Night Riders: The Best Bike Lights
Taking a bike ride at night is a thrill. There are fewer crowds, fewer cars, and a sense of danger that tweaks your senses and sets your heart to racing. It’s undeniably fun and if you’ve never done it, you should be scrawling it on your bucket list right now. The only problem is the dangers of night riding are very real and have taken more than one unwary cyclist off to the happy hunting grounds. To stay safe on your evening adventures, it is wise to invest in bike lights (a good bike lock is also a must).
Let us first start by exploring options for the front half of your 2-wheeled counterpart. Bike headlights come in a wide range of styles with some that mount both on your handlebars or your bicycle helmet. They have brightness for the night owl mountain biker or trail rider as well as those that won’t blind drivers but increase safety for city riders and commuters who find themselves caught in the dark. Whatever kind of rider you are, or aspire to be, one of our 6 best bike headlights will help you see your way clear.
Xtreme Bright LED
Pro: Doubles as a flashlight
Con: No helmet mount capability
Bike Light Plus: While it is always a little gimmicky whenever a manufacturer throws around words like “Xtreme” in this case they have at least made a good product to follow its preposterous name. You won’t find much about this to be Xtreme, and the beam is too narrow to really be good for extreme riders who like dangerous conditions. On the other hand, bike commuters will enjoy the 130 lumens worth of power that can easily throw for up to 500 feet. The most enjoyable feature of the Xtreme is that it doubles as a flashlight with easy removal from the frame for both security and portability. You can install and adjust the bike headlight without the need for tools, which is nice for those who prefer to travel light. It also runs on standard AAA batteries so carrying backups is easy and doesn’t require a USB cord. [Purchase: $31]
Cygolite Expilion 800
Pro: Throws light far and wide
Con: Mounting bracket is stiff
Trail Riders Companion: Any of the Expilion line of bicycle headlights from Cygolite will give you excellent illumination that is also inexpensive. More casual riders – or those who will be riding in metropolitan areas – won’t need the full 800 lumens from this model and will probably be fine with the 600 or even the Metro line of products. Those who like to go off the beaten path and do a little trail riding during twilight or even the wee hours of the morning will find the 800 more suitable. What sets it apart is its ability to use its beam to cover a wide area rather than a narrow field of vision which won’t protect you from trees and allows you to see sudden bends in the trail.
The battery can be swapped out so that you can change to a spare if the light fades and leaves you stranded, though with a ceiling of 22 hours, that should never be a problem. You can put it on your handlebars or your helmet, though you’ll find the mounting a little stiff. The body is water resistant which will keep it running strong even in sudden downpours, but try to keep it out of the stream. Road bikers will like the Steady Pulse feature that flashes drivers without costing you visibility. [Purchase: $100]
Supernova Airstream 2
Pro: Resists corrosion
Con: Not very bright for the cost
Rust Resistor: Many bike headlights will fight off water, but are still subject to the laws of corrosion, especially when exposed to the salty sea air of coastal towns. Since many commuting bicyclists live in places like Oregon, Washington, California, and New York, this creates a huge problem. The Airstream was made to combat salty air while still offering a hard body made of more than plastic. Instead it has an aluminum frame that can be abused without breaking and won’t wither no matter what the weather. The output is a very useful 370 lumens attached to a 2500 mAh battery that will easily provide you with around 20 hours of life at the lowest setting. If longevity is your concern, let the Airstream prove its value. [Purchase: $201]
NiteRider Pro 3600 DIY
Pro: Maximum brightness
Con: Extremely expensive.
Pocket Full of Sunshine: This is more than a bicycle headlight. It’s enough to illuminate the darkest corners of the human soul. At a massive 3600 lumens, odds are good that it is more power than you need, but if you’re a trail rider who needs to be able to see your path even on a moonless night, this can do it. You can use any of the 8 power settings, each of which gives you great visibility, though the power drain ranges from just over and hour to a day and a half depending on how it is employed.
The 3600 comes equipped to be mounted either on the handlebars or your helmet depending on your needs. It also has an extension cable so that you can place it wherever your heart desires. The Borofloat glass plate won’t shatter and can even be dropped into a stream when hot without busting wide open. Rather than a single beam, this gives you a whole halo of brightness that lets you see to the sides as well as in front. To save hundreds of dollars you can also pick up the 1800. Half the price for half the power. [Purchase: $525]
Pro: Safety projection feature
Con: Somewhat dim
Fatality Fighter: The Blaze headlight is not only meant to improve your ability to see on the road, but to help cars to see you. The majority of injuries to cyclists occur when they are going straight and a car turn into them without realizing they were sharing the road. What the Blaze does is projects a bicycle icon onto the road in bright green colors that only the most oblivious motorist would miss. The icon appears about 15 feet in front of the cyclist, though it can be adjusted as necessary. In addition to the icon the headlight has a 1500 mAh battery and an LED lamp that gives off about 80 lumens. It is made of waterproof aircraft-grade aluminum for longevity. For commuters, the heavy price could mean the difference between life and death. [Purchase: $200]
Pro: Everything you need
Con: No swappable batteries
Total Package: This isn’t a single bicycle headlight to keep you safe on a night ride but rather an entire package that has the best of everything you could possibly need from front to back. It includes an XML-3 handlebar bike light that combines three LED XML-2 lights to give you a grand total of more than 1200 Lumens. Even if you live in the badlands where streetlights are unheard of, you’ll have no trouble distinguishing potholes from new asphalt and be able to read the road like a good book. The kit also bears a quad cluster of red bike tail lights that can be seen both from far behind and makes an impression from the side so cars won’t accidentally turn into you. An extension cable for the light as well as chargers – both AC and USB – along with multiple clamps and straps let you outfit your bicycle for any night mission. [Purchase: $389]
Best Bike Tail Lights
Having a bicycle headlight protects you from dangers you can see ahead of you, but equally important is having a good bike taillight to protect your rear so you don’t end up with a car giving you a prison shower surprise. Bike tail lights should be bright enough to be seen from a distance and offer blinking options that help draw attention to them so that they differentiate from brake lights or neon signs reflected on the road.
Choosing the right bike taillight is mostly about determining where you are going to use it. Mountain bikers and trail riders won’t need them as much, since they should only be encountering other cyclists. Road riders will want to aim for exceptional brightness and multiple settings to help them appear at different times of the day or night. Both should consider where they want to mount their light since some go on a seatpost while others rely on racks or additional features to sit properly. Whatever your riding style one of these 6 best bike tail lights should help keep you pedaling in safety.
Portland Design Works Danger Zone
Con: Uses disposable batteries
Bargain: It isn’t a shock to anyone that a company based out of the bicycle-friendly, urban gardening, patchouli oil slathered city of Portland would make one of the best bike tail lights available. This offers two 0.5-watt LED lights that have the option of three settings which are cryptically labeled “zZz,” “a-HA!,” and “rock steady.” Each gives different levels of brightness and blinking to suit your needs. The lights use two AAA batteries that will give you about 50 hours of use, depending on which setting you choose. To save money, you might consider investing in some rechargeable batteries to power it. Built into the body of the Danger Zone is a Euro reflector so that even if the lights die off, you’ll still be visible. [Purchase: $22]
Pro: Completely customizable
Con: Beam is very direction specific
Most for the Money: You can get a whole lot of taillight for your bicycle for very little money to protect you from cars streaming past in the dead of night. The Hotshot has a rechargeable Li-Ion battery that comes with five flashing modes that the user can adjust on the fly to suit their preferences and riding conditions. You can not only alter the flash but also the brightness so that there is no excuse for a driver to miss you out on the road. It can give you up to 2-watts of lighting power. The light can also be snapped to your clothing if you prefer that to a bike post or plan on doing a little night running. It can attach to the included mount or even one of your own design thanks to the mobile feature. [Purchase: $33]
Serfas Thunderbolt UTL-6
Pro: Mounts anywhere
Con: Short battery life
Mount Anywhere: Admittedly, the overall style of the Thunderbolt leaves something to be desired. It certainly isn’t pretty, but what it lacks in flash it makes up for with…well, actual flash. It produces 35 lumens of pure red light that carries surprisingly well in the dark partly because it is 30 tiny LEDs rather than one or two large ones. It’s charged entirely via USB making it sustainable and able to save you money in the long run. The major complaint is that on the highest setting it won’t even give you two hours of run time before needing a charge. At the lowest setting that jumps up to 9, which is still yawn-worthy. The best feature about this is it can mount anywhere. Whether you need it on a rack, a seatpost, or any other surface, you’ll find this ready to go. [Purchase: $37+]
Serfas Super Bright 60
Pro: Very bright
Con: Only charges via USB
Unforgettable: Brightness usually isn’t the focus of bike tail lights, but that is a mistake. Without piercing brightness, it is easy for your little light to get lost in the mix, especially in cities where 24-hour stores and all-night diners create multi-hued light pollution that can easily distract drivers, especially when they’re drowsy. The Super Bright pumps out 60 lumens worth of power, nearly as much as many bike headlights. The intent is to make it visible for up to a mile away so even someone coming on fast has time to compensate. It charges via USB so can’t be overcharged and has a battery gauge to let you know when it’s starting to fade. [Purchase: $55]
Pro: Extra lights for side visibility
Con: Can only be mounted on a seatpost
180 Degree Protection: Being able to see a bicycle taillight from a long distance is important, but many accidents occur because drivers can’t see the cyclists that are right beside them. The goal of the 180 from Vis was to ensure that not only those directly behind a person, but those to the sides would be aware of their presence. The 180 has amber lights mounted on each end to help supplement the basic red light that shoots out the back. The main light is a full 50 lumens, though it can be set lower if you’re worried about blinding or annoying drivers. The only real issue is that the mounting bracket only works on a seat post so those who want to put it on a rack will encounter troubles. If you want to save a little money, you can get a 180 micro, though it is plastic and less sturdy than the standard aluminum 180. [Purchase: $100]
Fly6 Bike Camera and Light
Pro: Internal HD camera
Con: Low light output
Legal Protection: A bike taillight might keep you safe on busy streets, but it also might not. Once you are the victim of a careless driver, you could find yourself with numerous medical bills to pay which can lead to a heavy court battle with the driver who hurt you. To help give yourself all the tools available, the Fly6 was created. It is not just a bicycle taillight, it also has a 720p camera with 130 degree lens built right in to keep track of the actions of the drivers around you so you have evidence on your side if it comes down to a battle in the courtroom. The SD card loops video so that it is always recording without the need to make changes. It charges via USB and has lots of water proofing so that splashes don’t interfere with the light or the camera. Only produces 10-15 lumens of light. [Purchase: $159]