TRAIL LIGHTS

We’ve tested a bunch of front lights, from £95 to £375, to ind the best ways to turn night into day on the trails

Mountain Biking UK - - WRECKED & RATED -

A de­cent trail light can give you a ton of ex­tra rid­ing time, par­tic­u­larly in win­ter, when the days get short. But what makes a good light and what do you need to know to pick the ideal one for your rid­ing?

The good news is that things are sim­pler than they used to be. All qual­ity bike lights now use high-power LEDs (rather than bulbs), which are bright, ef­fi­cient and bombproof. Li-ion bat­ter­ies are pretty much uni­ver­sal for the same rea­sons. The build qual­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity of brand-name lights is gen­er­ally pretty good too. Re­branded or di­rect­from-Asia lights can still be a lot­tery though, in terms of longevity, loose con­nec­tions or ex­trav­a­gant power claims. That’s why we’ve stuck with units that have a proper UK war­ranty and a dis­trib­u­tor who can sort out prob­lems quickly.

We’ve pegged power at a min­i­mum of 1,400 claimed lu­mens, be­cause that should give you at least 1,000 ac­tual lu­mens. That’s enough for rid­ing with­out com­pro­mise on routes you know and suf­fi­cient for safety at de­cent speeds on blind trails. Beam pat­terns vary, from fo­cused spots (good for hel­met lights, which point where you look) to wide floods (good for bar use on slow, tight trails) or a mix of the two. If pos­si­ble, use both bar and hel­met lights, to pro­vide 3D il­lu­mi­na­tion, avoid con­fus­ing shad­ows and give you a back-up if one dies.

Al­ways get a light with more bat­tery life than you’ll need. That leaves you ex­tra time if you have a me­chan­i­cal or get lost. It also gives you ‘in­sur­ance’ against bat­ter­ies los­ing ca­pac­ity as they get older or colder. Al­ter­na­tively, choose a sys­tem where you can buy an ex­tra bat­tery as a spare. Ei­ther way, an ac­cu­rate bat­tery life in­di­ca­tor is in­valu­able for mak­ing sure you get home safe. ‘Self-con­tained’ bar lights re­move wor­ries about fit­ting bag bat­ter­ies, which can slide around and scratch your frame. But they need a se­cure mount and can’t be used on your hel­met like a sep­a­rate lamp and bat­tery can.

Ba­sic sys­tem re­li­a­bil­ity is the most im­por­tant fea­ture, above all else, which is why we’ve tested ev­ery light here ex­haus­tively in all con­di­tions, as well as re­fer­ring to long-term sets re­tained and run into the ground from pre­vi­ous years’ tests.

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