Light It Up: Picking The Right Light For Your Bike

With the days getting darker, using lights on your bike becomes more important. Lights usually fall into two categories:

  1. Lights that help you see
  2. Lights that help you bee seen

But which one do you need? Much will depend on when, where, and how you ride, but one thing is consistent: every cyclist should own at least one set of lights to help them ride safely during the darker months. While many bikes come with reflectors, and a lot of cycling clothing is reflective these days, you still need to use lights as well (in fact, most states require this in order for you to not be found culpable if you are involved in an accident at night).

 

1. Safety Lights

Every cyclist needs to own at least one set of these. No argument will be entered into on this. These small, inexpensive LED lights have become much brighter and have longer battery life in recent years. They are small enough to fit into a jersey pocket, attach easily to the handlebars and seatpost, and are bright enough to help you be seen on even the darkest roads. Even if you don’t plan on riding at night, having a set of these with you during the fall and winter is important in case something happens and your ride goes longer than planned.

Strength: Small, lightweight, highly visible, inexpensive

Weakness: Not bright enough to light your way

Ideal For: Urban riding, commuting, emergency lights for road/trail riding

 

Safety lights, like the Blackburn Click Combo, are small, lightweight, inexpensive, and help you stay safe if you get caught out after dark

Safety lights, like the Blackburn Click Combo, are small, lightweight, inexpensive, and help you stay safe if you get caught out after dark

2. Commuter Lights

These are kind of the goldilocks lights of the bike world, and are usually pretty ideal for most commuters and road cyclists. Commuter lights are much larger and brighter than safety lights, and have a higher light output as well. These lights are typically in the 50-375 lumen range (lumens are a measure of how bright a light is, the more lumens, the brighter), and are capable of putting out enough light to illuminate the path in front of you with some help from a street light or two. They also usually have a flash mode that can make you more visible to drivers from further out. Always use a commuter light with a taillight.

Strength: Versatile, lots of light in a smaller package, great value

Weakness: Bulkier than safety lights, not bright enough to fully light your way on a totally unlit road or trail

Ideal For: Urban riding, commuting, dawn/dusk road and trail riding

A commuter light, like the NiteRider Mako 200 USB, is bright enough to help light the way, but has a flash mode to help you be seen

A commuter light, like the NiteRider Mako 200 USB, is bright enough to help light the way, but has a flash mode to help you be seen

3. Headlamps

Headlamps are the big boys of the bike light world. Packing high powered LED lamps in the 500-2200 lumen range, these are the lights that are used to light your way during full on night riding. These lights are fairly big and heavy, and some require external battery packs, but what you get is a bike light that’s as bright as—or brighter than—the sun. If you ride on MTB trails at night, like to do some road cycling at night, or commute down unlit country roads, these are the lights that can show you the way home. We also always recommend pairing these lights with a flashing commuter or safety light as well, to stop drivers confusing you with a slow moving car or motorcycle. Always pair a headlamp with a taillight.

Strength: Super duper ultra blindingly bright

Weakness: Heavy, may require external battery pack, relatively short battery life

Ideal For: Night riding on unlit trails or rural roads

The NiteRider Pro 1200 Race is a 1200 lumen light that is designed to turn night into day

The NiteRider Pro 1200 Race is a 1200 lumen light that is designed to turn night into day

 

4. Taillights

Taillights are required of cyclists at night in almost every state, city, and municipality in America, Canada, Australia, and Europe. Basically, these are flashing red lights that mount to the back of your bike—either at the seatpost or seatstay, or by clipping onto your saddlebag or backpack. Their sole purpose is to make you visible to oncoming traffic. Most are pretty inexpensive, and they go a long way toward helping you stay visible and safe. Unlike headlamps, which are measured in lumens, taillights are measured in watts. They can range from 1/2W-2W “boomers” which are visible from over a mile away, to small “blinkies” that are more suitable for city and suburban streets.

Taillights, like the Nashbar Beacon, make you more visible to oncoming traffic

Taillights, like the Nashbar Beacon, make you more visible to oncoming traffic

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