What’s the first thing you want in a cycle light? Brightness! But there are so many other factors to consider to make the right choice. Read on and find out.
WANT TO SEE OR BE SEEN?
FRONT LIGHTS: These lights are used by the cyclist to see the road or trail ahead. These are generally brighter with a larger battery pack than tail lights; should be visible from 200m away.
TAIL LIGHTS: These lights make you safe by making you visible to others; are less bright, available in various colors like red, lightweight, come with flash mode to grab attention, cost lesser. These should make you visible from 50m away, from the back and sides of the bike.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A CYCLE LIGHT
Lumen: This indicates the how much light is emitted by your bike-light in total, regardless of how wide or far it is spread out. It goes from 30 to 2000 lumens. To give you an idea, a single car or motorcycle headlights is 700 lumens on low-beam and 1200 lumens on high beam. A household light-bulb of 40 watts is 450 lumens. Generally it is agreed that:
- Daytime bike lights: 100+ lumens
- Urban commuting lights to be seen in town: 50 to 200 lumens
- Rural riding lights to see where you are going: 400 to 600 lumens
- Trail riding lights where you need to see everything: 600+lumens
Lux: This indicates the intensity of the light when it falls per unit area. In a narrow beam, all the light is concentrated in a narrow area and the lux is high. In a wide beam, the total light spreads and the lux is lower.
Beam angle: This may be acute, focusing straight ahead or wide, spreading light all around.
What type of brightness do you want?
High lumen always helps. But how much is too much? You don’t want your rear light to blind people behind you, or needlessly use very bright front lights, supported by heavier batteries, and costing you more on well-lit roads. You want just optimal brightness for your need.
For commuters: Moderate lumen count with a wide beam angle is good to see road conditions and traffic around you. Add a flashing rear light for safety.
For road bikers: High lumen with a focused beam that spreads far ahead is good to go fast and see ahead continuously. Add a rear light for safety. See the Road Biker’s Complete Light Kit. (Coming soon).
For mountain bikers: High lumen with a wide beam is good to see the technical trail conditions around you. Add a rear light for safety and a helmet light to view obstacles as you turn your head. See the MTB Biker’s Complete Light Kit. (Coming soon).
High, full, regular, low, flash and pulse are some of the many modes your light may offer. If a bike light says it has 5 hours run time, it may be on flash mode which saves power. Flash mode is good for riding it traffic when you want to grab attention. But in high mode, the battery may last just 30 minutes.
This is how long a cycle light takes to go from full charge to flat on a given beam type or setting. High quality lights stay at a set lumen before they switch to lower output activating a ‘get-home-safe’ option. Whereas cheaper lights have declining lumen as they run.
You have 2 options – single-use alkaline batteries and the newer USB rechargeable batteries. Single-use batteries are cheaper but heavier, and need to be replaced after use. However these are good to use if you are cycling in remote areas, without charging points.
Rechargeable batteries can be juiced up again with a USB cable. They are lightweight and thus, great as helmet lights. They cost more upfront but in the longer term are cheaper. Some of these batteries even display how much charge if left, and if they are due for a recharge.
“Be seen” lights are generally lighter, as low as 15gm and “see” lights are upwards of 150gm.
These secure the lights to your bike’s handlebar, seat-post, helmet or hydration bag. Velcro straps are gentle and preferred by many road bikers who don’t like to clamp metal tightly around their carbon frames.
On the other hand mountain bikers prefer to clamp the lights securely and screw them tightly on their handlebars to stay put as they rattle over rocks.
Commuters often like lights that are easy to remove as they step into coffee shops with their bike on the pavement. They use velcro straps or slide and release kind of mounts.
Some bikers prefer Garmin compatible mounts so they can use the same mount for lights or Garmin products.
- Set your budget.
- Decide if you are buying a front or rear cycle light.
- Check how bright your light should be depending on your riding style – commuter/ road/ MTB.
- Decide on the beam angle – narrow or wide.
- Checkout if you want flash modes.
- Decide how much run time you need, what kind of batteries – single-use or rechargeable.
- Decide if weight of cycle light matters to you.
- Go for it!
Cat Eye VOLT200XC FRONT LIGHT
This is our favorite pick for a sub 400 lumen headlight; affordable and lightweight at 50gm. It emits 200 lumens on high mode and also has a low mode with 50 lumens. It’s rechargeable and actually has a ‘mode memory’ feature that lets you save your brightness and blinker settings.
Cat Eye VOLT400
400 lumen is the brightness at which you can begin riding in pitch black environments with good visibility. While most rechargeable batteries are fixed within the light, this one features a physical, replaceable and still rechargeable battery. On long haul rides, where you may not have the luxury of power, having a few charged up batteries, ready to be switched out, will be extremely handy.
Magic Shine ALLTY 1000
This one is a heavy duty light with flashing, low, mid and high brightness modes going up to a whopping 1000 lumens! It’s waterproof, uses a Garmin compatible mount and as a bonus is also visible from the sides. The Pro version of this light automatically adjusts its brightness with your speed, if you connect it with your speed sensor. The faster you ride, the brighter it gets.
Magic Shine SEEMEE 60 TAIL LIGHT
This cycle light will do its job on its own. It will turn off when the bike is stationary, blink at 60 lumens when the cyclist brakes to alert approaching motorists, and shine brightly when the cyclist is in motion. All with a motion sensor it comes with. It’s also waterproof and rechargeable; perfect to attach to your helmet or backpack. It literally screams SEE ME as the name says!
Now that you are enlightened, check out a range of lights, and find the perfect one for yourself.