Your essential guide to what to look for when buying cycling lights
Unless you only ride during the day then cycling lights are essential all year round, but obviously far more in the Autumn and Winter when there are fewer hours of daylight.
There is increasingly talk in the cycling industry about lights being needed at all times, which is something to consider when conditions dictate the need for day time illumination.
Bright sunshine can be cited by motorists as a reason for not spotting a more vulnerable road user, a factor that can be negated by a set of bike lights switched on during the day to show where the rider is against the bright backdrop.
New bikes are sold with reflectors and many people dress in high visibility clothing, which are good additions but in no way make up for a bike with no lights. Bicycle mounted illumination is essential for safety and to keep you on the right side of the law. A decent set of bike lights can be the difference between riding home safely or not getting there at all.
The law regarding bike lights is governed by the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations, first published in 1989 but amended six times since, which says that as well as your pedal reflectors and rear reflectors (the side and front reflectors aren’t actually a legal necessity) night-riders will also need lights front and back.
The lights have to be mounted on the bike centrally or to the offside, positioned up to 1.5m from the ground, and conform to British Safety or EC standards.
Both front or rear lights can be flashers, but if so they must emit at least four candela. “But bike lights tend to be rated in lumens or Watts, what’s a candela?,” we hear you cry.
It’s not a particularly easy subject to explain, and they’re not directly convertible units. But simply put: as long as you buy decent quality bike lights, fit them properly, and remember to switch them on, the law shouldn’t be a problem.
Our pick of the best cycling lights
With a claimed maximum output of 700 lumens, the Bontrager Ion 700 RT front light sits at about the brightness…
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Embracing the potential offered by rapidly advancing LED and battery technologies, Lezyne has several new lights in its product line-up…
Exposure Blaze acts as a bright, compact and easy to use rear light which our tester liked.
Compared to many other front lights that cost less than £100, the Knog Blinder ARC 640 has a very sleek…
Hope R4 LED front bike lights covers all your seeing needs at this time of year, whether that is on…
Lezyne Marco Duo comes as a front and rear bike light in one well built unit. Can it live up…
If, like us, you’re having to plan your winter miles around the nine-to-five then it is nigh-on impossible to avoid…
See.Sense intelligent bike lights adapt to road and lighting conditions
Your guide to the best bike front lights for this winter
What do you need to consider when buying your lights?
We’ll look at specialist lighting options in a moment, but for now, let’s assume you’re a road rider or commuter who wants to see and been seen when the sun sets. What do you need to consider when buying your lights?
Most modern cycle lights use LEDs rather than old-school bulbs, and such has been the advancement of technology, these can be blindingly bright.
Of course light power is an important part of your buying criteria, but don’t let that be the be-all and end-all. Beam shape and the effect of the light lens can make a huge difference — we’ve seen lights of supposedly lesser power trump rivals when it comes to real-world performance.
All these factors are of most importance if you’ll be using your front lamp to actually light your way. But bike lights perform another function: to warn other road users of your presence.
If you’ll be riding on lit roads, you may find the need for an ultra-bright constant beam is unnecessary and a flash function at the front is perfectly adequate.
Battery life and charging
For your rear light, the flash function is ideal. But if you’re a cycle commuter, with both front and rear lights also consider how effective the lamp is in terms of side lighting, as this will make you more visible from more angles and help avoid the “sorry mate, I didn’t see you” excuse from a turning or emerging vehicle.
It’s still generally a case of the brighter the better, but you also need to consider other qualities that will make your life easier. Look to see how many flash settings the light has; what the run times will be on a single charge or one set of batteries; and see if it has a rechargeable power source.
In this case, check if it needs its own special charger or if it can be recharged via USB, which aids convenience immensely. Some lights even have a helpful gauge showing how much power they have left.
The last consideration is mounting. Smaller lights may be simply mounted using a rubber or silicon strap, whereas big lamps — especially front lights — may require a proper bracket. Truly powerful front lights may even feature an external battery pack that will also need to be accommodated on the bike.
In any case, if you’re planning to leave your bike parked up in public for any length of time, make sure your lamps can be easily removed.
Back-up lights and extra brightness
The typical cycle commuter on urban streets will only need a relatively simple set of front and rear lights. There’s still every reason to buy the best you can afford, and even double up with an extra set of cheap emergency-only flashers front and back. But if you’ll be riding off road or on unlit country lanes, you really do need to go for the bigger, more powerful lamps with wider beams.
To augment their bike-mounted lamps, many riders also opt for helmet-mounted lights. These can be very effective and have the added benefit of directing the light wherever you are looking. However, these should be in addition to those on the bike, and not your only source of illumination.
Another sensible option is the dynamo light. This uses a compatible hub or wheel-rubbing bottle dynamo to convert your forward motion into electricity which then powers the light — so no need for batteries. Bottle dynamos can be disengaged in daylight hours so they don’t drag unnecessarily, and at night-time it means you’ll never need to worry about run times or recharging again.
Super safe accessories
Night riding isn’t just about illumination. In recent years a whole industry of associated safety accessories has come about.
For example, the Blaze laser light combines a high-powered rechargeable front lamp with a warning image of a cyclist projected by a built-in laser onto the road ahead of you. Similarly, the Xfire Bikelane looks just like a typical LED rear light, but it uses lasers to project virtual bike lane markings either side of you.
Dress properly for winter riding
In Cycling Weekly we’ve recently featured See.Sense lights, incredible front and rear lamps that use inbuilt sensor technology to flash brighter and faster when cyclists are in potentially dangerous scenarios.
Finally, although it’s only a relatively simple rear light, SpyLamp doubles up as a GPS tracking device should your bike get stolen. Think of it as an emergency flasher with hidden talents.
There are more innovative products appearing all the time, so do enjoy exploring the world of cycle lighting. Just remember, the basic rules haven’t changed: be safe, be seen.