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
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.