- Bike Light Technology
- Our Top Bike Lights for 2019
- 1. Brightroad Original LED Bicycle Rechargeable Light Set
- 2. Cycle Torch Shark 500 USB Rechargeable Bike Light Set
- 3. Blutzu Gator 320 USB Rechargeable Bike Light Set
- 4. Cycle Torch Night Owl USB Rechargeable Bike Light Set
- 5. TeamObsidian Bike Light Set
- 6. Portland Design Works Radbot 1000 Tail Light
- 7. Cycle Torch USB Rechargeable Bike Tail Light
- 8. Lezyne Zecto Drive Rear 80
- 9. Blackburn Local 75 Front Light and Rear 15 Light
- 10. CATEYE 800 – Rechargeable Headlight
- 11. ITUO LED Bicycle Headlight
- Bike Light Kit
- Our Recommended Bike Light Kit
- Helpful Tips
- Amazon’s Bicycle Light Definitions
- Lumens and beam patterns
- Other considerations
How many times have you hit the trail or road and realized that you forgot to attach a light to your bicycle? As a year-round bicycle commuter for almost a decade, I can testify to the importance of ensuring your bicycle is as visible as possible. And unlike some bicycle accessories that merely influence the comfort of your ride, having the appropriate bicycle lights can mean the difference between life and death. This is even more relevant for all-season commuters—like those of us in the Northeast–who battle daylight savings, heavy rain and the accompanying hazards that are amplified by dark, wet roads and roads that lack shoulder width or bicycle paths.
Bike Light Technology
The good news is that modern bike lights are light, relatively inexpensive and powerful enough for even the most hardcore cyclists. Much of this progress has been driven by ever-improving LED lights that create more light per watt than older bulbs. The upshot of this is that we all benefit from brighter lights that weigh less and draw less battery power. Ultimately, if you’re saving buckets of cash every month by minimizing your carbon footprint, paying less for gasoline and improving your health, why not invest in the appropriate equipment for your bicycle to ensure your commute isn’t upended by an accident that could have been prevented by making yourself more visible to drivers.
There are many different types of bicycle lights: headlights, front and back light sets, rear blinkers, and miscellaneous lights, such as light ropes or reflective clothing. After reviewing our top light list, we recommend that you check out our “night time bicycle light kit” that includes our favorite light accessories for your helmet, ankles, bicycle frame, rims and upper torso.
Our Top Bike Lights for 2019
Our top bike lights are listed below. Please note that several options listed below are not listed in other top bicycle light lists since this post is probably more current than others. Since we focus exclusively on bicycling, we take this particular post very seriously since night time bicycling can be dangerous without the appropriate gear.
1. Brightroad Original LED Bicycle Rechargeable Light Set
Price: $39.80 – Buy on Amazon
Key features: Extremely bright (800 lumens), 18 hours of working time, IPX6 (waterproof), aluminum body
The Brightroad light kit option currently on the market. At 800 lumens, this light provides vision up to 650; even while moving at high speeds. Currently, this is also the top-rated bicycle light on Amazon with almost 150 mostly five star reviews. Whereas most other bicycle lights are IPX5, the Brightroad is IPX6, which makes it highly water resistant. You’ll charge these lights (the headlight and the rear light) using a USB cord. The manufacturer describes the headlight as covering 85 degrees with five modes. The rear light has 3 modes and is also made of aluminum. Since these are USB charged lights, the length of use will vary depending on the mode. Do keep in mind however that although Amazon’s website states the light will last up to 18 hours, these typically only last 2-3 hours when used in high mode. If you’re committed to a battery-powered bike headlight, you should consider the TeamObsidian (see review below).
2. Cycle Torch Shark 500 USB Rechargeable Bike Light Set
Price: $39.95 – Buy at Amazon
Key features: 4 modes, USB powered
This is one of Amazon’s top bicycle lights and is charged via USB. This light comes with an automatic over charge and discharge cut-off system. These lights come with 2 USB cables. Users report that while there are lights with higher lumens, the pattern of this light creates a more helpful field of vision that is both long and wide. The straps for each light are also easy to use compared to some other lights that don’t form fit handlebars. On a full charge, USB lights will typically last 2-4 hours depending on the mode used.
3. Blutzu Gator 320 USB Rechargeable Bike Light Set
Price: $16.99 – Purchase at Amazon
Key features: Free tail light, swivels 360 degrees, 4 modes, water resistant, detachable
390 – https://amzn.to/2JzGRkV
The Blutzu Gator 320 USB Rechargeable Bike Light Set is our top choice because of its $16.99 price, durability and brightness. This is Amazon’s top-selling bicycle light and comes with both a front headlight and a rear blinker. The Blitzu Gator 320 is built with sturdy molded plastic and has 4 modes: high, medium, low and flashing. This headlight charges with a USB and takes about 2 hours to fully charge. Once charged, it has a lifespan of about 2 hours when on its highest setting. Be aware that the rear blinker is not charged using USB and instead uses cr2032 batteries. If you’re looking for a USB-charged front and rear light, check out the Blitzu Gator 390. It will cost you a few dollars more, but it’s well worth the investment if you’d like to have a chargeable rear blinker and 70 more lumens (for 390 total lumens).
4. Cycle Torch Night Owl USB Rechargeable Bike Light Set
Price: $24.99 – Purchase at Amazon
Key features: 4 modes, lightweight, water resistant, headlight/rear blinker both USB chargeable
The Cycle Torch Night Owl is a good choice if weight is a priority. It’s not as bright as the Gator 390, but it shares most other features. Some reviewers complain about the rubber mount not securing the light, which requires an additional tie down. Like many other headlights, it has 4 modes and is water resistant.
5. TeamObsidian Bike Light Set
Price: $16.99 – Purchase at Amazon
Key features: 7-9 hours of battery life on high mode, solid mounting, well designed for use beyond bicycle (size and quick release), 6 modes
The Team Obsidian bike light comes as a kit. Along with the headlight, you’ll also get a rear blinker light. Both lights run on AAA batteries (3 in the front and 2 in the back). The headlight shell is aluminum and feels solid, but keep in mind this unit isn’t rated high in terms of IPX. Some have suggested it’s an IPX2 or 3 as opposed to our other top choices that are IPX5. Having said that, these do well in wet conditions. While the mounting kit for both lights is meager, they do well once secured to the bike. This light really shines if you’re looking for a bicycle light that can also function as a flashlight—and is under $17. In some respects, it’s also nice to use AAA batteries since you’ll have a dependable light intensity for a longer period of time compared with USB-charged lights.
6. Portland Design Works Radbot 1000 Tail Light
Price: $40 – Purchase at Amazon
Lumens: 1.0 Watt
Key features: 2 AAA batteries, 10-25 hours of use, accelerometer, 3 different mounting options, made in the USA
The Portland Design Works Radbot 1000 is really the gold standard for bicycle tail lights or rear blinkers. It’s weatherproof and has a super low-power mode (20 lumen), solid mode or a high-intensity 80-lumen flash mode. This light also has an accelerometer that detects when you brake or corner so that it can brighten to a 100-lumen solid-red beam, which helps alert rear traffic. After charging, you should get about 10-25 hours of use depending on which mode you use.
7. Cycle Torch USB Rechargeable Bike Tail Light
Price: $14.95 – Purchase at Amazon
Key features: 5 modes, 2-3 hours of USB charge, low cost, mounting for bicycle or helmet
This is a solid low-cost option for your rear bicycle light. Based on reviews, the charge appears to hold well for the first few months, but after that, expect your charge to last about 2 hours. These are not bright enough for daytime usage, so keep this option in mind for a nighttime light; especially if you’re looking for a versatile, low-cost option that can be removed from your bike with little effort.
8. Lezyne Zecto Drive Rear 80
Price: $34.99 – Purchase at Amazon
Key Features: 2-in-1 Clip-On System straps, 8 modes, rubber mount for seat posts
If you want the brightest taillight on the market, look no further: The Lezyn Zecto Drive Rear 80 features eight modes, including a super-bright 250-lumen daytime-flash setting with an impressive nine-hour run time. The compact housing and tools-free attachment keeps it secure and out of the way on your seat post. While some people complain that the rubber mounting doesn’t fit their frame, most reviewers were satisfied with the mounting for this light.
9. Blackburn Local 75 Front Light and Rear 15 Light
Price: $39.95 – Purchase at Amazon
Key features: 3 beam modes, 25-40 hours of use with AA batteries,
This is another versatile, front/back light kit from a reputable manufacturer. The front Local 75 headlight has 2 LED lamps and puts out up to 75 lumens of light; hence its name. The Local 15 rear has one solid and two flash settings and puts out up to 15 lumens of light. Both lights run on AA batteries.
10. CATEYE 800 – Rechargeable Headlight
Price: $129.95 – Purchase at Amazon
Key features: strong light, industrial casing, excellent mounting system and durable
The full-featured Volt 800 is more expensive than other lights, but it should last a while and will provide excellent brightness. I used a Cat Eye for many years and found it to be a versatile light with more than enough power. The beam pattern is broad while providing sufficient light past 300 to 400 feet.
11. ITUO LED Bicycle Headlight
Price: $168.95 – Purchase at Amazon
Key features: Extreme beam distance, solid frame, IPX6 water resistance
This is the powerhouse option if you’re looking for a “flood light” that will give you enough light to not see the road in front of you, but to also warn the nearby air traffic controller you’re ready to land. Joking aside, this light is certified IPX6 and relies on 3 high power Cree XM-L2 U3 neutral white LEDs. This light also comes with adapters for handlebars or for your helmet.
Bike Light Kit
Although it will cost you a few more dollars, we are strong proponents of this kind of systems approach to enhancing your nighttime visibility while bicycling. Our suggested kit includes 2 front lights, 2 rear lights, ankle reflectors and a reflective vest. We also strongly recommend wrapping your bike frame or rims with reflective tape or neon lights. If you still need convincing of this need for a “bicycle light kit” check out the results from a recent study about driver attitudes to cyclists. And note the reference to cyclists being 12 times more likely to be killed by in a traffic crash with a car than drivers of cars. When I completed my evening bicycle commutes in Oregon, I lost track of the number of times cars simply didn’t see me. Over time, this led to the addition of more lights and my “bicycle light kit” to boosting my visibility. One professor whose night time commute resembled mine in Oregon bicycled to work for almost 50 years. Tragically, he was hit by a car when crossing an intersection on his recumbent bicycle. In summing up the cause for the high occurrence of bicycle accidents, such as this one, the police mention rider and driver education, but also the need for improved bicycle lights. To zoom out on this issue a bit, visit the bicycle almanac.
Most relevant in this collection of statistics are data pointing to 39% of all bicycle deaths occurring between 6pm and midnight. After sharing our recommended bike light kit and top bicycle lights for 2019, we’ll break down the criteria we used to come up with our ranking—and to help you arrive at your own conclusions.
Our Recommended Bike Light Kit
- Bicycle helmet light
Maketheone Bicycle Light or the Topside Bike Helmet Light
- Bicycle headlight
Gator 390 headlight
- 2 Rear Lights
Radbot 1000 on flash mode and
a steady red rear light
LED reflective vest
LED bicycle wheel lights
If you’re a commuter traveling a short distance in a well-lit area, our bicycle kit might be a good fit–less a few items such as the rim lights. If you ride regularly after dark and live in an urban area, we strongly advise you to invest in the best lights and reflective equipment you can afford. One rule of thumb to keep in mind is that even when bicycling during the day, you should use a light; especially a tail light. And, the brighter the ambient light, the brighter the light you’ll need for visibility. In other words, a light that puts out 30 lumens of light won’t seem nearly as bright during the day as it would at night
How to Power Your Lights
Lithium batteries are common in bike lights today. But they are often more expensive and it’s hard to compare them to double or triple A batteries if the frequency of charging is an issue for you. What is sure is that conventional batteries last longer and often provide a strong lumen count.
Where You’ll Mount Your Lights
We’ve mounted lights to almost every part of our bicycles. While most headlights mount to the handlebar, some models can also be helmet-mounted.
In the past, I’ve always used a 500+ lumens headlight for my helmet. As long as the headlight has a mounting system that can be used with a helmet, you’ll be able to extend the range of your vision and ensure your body is more visible to drivers from a lateral perspective since a headlight secured to a helmet will rotate or pivot as your neck pivots. It’s a no-nonsense way to boost your vision and your visibility.
Look for More than Brightness
Although lights are rated in lumens or watts, there are other factors at play that influence how effective or powerful your light will be in different conditions. The primary feature beyond lumens is your light’s beam pattern (how wide and far the light reaches, and how evenly it illuminates). Your light’s beam pattern relies heavily on reflector geometry. If you’re curious about how beam pattern influences your light’s brightness relative to visibility, check out this light beam comparison engine (middle of page).
We listed some of the key factors you might prioritize when purchasing bicycle lights, but some of the universal features you can consider are whether their mountain system is sturdy, how easy they can be removed, price, whether the light can be used on your helmet, whether the light has a high IPX water-resistance rating (5 or 6 is the highest) and what the the product is durable and lightweight.
Amazon’s Bicycle Light Definitions
A front light, or headlight, is your bike’s equivalent of car headlights. Bike headlights help you see what’s up ahead and to your sides when you’re biking in dim or dark conditions. Of course, your headlight also helps make you more visible to others – particularly motorists who are driving in the opposite direction.
Bike headlights are much more intense than bike tail lights and have a somewhat narrower beam. They also require a higher level of battery power. Most bike headlights mount to the handlebars.
A good bike headlight has multiple settings, so you can tailor the light to your surroundings and the level of light you’re in. At a minimum, your light should have the following settings.
- A low or regular intensity setting
- A high beam for riding in especially dark areas
- A flash or pulse setting (so you’re more visible during the day)
General safety lights
Bike safety lights help other people – particular motorists – see you in dim or dark conditions. But many studies suggest that it’s best to use your safety lights even when riding during the day if you’re in a high-traffic area.
Safety lights are mounted on the back of the bike, usually directly below the seat or on the back of the bike rack. Some riders also attach safety lights to the bike frame or spokes.
Your taillight is your most important bike safety light. In fact, many states require bicyclists to use them. Most are red and have two settings: a steady beam and a flashing pattern, the latter of which is the best choice when riding at night. Your taillight should be visible to motorists both behind you and to your side.
While not absolutely necessary, it’s a good idea to have supplemental safety lights if you typically ride on busy roads or in low-light conditions. Bicycle frame lights come in a variety of colors, so you can add a dash of quirky style along with safety to your bike. Frame lights usually attach to the bike frame between the wheels.
Spoke lights are lots of fun, especially for kids. These small-but-intense lights may come in packages that fasten all the way around the bike wheels or as just one or two lights that clip to a couple of spokes. Either way, as the wheels turn, the lights blur into what appears to be a steady stream of light. Some spoke lights can even be programmed to create intricate patterns as the wheels spin, greatly increasing not only your safety, but also your style factor.
Bike helmet lights are another optional type of safety light that we highly recommend. These lights clip to, clamp on, or slip over your helmet. Many have a white light on the front and a red light on the back so you get a bit of extra illumination on the road, along with increased visibility to motorists. Most helmet safety lights can be set on a steady or flashing pattern.
Lumens and beam patterns
It’s hard to discuss bike lights without defining lumens and beam patterns, as these two concepts are very important when choosing the best bike light for your needs.
A lumen is basically a unit of measurement for the amount of light that strikes the object you want illuminated. While it’s a bit more complicated than this, it’s easiest and most familiar to think of lumens as the intensity or brightness of your bike lights. The higher the number of lumens, the brighter the light. This is especially important when choosing a bike headlight – or if you often travel off-road paths.
You can use the following statements about lumens as a general guideline.
- Safety lights are typically in the 25- to 100-lumen range. That’s just enough to make your bike visible to motorists, but it’s not enough to light your way, so only consider a light in this range if it’s going on your bike’s rear, frame, or spokes for safety purposes.
- If you typically ride on well-lit paths or roads and just need a little extra light, you’ll probably find a headlight in the 100- to 300-lumen range to be sufficient. Going much beyond that while riding in mixed traffic could blind oncoming motorists, greatly increasing your chance of an accident.
- Mountain bikers, off-road enthusiasts, and those who ride at night or on poorly lit roads needs much more intense headlights. Generally, you’ll want at least 400 lumens, although many headlights specifically marketed for mountain bikers are much brighter than that. (Some go well beyond 1,000 lumens.) For the sake of comparison, consider that the typical car headlights emit roughly 700 lumens on low beam and 1,200 lumens on high.
Beam pattern refers to how widely a bulb casts its light. A spotlight, for example, focuses in a narrow but long beam pattern, while a flood light spreads illumination over a wider, yet shorter, path. Your best choice of beam pattern depends, to a great extent, on where and how you ride. For some cyclists, owning two light sets with different beam patterns can be beneficial.
The average commuter cyclist who rides on surface streets or fairly smooth paths does best with a headlight that has a fairly tight beam pattern. This means there is less peripheral illumination, but the light shines further ahead. Mountain bikers and others who ride in rugged conditions fare better with a light that has a wider beam pattern, making it easier to spot potholes and other trail hazards.
How will you mount your new bike light to your bicycle? Most bike lights fasten with a screw or clamp to the handlebars, seat back, frame, or spokes. Many small safety lights fasten with Velcro. Some high-output headlight systems have clips that make it easy to remove the light when leaving your bike. This deters theft.
- While bike light mounting clamps are normally adjustable, and thus fit the majority of bike frames, it’s always best to confirm that any light kit you’re considering fits your specific bike model.
Bike lights all run on batteries, but which kind of batteries will you need? Small safety lights for the spokes, frame, and back of the seat typically run on regular disposable or rechargeable batteries. However, headlights often include a USB cord so you can recharge the batteries over and over again from your computer or other USB-ported device. This applies to high-output headlights in particular.
- Bike lights generally hold a charge for a long time, but if you ride extensively at night, look for a light with an extra-long run time. Keep in mind, too, that high-output lights tend to take several hours to recharge.
Feel free to check out our best water bottles for cyclists post if you’re looking for some additional gear. You might also want to review our recommendations for bicycle pants so you’re fully prepared on dark, rainy days for commuting.