The BCC Best - Bicycle Lights Review
While all new bicycles sold are required to include a plethora of reflecting surfaces, anytime that are riding your bike on a road or path with other vehicles, it is always a bright idea to run some kind of lighting device. To either see or be seen, having a torch facing forward and a blinker to the rear is a necessary accessory that will help keep you safe while operating your two-wheeler.
A Brief History
Beginning around the same time as the bicycle took the shape we recognize today, riders attached candles or oil-burning lamps to their bikes to light their way. While this may seem crazy now to have a flame and fuel accompanying your ride, at the time pretty much every light source was a combustion type, so the logic here seemed solid. Burning whale oil, kerosene, and later acetylene, our early bicycle-riding ancestors understood the need for a mobile beam of light to help keep them safe while their lust for cycling took them past the daylight hours.
Even though electric light bulbs existed, their fragile construction hindered their use on bumpy roads, and paired with the limitations of electricity storage containers, ie. batteries, it took over 100 years from the invention of the electric light for cyclists to harness this source of artificial light for use on their bicycles. With the introduction of incandescent bulbs in 1911, the balance of size, durability, and luminance was finally correct for deployment in the wheeled world, giving a bright new future to the viability of travel by bike.
As we see in nearly every facet of technology, the bike lights that we use today look and function completely differently than their predecessors, giving today’s riders the ability to ride in limitless conditions. Beginning in the 1990s manufacturers began utilizing high-efficiency LED bulbs that vastly outperform their incandescent counterparts, all while sucking down a fraction of the energy needed to get the job done. Along with these much more impressively incendiary illuminators, the potency of lithium-ion batteries paired perfectly to produce the compact lights we use today.
Use It or Lose It
Due to these advancements in how our lights are powered and the efficiency of the bulbs, modern lights can provide visibility at any time of the day. While these lights are not more powerful than the sun, they are bright enough to be seen by drivers, pedestrians, and other riders during peak daylight hours. This gives the “be seen” lights lots of value as they can be run for long periods of time, hopefully making your ride safer whenever you’re on the road.
Most lights will have different flashing or strobe patterns that are intended to garnish attention and make you more noticeable. During the day, it is a good idea to have your headlight in a flashing pattern to alert the world ahead of you, while at night a steady beam can be more helpful for seeing the road or trail in front of you. Tail lights can be used in the flashing mode at all times, which will attract more attention by the traffic behind you, and will help your battery last longer between charging. Our advice is to run your lights as often as possible, with your tail light being a “must have” accessory to have on your bike at any time.
Terms and Conditions
When shopping for battery-powered bicycle lights, you’ll see that they are rated by a few common standards that will help you understand the performance of each unit. Generally speaking, the higher-performing products on the scales will be accompanied by a heftier price tag, so finding the correct performance level for your needs can help make sure you find the perfect lights. Whether you’re in need of a budget-friendly blinker for the occasional commute at dusk or a high-output lamp to light up rough terrain in the dead of night, look for these terms to learn more about your options while shopping:
LUMENS - The unit of luminous flux, equal to the luminous flux emitted in a unit solid angle by a point source of one candle intensity. Translation - brightness.
If you ride in areas that are lit by streetlights and you are looking for the bare-minimum coverage, you’ll need at least 4 lumens, but going for a light in the 10-20 lumen range will help catch the attention of drivers and other riders. To actually see where you are going, you’ll want a headlight with over 300 lumens, and some of the highest intensity units outputting above 4000 lumens.
RUN TIME - Expected length of time the light will operate with a fully charged battery.
Depending on the battery specifications for the light and the intensity of the light output, the time that the light works for will be measured and reported. In essence, the smaller the battery and less efficient the bulb, the less run time you’ll receive.
WATERPROOF RATING - IP or IPX, known as Ingress Protection. Translation - Waterproof and dustproof.
In most cases, it’s a good idea to have the electronics you use to help keep you safe on your bike and not get damaged by water or dirt. The IP Rating system will let you know how sealed your electronics are from damage by the elements because you never know when the uncalled-for storm might rain on your parade. Waterproof means the lights will be able to withstand full submersion, while weatherproof will be able to only get wet in the rain.
RECHARGEABLE VS. REPLACEABLE BATTERIES - The ability to recharge the battery pack in the light, or the need to replace batteries at the end of their cycle.
No matter how often you use your lights, there is going to be a life cycle to their batteries. Not all lights will have a rechargeable battery, so be sure to consider this when making your purchase. While a bike light that uses a replaceable battery is not a bad thing, it is never a fun time when there’s no juice left to illuminate your light - and the same thing goes for the rechargeable style.
A Couple Of Picks
Before we conclude, we thought we’d set you up with some choices for lights that we put our seal of approval on - because that’s what you came here for, right? By no means are these the be-all-end-all of what the market has to offer, but rather a few options to shed some light on the subject. Thanks for reading and ride safe out there!
Best Headlight: Lezyne Micro Drive Pro 800XL ($75)
For an all around powerhouse that won’t break the bank, the Lezyne Micro Drive Pro 800XL produces a brighter light than most others at the price, with a daytime flash mode that will keep you visible even in bright sunlight.
LUMENS - 800
RUN TIME - Up to 87 hrs
WATERPROOF - IPX7 waterproof
BATTERY - Rechargeable, Micro USB
WHY - Goldilocks Award, works “just right."
Best Tail Light: Cygolite Dice TL 50 ($30)
If you are looking for a light that grabs attention day or night, the Cygolite DICE TL 50 packs a lot of punch into a compact package, with 8 modes making sure you have an optimal balance of brightness and runtime to keep you seen.
LUMENS - 50
RUN TIME - Up to 65 hrs
WATERPROOF - IP64 weatherproof
BATTERY - Rechargeable, Micro USB
WHY - Well priced, good visibility, and great runtime.
Best Light Set: PDW Pathfinder + IO USB Light Set ($65)
Designed to be an affordable option for both “be seen” and “seeing,” the PDW Pathfinder set is packed full of features that make it a great light for running both day and night, and will illuminate city roads and rural paths.
LUMENS - 200 front / 25 rear
RUN TIME - Up to 20 hrs
WATERPROOF - “Weatherproof exterior for all season riding”
BATTERY - Rechargeable, Micro USB
WHY - Full of neet-o features that keep you safe.
Honorable Mention: KNOG Frog Bike Light Set ($48)
One of the modern classics, the KNOG Frog set is an affordable “be seen” type option, with powerful LEDs and a rechargeable battery, all wrapped in stretchy silicone for easy mounting and removal.
LUMENS - 40 front / 20 rear
RUN TIME - Up to 80 hrs
WATERPROOF - IP65 waterproof
BATTERY - Rechargeable, USB-C
WHY - Simple design, won’t be too sad if you lose one.