To stay safe as a cyclist, you have to be seen. There are many ways you can do this, but a bright, blinking red light is one of the best. If you ride bikes, you need a good taillight.
What to Look for in a Bike Taillight
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, hundreds of cyclists are killed each year by cars, and thousands more are injured. Just about every cyclist who regularly rides on the road has a close-call horror story to tell you, and the reasons are many.
Like motorcycles, bicycles present a smaller visual profile to drivers, which makes cyclists harder to spot. There’s also the problem of distracted motorists looking at their phones, and drivers who don’t know how to pass bikes properly.
It’s important to do anything you can to keep yourself safe, including always wearing a helmet and colorful clothing. NHTSA statistics also show that more crashes happen in daylight than after dark. This means you need a bike taillight that’s also clearly visible in bright sunlight, so drivers can see you when you’re ahead of them.
The good news is advancing LED technology makes it possible for bike taillights to get brighter each year. For a minimal investment, you can get a lightweight lamp that easily attaches to your bike and is bright enough for drivers to notice in any lighting conditions.
Here are some key things to think about as you look for a new blinky:
- Replaceable or rechargeable battery: Many budget taillights on the market feature replaceable batteries, but we think rechargeable is the better choice. It’s difficult to know how long replaceable batteries will last, and you don’t want your light to die in the middle of a ride. With rechargeables, the manufacturer provides an estimate of how long the light will burn in each setting. You can also verify that on your own, so you know when you need to recharge your light. Or, you can just recharge it after every ride. It’s a safer, more reliable strategy. It’s also better for the environment because you won’t have to throw batteries in the trash constantly.
- The lumens rating: The brightness of regular light bulbs is generally measured in wattage. Most people understand the difference between a 100-watt bulb versus a 40-watt bulb. For the new, energy-efficient LED technology, though, watts aren’t an accurate indicator of power. These are measured in lumens—a more exact measurement of the amount of light a device projects. There’s usually a correlation between how much you spend and what you get when it comes to brightness. So, how many lumens do you need? There isn’t a specific answer, but around 100 lumens (or more) is necessary if you want to be easy to see in daylight.
- Battery life: Another important point to think about when you shop for a bike taillight is battery life. You’ll need to consider the kind of riding you do. For example, an urban commuter might only need one hour of life at a light’s highest setting between charges. However, if you do training rides of four to five hours, long battery life will be at the top of your list.
- Mounting options: You attach a lot of bike taillights to your seat post or bike frame with convenient rubber mounting straps. These wrap around the tube like a rubber band, so you can mount and remove them quickly. Others have brackets, and you slide the light on and off to recharge it. If you want to attach the light to your helmet, backpack, or clothes, make sure the one you choose includes an appropriate clip to do so. Many lights offer a variety of mounting options in the same package to give you maximum flexibility.
- Water resistance: If you get caught in the rain, your bike’s taillight will be soaked. The rear wheel also throws up a considerable amount of spray when it’s damp outside—just wear a light-colored jersey and check out the spray pattern on the back when you get home. So, a taillight’s water-resistance rating is important, too. Check out the customer reviews of the light you’re interested in. Find out if the light is well-sealed and if the cover over the recharging port protects it from moisture.
Rather than picking one “best” bike taillight, we recommend a range of options based on price and different needs. If you’re a casual rider, you don’t need to spend a lot to get a good rechargeable light. At higher price levels, you get more options, longer burn times, and some really cool safety features.
Best Budget: Cygolite Hotshot 100 USB
For less than $20, the Cygolite Hotshot 100 USB is a great rechargeable bike taillight. You’ll get 2.5 hours of runtime from the built-in Li-ion battery at its highest, 100-lumen setting. Cygolite claims on lower settings, you can stretch that to a remarkable 270 hours. There are six setting options in total for day and night: Steady, Zoom, SteadyPulse®, Triple Flash, DayLightning®, and Random Flash. Cygolite says the DayLightning mode “emits lightning-like flashes to highlight your presence in the brightest of daytime hours.”
It’s small, water-resistant, and weighs only 59 grams. The package includes a seat post and seat stay mounts. There’s also a clip on the back of the light you can attach to a backpack or your clothes.
Cygolite, Hotshot 100 USB, Tail Light, 100 lumens
The Cygolite Hotshot 100 USB features 2.5 hours of life at 100 lumens, and a super-bright Daylightning flash mode to ensure drivers can see you in all daylight conditions.
Best Mid-Range: LEZYNE Zecto Drive Max
In the mid-range category, we love the retina-scorching power of the 250-lumen LEZYNE Zecto Drive Max. Not only is it super-bright, but it goes an impressive nine hours between charges in the brightest daylight flash mode.
The Zecto Drive Max has a rugged machined aluminum case and attaches to your bike with an easy-to-use rubber strap. It also has a clip if you want to attach it to your backpack or clothing. The only improvement we’d suggest is some padding on the back of the hard plastic clip so it won’t scratch a bike’s finish. However, a bit of tape does the job.
This light has eight day and night settings and runs a full 24 hours in the 10-lumen mode. It also remembers which mode it was in the previous time you used it and returns to it the next time you turn it on.
Its Lithium-ion battery recharges in two-and-a-half hours via the included micro-USB cable.
LEZYNE Zecto Drive Max Bicycle Taillight, 250 Lumens, 24 Hour Runtime, Rear Bike Light
The LEZYNE Zecto Drive Max run for nine hours in its brightest, 250-lumen mode and features a machined aluminum case for maximum durability.
Best Premium: See.Sense ACE Rear Light
Rated at 125 lumens with a runtime of 10 hours, the See.Sense ACE Rear Light is plenty of brightness in a small, 35-gram package. It has built-in sensors that detect traffic and make the light flash brighter and faster when cars are around. The See.Sense ACE also knows when you stop, and it turns into a brake light.
When you connect to your smartphone with the See.Sense app, the ACE warns you when the battery is getting low, and it also can notify emergency contacts if it detects you’ve been in a crash. It’ll even act as an anti-theft alarm and let you know (if you’re in Bluetooth range) that your bike was moved.
One of the more interesting features is that the sensors collect information about road surfaces and dangerous conditions that can be sent to urban planners to suggest road improvements.
The ACE is water-resistant and includes a range of rubber cords and clip accessories to attach to your bike, backpack, or clothing.
See.Sense ACE Rear Light
The See.Sense ACE Rear Light runs for 10 hours at 125 lumens. Its smart technology senses traffic conditions and makes the light brighten and flash faster when cars approach.
Super-Premium Option No. 1: Garmin Varia RTL510
Approaching what you’d pay for a mid-range bike computer, the Garmin Varia RTL510 bike taillight is packed with technology. It features a rear-facing radar that alerts you when a car approaches behind you. If you pair it with a compatible Garmin or Wahoo computer, the alert appears onscreen.
While detractors might ask why you wouldn’t just install a $10 mirror instead, fans of Garmin radar swear by it. They say it’s changed how they feel about cycling on the road.
You get the first alert when a vehicle enters a range of about 150 meters. The unit can sense how fast the car is traveling, and it sends you a red alert if it’s moving at high speed. It also tracks multiple vehicles simultaneously and can differentiate between a car and your buddy on the bike behind you.
Despite its price tag, the Varia RTL510 only features a 60-lumen daylight flash, but owners say it’s bright enough. You’ll get 15 hours of use before you have to recharge it.
Garmin Varia RTL510, Bike/Cycling Radar Tail Light, Alerts for Rear-Approaching Vehicles
Yes, there's sticker shock. But the Garmin Varia RTL510's rear-facing radar alerts you when cars approach from behind and tells you how fast they're moving.
Super-Premium Option No. 2: CYCLIQ Fly6 CE HD Bike Camera + Rear Light
If you want to record close calls with vehicles so you can give them to the authorities, the CYCLIQ Fly6 CE HD Bike Camera + Rear Light is for you. Its 100-lumen output is paired with a high-definition, 1080p camera that also records audio.
You control the unit through a smartphone app that’s available for both iOS and Android. You can also share your videos through the app.
The camera has image stabilization for smooth footage and “smart looping,” so you don’t run out of space on your SD card (not included). Still, we do recommend you get a high-capacity card, so you don’t lose something that happened at the beginning of a long ride. The Fly6 even has some crafty technology that locks it if you’re in an accident, so the video of what happened can’t be recorded over.
Incredibly, it records video continuously for seven hours in camera-only mode and about four-and-a-half with the light running. When the battery gets low, CYCLIQ says it goes into “HomeSafe” mode and just keeps the light going for up to 30 minutes.
You mount the water-resistant Fly6 with a system similar to a Garmin. It charges in two hours via USB-C cable.
Cycliq Fly6 CE HD Bike Camera + Rear Light
The CYCLIQ Fly6 features a 100-lumen light paired with a 1080p HD camera. It continuously records what's going on behind you (including audio).
Regardless of how much you want to spend, if you ride on pavement regularly, you should invest in a bike taillight. The sad statistics show that roads are getting progressively more dangerous for cyclists—especially because of distracted and careless drivers.
Anything that makes you more visible and encourages drivers to pay more attention is well worth the investment.