If you want to cycle through the winter, whether you’re commuting or training in the evenings, a good front light is essential.
Front lights come in a vast range of prices and outputs, but you don’t need to spend a fortune as the lights in this roundup demonstrate. Most front lights these days use LEDs which take very little battery power so you can expect decent runtimes, and brightness levels that were unimaginable a couple of decades ago.
If you’re cycling in a built up urban area, you want a light to be seen by rather than one that can light up the road ahead. Many are designed for commuting with a lens and reflector intended to offer a good range of visibility. Been seen from the side as well as the front is an important consideration. If you’re venturing onto poorly lit streets and dark country lanes, then you need to think about a more powerful light to help illuminate the way.
Most of the lights below fall better into the first category of lights to be seen by. At the top of the price range you can start to get powerful lights that will be good for a bit of country lane night riding.
The 10 LED lights here are priced at under £50, and all of them having been tested by road.cc staff.
The Zecto Drive Front Light from Lezyne is a excellent piece of kit. It's designed to alert drivers of your presence, rather than to help you see the way on unlit roads, although it's good at that as well. It clips easily to your bike, helmet or backpack, and is neat and sturdy. It's also rechargeable, waterproof and fairly priced.
The Zecto Drive Front has six lighting modes, including constant 'economy' (20 lumens, 5 hours), constant 'blast' (40 lumens, 3 hours), and three flash modes (all at 40 lumens, ranging from 3 to 5 hours, depending on how the individual LEDs are employed).
There's also a flashing 'daytime' mode (80 lumens, 6h 45mins); although the light is brighter, it doesn't flash as often, thus extending battery run-time.
For general winter club-run or training duties where you're making the occasional early start (or a late finish) and need lights for just an hour or two – perhaps using 'daytime' mode for the bulk of your ride – the Zecto Drive Front is highly recommended.
The Moon Meteor-X Pro is a brilliant (sorry) light that packs way more punch than its price tag would suggest. It's easily capable of acting as a primary light for night commuting and the day flash is perfect for an anytime blinker.
For the size of the unit, though, we're pretty impressed by the output. Visibility is good when used alone, even on unlit roads under tree cover. The beam is nicely direct, illuminating what you need to see, with very little wasted power out of the sides.
You can of course drop the lumens to 250, giving you 3 hours of run time. I didn't quite get that on one daytime training ride, the light went out after 2 hours 53 minutes, but it was a pretty cold day. This setting is perfect for street-lit rides in the evening.
Our favourite setting is the daytime flash, which puts out 700 lumens in a slow rhythm. We actually used this at night, along with a main light; the setting might be called Day Flash, but we found it really useful for getting that extra bit of attention from drivers on narrower lanes.
The Lezyne Strip Drive 400 has a bright and really eye-catching day time flash, commendable battery life and faster charging. It's also fairly light, easy to operate, has loads of functions and is waterproof too. It's more of a be-seen rather than seeing light, though.
The Lezyne Strip Drive is well made, bright, easy to use and feels really robust. It's an excellent way of getting yourself seen, day or night, whatever the weather, at a competitive price.
The Giant Recon HL 350 is an excellent front commuter light, delivering a decent level of brightness, good run times and fast USB charging in a compact lightweight package.
The full-power beam is sufficient for me to see even on dark roads, but it really comes into its own in towns and suburbs. The beam is nicely average – neither narrow nor wide – giving good visibility to a decent distance. The flashing modes are ideal for daylight, too.
With its fast charging and decent battery life, low weight and compact design, it's hard to find fault. The sturdy build and strong water resistance (it can actually be submerged) mean it should last well too. I certainly didn't have any issues in the rain.
The HL 350 is a supremely well-designed, user-friendly commuter light that ticks all the boxes – and is good value for money too.
The Moon Vortex 1000 is a great light with settings to satisfy most road riders – it does everything from flooding pitch black lanes to getting you seen around town during the day. The programmable output is great and run times are decent, while the now-replaceable battery enables longer rides at maximum output. Only the clamp and the button niggle, really.
In addition to the 1000 lumen Boost mode, there are two more steady modes – 700 lumens and 100 lumens – plus three flashing, one of which is a daylight flash. There's also an SOS mode, which is designated for emergencies only.
Lens and reflector quality is good, though the beam is rather concentrated, almost like a torch. It throws the bulk of its light towards a central point (see beam comparison), though even so, the overspill is still enough to illuminate verges on dark lanes. I felt confident riding at 20+ mph at night; it highlights potholes, debris, road kill and live animals in your tracks just fine.
The Gemini Atlas 500 is an StVZO certified unit that offers a usable amount of light on the road without blinding other road users. It's also simple to operate, lightweight and compact, and the ambient light sensor is a useful bonus. The run-time isn't quite as long as stated, but it's still impressive.
The unit is small, given the reasonable power output, and at 86g it's pretty light too – you could happily use this even on your Sunday best bike without feeling like you're incurring much of a weight penalty. It feels very sturdy, too. It's a straightforward but smart looking light, with a soft-touch feel to the poly carbon composite exterior.
At its highest 500 lumens setting, the Atlas 500 isn't quite bright enough to make those dark lanes or unlit paths feel like riding in the daytime, but it's certainly enough to pick out details in front of you and to the sides to ride confidently, even when you're covering ground quickly. Handily, the Atlas 500 also features two cutouts on each side of the unit, giving it enhanced side visibility, which is useful on the road.
The Classic Drive 500 has a neat, minimalist look – a compact 8cm-long aluminium cylinder, with a swivel mount, and a single hook and strap to fit to handlebars, helmets and also fork legs.
It's straightforward to use, with a single rubber button to turn the light on and off, which also displays the battery level and charging status. Hold the button down for two seconds to turn it on, press the button once to cycle through each of the eight modes, and hold it down for two seconds to turn it off. It's nice to see a memory function feature, which turns the light back on in the last used mode.
Using the full-whack 500-lumen Blast mode gives a bright white, circular spotlight that's good for rolling along at about 16-17mph when using it as the sole source of illumination. This did flatten the battery in just over the 1 hour 30 minutes claimed run-time, but considering the small size of the Classic Drive 500, that's pretty decent.
The Day Flash mode gives a "disruptor style flash" that should certainly get you noticed by other road users; despite using the full 500 lumens in this mode, it can keep going for 11 hours. Impressive.
The Exposure Trace Daybright is a small and lightweight option for getting you seen (rather than for illuminating the way ahead), whether that be on a well-lit urban commute or for riding during daylight hours. The tough and durable design means that although you can buy cheaper alternatives, it should last you years.
The Trace is a really neat little option that'll get you noticed both at nighttime and in broad daylight. It's also small and light enough to tuck away in a bag or pocket to get you home in the event of your main light failing.
The Knog Bilby is a feature-loaded rechargeable head torch with a wealth of features and functions. It's light, bright and a typically Knog-ish funky take on the staid old head torch design. There are a couple of issues that mean it might not suit everyone in all circumstances, and the sheer range of lighting options can make it bewildering, but once you get to grips with it, it's a pretty impressive bit of kit.
Tester Matt writes: "Knog says the Bilby is 'the world's most powerful silicone headlamp' and I can quite believe it. At full 400-lumens boost mode it is dazzlingly bright and will highlight things at a fair distance (I reckon 100 feet/30 metres is easily possible). Even in the less extreme 200-lumen spotlight mode, you'll be able to pick things out at the roadside. When not on the bike, I found myself using the quite useful downward-facing reading light a lot, too.
"The Bilby has more real-world applications than 'just' a helmet torch. Indeed, I'd says it's probably the most impressive head torch I've ever used. It's feature packed and comfortable. But while it's easy to get around your head, it's not always quite so easy to get your head around all its functions. Nevertheless, it's comfortable, cool and clever."
Lezyne's Classic Drive 700XL front light is a very good option for road rides that might see you getting back in the dark, and commutes on semi-lit roads. The lightweight design means you don't notice it when not in use, and the 'race mode' is excellent for quickly switching from full beam to 'dip'.
Tester Liam writes: "The majority of my riding through the week in the winter is split between a short lunch ride if I can find the time, and commuting. Sometimes the lunch ride has to be delayed if work requires, and the commute home is always in the dark now that we're well into winter. The Lezyne Classic Drive 700XL has been ideal for this mix of riding, providing a punchy beam that is just about enough to see by on unlit roads – impressive from a light that is also small and lightweight.
"The Lezyne Classic Drive 700XL is easy to mount, easy to operate and it kicks out just enough light to guide you along unlit roads. The run-time on full blast might be a bit short for some, but if you're looking to light a short post-work ride, this is a very good option."
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John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.