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Everything you need to know about what to put on your bars to light your way
  • The days of feeble incandescent lights are long gone. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have taken over as the source of bike illumination. They're robust, efficient and very cheap to run.
  • Smaller lights are plenty bright enough to get you seen at night. Need to see where you're going? Look for output of about 500 lumens and up.
  • All but the cheapest lights are rechargeable, usually via a micro-USB port so you can use a common charger or your office computer
  • Our lights comparison engine shows you the all-important differences in where the light ends up, showing that total lumens aren't the only measure of a good light.
  • Want lighting that's truly ever ready? Take a look at a dynamo system: no recharging needed and you can't leave them at home.

When the clocks go back and the nights draw in, you need to make sure you've got a set of lights on your bike. It's the law in the UK to run them after dark, and they're a major safety aid about town as well as letting you see where you're going in the dark lanes.

If you're in the market for some bike lights there's a bewildering array to choose from, at prices ranging from a few quid to nearly a grand, so what's the best bet for your riding? To help you choose here's road.cc's quick guide to the technology and the options available for your front light.

The light beam comparison engine

Our beam test comparison data contains beam shots and data for over 40 of this year's lights, as well as all our historical data going back to 2015. So you can directly compare one with another. After it, we take a look at the various options in lighting technology and recommend some of our favourite lights.

If you have a nice big screen you can click here for the widescreen version (1400x1000px)

About the beam comparison engine

We've collected lots of beam data so you can compare and contrast the different lights. Light manufacturers use a number of different metrics to describe light output. We've used lux here, but measured at a number of points across the width of the beam. That gives an indication of the brightness of the beam at the centre, the amount of peripheral light and the throw of the beam. We think that's the most useful measurement to directly compare. Specifically, we measured the lux value of the beam at two metres distance, in 10cm increments from the centre of the beam to 1m from the centre, giving eleven readings.

We've also included data on the shape of the beam. We've tried a number of different approaches to this in the past, but this year we've taken a picture of each beam with the camera in the same position and using the same exposure. Wider beams should appear wider, and brighter beams brighter.

Most of the lights we tested still had a more-or-less round beam. For riding on the road a more horizontal or squared-off beam has advantages. You're not wasting your battery lighting up the tree canopy, and you're less likely to dazzle oncoming traffic. Such beams are widely used in Europe, and in Germany they're the only lights legal for use on the road. Only one of our 2018 lights (the Infini Saturn 300) has a StVZO (the German standard) compliant beam, although other manufacturers such as Lezyne do produce the lights, but don't sell them over here. We'd like to see more of them: they work well for a lot of road riding.

To get a good idea of what each beam looks like, we set up a bike on a rig so that we could photograph the beams of all the different lights in a comparable way. Each of the beam shots was taken using the same settings on the camera: 28mm (effective 45mm), shooting for 1s at f29 on ISO6400. If you fancy doing some of your own. So as much as they can be, they're directly comparable to one another. If one looks brighter than another, that's because it was. Matt the Aldi-coat-sporting model is at 10m (the cones are 2m apart) and the car is 20m away.

A word about logs

The graph displaying the beam data uses a logarithmic scale to display the output of the lights. If you understand or care about such things, here's why:

Firstly, light beams follow an inverse square law regarding the strength of the light at increasing distance, because they're illuminating a two-dimensional plane. So at twice the distance, the light beam is spread over four times the area. Consequently, a light that is measured as twice as bright at its centre won't let you see twice as far. The logarithmic scale produces a more realistic visual comparison because of this.

Secondly, the variations in the amount of peripheral light, though much smaller than the variations in the centre, make a big difference to how much peripheral vision you get. The logarithmic scale amplifies these differences relative to the centre of the beam, so it's easier to see which unit is putting out more light at the sides.

Light sources: It's LEDs, LEDs or LEDs these days

A few years ago you had a choice of different bulb options to consider, but LED lights have improved to such an extent – and come down in price too – that there really isn't a choice any more. LEDs tick all the boxes for a bike light. They're tiny, they cost tuppence to make, they last for ever, they're rugged, they run fairly cool and they're easy on the juice. No wonder that everyone's using them these days.

There's LEDs and there's LEDs though. The bulbs in a cheap flasher that look like the ones out of your old 100-in-1 science set are a long way removed from the high-spec emitters in top-dollar off-road lamps. Outputs have shot up in the last couple or three years as well, with the brightest lights claiming outputs of several thousand lumens, more than a car headlight. More general purpose lights range from 200 to about 800 lumens, with basic commuter lights and emergency lights weaker than that; they're mostly to be seen by, though, not to see with.

Setting the standard

Technically, all bike lights must be fitted to comply with the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations (RVLR). For the record, here's what those regs say:

Front Lamp
One is required, showing a white light, positioned centrally or offside, up to 1500mm from the ground, aligned towards and visible from the front. If capable of emitting a steady light it must be marked as conforming to BS6102/3 or an equivalent EC standard. If capable of emitting only a flashing light, it must emit at least 4 candela.

Rear Lamp
One is required, to show a red light, positioned centrally or offside, between 350mm and 1500mm from the ground, at or near the rear, aligned towards and visible from behind. If capable of emitting a steady light it must be marked as conforming to BS3648, or BS6102/3, or an equivalent EC standard. If capable of emitting only a flashing light, it must emit at least 4 candela.

You also need a rear reflector and four pedal reflectors to fully comply with the RVLR.

In practice, not all bike lights are kitemarked. The specification for lights dates back to 1986 and is designed to apply to lights with filament bulbs. That doesn't mean that LED lights can't meet the requirements – many do – but lots of them aren't specifically tested for the ageing British Standard, especially those that are for the worldwide market. Since the RVLR were amended to allow cyclists to fit flashing LEDs we've heard very little about cyclists being stopped for having non-compliant lights.

Choosing a light: things to consider

What am I going to use the light for?
Are you going to be pootling down to the shops, or do you detour through the woods on the way home? You need to consider how much light you need, and where you need it to be put. Brighter is often better, but look for lights with good side visibility if you're riding a lot in town: side visibility is very important when coming out of a junction.

If you're solely riding on the road, look for a light with a beam pattern that's not going to dazzle oncoming traffic. Narrow beams and German-style cutoff beams (designed to comply with German road lighting regulations, where 95% of the available light must be directed downwards) are ones to look out for, although the German-style lights are still quite rare in the UK. If you're mixing up your road riding with paths and singletrack, a light with a wide beam that has lower-power modes for use in traffic may be the one to go for.

If you're going to be doing a lot of swapping between bikes, consider how easy that's going to be. Are the mounts quick release? Are there lots of wires to deal with?

How regularly will I use the light, and how long per day?
If your commute is an hour and your light gives out after 50 minutes then you're in trouble. If it has a proprietary charger rather than batteries or a USB charge option, then it needs to last to where you're going and back again. Think about when you'll recharge the light and how long that will take.

Many lights have low-power options that will extend battery life, so it's important to work out if these will give you enough output for certain sections of your ride. Many lights have fuel gauge displays to let you know the state of the battery, these can be very useful if you ride regularly and aren't good at remembering to charge your lights.

What conditions will I use the light in?
If you're riding every day, come what may, your lights will take a beating. They're very exposed to rain and spray at the front of your bike. Generally the more expensive lights are better constructed with more effective seals, so spend as much as you can afford. If you think you might break your lights from using them in all conditions, check what the warranty is like.

The gamut of glare

Okay, so you've got to buy some lights. What kind of lights do you need? Here's a quick run down of the basic types you can get your hands on, and who they're aimed at. We've mostly recommended lights for which we have a full review. For brand new models, take a look at the beam comparison engine, above.

Emergency lights

Radial Cycles Pharos front saftey light

Small enough to leave in your bag for when you need them, emergency lights normally attach with a stretchy band to the bars or frame and are powered by CR2032 button cells. They don't put out a great deal of light but as an get-you-home solution if you get caught out or your main lights fail, they're a lot better than nothing.

USB-rechargeable lights have dropped in price over the last couple of years, so if you don't fancy paying for a pair of CR2032s every now and then, you can get tiny lights that'll plug into your office computer to charge.

Recommended lights

Cateye Nima 2 — £10.39
Knog Frog — £6.80 (read review)
Lezyne Femto Drive — £9.99

Small torches

Lezyne KTV Pro front light

The next step up is a more powerful bar-mounted lamp. These are still lights to be seen by rather than for seeing, though most put out enough light that you can still make slow progress along unlit, well-surfaced trails and towpaths. There's almost always a flashing mode on offer too, though we'd advise discretion in its use. The pulse from even a low-power light can be bright enough to be aggravating to other cyclists, so best stick to steady mode on two-way bike paths and trails.

Of the latest batch of lights we've beam-tested only the Oxford Ultra Torch runs off separate batteries; almost all front lights in this category are now USB-rechargeable. That means the running cost is effectively zero, but it does mean that if you run out of juice you can't just nip into a service station and grab replacement AAAs.

Recommended lights

Exposure Sirius MK7 DayBright — £75 (read review)
Exposure Diablo MK10 — £172 (read review)
Exposure Joystick MK13 — £112.98 (read review)
Cateye HL-EL135 — £16.99
Lezyne KTV Drive 200 — £17 (read review)
Moon Meteor-X Auto Pro — £37.07 (read review)
Magicshine Allty 300 — £19.99
Cateye Volt 200 XC — £18.99
Knog PWR Rider — £34.49 (Read review)

Torches

moon-lx-760-high-power-usb-rechargeable-light.jpg

There's lots and lots of choice when it comes to larger torch-style front lights. Powered either by either built-in rechargeable batteries or a swappable battery pack, they put out a bit more light. If your riding takes you anywhere you need to see – rather than just be seen – you'll need at least one of these.

Often manufacturers will bundle a torch-style front light with a rear flasher, seeing to both ends of your bike and scoring you a bit of a discount in the process.

Rechargeable units sometimes come with a mains adaptor but USB chargers are the majority, allowing you to juice up your light at your desk or just use another of your collection of wall-warts.

The brightest torch-style lights now kick out over 1,000 lumens, which is more than you'll ever need for road riding, but on lower settings the best ones will run all night.

Recommended lights

Giant Recon HL1600 — £79.99 (read review)
Moon Meteor Storm Lite — £49.95 (read review)
Cateye Volt 800 — £55.99 (read review)
Light And Motion Urban 800 — £83.95 (read review)
Lezyne Macro Drive 1100XL — £33.99 (read review)
Blackburn DayBlazer 1100 — £55 (read review)
Cateye Volt 1300 — £71.49 (read review)
Cateye Volt 1700 — £104.49 (Read review)
Exposure Strada — £165 (read review)
Exposure Strada RS — £178 (Read review)

Battery pack systems

Lumies Race front light

The most powerful lights tend to be characterised by a separate battery pack attached to a smaller head unit that's a lot more powerful than a standard torch. They start at around £20 for a CREE-powered eBay light but you can pay the best part of a grand for the really high end stuff. The big advantage of these systems is that you can swap the battery pack if you're doing a very long ride, and some manufacturers offer a range of battery packs. If you want to go out regularly and train after dark on the lanes, or venture off-road, then a battery pack system may be your best bet.

Recommended lights

'eBay Special' Cree XML system — from £12.99 (read review)
Magicshine MJ-900 — £44.99
Magicshine MJ-900B — £69.99
Lumicycle Apogee — £249.99 (read review)

Dynamo lights

Supernova E3 Pro dynamo front light.jpg

If you want your lights to be a permanent fixture and never worry about batteries then you can't do better than a dynamo. Hub dynamos are the pick for low maintenance and decent output; most will supply 2.4-3W which is plenty for a bright light front and rear. Pick a system that stores some of the energy from the dynamo so you don't go dark when you're stopped at the traffic lights. Many riders leave their dynamo lights on for daylight running too, as they draw very little energy from the bike.

Recommended lights

Shutter Precision 8-series hub dynamo — £84.99 - £149.99 (Read review)
Exposure Revo Mk1 light — £209.96 (Read review)
Supernova E3 Pro 2 light — £122.32 (Read review)

Head torches

Lupine Neo

Fitting a light to your helmet means you can point the beam where you want it, making the light a lot more useful. Some of the smaller rechargeable systems come with a helmet mount, or you could go for a more general use headband-type light and ziptie it on. Bear in mind that you should also have a fixed light on your bike if you want to comply with the law.

Recommended lights

Lupine Neo 2 helmet light — ~£170.00 (read review)

Top lights deals

About road.cc Buyer's Guides

The aim of road.cc buyer's guides is to give you the most, authoritative, objective and up-to-date buying advice. We continuously update and republish our guides, checking prices, availability and looking for the best deals.

Our guides include links to websites where you can buy the featured products. Like most sites we make a small amount of money if you buy something after clicking on one of those links. We want you to be happy with what you buy, so we only include a product in a if we think it's one of the best of its kind.

As far as possible that means recommending equipment that we have actually reviewed, but we also include products that are popular, highly-regarded benchmarks in their categories.

Here's some more information on how road.cc makes money.

You can also find further guides on our sister sites off.road.cc and ebiketips.

Road.cc buyer's guides are maintained and updated by John Stevenson. Email John with comments, corrections or queries.

Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.

40 comments

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Natrix [54 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes

The Halfords 1600 lumen light is on special offer at the moment for £35, a bit heavy at 250g maybe but an incredible light output. https://www.halfords.com/cycling/bike-lights/bike-lights/bikehut-1600-lu...

Avatar
Peowpeowpeowlasers [640 posts] 7 months ago
3 likes
jh27 wrote:
horizontal dropout wrote:

So front up and get a decent German-style cutoff beam front light. They also have the benefit that all the light goes where you want it and they are very nice to ride with. Those with a Philips SafeRide 80 will know what I'm talking about.

 

I went googling the Philips SafeRide 80, but there doesn't seem to be anywhere selling it any more, only the SafeRide 40 and the ActiveRide 800.

I had one, it is an excellent light although slightly let down by the AA battery requirement.  I now run a Lupine SL, which is expensive but unmatched.  I have it set to full power and can see a hundred metres ahead of me, without dazzling anyone else.  It's automatic too, so it only goes onto full beam once it gets dark.  The rest of the time it's on "sidelight" mode.

Once you've owned a light that has a correctly-designed beam cutoff, you'll never go back to the list of torches recommended by road.cc again.  And that's all they are - torches.

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ktache [1870 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes

Peowpeowpeowlasers, thank you, that Lupine looks fantastic, those German regulations seem to be moving the technology on.  I have seen other manufactures lights that come up to the regs but the Lupine, especially the higher power one seems perfect, especially for my on/off road utility thing.

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Bigfoz [181 posts] 7 months ago
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Any chance of a reshoot of some of these using a longer / straighter road. 20m visibility is nice, till I'm coming off the moor at 30-40mph in the pitch black with no streetlights for 5miles in any direction. Then I need big focussed light, at least 50m deep, and the comparison engine gives me no idea of that... 

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ChasP [60 posts] 7 months ago
0 likes

I agree the 'comparison' is rubbish, how can you compare them shining at different things. Look at the B&M beam patterns on their site which give a much better view. There have been some bargains lately on Amazon of both their battery and dynamo lights.

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TRV56 [5 posts] 5 months ago
0 likes

I’d also recommend looking at successful kickstarter graduate outbound lighting.  Their road light uses an engineered beam approach that gives a nice spread, good power, and a solid cutoff much like a car headlight.  Best light I’ve ever used for commuting as you can leave it on bright and not worry about blinding anyone.  Pretty much the only light of its kind available in the US.  Haven’t tried their MTB light,  it it looks equally good without the cutoff of course.  These are not simple flashlight beam patterns but really give the feeling that you’re riding with a car headlight.  Haven’t seen anything else that comes close right now.  

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zero_trooper [339 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes

[/quote]

 

I went googling the Philips SafeRide 80, but there doesn't seem to be anywhere selling it any more, only the SafeRide 40 and the ActiveRide 800.

[/quote]

 

Why Philips stopped making the SafeRide, I don't know? The number of threads which rave about them. Gap in the market? 

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ktache [1870 posts] 2 weeks ago
2 likes

I am eagerly anticipating reviews on Exposure's and Lupine's STVZO lights.

Or any company's version that is to the same standards.

Perhaps by the winter.

The concept of a well made, fully positional and  properly dippable light that annoys oncoming road users less with the ability to go FULL beam when necessary does very much appeal to me.

Those crazy germans and their regulations, hey.

I find my Exposure Axis to be an excellent helmet light, the TAP function sort of works, but I find the beam a bit to narrow for a handlebar light, used when sending back my Hope R4 to get the connecting wire replaced.

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hburg1222 [1 post] 1 week ago
0 likes

Can't say enough about my Busch + Mueller Luxos.  Comes with a charging port for a USB plug in.  Great light pattern, and great for a night time ride when you prefer a cooler ride.

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Boatsie [354 posts] 1 week ago
0 likes

I like 18650 lithium battery torches. I guess I have a few of them, a handful of batteries and a 4 battery charger. I run them until not flat, then switch the battery with a charged battery. When enough are low, I recharge the lot. Stored in the fridge (lithium likes about 4 ℃ is belief here). Only problem is the bracket only fits the flatbars.
A couple of triple led round lights usb plug rechargables from EBay at about $5Aud a pop strap all the bikes.. Same on rear. They're really bright at $5 range.. Strong strap.. Useful spares.
A couple of normal slid into clip lights are the mains on the dropbars.. One's an expensive unit at 44 quid, the other looks like it'll be good enough.. Closer to 10 quid at 320 lumens I think.. Most riding is street lights anyway and known paths.
The rear $5 triple led round lights look suberb, complimented with some usb recharged 5 higj series type held secure with a rubber band and a AAA*2 powered older style with lasers tracing to the side of the bicycles track.
When desperate I use the tiny units that aren't much bigger than a round battery but even during best weather no one seems to see them. Legal yet it's like wearing a blue life jacket.
A big fan of the torches and the slide into a clip style usb recharged front lights.. Venomous snakes warm on rock down here during summer and if hiking they're light and easy to hold and point.

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