As we approach winter solstice, I’m reminded how imperative proper bicycle lighting is. Not only for your visual advantages, but also for all of those around you enjoying their use of the shared road. And there are few things in the world of cycling that make me shake my head more than when I see an unlit cyclist after dark. Proper lighting can literally save your life when riding and you need to ensure that you have an efficient lighting system.
Lights start around $9.99, per front and rear, at most bicycle shops. Though these lights meet most standards put in place and enforced by state laws, the headlights, specifically in this price range, can fall somewhat short of adequate. I recommend spending at least $30 on a headlight so that not only will you see the road and hazards in front of you, but the car approaching your intersection will have no problem seeing you as well. I personally use a tail light priced around $12 and I am completely confident in it’s safety and visible output. Before getting into the lights I most often use on my bike, lets sort out some key factors when shopping for your new light.
Lumens: Wattage was the standard measurement used by light companies on their labeling for a long time. However, wattage has since been replaced by Lumens. As expected, the higher the number of measured Lumens, the more light will be percieved by your eyes.
Recharge/Replace: Most headlights under $50 will run on a variety of battery sizes from anything as small as calculator batteries, all the way up to ‘C’ batteries. Once you hit that $50 price point, you will find that most headlights are USB rechargeable. I love being able to charge my light off of my stereo system on the way to a ride or at home on my computer. I highly recommend going with a USB rechargeable light.
Mounting: Every headlight I know of is at least designed to mount to your handlebars. Some lights also have the option of being mounted to your helmet. I always have a light mounted to my handlebar, even if I have a helmet light on. I find that my head roams around as I observe my surroundings enough that it poses a threat to what hazards I may be approaching. Having a fixed light on the handlebar is a must. As far as tail light mounting is concerned, you can mount them a few different ways. The seatpost is the most common form of mounting the tail light but that’s not always an available option(i.e. some seats are positioned as low as possible with no seatpost real estate above the seat collar). You can also mount the tail light to your frame’s seat stays or use a fabric mount to put the tail light on your backpack or directly onto your clothing/belt.
Okay, enough talk! Let’s take a look at some lights.
NiteRider Lumina 650 cordless headlight.
This is my go-to light for all situations. Whether it’s urban commuting, or fast MTB descents on single track trails, this light handles everything and then some. The 650 Lumens, on the high setting, are incredibly bright and I would consider it overkill in most settings. I generally run this light on low, which burns for about 5 hours and 30 minutes. The light comes with a bar mount as well as a helmet mount. In the box you will also find the USB cable for recharging. To get a full charge off of an exhausted battery, it will take 5+ hours. While in operation, the power button illuminates a blue LED until you start to run low on battery, at this point it will turn red. Hopefully you’re near your car at that point as you’ll have about 20-30 minutes of light left. This light is worth some serious consideration if you are looking to get some big time lighting!
Cateye Volt 300 cordless headlight.
This light from Cateye has really impressed me. It’s very lightweight and packs a nice punch of lumens. Its high setting is rated, as the model name implies, at 300 lumens. This is plenty of visibility for any given situation. Like my NiteRider, it also comes with a handlebar mount, helmet mount, and a USB cable. Due to it’s lightweight design(113 grams) this light makes an awesome helmet light. The high setting has a listed run time of 3 hours, where as on low you can get 18 hours. And the price is hard to argue at around $70.
Here is a quick comparison between the two headlights:
Left: Niterider(High Setting) Right: Cateye(High Setting)
There is no doubt a noticeable deference between the two lights. The Niterider puts off a much larger and clearer spotlight. The Cateye, in comparison, is smaller with a slightly yellow hue. Both lights, however, perform great and I feel comfortable recommending either one to any cyclist. Let’s finish up with my tail light.
Cateye Omni 3 tail light.
This light is very straight forward and reliable. I’ve been using the Omni 3 for the last decade and have had no complaints. It runs on two AAA batteries. Now, as you can tell from my headlight preference, I’m all for the USB lights, but I won’t complain as this light puts out around 100 hours of run time on constant and up to 150 hours on flashing. The light can be mounted practically anywhere. Last night I had it on my messenger bag and most nights I like to run it on my seat stays. There are definitely brighter options on the market, but for my tail light, the Omni 3 is perfect.
I hope you enjoyed this article. If you have any comments or questions please feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org