With the nights drawing in, here’s our step-by-step guide to cycle lights. We give you a quick run down of all the options available, and help you choose the right lights for your riding. Plus we review the best bike lights, whatever your budget.
Cycling at night can be a great experience. Off-roading takes on a different edge, with shadows casting an other-worldly feel over the track. Night road rides are becoming more popular too, with events like the turn-up-and-ride Dunwich Dynamo celebrating the through-the-night experience under a full moon. However bright the moon is, you would be a bit foolish to ride out without a suitable way to see and be seen, so read on...
1. Front and rear lights – it’s the law
Like any other vehicle on the road, you are expected to ride at night with a front and rear light. The front is legally required to be white and the rear red. Most lights come with a constant flashing mode and since 2005 it has been legal to have a flashing light fitted to your bike – which is great news for cyclists, as a strobe light is more likely to alert other road users to your presence. However, a flashing light is not the best to see with, so opt for a constant front light and flashing rear light. We’d also recommend hi-vis clothing – at night and during the day.
Read more about legal requirements for bike lights at the foot of this blog.
2. How to choose the best bike lights for you: our step-by-step guide
Step 1: Where will you be using your bike lights?
If it’s a quick commute through town in the early evening, you can get away with a cheaper set of lights with a narrower beam and lower lumen (brightness) output. If you’re planning to go off-road through wooded areas, you’ll need to invest in a much higher lumen count and a wider spread for your front light. And if you’re riding in all weathers, you’ll want a rugged model that keeps out rain and dirt.
> See below for more information on brightness and spread.
Step 2: How long/often will you need lights?
If you’re commuting, make sure the lights you choose have more than enough battery life to last your entire journey.If you’re
- The Cateye HL-Rapid 1Front LED light, with 300 lumens and a USB charger cable.
using your lights every day, lights with a rechargeable power source will save you money – just make sure you remember to recharge them regularly! (Some can be charged with a USB cable – handy if you need to charge them at the office.)
Also bear in mind that different power settings will eat through your battery life at a very different rate – so if you don’t need so much light on your morning commute, switch to a lower power setting to save energy for the ride home.
> See below for more information on power source options.
Step 3: Where will you position your bike lights?
For road riding, you’ll want a bike-mounted front light – usually fixed to the handlebars. For off-road riding, you’ll also need a bike-mounted light, and many riders find an additional helmet-mounted light invaluable for switchbacks and tight sections. See our staff review of an Exposure helmet-mounted light >
There are several attachment options for rear lights – the most common is your seatpost, but you can also attach rear lights to the seat stay/downtube or pannier mount. If you want even more flexibility, opt for lights that clip onto your rucksack, pannier bag or the back of your helmet.
Step 4: How much should you expect to spend?
This will buy you a set of basic bike lights, around 100 lumens – good enough to be seen if you ride through well-lit areas, but won't offer much in terms of extra visibility.
For this budget, you can upgrade to a more powerful set of lights (100-600 lumens), with enough light to see and be seen in dimly-lit areas. These lights will also be longer lasting, more durable and waterproof.
A super bright (600+ lumens) front light is a necessary investment if you're night riding on off-road trails (and you may, as mentioned above, go for a helmet-mounted front light, too). These lights have a wide beam to light up the whole track ahead of you, and they’ll keep going all night long. Beware: these lights will blind oncoming traffic and pedestrians, so they’re not suitable for road use. You can save money by opting for a basic rear light (you'll need one of these if you're riding any sections along the road), but make sure you choose one that has a long enough battery life to get you all the way home. Also remember that it's good etiquette to turn your rear light off when night riding off road with a group (this is so as not to blind those riding behind you).
3. Bike lights – our top picks
We've reviewed all the major models of bike lights - here are our product team's top picks:
Front + rear light sets
Affordable: Cateye EL-135 and LD-150 Front & Rear Light Set
- Cateye EL135 / LD150 LED Light Set - £30.99. Compact lights with good brightness - front has 3 LEDs and a wider beam for increased visibility; rear has 5 LEDs and a belt clip so you can use it for running too.
Mid-range: Lezyne LED Micro Drive Front & Rear Light Set
- Lezyne LED Micro Drive Front & Rear Light Set - £69.99. Compact, powerful and great value for money. Perfect for commuters, with an output up to 150 lumens and a durable CNC machined aluminium body with side visibility. Rechargeable, no wires, and there's a power indicator button, so you can see how much battery life is left. Includes USB charger. Tool-free mounting.
Affordable: Lezyne LED Femto Drive Rear Light
- Lezyne LED Femto Drive Rear Light - £11.99. Bright, compact safety lights - perfect for commuting. Fit one to your handlebars, seat post, helmet, bag or seatpack with no tools required.
Mid range: Cateye TL LD10100 LED Rear Light
- The Cateye TL-LD1100 LED Rear Light - £30.99. Cateye's brightest tail light, with 10 ultra-bright red LEDs. Highly water resistant, with 4 modes and side visibility.
High End: Exposure Blaze Rear Rechargeable Light with USB Charger (2013 model)
- Exposure Blaze Rear Light (2013 model) - £99.95. Fully rechargeable internal battery for a long-running rear light. Nice bright beam for a rear light - 80 lumens. USB charger. Weighs just 80g. Weatherproof. Smart design with no cables and straps.
Affordable: RSP Night Sabre 1 Watt Headlight
- The RSP Night Sabre Front Light - £19.99. Lightweight, compact and long-running light (80 hours). With a candle output of up to 400, the Night Sabre will light up dark streets.
Mid range: Cateye EL-530 LED Front Light
- The Cateye EL-530 Front LED Light - £46.99. Uses one super bright white LED for an output of over 1500 candlepower and a max running life of an incredible 90 hours.
High end: Exposure Joystick Mk7 Front Light (2013)
- Exposure Joystick Mk 7 Front Light (2013) - £164.95. The Joystick is a classic, now in its 7th year. It ticks all the boxes: it's small, lightweight and rugged, with an in-built rechargeable battery, powerful 400 lumen output and 36-hour running time. Its compact, light design makes it ideal as a helmet-mounted light, but it can also be used on the handlebars, as a hand-held torch or even as a head-mounted running light.
Hitting the trails at night:
Front lights over 600 lumens:
Exposure Reflex Front Light (2013 model) - 2200 lumens!
Exposure Diablo Mk4 Front Light (2013 model) - 1100 lumens
Exposure Strada Mk4 Front Light (2013 model) - 800 lumens
4. Bike lights - technical information
Different lights have differing brightness outputs, usually measured in lumens. The power output will help guide you to the light's suitability for differing riding situations. (Sometimes you'll also see brightness given in candlepowers. 1 candlepower = 12.57 lumens.)
The spread of a light dictates how the beam of the light is diffused over the area it shines on. Lights aimed at road use will have the beam focused in a fairly central beam so as to illuminate the road directly ahead without shining into the eyes of oncoming road users. Off-road lights will distribute their light over a wider area to illuminate objects in the rider’s peripheral vision that may cause an obstruction.
> Power source
Lights come in two main types as far as power source goes. Cheaper lights tend to be powered by a replaceable battery. Due to the lower output of these lights, your battery can last a long time but will need replacing eventually. More expensive lights will typically have a rechargeable power source, so you can plug the light into a wall socket to ensure that you are powered up for the next ride. USB charging is also fast becoming a standard, enabling lights to be plugged into computers, games consoles, televisions etc – ideal for the commuter who rides in the dark.Most lights have a rechargeable battery pack that is separate from the light itself but some manufacturers such as Exposure make an all-in-one unit for ease of fitting and moving the light between different bikes.
5. Front and rear lights – legal requirements
- Front Lamp: One is required, showing a white light, positioned centrally or offside, up to 1500mm from the ground, aligned towards and visible from the front. If capable of emitting a steady light it must be marked as conforming to BS6102/3 or an equivalent EC standard. If capable of emitting only a flashing light, it must emit at least 4 candela.
- Rear Lamp: One is required, to show a red light, positioned centrally or offside, between 350mm and 1500mm from the ground, at or near the rear, aligned towards and visible from behind. If capable of emitting a steady light it must be marked as conforming to BS3648, or BS6102/3, or an equivalent EC standard. If capable of emitting only a flashing light, it must emit at least 4 candela. You also need a rear reflector and four pedal reflectors to fully comply with the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations.