If you regularly commute by bike, you’ve likely figured out by now that you might need lights, especially for your evening commutes. I’ve had a couple of my meat-world friends ask for my specific recommendations, so here they are.
How much are you willing to spend?.
How much we spend on bicycle lights is an informal, real world exercise in risk-benefit analysis. You can spend anywhere from five bucks to hundreds of dollars on a bicycle headlight. Generally speaking, more money buys you brighter lighting, better quality, and longer battery life. Brighter lighting also enables you to ride fast more safely, so your cycling speed can also factor into how much brightness you think you need.
Lights in the $5 to $15 range are “be seen.” I keep some on hand as emergency lighting. A lot of these are powered by CR2032 lithium watch batteries. These are just now becoming available in rechargable varieties, but in any case they’re often a pain to change out in these less expensive lights. These lights may or may not satisfy California law, which nebulously says the lights must be visible 300 feet in front of the bicycle. Typical models include this six dollar silicon handlebar light.
The next step up are what I consider the twenty dollar lights. The best-selling bicycle headlight on Amazon is the Planet Bike Beamer. Like the Beamer, lights in this category generally use AAA or AA batteries and provide just enough light to light up a road. My long time favorites from Cateye also fall into this category. The Planet Bike Blaze is another popular headlight that provides noticeably more light for about $40.
Beyond that, you get to the truly bright headlights that approach and rival automobile headlights in brightness. Lights like the Magicshine MJ-880 reviewed here pump out nearly 1500 lumens of light for about $200.
At the other end of the spectrum, you can also buy a little LED flashlight from the drugstore and mount it to your handlebards with rubber bands.
AT&T tells us more is better, but beyond about $100 there is a point of diminishing returns on bicycle headlights. I’m personally comfortable riding with the 300 lumens available from my Nite Rider 350. This model is no longer available, but the Lumina 350 is nearly identical and retails for about $80. The Lumina series is also available in a 550 lumen model ($90) and a 750 lumen model ($110). Once upon a time I hesitated to recommended NiteRider lights because their mounts didn’t quite hold their heavier lights, but since NiteRider redesigned the mounts in 2012, I can wholeheartedly recommend the lights. They’re rugged, they survive continuous exposure to rain and the elements. Like many other models in this price range, the Lumina lights contain high capacity lithium ion batteries that are USB rechargeable. Run time is about an hour a half on the brightest setting, up to 18 hours in flashing mode.
My other recommendation are for the Light & Motion Urban series of commuter headlights. These lights are USB rechargeable, rugged, and weatherproof. They’re a little pricier than the NiteRider Lumina analogs, but Light & Motion lights are sleeker and lighter in weight. The Urban series of lights are available in 200 lumen, 400 lumen (shown above), 550 lumen, and 700 lumen varieties.
I’m personally a fan of Light & Motion because they’re local (based in Monterey CA, where they also manufacture the lights) and spend a lot of time riding in San Francisco specifically for market research.
The links above point to my Amazon affiliate sponsored product pages, which gets me a few dollars if you buy from there. Prices at your local bike shop will be similar, and you don’t have to wait for shipping. You can also see these lights at two upcoming bike shows that I’m aware of. Light & Motion will be among the vendors at the Philadelphia Bike Expo this coming weekend. And on November 16, don’t miss the SF Bike Expo where numerous lighting vendors will display their wares.
The universe of bicycle headlights is pretty large these days. I’ve tried a lot of brands and seen even more. What do you use that has held up over time?
See also Janet Lafleur’s bike light tips over in the Mountain View Voice, where comments follow regarding helmet mounted lights and strobes.
Tomorrow: Tail lights!