Longer nights and poor visibility conditions shouldn't present any obstacle to riding your bike. If you're like us, you'll want to ride all year round. The good news is, with good kit, and a good set of cycle lights, you can!
In this guide, we've simplified the range of bicycle lights available at Wiggle by breaking it down into three categories: commuting, road and off-road. We'll explain the differences and tell you what to look for.
Output: What are lumens?
In simple terms, lumens are the unit of how bright a light is, to the human eye.
Batteries: What are my options?
You can still buy cycle lights that run on disposable alkaline batteries; but most lights now feature built-in rechargeable batteries.
The most common rechargeable batteries are Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) or Lithium Polymer (Li-Po); these are smaller, lighter and more powerful than disposable alkaline batteries, making them perfect for bike lights.
Most rechargeable cycle lights charge via USB, and some lights even feature a built in USB connector - so you don't need a cable to charge them at all.
More powerful front lights take a long time to charge via USB, so some come with the additional option of a mains charger.
More and more rechargeable lights are fitted with battery life indicators now, so you know exactly how much juice you have left. Some lights have a small LED indicators, which change in colour to indicate how much power is remaining.
Light mounts: How do they work?
Most rear lights and safety lights use a strap or band mounting mechanism; which you can easily wrap around your seatpost or handlebar, often without the need for tools. Because these kind of mounts are easy and quick to remove, they are ideal for commuting bike lights.
On higher powered front lights, which are typically heavier, clamp mounts are more common. These are more secure, so can cope with rough terrain and repeated use. Most clamp mounts feature some means of quick-release for the light unit, so you can still remove the light with ease.
What are the best lights for you?
The type of bicycle light that you choose will depend on the kind of riding you do, as well as the kind of conditions you ride in. See which of the below categories best describes your riding.
Bike lights for commuting and urban use
If you're riding in a built-up area, and the road or path is well lit, then your main priority should be to make sure you're visible to other road users.
'Safety lights' usually have at least one constant lighting mode, in addition to multiple flashing modes. They also offer higher levels of side visibility; so you can be seen at junctions by pedestrians and other road users.
We've all seen the guy who looks like he's run off with the lighting rig from Dave's Mobile Disco with multiple flashing lights all over his bike, bag, clothing and helmet. You may think it's a bit overkill, but remember you did see him! Fitting more than one light with a combination of flashing modes will always make you more visible.
The LifeLine USB Safety Light Set is the perfect bike light set for when you want to be seen on the road.
The more adventurous commuter
If your commute takes in some unlit roads or paths, you'll want a more powerful front light, so you can 'see' as well as 'be seen'.
Anything over 200 lumens will be able to cast a beam on the road and offer sufficient light to ride on unlit roads and paths, at a sensible speed.
If the terrain is likely to be rough, or you are likely to come across hazards in the road, then you may want something brighter.
The LifeLine Pavo 720 Lumen Front Light is the perfect option if your commute takes you on a few unlit roads or paths.
Bike lights for serious road riding
When your riding takes you on unlit roads, at a fast pace, then you need to think about seriously upgrading your lumen output.
A powerful front light is vital to illuminate the way ahead; picking out potholes, rogue badgers and stray pedestrians!
For this category, we're talking about powerful, bar-mounted front lights - ideally with an output upwards of 600 lumens.
The right selection of lighting modes is also important; allowing you to adjust your light output to your surroundings, and manage your power reserves on longer rides.
The LifeLine ORI 1700 Lumen Power Bank Front Light features a central beam that can kick out up to 1000 lumens alongside two side beams with an output of up to 700 lumens. The front and side beams can be operated independently using two large buttons on the top of the unit making it easy to adjust the lights when you encounter other road users or when light conditions change. As a bonus, the light battery doubles as a power bank so you can use it to charge your phone and other devices.
Back-up and safety lights for serious road riding
High powered front lights designed for road riding tend to have quite a concentrated beam so you can see where you're going, but not dazzle oncoming drivers. The downside of this is that they can be less visible from the side. To improve your side-on visibility, consider fitting an additional road cycling safety light to the front of your bike. In flashing mode, it will provide you with an extra presence on the road, whilst it can also be a useful back-up light if your main light runs out of power.
Adding the Exposure Trace to the front of your bike will help make you more visible to other road users.
On the rear, a bright safety light will allow other road users to see you from a good distance. Similar to commuting lights, using the flashing mode, and doubling up on these lights, will make you even more visible.
Many high-end rear safety lights are now compatible with aero seatposts thanks to longer and more flexible band mounts.
Bicycle lights for off-road riding
Riding a bike off-road, at night, offers a whole new dimension to your experience! Those familiar trails will feel like adrenaline-inspiring new routes, as they look a lot different under the cover of darkness.
You need a really powerful front light so that you can spot hazards such as rabbit holes and overhanging branches that seem like land-mines and trip-snares in the dark. Your usual commuting lights won't cut it. They might seem really bright, even on unlit paths, but out in the woods, you'll be surprised by how much darker it can get.
As a bare minimum, you need a powerful bar mounted front light, ideally with an output upwards of 1000 lumens. These off-road specific lights will have a wider beam pattern too, so they can illuminate the whole of the trail in front of you.
High powered off-road lights feature the ability to "toggle" down the light level; so you can light up the world on those technical descents, but reign back the power, and conserve battery life, on those long uphill drags.
A heads-up on the benefits of helmet lights for off-road riding
In addition to a bar-mounted light, a helmet-mounted light with a narrower beam will help you to see around corners and spot any additional hazards that might be lost in the shadow of your main light.
The Exposure Diablo MK10 (Helmet & HB Mounts) is the standard to which all helmet lights are compared and offers outstanding performance.
Summary and buying advice
Bike lights have developed significantly in the last few years. More streamlined, rechargeable batteries and LED technology mean there is no excuse for not being able to see, or be seen, at night.
We would always recommend that you purchase a light that will give you a bit more running time than your typical ride length. That way you'll have a bit of power in reserve if you make an unexpected detour, or need to stop for a mechanical problem.
Always carry spare lights so that you can get home if your main lights fail. If you're planning long distances in the dark, look into external power banks to allow you to recharge on the go.