If you’re a bike commuter or active mountain biker, you’ll want to get your shine on as the days get shorter. Here are our favorite bike lights for all types of cyclists.
Before you shop for a bike light, the first thing you have to think about is how you plan to use it. For example, if you ride to and from work in the city, you have the benefit of overhead streetlights, so being visible to cars will be your primary concern. In this scenario, a super-bright, white flashing light might be enough.
However, if you’re an off-road biker, who blasts down single-track trails after dark, you need a more comprehensive setup, with possibly two lights so you can see every root or rock in your path.
Let’s take a look at some other things you should look for in your new bike light.
A Few Things to Consider
When it comes to judging bike lights, battery life and brightness are the two most important considerations, followed by design and mounting style. If you’ve never shopped for a bike light—or haven’t in a while—you’re going to be pleasantly surprised. This ain’t your grandpa’s flashlight!
The great thing about modern bike lights is they’re almost all powered by rechargeable lithium batteries. Many of them also have incredibly long burn times between charges. Obviously, you want to pick one with a battery life that will comfortably cover the amount of time you ride.
Many lights feature indicators that show how much power is left. This gives you the option of shifting to a lower output setting if you need to nurse the light long enough to get home.
You can charge most lights via USB; you can even use some lights as a spare battery pack to recharge other devices in a pinch.
Bright Enough or Too Bright?
Bike lights can go so long between charges now due to LED technology. It requires less energy but produces super-bright output. Unfortunately, brightness is an area where making apples-to-apples comparisons can get a bit confusing. I’ll try to explain.
Light manufacturers generally rate their lights based on lumens—the amount of light energy a device projects at its source. However, the way that light projects varies based on the design of the lens and reflector, which is called the “beam pattern.”
The beam pattern affects lux, which is the amount of light energy that actually arrives at what you want to see. It’s essentially the measurement of a light’s intensity.
See the illustration below for a visual representation of lumens versus lux.
So, why did I take you down the rabbit hole of lumens and lux? Well, if you compare two lights with a similar lumen rating, they might not have the same intensity when you use them. Generally, wider beams work better on slow technical trails, whereas narrow beams are superior if you’re moving fast and need to see way out in front of you.
Some of this is irrelevant when you get into high-end lights with so many lumens—they light up everything. You’ll also notice many manufacturers don’t provide beam angle information in their specs. It can definitely be helpful to read reviews from buyers who use the light in the same way you will.
Usually, there’s a direct correlation between lumen rating and cost. You don’t need to throw down big bucks if your primary intent is to be visible to vehicles. However, if you plan to thrash single-track trails, you’ll likely have to reach deeper into your wallet.
It’s human nature to think more must be better. But that’s not always the case with bike lights—some models are exponentially brighter than car headlights. If you plan to use your light on the road, make sure it has a lower setting or choose a different model—you don’t want to blind an oncoming driver who might swerve into you.
Keep the same thing in mind for helmet lights; they’re higher and often point farther down the road. You don’t want to get into a staring match with a driver—you might lose.
Design and Mounting Options
Where do you want to mount your light? Would you prefer the light to be separate from the battery or an all-in-one unit? If you plan to attach a light to your helmet, its weight will be another major consideration. Anything heavy up there is going to make your lid wobble on your noggin—especially off-road.
Some people prefer all-in-one light and battery combos. Others keep the battery pack in a backpack or strap it to the frame with a wire that runs to the light. For the most part, a separate system gives you more battery life, and a smaller form factor on your handlebars.
There are a variety of mounting systems. Some feature rubber straps that make installation and removal a snap. Others have a more rigid clamp system that locks the light securely in one position.
One or Two?
I’m going to wade into the controversy: I think you need two lights. A high-powered handlebar light is sufficient for trail rides, but I like an additional helmet light for several reasons.
First, it’s a backup in case your other light dies. More importantly, though, with a helmet light, you can easily turn your head and look to either side of you and down at your bike. This has helped me many times when I’ve encountered deer on a trail or greenway. They’re as unpredictable as squirrels or rabbits, and, when dazzled by a bright light, they often run toward you instead of away. I haven’t actually gone mano a mano with Bambi yet, but I expect it’d be painful for both of us.
Also, if you have a mechanical problem or miss a shift and drop your chain in the dark, it’s much easier to see what happened and fix it if you’re wearing a helmet light.
While I think two lights make the most sense on dirt, helmet lights are usually unnecessary for roadies who have the benefit of streetlights. Plus, as mentioned above, they can blind oncoming drivers.
When you shop online for bike lights, you see a lot of “bargains” that promise tons of lumens and great battery life. I’ve tried several, and this is definitely an area where you get what you pay for.
Many are unreliable, and it often boils down to construction—especially on separate battery and light units. Respected brands make their connections extra-beefy because wires are easily yanked out during rough and tumble mountain biking. The bargain brands often just don’t hold up.
I can tell you from experience, there’s nothing worse than being stranded on a cold, dark night, miles from your car on some trail.
Now that you know what to look for, let’s break down our picks of the top bike lights. We’ve based our choices on several categories, including price, use, and some special high-tech features.
Best General Use: Cygolite Streak 450
The Cygolite Streak 450 packs lots of first-class goodies into an economy price tag. This 450-lumen headlight has seven modes. It goes for an hour at its highest setting, and 100 hours on its lowest, called “walking.”
It’s water-resistant, charges in four hours, and has a low-battery indicator. The Streak clamps to handlebars from 22 to 32mm.
Cygolite Streak– 450 Lumen Bike Light– 5 Night Modes & Daytime Flash Mode– Compact & Durable– IP67 Waterproof– Secured Hard Mount– USB Rechargeable Headlight– for Road & Commuter Bicycles
The 450-lumen Cygolite Streak 450 is USB rechargeable and goes from one to 100 hours, depending on which of the seven output settings you use.
Best for Commuters: Light and Motion Urban 500 Headlight
This made-in-the-USA Light and Motion Urban 500 bike light is rugged, waterproof, and features sidelights for additional safety when riding on the road. Its 500-lumen LED is manufactured by the respected Cree company and includes a two-year warranty.
The rubber mounting strap makes it easy to mount and take off your bars. The Urban 500 has four modes. It runs 1.5 hours at its highest, 500-lumen setting, and 12 hours at its lowest, 125-lumen setting. It has a narrow, 20-degree beam pattern, which is exactly what you want when you ride on the road.
Light & Motion Urban 500 Bike Light (2016), Onyx
The sidelights on the rugged Light and Motion Urban 500 bike light make you easier to see from all angles. It runs for 1.5 hours on its highest, 500-lumen setting.
Best All-In-One: Blackburn Countdown 1600
You need more light when you ride off-road, and the Blackburn Countdown 1600 steps up to the plate with a convenient, all-in-one design. One of the nice things about this light is you know exactly how much time is left on the battery. There’s a clear countdown timer on top, which is also backlit, so you can easily see it at night. It has five modes, and it lasts a little over one hour at the 1600 “Blitz” setting, and two at 1200.
The mounting clamp works on handlebars from 22 to 35mm. You can install it quickly with the aluminum thumbscrew.
Blackburn Countdown 1600 High Lumen Bike Front Light (1600 Lumens)
The Blackburn Countdown 1600 has five modes, ranging from Blitz to Strobe. The backlit digital countdown display lets you know exactly how much time you have left on a charge.
Best Two-Piece: Light & Motion Seca 1800
A favorite for years among serious mountain bikers, the Seca 1800 from Light & Motion is well respected for its quality and durability. You attach the light to your handlebars with a rubber strap. There’s a large Velcro belt you use to mount the battery pack to your bike frame (I put a piece of cloth around my frame tube first to reduce scratching). Options for helmet and GoPro mounting are also included.
The battery and light connect with a beefy wire, and a waterproof plug keeps everything dry, even in the dampest conditions.
The light has a 25-degree beam pattern and features four Cree LEDs. It lasts 1.5 hours at its highest setting, but you can also buy a larger battery that will give you 2.5 hours. The battery charges in just under two hours and comes with a two-year warranty.
Light & Motion Seca 1800 Bike Light, Grey
The renowned Seca 1800 from Light & Motion puts out 1800 lumens from four Cree LEDs. It lasts 1.5 hours at its highest setting. Built to last, the rugged construction is backed by a two-year warranty.
Best Smart Light: Garmin Varia UT 800
If your light is smart enough to sense ambient light and adjust accordingly, it would save a lot of battery life! Well, that’s precisely what Garmin’s Varia UT 800 does. Paired with a Garmin computer, it also projects more light at faster speeds when you need it and tapers off when you slow down.
It runs for 1.5 hours in the highest, 800-lumen setting and features one Cree LED. Due to its limited brightness, the UT 800 is better for road riding. It wouldn’t be ideal for either mountain biking or gravel grinding.
Garmin Varia UT 800 Smart Headlight Urban Edition with Dual Out-front Mount
Take your bike light to the next level with the Garmin Varia UT 800. It senses ambient light and your speed, and projects just the amount of light you need to preserve battery life.
Best Camera Light: CYCLIQ Fly12 CE
It seems like close calls between bikers and drivers are more common every day. With the CYCLIQ Fly12 CE, you can record incidents to report to the authorities. This device combines a 600-lumen light and a high-definition camera.
The unit runs about 4.5 hours with both the light and camera going. It also has a “HomeSafe” mode, which will keep just the light going for up to 30 minutes when the battery is low.
You can control the unit and share videos through an app that’s available for both iOS and Android phones.
The camera even has “smart looping,” so you won’t run out of memory on the SD card (not included). With a high-capacity card, this also prevents anything that happens at the beginning of a long ride from being recorded over.
The Fly12 CE charges in two hours and is backed by a one-year warranty.
Cycliq Fly12 CE HD Bike Camera + Front Light
Record incidents with vehicles with the CYCLIQ Fly12 CE. It combines a 600-lumen bike light with a 1080p HD camera. The Fly12 CE captures video continuously for up to 4.5 hours, and you can control it through an app on your smartphone.
LED bike lights with high-tech rechargeable lithium batteries make it possible to enjoy riding year-round—no matter how short the days are. Whether you need simple visibility while you commute or a rough and ready unit for off-road fun, there’s something on our list that will fit the bill.