Riding your bike between dusk and dawn requires a set of lights. It is a matter of personal safety – to see and be seen – but also the law. The Highway Code is clear: You MUST use lit front and rear lights and have a red rear reflector. Flashing lights are permitted but it is recommended that cyclists who are riding in areas without street lighting use a steady front lamp.
So what should you keep in mind when looking to buy new bicycle lights? We recommend you begin by identifying where you expect to be riding. Urban riders, such as commuters, can generally rely on street-lighting to see the way forward but need near-focused lamps to spot potholes and debris, and to be easily seen by other road users. Riders in areas without street lights, may need brighter lights able to illuminate the country lane or path ahead. Some lights have adjustable brightness, which can be used to prolong battery life and avoid dazzling oncoming traffic in built-up areas. Others have an adjustable lens to allow the rider to change the width and throw of the light’s beam. We also like the flashing feature that is available in many sets. When ‘flashing’ is used on the tail light, we believe it is effective in catching the attention of other road users and contributes to personal safety.
Weight and durability are concerns for some cycling enthusiasts. If you’ve spent a lot of money on a lightweight frame, you don’t want to be adding unnecessary ounces in a cumbersome lamp set. Cross-country riders and mountain-bikers need rugged lighting that will withstand plenty of shocks.
All of our selections, except one, feature rechargeable lithium batteries. It is still possible to find lamps that use alkaline batteries but manufacturers and consumers have largely preferred the capacity, ‘rechargeability’ and fast discharge of lithium and have made the switch. Similarly, incandescent bulbs have given way to LEDs that provide much greater brightness while consuming less power. Mass-adoption and mass-manufacturing, too, have taken the price of entry-level lithium/LED devices down to the cost of ‘traditional’ alkaline/incandescent lights making the choice easy.
Sorting through the many light sets on the market can be a daunting task. Features, function and durability do not always correlate directly with price so it’s worthwhile considering our recommendations and others. To save you time and help guide your choice, we’ve made some picks based on a wide range of specifications and reviews. Our choices run from ten pounds up to fifty but we believe they all offer value for money.
CatEye 135 Headlight and Rear Light Combo
For cyclists who want to stay ‘old school’, this is a solid choice from a venerable and trusted manufacturer. The front lamp uses two AA batteries, good for 80 hours of constant use; the tail light uses two AAA batteries, good for 200 hours. In each case, battery life is significantly extended by using the lamps in the optional flashing modes. Both lamps use three LEDs. These CatEyes are not extremely bright but will provide good personal safety and visibility in built-up areas. The front light is designed to give a wide beam, ideal for commuting. Alkaline batteries may be preferred over lithium for the (relative) lack of maintenance; alkaline are simply discarded and replaced when flat but this is a continuing cost. The lights are attached to the bike with CatEye’s ‘Flex-Tight’ straps, which are similar to plastic zip-ties.
Ascher Rechargeable LED Bike Lights
It’s easy to understand why this set is a best-seller. Front- and tail-lights both feature four settings: full-bright; half-bright; slow flash and fast flash. The 650 mAh lithium ion batteries provide enough charge to keep the headlight lit for 3 ½ hours on full-bright or ten hours, on the half-bright setting. Each lamp contains three LEDs set in a triangle behind a round lens. The bright-light output is estimated at 160 lumens. The set is delivered with two USB cables for re-charging and rubberised straps for attaching the lamps to the handlebars and frame. Any reservations relate to the fixed focus on the front beam but this is a good choice for general use in areas with street-lighting. A great general purpose pick at a budget price.
Degbit USB Rechargeable Bike Light Set
The bright headlamp, powered by a 1,000 mAh battery, makes this set suitable for some off-road applications: the square lens produces a flat beam with a ‘throw’ over 500 feet. Both front- and rear-lamps have fixed and flashing modes. The front light has four brightness settings while the tail light, which is designed as a 3-inch long strip, has six. Battery life depends on the brightness selected but is over 2 hours for the front light on the highest setting. The headlight is recharged via a USB cable, while the rear light charges via a micro-USB socket. Elastic PVC straps are used to attach the lights to the bike frame. Another good budget pick, extending to off-road situations.
Oruiss LED Bike Lights Set
Powered by a 1200 mAh lithium battery, the headlight can throw out 400 lumens of brightness. The red-strip tail light has a 500 mAh battery. User reports describe a 2-hour charging time for each battery with a minimum life of four hours per charge for the headlight, depending on the brightness which is set automatically depending on ambient conditions. The headlight has a 180-degree lens, composed of three panes, that allows five illumination modes: sidelights; 50 % main light; 100% main light; and flickering on main lights. The lamps are rated-waterproof and reviewers like the robust feel. We like the very bright, variable front light making this a good choice over a wide range of riding conditions.
Hodgson USB Rechargeable Bike Lights Set
Both of these lights are rechargeable via a standard USB cable supplied with the set. The tail light, in particular, is designed for rider safety, being capable of 100 lumens of brightness at its highest setting, through a strip-lens with a 120-degree spread. The headlight is rated at a fairly bright 300+ lumens and both lights have a range of modes and brightness settings to adjust to visibility and external light conditions. Charging and usage-times for each lamp are around two hours and two-hours-plus respectively. The front light attaches to the handlebars via an adjustable clamp and spring lever, which allows it to be removed easily for charging. The rear light clips into a bracket that is screw-fastened around the rear frame or seat post. Reviewers commented on the overall quality of this set but it gains our recommendation for the excellent taillight.
Moon Meteor X-Pro and Comet X-Pro Front and Rear Light Set
A step-up in price brings us to the Moon Meteor and Comet Set. The small, lightweight, Meteor head-light can deliver up to an amazing 700 lumens through its circular lens while offering extended run-time from a 1,400 mAh lithium ion battery. A copper-coated circuit board helps manage the light’s temperature and aids performance. The optical lens casts an 84-degree wide beam providing good illumination over most road and trail conditions. The light has seven brightness and steady/flashing modes and the battery is rechargeable via a USB in two hours. An integrated light sensor can respond to falling darkness and turn the light on. The Comet rear-light uses a 300 mAh battery that generates 30 lumens of brightness through the red light-strip, which is fitted with an optical lens that creates a 270-degree beam angle. Both lamps are available for sale separately or paired with other lights in the Moon range. Some reviewers dislike the strap-fastenings that attach the lamps to the bike but we are happy to recommend this set for its superior specifications and technology.