3 hour run time was a little longer.

Nevertheless, both benefit from matching IP-67 standard waterproofing, tool-free mounts and three-hour recharge time.


9. Bikehut 1000 Lumen front light

 

Very little money for a very large number of lumens. Pumping out a nice round 1,000 lumens via its twin CREE XM-L2 LEDs, both this unit’s hardware and fixings seem to have been pinched from a posher light.

Created by Bikehut, Halford’s house brand, it’s excellent value. With eight different modes, including a constant-pulsing option, a power bar atop the light shows the remaining run time, with the light switching to limp-home mode when you get dangerously close to the bottom.

Able to act as a power bank for other devices, this is especially welcome as the light comes with an out-front style mount allowing you to set it up below your bike computer.

Buy now from Cycle Republic for £40

10. Fabric Lumacell Light set

These stylish looking lighting bars won't mar the look of even the sleekest bikes. Producing 30 lumens at the front and 20 at the rear, they’re easily bright enough for commuting. Housed in easy-to-fit rubber holsters, these simply wrap around the seat post, bars or whatever other components you fancy.

Removing the light units from these surrounds exposes a USB stick that allows them to plug directly into a computer or socket, meaning no more lost cables.

The one downside of this fixing is the slightly odd angles it can produce on the rear, and a large amount of space the front lighting bar can take up when in its horizontal position.

However, given their low price, IPX5 waterproof rating and neat design, we can easily forgive this slight quirk.

11. Knog Plus Lights

These tiny lights can fit into such a tiny space thanks to chip-on-board (cob) technology. Clipping onto the rider like a tie-pin, a second option is to use the tiny magnetic holster and elastic o-ring to secure them to the bike.

With the USB charger being integrated into the thin end of the unit, they’re superbly designed. With runtimes varying between two and 40 hours, the quality of the light and its various smooth-cycling flashing modes will also win fans.

Plus Light £18, Pair £32

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