Cycling has quickly gained popularity in recent years as commuters consider healthier and more affordable modes of transportation. This has led to an uptick in biker incidents and, subsequently, concern for biker safety.
Though bicycles have included reflectors for years, these alone are no longer considered sufficient for proper visibility. Cyclists are now attaching LED lights to enhance the visibility of both the path ahead and themselves to motorists.
However, while an important feature, cyclists must make an informed decision before their purchase. Here are some important aspects of the best LED headlights.
Why Do You Need Lights on Your Bike?
Cyclists have been riding bikes for years without lights, so why should we worry about them now?
Here are several reasons:
- Roads are becoming more biker friendly: As cyclists are increasingly invited and even encouraged by local governments to use city roads, they are beginning to realize the dangers that motorcyclists have considered for years. Motorcycles and motorcycle apparel are carefully designed to improve visibility.
That’s because they are more difficult to notice on the road. Unfortunately, drivers frequently fail to see them until it’s too late.
To make matters worse, bicycles are even more difficult to see and virtually impossible for drivers to hear. Motorcycles use lights for visibility, and so should bicycles.
- New Laws: Given the increase in cyclist incidents, many governmental bodies are considering or have passed laws requiring bicycles on the road to have lights on the front and back.
This makes sense, as all other road vehicles are required to have them, and a lack of visibility puts both cyclists and drivers at risk. While it is important to verify local laws, it is also important to remember that such regulations are subject to change.
So even if bike lights are not required now, they likely will be in the future.
- The increased popularity of night riding: As people continue to view their bicycle as a viable alternative to cars, they are increasingly riding at night.
While lights are obviously needed to see in the dark, most don’t realize that LED lights are the best option for cyclists.
LED bulbs cover a larger area with a brighter spectrum on less energy than standard bulbs. They are also typically more easily distinguished from other lights by drivers.
- Style: Honestly, we all want to look stylish while biking. The ideal LED headlights will enhance not only safety, but aesthetic appeal. Most lights are designed to complement and enhance the style of modern bikes.
What to Look for in LED Headlights
Before purchasing an LED headlight, there are a few options to consider. Not every light will be ideal for each situation, but there are a few basic features that should be considered with all.
- Lumens: Light sources are measured in lumens. Basically, this refers to how much light is emitted from a source. The higher the lumens, the more illuminated the area within its beam will appear.
The best lamps for cycling should exceed 200 lumens. Obviously, some situations (such as nighttime mountain biking) will require brighter lights.
- Mount: Some enthusiasts would like to see headlights built into the bike. However, this is actually not ideal. Not all cyclists ride at the same height or position, so adjustments may be necessary for both the light’s position and angle.
This is where the mount comes in. A mount is what actually connects the light to the bike. It may also be convenient to use the same light on multiple bikes, as when switching from a road bike to a mountain bike.
Also, in the event of an emergency, detachable headlights are a necessity. If it can be removed, a headlight can also be used as a flashlight.
This is important to consider because walking is much slower than pedaling. The return could be much later and darker if a bike is damaged beyond usability.
Some mounts are built directly into the lights; others are detachable. If the light is detachable, this means that it can be removed without detaching the mount, further expanding convenience. Ideally, lights and mounts should be detachable by hand without the need for any tools.
- Range: Many cycling headlights feature a luminance range of 500-900 feet – which means they can actually rival some low-beam automobile headlights. This is especially important for mountain bikers who want to explore the growing number of night trails.
While they may not be moving as fast as a car on the highway, there are more obstacles to navigate on the rugged terrain. As with automobiles, some local mandates may regulate the luminance of a bike’s headlight, so it’s important to consider city and state laws before making a purchase.
- Durability: Durability is vital for a bicycle headlight. After all, it will be completely exposed with virtually no external protection beyond that which has been integrated.
Durability is particularly important for mountain biking since it will likely be exposed to dirt, mud and quite possibly water (even on dry days). Mountain bikers are also more prone to crashes, and headlights tend to be ideally placed to suffer the brunt of it.
- Weight: While it may seem ideal to position a headlight at the center of the handlebars, this isn’t always possible. Therefore, it may need to be placed slightly to one side.
This is why weight and balance are important factors to consider when biking. Quality bicycles are designed to reduce weight as much as reasonably possible, and the same rule should be applied to accessories. It is typically best to keep the weight less than one pound unless extra durability is needed.
- Important Settings: Quality headlights should offer versatile setting for different situations. For example, while it is an important safety measure to have a light during the day, it doesn’t have to be quite as bright as at night.
And paved paths at night will likely not need the same luminosity as mountain biking trails. However, paved trails are typically broader than singletracks, thus requiring a wider beam.
Ideally, your selected light will facilitate the necessary adjustments for a variety of circumstances. Many lights also include a flash setting to be used if the rider needs emergency assistance.
A flashing headlight is a signal to others that the situation is dire and the rider may not be able to help himself or herself. Some headlights even flash red to help distinguish them from other sources.
- Battery life: Like most modern electronics, the most headlights include a rechargeable battery that can be connected via a USB cable. This way, your headlight can be conveniently charged anywhere a USB connection is available (including most vehicles).
Since dying batteries can be detrimental to a night ride, most bicycle headlights also include a charge meter alerting riders of the remaining battery life. Not only is this convenient, it also ensures that a headlight remains fully charged when needed.
Installing an LED Headlight
LED headlights are typically very easy to attach without any tools. With most products, a clamp connected to the bottom can be fastened around the handlebar by hand, and a knob (usually on the side) will allow it to be tightened with ease.
To remove the mounted light, simply reverse the process. Both can be done in a matter of seconds. Some lights can even be detached from the base without removing the mountain, thereby allowing it to be easily used as a flashlight.
Reviews for Our Favorite LED Headlights
Now that you know what to look for, here are a few actual products to consider. Each of these selections contains the basic necessities, though they will differ in their ideal uses.
Personal preference and riding conditions will ultimately determine the best choice. It is possible that more than one selection could be viable for a single rider, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a backup.
Xtreme Bright Ultra Torch
Weight: 8 ounces
Design Features: 250 Lumen, Tools-Free Attachment, Requires 4 AAA Batteries, 500 Foot Range, Emergency Flash
Best Use: Road Biking, Hiking, Fishing, Camping
Description: Xtreme Bright’s affordable option, the Ultra Torch offers a great start for the casual biker. At only half a pound, its weight is likely to go unnoticed, even during extended trips.
With its fairly bulky design, it’s not the most compact option, but still remains small enough to stay out of the way.
With safety in mind, Xtreme Bright will also throw in a tail light. Additionally, both lights are resistant to shock and water (though this should not to be confused with “waterproof”).
However, Xtreme Bright does offer a waterproof light at a slightly higher price. Though it requires 4 AAA batteries, the Ultra Torch offers 100 hours of light.
This option is great for the commuting cyclist or for a casual weekend ride. Although it does boast great durability, the 250 Lumen may not be sufficient for a night of rugged trail riding and would really serve no purpose on single tracks during the day.
Therefore, mountain bikers probably won’t realize much of a benefit.
Supernight Cree XML T6
Weight: 12 Ounces
Design Features: 1200 Lumens, Tools-Free Attachment, Anodized Waterproof Aluminum Build, Mountable on Handlebars or Helmet, 500m Lighting Distance, Rechargeable Battery
Best Use: Road Biking, Mountain Biking, Hunting, Traveling, Caving, Climbing
Description: Supernight Cree XML T6 cuts right to the chase with their budget-friendly option. At ¾ of a pound, the T6 is easily used by attaching it to the bike or helmet. It is capable of offering an impressive 1200 lumens, but comes at the price of reduced battery life (only about 5 hours continuously).
The upside is that its battery is rechargeable. It is both waterproof and weather resistant, two benefits that are both complimented by stellar durability.
This makes it especially useful for a day of mountain biking. And though it won’t be winning any beauty contests, the T6 is small enough to offer plenty of versatility for more than just biking.
Top Brightness: 930 Lumen Bike Light
Weight: 13.6 Ounces
Design Features: 930 Lumens, Tools-Free Attachment, Custom Focus, Rotating Mount, Microchip, Rechargeable Battery
Best Use: Road Biking, Mountain Biking, Hiking, Camping
Description: The 930 Lumen Bike Light from Top Brightness redefines the industry standard. Take the top sellers, multiply their luminosity a few times, and you get the power of the Top Brightness Bike Light. The settings provide a variety of adjustments.
It even features a microchip to save the most recent settings.
The light is easily detachable so that it can be used as a flashlight without removing the mount from the handlebars. Its anti-abrasive construction is designed to withstand even the hardest falls, making it perfect for mountain bikers.
At just under 14 ounces, it’s still light enough for practicality. While it’s a bit more expensive than some other options, the added versatility and customization are definitely worth it.
CycleBeam 900 Lumen Bike Light
Weight: 1 lb.
Design Features: 900 Lumen, Tools-Free Attachment, Secondary LEDs, water-resistant, Strobe, Rechargeable Battery
Description: Definitely at the high end of bike lights, the CycleBeam 900 Lumen Bike Light loads power and features into a 1 pound package. In addition to its radiant 900 Lumen LED light, it also includes built-in backup lights in case of an emergency.
The light’s rechargeable battery can last up to 15 hours, depending on which settings the rider has customized.
Even with continued use from the brightest setting, it can still last 5 continuous hours.
To extend the battery life even further, its rugged aluminum construction is specially designed to reduce heat. With its small size and easy installation, the CycleBeam is a great choice for cyclists who like to switch between the paved paths and single tracks.
However, as it is only resistant to water, this may not be the best choice for mountain bikers who like to ride in the rain or take on creek crossings. Its more rugged counterpart, the Cycle Beam 700, is the probably best choice for tougher trails.
Urban Ethix Bike Light
Weight: 2.4 Ounces
Design Features: Zoom, Tools-Free Attachment, Quick Release, Waterproof, 3 AAA Batteries
Best Use: Road Biking, Mountain Biking, Camping
Description: Another option for the budget-conscious consumer, Urban Ethix’s selection offers versatility as its main highlight. At only 2.4 ounces, it is by far one of the most lightweight options available.
This LED light features a small design of just a few inches and the ability to quickly connect with a handlebar or helmet.
It even includes taillights for both the bike and helmet. Although perfect for road cyclists, its lightweight and waterproof design also make it a great choice for mountain bikers.
Gugou Bike Light
Weight: 1 lb.
Design Features: Zoom, Quick Release,Tools-Free Attachment, Waterproof, 3 Switch Circuit Control, Strobe, 3 AAA Batteries
Best Use: Mountain Biking, Camping, Traveling, Hiking
Description: At just over 1 pound, Gugou’s light is definitely on the heavier side of bike lights. However, its larger size does support a wider radius with its light. The Gugou offers ease of use with a quick switch that provide normal light, extra bright, and an emergency strobe.
However, it doesn’t really offer any customization compared with many of its rivals. Some of the other lights from Gugou make up for this, though they don’t tend to be as bright as this one.
Its heavier design does allow the bike to be waterproof, and it’s much more rugged than many of its counterparts. This is a great choice for mountain biking, especially downhill racing.
Divine LEDs Bike Light
Weight: 8 Ounces
Design Features: Military Grade Construction, Tools-Free Attachment
Description: This Divine LEDs Bike Light probably offers the most options in its surprisingly low price range. It includes an incredibly bright light in its ½ pound build. It also features a stylish design that’s large enough to be noticed but still small enough to stay out of the way.
Special attachments offer a quick release for both the camera and its mount to maximize convenience. No tools are necessary to put it on or take it off. Its waterproof design meets military standards for durable construction.
Unfortunately, it is not rechargeable and requires 3 AAA batteries. Since it doesn’t offer much customization, this light is probably best reserved for rides on smooth paths. For added safety, it also comes with taillights.
Ready to Make an Informed Decision?
Whether you’re riding on the road or shredding a single track, we all want to be able to see and be seen while riding our bikes, especially at night.
With the statistics increasingly stacking against us, it’s time that we reverse the trend by taking responsibility for our own safety, especially if local legislation requires it.
The products listed here consider both the need for visibility and the desire for the ride’s longevity. After all, a bright light is really no good if it ruins your momentum mid-ride.
So now that you’ve seen our take, what about you? Are there other features that you look for in a headlight, or any other products that you’d recommend? Let us know below!