Just like helmets, bike lights are critical safety gear for every cyclist. A good set of headlights and taillights lets you see what’s ahead and alerts drivers and others of your presence. According to the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 52 percent of fatal cycling accidents involving cars and trucks occurred in low-light or dark conditions. Today’s bike lights come with many safety features, and there are plenty of models that don’t cost a fortune. So whether your bike has become your go-to source of transportation or you’re simply squeezing in a ride after hours, let these lights be your guide.
Best Bike Lights
Editors’ ChoiceNiterider Lumina Oled 1200 Boost Light Niterider Read More
Best Value HeadlightLight & Motion Urban 500 Light & Motion Read More
Best TaillightCygolite Hotshot 50 Cygolite Read More
Best Combo SetBontrager Ion 200 RT/Flare RT Light Set Bontrager Read More
Best Value Daytime LightsAscher USB Rechargeable Bike Light Set Ascher Read More
The Experts: Helping riders choose the right bike light is a process that’s sometimes as involved as picking the right bike. I’ve spent six years as a salesperson at The Bicycle Shop in State College, Pennsylvania, so I have an understanding of what works best, but the shop’s manager, Grant Corman, knows this even better, which is why I enlisted his help to back up several of these picks.
Choosing the Best Lights for Your Bike
For the safest ride, we recommend using a headlight and taillight, but if you can only afford one, opt for a taillight (or look for a combination set, which is often cheaper than buying the same lights independently). Just be mindful of state and local laws when foregoing one light or the other. Certain areas, like where I live in Pennsylvania, only require a headlight after dark, but laws (and the enforcement of them) vary widely in different parts of the world.
Typically mounted to your seat post, taillights can help approaching vehicles and others spot you, and they’re generally colored red like the taillights on a car. Headlights are often installed on handlebars, but many can also be mounted to your helmet or a GoPro. Helmet mounts are also a smart addition to your handlebar-mounted light if you’re mountain biking; trails generally include lots of switchbacks, and the way forward isn’t always the direction your bike will be facing.
Nearly every model available today has LED lights with multiple brightness settings and a rechargeable lithium battery. As you evaluate your options, pay attention to how many lumens a light has, as well as its promised battery life and waterproof rating. It’s hard to test these factors yourself on the well-lit sales floor of your local bike shop or department store (and it’s impossible over the internet), so familiarize yourself with what the for your vision and visibility before making a purchase.
Lumens are a measure of how much light streams through an area per second. Generally, the more lumens a bike light has, the brighter it will be, but brightness is also impacted by the light’s beam pattern. Some lights are designed to help you see; others are made to be seen. If you’re riding on well-lit streets or paths, a headlight of 100 to 200 lumens with a flash mode or two is usually enough, whereas mountain bikers who need to spot trail obstacles quickly should aim for at least 1,000. Most taillights are less than 100 lumens and have flash modes or other settings that make them brighter as vehicles approach.
Bike light batteries typically last, at a minimum, for a few hours. They drain faster on lights with more lumens or when you’re using a light on its brightest setting. To conserve power, use those bright settings only when you really need them. Observe your light’s low battery indicator (if it has one) so you know when it’s time to recharge to avoid being left in the dark.
Most bike lights are water-resistant, and some are even waterproof. Brands rate their products on the Ingress Protection scale, which assesses particle- and water-resistance. If you regularly cycle in the rain, make sure your lights have an IPX rating of five or higher (where X is a placeholder, sometimes filled by a number, for the product’s particle resistance). Lower ratings indicate water-resistant, not fully waterproof, products.
How We Tested
Every light recommended here has been thoroughly evaluated and vetted by me, our team of test editors, and the crew at The Bicycle Shop, be it through hands-on testing or intensive research into a light’s posted specifications. After researching the market and surveying feedback from customers and gear review sites, we spent time using several of the most promising options. These lights have traveled many miles on our bikes as we pushed pedals morning, noon, and night: We used them on trail rides in the rocky Pennsylvania woods and during commutes in all kinds of traffic. One editor even tested the water resistance of a light with an unintentional trip through the washing machine. We’ve tested the absolute limits of their functionality so you can ride easy.
PM: What are your must-have features and criteria when shopping for bike lights?
G.C.: More than anything, I like rechargeability and ease of removal, and I definitely like a wide range of beam patterns.
PM: What are your thoughts on smart lights and other lights with automatic features?
G.C.: I like them, but they’re a tough sell. Even though all the integration provides some really cool automation and other features, I’ve learned that most people just like to be in control.
PM: How many lights are on your bike, and when do you use them?
G.C.: I always run a daytime headlight on my handlebars and a taillight on my seatpost. Even when it isn’t dark, they can make people think you’re a motorcycle; they’ll figure out that you’re a bike eventually, but it tricks them long enough to make your presence known.