How to Choose Lights for Your Bike [a Comprehensive Guide]

This post gives you all the information about how to choose lights for your bike. We explain the different types of lights, what to look for and how to get them.

Regardless of regulations, buying the right lights for your bike will allow you to enjoy your bike even longer. And more safely.

What is the best purchase option? Well, there isn’t just one answer. It depends on your cycling type because each has its peculiarities. There is a difference between using lights to signal your position on the road and using sunlight to cross obstacles on an ATV.

The range of lights on the market is vast, and before buying them, you have to ask yourself: what will I use them for? What type, of course, will I do with it?

The number of lumens determines the power of a bicycle light. Does that remind you of something? It is a value that is (or should be) in the specifications of any bike light.

The lumen is the measurement unit that defines our device’s illumination level. It indicates the amount of light it emits in a given period. Let’s say it determines the intensity and how bright the light is.

There are 5 lumens, or 4,000 lumens, or even 8,000 lumens. And what is yet to come.

There is one thing to understand here, especially regarding lights.

These lumens can be concentrated or focused on a point or have a large radius of action, like the zoom effect of a camera. This circumstance is decisive for perceiving light as very bright or not very bright.

In other words, a powerful lamp (with many lumens) is not necessarily the lamp you need. If its radius of action is extensive, it will illuminate a larger area but be weaker. It will give another type of information on the ground. Neither better nor worse: different.

The most powerful light is not always the best.

Indeed, a less powerful lamp can do its job better because it can also have more autonomy and be more economical. Let me explain.

On the other hand, not all brands use the same method to measure lumens. So don’t trust the supposed bargains of non-specialized stores or unknown brands.

Image: Getty Images.
[Step by Step Guide] How to Choose Lights for Your Bike

Autonomy

Another major problem associated with bicycle lights is their autonomy. It is a variable aspect that depends on many factors: the energy source, the mode of use, the lumens, the environmental conditions, etc.

Some include alkaline batteries or even button-type batteries. But when it comes to headlamps, good headlamps usually run on rechargeable lithium batteries.

Almost all of them are rechargeable by USB and cable, although there are also some whose port is integrated into their structure for convenience.

It’s always a good idea to buy lights with rechargeable batteries, usually class 18650. Regular or button batteries are modest and less reliable lights. They can bail you out in an urban environment, but no more.

Remember that batteries tend to degrade over time. It’s unavoidable, so keep spare games on hand at all times.

Regarding the batteries, it should be noted that there are two possible configurations: lights with an internal (integrated) battery and those with an external battery. We’ll talk about that later.

To make the most of the energy and not run out of light in the middle of a journey, it is best to use the lighting mode suitable for each situation. If you’re cycling in a well-lit area, save it for when the going gets tough. That is to say, dark.

In this sense, you can find lights with a safety device that manages the intensity of the light when it detects that the charge is coming to an end. It can save you a lot of trouble.

Install lights on your bike

Particular consideration should be given to how the lights are attached to the bike.

The most straightforward lights are usually sold with small rubber rings attached to the handlebars or Seatpost. The advantage is that they are easy to install and can be easily adapted to tubes of different sections. The same installation generally applies to the front and rear lights.

Lights that use sturdy plastic or metal clamps are even safer. These are often secured by bolts or screws, allowing almost any light, no matter how heavy, to be installed without fear of moving around. It is the most common clip type for use with more specific lights.

Many models with an integrated battery come with a separate stand. It is recommended. But there are also models where the coupling is part of the very structure of the luminaire. Keep this in mind when purchasing, as replacement parts are not always available in the event of a breakage.

Install lights on your bike
Image: Dieter_G / Pixabay.

Resistance to water

Another significant issue is water resistance. An IP code determines the degree of protection in this regard and is indicated on the device’s packaging. Lamps rated IP4 offer splash resistance, while the IP7 code indicates water resistance for up to 30 minutes.

Some headlamps allow not only to recharge their batteries but also to recharge any other electronic device, thanks to USB ports. It is fascinating in the case of long-distance routes.

mountain bike lights

Choosing lights for mountain bikes is a tricky one. Discussions between bikers on lighting are a classic in mountain biking. Indeed, night rides are an attraction associated with mountain biking. If you haven’t done one yet, you’re missing out on a new world of bike thrills.

Here, it is the fires that are at the center of the debate. When mountain biking, the important thing is to see, not so much to be seen as with road biking. That’s why a 50-lumen taillight may be enough if you ride on trails and roads without motorized traffic.

Lights with an external battery are connected to the power supply by a cable. Usually, the battery comes with a protective cover and velcro closure, ready to be installed somewhere on the frame. (Light with an internal battery, explained above).

mountain bike lights

It is where the imagination of the cyclist comes into play. Ideally, the battery and the light should be installed very close to each other so that the cable between them does not protrude as far as possible from your bike. You should also ensure that the battery does not cause friction on your bike frame, especially if it is carbon.

A significant advantage of these lamps is that they dissipate much of the heat that is concentrated inside the lights with an integrated battery, which can damage the system and cause severe discomfort. It also means that the brightness of the projector’s LEDs can be particularly intense. It’s all about finding the right balance between power and battery life.

Driving for several hours with internal lighting at full power increases the risk of an accident.

When buying lights, your priority will be to find those that allow you to anticipate the terrain. Your first instinct is, therefore, to look for lamps with maximum range.

But it’s not always the best decision. When riding on twisty roads and trails, a good light that allows you to see a few blocks away is more than enough. Therefore, avoid paying too much for lamps that exceed your needs.

Combining two types of front lights is preferable: one or two handlebar lights with an open beam angle (about 120°) and more focused helmet light. The first will allow you to flood a wide field of vision beyond the limits of the road. With the second, you will have a perfect view of the terrain features.

combine two types of front lights
Image: AOMSIN / Pixabay.

Plus, mounting a front light to the helmet allows you to direct the beam of light where you’re looking. It improves safety, especially when cornering. You know that when negotiating a turn, you must point to the exit of the turn. In this way, you will have it perfectly lit.

As for the intensity, we advise you not to venture with headlamps of less than 500 lumensA 1,500-lumen headlamp will get you comfortable without the price being a big deal. There are a thousand options on the market with thousands of lumens, but they are more expensive and usually unnecessary.

Lights specific to road bikes

If road cycling is your thing, don’t skimp on buying a good red light taillight. It is essential to be visible to other road users, even in broad daylight. Also, ensure it emits light at a wide angle (ideally 180°) so you are visible from the side.

Although there is no standard, you should look for devices with at least 100 lumens.

A flashing rear light, visible in daylight, is the most effective way to alert other vehicles to your presence.

Almost all are attached to the seat tube using an adjustable bungee like a small belt. There are also connected models for attaching the lamp to the saddle rails. In this way, it is more fixed and integrated into the bike.

In the following video, you can see a presentation of what is probably the trendiest rear light for road cyclists: the Bontrager Flare RT.

Here you have to consider the seat post design. If it is a late aero road model, it may be wedge-shaped. In this case, the larger-than-average diameter may make it more difficult to install your device.

It is expected that the fitting does not adapt perfectly to the shape of the tube and that it finds itself displaced over the miles. Also, the rubber bands can be stretched too tight, damaging the rubber. It’s not a big deal, but keep it in mind.

For night riding, a handlebar-mounted light with an internal battery may be your best option. In terms of output, we recommend between 200 and 400 lumens, depending on whether you’re riding around town or on the highway.

Today’s lights have fixed and flashing positions with varying degrees of intensity. Adapt them to ambient light conditions to save battery life.

One option is to buy bright lights that automatically adjust to natural light. It is one of the many technological innovations introduced in this accessories segment in recent years.

Indeed, all the latest generation lights can now be controlled via a mobile application in real-time and are compatible with many cycle counters and other electronic devices.

Conclusion

In conclusion, consider the type of light you need when choosing lights for your bike. There are many different types of lights on the market. Depending on your needs, you can find an LED light, a light with batteries, or a light with both. Some lights also have other features, such as a flashing or light that turns on when you start pedaling.

MountainBike
MountainBike
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