From LEDs to le­gal re­quire­ments, ur­ban sur­vival to back road bril­liance and hy­per tech to ul­tra tough, we shine a light on ev­ery­thing you need to know about bike lights...

Cycling Plus - - CONTENTS - Words guy kesteven

From ur­ban cityscapes, ru­ral roads to off-road epics, we ex­plain what lights you need to use where and more.

Bike lights have never been smarter, brighter or more user­friendly than they are now. There have never been more to choose from ei­ther, but how do you pick the ideal il­lu­mi­na­tion for the rid­ing you do?

Be­yond the le­gal re­quire­ments (see box­out) what light you go for de­pends on your bud­get and com­mon sense. The great news is that LED [Light Emit­ting Diodes] lights are very re­li­able, tough and don’t cost a for­tune for a use­fully pow­er­ful unit. Most man­u­fac­tur­ers quote lu­men out­put to give you an idea of likely power, how­ever, there’s a big dis­par­ity (up to 30-plus per cent) be­tween the­o­ret­i­cal power and ac­tual power once it’s gone through the ther­mal and ef­fi­ciency losses of bat­tery discharge, cir­cuitry, LEDs and so on, then bounced off the re­flec­tors and out of the lens.

Lenses and re­flec­tors con­trol how that power hits the road too. Spot beams fo­cus the power for longer reach down the road at speed. Flood beams spread the light wider for bet­ter pe­riph­eral vi­sion. While most lights pro­duce a sim­ple round beam, which elon­gates to an oval as it hits the ground, oth­ers pro­duce a broader let­ter­box or flat oval beam. Some lights also ad­ver­tise ‘side lenses for ex­tra vis­i­bil­ity’, although what use a 5mm square of back­lit am­ber plas­tic is go­ing to be as you pile into Pic­cadilly Cir­cus at rush hour is def­i­nitely de­bat­able.

Hard cell

Nearly all bike lights are now pow­ered by recharge­able Li-Ion [lithium-ion] bat­ter­ies, which is a very good thing. They’re light and com­pact for their ca­pac­ity and much more for­giv­ing of ran­dom recharge/discharge cy­cles than older bat­tery types.

How much ca­pac­ity you need de­pends on your rid­ing. All night au­dax haunters or transcon­ti­nen­tal bike rac­ers need as many hours as pos­si­ble, com­muters scut­tling from one USB port to an­other and hour-of-train­ing-twice-aweek­ers need less. Bat­ter­ies

“The great news is that LED lights are very re­li­able, tough and don’t cost a for­tune for a use­fully pow­er­ful unit.”

al­ways de­crease in ef­fec­tive ca­pac­ity when they’re old or cold, so it’s worth hav­ing some emer­gency re­serve for on-ride in­ci­dents. We would ad­vise buy­ing ex­tra ‘in­sur­ance’ run­time if you can.

In terms of recharg­ing, smaller lights are likely to just come with a USB charge ca­ble that you can plug in wher­ever, but big­ger lights gen­er­ally have a ded­i­cated charger. Charge times vary dra­mat­i­cally, so match that to your gen­eral level of hurry/for­get­ful­ness.

Some bike light man­u­fac­tur­ers love modes, but we gen­er­ally only use two or three set­tings to eke out bat­tery life. Hav­ing to tog­gle through sev­eral set­tings to get the one you want and then in­evitably over­shoot­ing and go­ing all the way round again, with frozen fingers that can’t re­ally feel the switch, is a right pain. Also, while hav­ing a flash mode is handy for day­light run­ning it’s a po­ten­tial night­mare when you ac­ci­den­tally switch it on as you dive into a rut­ted bri­dle­way de­scent on a gravel ride. We’re big fans of pro­gram­mable menus and/ or re­mote switches that let you change modes with­out tak­ing your hands off the bar.


While out­puts, burn times and phys­i­cal size/weight haven’t changed much, one area where lights have im­proved mas­sively is com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Not long ago the best you could hope for was an LED traf­fic light show­ing bat­tery charge and maybe a main switch that changed colour with the power mode. Now there are sev­eral lights on the mar­ket that

“Some bike light man­u­fac­tur­ers love modes, but we gen­er­ally only use two or three set­tings to eke out bat­tery life”

dis­play the mode you’re in and the re­sult­ing run­time, as well as recharge in­for­ma­tion in real words and num­bers. While some aren’t as ac­cu­rate as oth­ers, this feed­back still makes a big dif­fer­ence to stress lev­els and us­abil­ity, par­tic­u­larly on lim­ited run­time lights or longer rides.

LEDs and Li-Ion bat­ter­ies are far more ef­fi­cient than old bulbs and Ni-Mh or lead acid bat­ter­ies, so most lights are now self­con­tained. That makes them much eas­ier and neater to fit than lights with a lead to a sep­a­rate bag or bot­tle bat­tery. Make sure the light you buy ac­tu­ally fits your bike though. Most clamps are de­signed for round bars, so any­thing aero or oth­er­wise odd will need a rub­ber strap mount or a stem mount. On that note while stem cen­tring mounts look neat they ob­vi­ously don’t work with out-front GPS units un­less they have switchgear, and you have a gear/brake ca­ble setup, which makes run­ning them un­der the stem vi­able.

You ob­vi­ously want the light to look where it’s needed, rather than droop­ing to­wards the floor. Wob­bling lights can make it awk­ward to pick out de­tail and tire your eyes and brain quickly too. Tighten the mount enough to stay put with­out po­ten­tially crush­ing your bars, head to bik­er­ for re­views of the most se­cure units. If a rub­ber ‘grip strip’ isn’t pro­vided then a bit of old in­ner tube or a wrap of tape on the bar works well. Some lights will also in­clude hel­met mounts which are use­ful for off-road use and on back roads, as long as you don’t stare di­rectly at on­com­ing driv­ers.

Be safe, be seen, see back

While the le­gal light­ing re­quire­ments give you ba­sic vis­i­bil­ity, decades of ex­pe­ri­ence as bike com­muters and driv­ers tell us that the more at­ten­tion you can at­tract and the more you look like a mov­ing hu­man, not a

“the more at­ten­tion you can at­tract and the more you look like a mov­ing hu­man, not a dis­tant skip, the bet­ter”

dis­tant skip, the bet­ter. Mul­ti­ple lights are a start, but if you can stick them on bits that move (an­kles, head, bag) so they move or­gan­i­cally even bet­ter. Sim­i­larly lights on the edges of your bike like Cat­eye’s bar end plug LEDs help driv­ers sense speed and dis­tance bet­ter and ad­just for you ac­cord­ingly.

We’re also see­ing more ‘pro­jec­tion’ lights ap­pear, shin­ing red laser lines or bike out­lines onto the road around you. Com­pa­nies like Cyliq are also com­bin­ing lights with cam­eras to record your ride if you fancy join­ing the CCTV.CC club.

Fi­nally, don’t un­der­es­ti­mate the power of cloth­ing when it comes to be­ing seen. There are some lit­er­ally bril­liant re­flec­tive fab­rics around now that boost vis­i­bil­ity mas­sively at night, even if they only seem like sub­tle de­tails dur­ing the day. While you might think it looks sleek/ slim­ming/ninja-es­que, dark cloth­ing is a dumb idea if you’re try­ing to be seen, and a bit of bright goes a long way to avoid­ing be­ing an A&E ca­su­alty.

The 800 lu­men ‘Blitz’ mode picks out trou­ble in the dark­est al­leys

A wired re­mote for flick­ing be­tween high and low beams is in­cluded

Be­low USB charg­ing is handy if you’re rid­ing be­tween home and work

The ‘dou­ble bar­rel’ beam uses a warm, eye-friendly colour with a pro­gres­sive fade

By us­ing six LEDs in a hor­i­zon­tal strip you get a de­tailed 3D ren­der­ing of the road

Left See a full re­view of the Blaze, now Beryl Laserlight at bik­er­

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