As mentioned in our bike visibility post, lights are one of the most critical bits of kit to fit to your bike, especially for winter riding. There are fewer things more dangerous than getting caught out on your bike when it’s going dark and you’re not illuminated. Cars can’t see you, pedestrians can’t see you, and the risk of some form of collision increases drastically.
No need to break the bank
Fortunately, these days it doesn’t cost a fortune to hook your bike up with some seriously bright bike lights, and with useful features such as USB recharging, bike lights are only getting better year on year. Here’s the low-down on what we think makes a good light, and what we’d pick if someone asked us what we’d buy.
Lights under £50
Possibly one of the best little lights on the market, the Moon Comet is a compact USB rechargeable light that really packs a punch. Rather than using conventional LEDs, they’ve opted for a Circuit-On-Board (COB) with integrated LEDs as one component.
- Capable of outputting 120 lumens from the front light, and 50 lumens from the rear light, and with multiple modes and a brilliantly simple mounting bracket, you’ll struggle to find fault with these.
Excellent low-cost light with 3 settings, and a wide beam that’s perfect for illuminating dark country lanes and getting you noticed in the city. This light has a good battery life, USB recharging, as well as an excellent power indicator that very clearly lets you know when you’re down to the last half hour of battery.
- Additionally, there is a super-simple mounting clip, which makes this compact light a no brainer for commuters and evening riders alike.
Compact, low cost, and with Lezyne build quality, these are a perfect solution for keeping you visible on your bike. Their lumen output is lower than other lights on this list; 15 front and 5 rear, but for a pair of high-quality ultra-compact lights under £30, they’re pretty unbeatable value, and will make sure you’re seen by other road users.
- Compact, super lightweight, USB rechargeable and lasts up to 22 hour (front) and 15 hours (rear)
Let’s not forget dedicated rear lights! The Blinder 4V from Knog is a cracking little light that’s both compact and bright, whilst being pretty stylish too. Providing 44 lumens of light, this USB rechargeable light uses premium materials and has 5 modes that make it an absolute bargain.
Lights under £100
Great value for a compact and bright light set, with a 200 lumen maximum front output, and 70 lumen maximum rear output. Available in silver or black, in a sleek and robust CNC alloy construction, the lights have cuts in the sides of the body to improve side visibility. Add to this that they roll in at £70, this light set is a cracking bargain, and should definitely be considered when hunting for new lights.
We like Knog kit; it’s reasonably priced, well made and looks the part. Pumping out 220 lumens in such a compact package, the Arc 220 lives up to those expectations rather well. It might be at the higher end of this price bracket, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more compact light that puts out this much light.
Compact, powerful and beautifully designed; what’s not to like about this excellent light from Exposure. Machined from high-grade aluminium, with a custom designed lens that maximises light distribution, and a host of other intelligent features, this is one for the top of the list.
Lights over £100
Part of Exposure’s cable-free-design lighting range, this ludicrously powerful light gives an output of 5000 lumens, rendering dark roads and trails a thing of the past, all from a single unit that sits on your handlebars.
Right at the top end of the price scale, but worth every penny, this light is ideal for anyone who’s serious about night riding whatever the weather. Plus with a sleek design and excellent bracket, it looks the part too.
Kicking out over 1300 measured lumen, the Vision R2 LED is exactly what you’d expect from Hope – top quality materials, robust build quality but lightweight, and manufactured in their UK factory in Barnoldswick.
- With an external battery pack, it’s perhaps not as practical and compact as some other lights on the market, but considering price, quality, compatibility with different Hope mounts, it’s hard to ignore this light and earns a spot on our list.
Another light from Hope, the District+ generates 135 lumens, which for a rear light is incredible. With the ability to connect to a range of Hope batteries of different sizes, predictably excellent build quality, and the ludicrous brightness, if you’re after the ultimate rear light, you’re looking at one of the best.
Features to look for, when buying bike lights
With so many different bike lights on the market, how do you know what makes a good light? Here’s a quick guide on what to look for:
1. USB Recharging
A common feature on most bike lights now, a USB-compatible light has the ability to be charged almost anywhere; laptops, wall chargers, phone power-packs. Many use Mini USB connections (Right) for charging, but the newer standard is Micro-USB (Left). This is the type of connection you see on most new phones these days, which means your light can in theory be charged from most phone chargers, though we do recommend you use the included charger if there is one.
Rechargeable lights also have the benefit of costing less over their lifecycle, as replacing batteries every few weeks can soon turn a light budget into a money pit. Spend a few pounds more on the initial purchase, and you’ll save a small fortune in batteries in the long run.
Bulbs are fragile, can be expensive to replace, and often aren’t actually that bright. Fortunately most lights these days are LED powered, so it’s become a case of finding lights with better LED units.
Older LED lights tend to use one or more individual LEDs that resemble small light bulbs. These work fairly well, but these days aren’t very bright and are usually found in non-rechargeable light units. Modern LEDs tend to be flat and square (Right) and can be combined onto one board. These have the advantage of being far brighter whilst using less power.
3. Single Unit
Just because a light is ultra-bright doesn’t mean it needs an external battery pack. Many lights still utilise exterior battery units to give a larger capacity, and there’s nothing wrong with this. For those specifically looking to do night riding, one of these lights is perfect. With long battery life and high lumen output, they’re ideal for long periods in the saddle at night.
However, improving battery technology and lower power LEDs and circuitry mean batteries can be smaller and still provide more than enough power for hours of use at full brightness, meaning they can be integrated into the main lighting unit. These are ideal for all kinds of riding, particularly commuting, where it’s essential to have a bright light that grabs attention whilst being easy to remove should you need to lock your bike in a public place.
4. Side Visibility
More commonly found on rear lights, side panels allow light to project 90 degrees from the light to give far improved side visibility. This is something which is greatly overlooked by many cyclists.