The Best Commuter Bike Lights
After a combined 65 hours of research, consideration of 149 different products, and testing 50 lights over three years, we believe the Cygolite Dash 350 is the best way to see and be seen in traffic, without spending a fortune. Our test panelists unanimously agreed it was able to catch and hold their attention better than any other light in the Dash’s price range. Pair it with the Cygolite Hotshot Micro, a smaller, simplified version of last year’s favorite taillight. We could see its 2-watt LED from half a block away, day or night, and it costs less than anything comparable, giving you the right amount of light at the right price.
Along the way, we had a thousand dollars’ worth of gear confiscated by police while photographing beam patterns in the woods; placed piles of product in the freezer for days; and spent weeks installing and monitoring antitheft stop-motion cameras to capture the exact moment of light battery expiration.
The Cygolite Dash 350 isn’t the brightest or the cheapest headlight, but it is among the most visible for its price and one of the most user-friendly lights we’ve ever reviewed. Its output offers enough light for you to see the road ahead, and it has eye-catching strobe modes for both day and night so you’ll be seen in traffic. In addition to the main bulb, it has a row of lower-power-draw LED lights that help save on battery life, reducing the number of times you have to charge during the week. A dead-simple silicone mount for tool-free installation and removal makes preventing theft easy and offers more convenience than the hard-plastic quick-release mounts on previous Cygolites.
If the Dash is sold out or unavailable, the Cygolite Streak 310 offers the same great battery life and riding modes that commuters need, but for a few dollars less. However, the Streak forgoes a few of the upgrades on the Dash, the most important being the silicone mount, which we think is worth spending an additional $5 on. In the past, we’ve preferred the brighter Metro series, but the Streak gives you almost as much light for your money, comes in a smaller package, and costs about $15 less. You can also get it in a package with the Cygolite Hotshot, one of our recommended taillights, for about $60.
The Hotshot Micro 30 improves on the original Hotshot model (our former pick) by compressing the light into a smaller and lighter package, simplifying the on/off button, and doing away with the old hard-plastic mount (that you need a screwdriver to install) in favor of an easier-to-use silicone strap (that mounts without the need for a tool). Testers sitting in the driver’s seat of a car chose it as the most visible light out of all the models we tested thanks to its attention-getting flashing pattern and bright LED.
If the Micro is sold out, get the regular Hotshot. It performs the same but has a longer, 500-hour battery life. The hard-plastic mount is more finicky than the Micro’s silicone mount, and the two-button interface is more annoying to use, but it’s still a very bright and affordable light.
People use their lights in all sorts of situations, but we think we’ve found the best options for commuters. So in addition to the picks listed above, we have headlight picks for people who need something brighter, either for rural roads where traffic may be traveling faster, an especially long ride, or any area not illuminated by streetlamps or other ambient light. We have a stylish upgrade (for more money) to match your stylish bike. For taillights, we have a AAA battery-powered pick (that can last years before needing a battery change) and also a wider-angle flasher that you can mount on a seatpost if you have a bag under your saddle that could block your light.
Table of contents
- Why you should trust us
- Why you need real bike lights
- How we picked and tested
Why you should trust us
I’ve written the past three versions of this guide, which now represents more than 65 hours of research and 2.5 years of continuous testing. I’ve been a bike commuter in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2008. And in those eight years, I’ve been hit by a car twice—a very real-world way to learn how drivers do (or don’t) respond to cyclists on the road.
I also spoke to Jim Burakoff, manager of the Berkeley, California, BART station bike valet and a certified instructor with the League of American Bicyclists, which provides safety training for new cyclists ready to hit the road. At Alameda Bicycle, I spoke with sales associate Scott Karoly about what types of lights consumers gravitate toward. I also consulted Keith Wall, co-owner of Spokeland bicycle co-op, a resource that provides bike repair services and training free of charge to the community of Oakland, California. Picking through bins of discarded items at the shop, we learned a lot about what kinds of lights do and don’t last. Finally, Daniel H. Rose is a personal injury lawyer and cycling advocate who provided legal details regarding the liability issues of riding without lights.
Why you need real bike lights
Depending on where you live, it could be illegal to ride in the dark without bike lights. And should you get into an accident and don’t have lights on, it’s possible you could be held liable—even if wasn’t your fault.1 Burakoff, our League of American Bicyclists instructor, succinctly told us, “Compared to the consequences of not being seen, bike lights are incredibly cheap.”
Anything is better than nothing, but inexpensive lights—those cheap $15 blinkers sitting right next to the register in the bike shop—are not really good enough. They’re too weak to be easily seen in traffic.
In addition to visibility concerns, cheap blinkers often use watch batteries that can freeze in cold weather. It’s not hugely common, but it does happen. More commonly, the batteries die and just never get replaced since they’re harder to track down than common AAA or AA cells. Some of the housings are flimsy; I’ve had them crack if they drop on the pavement, crack in the bottom of my bag, crack in my hand. Invest in something that will do more to keep you safe.
How we picked and tested
To reach our decision, we started by reading all the comparisons of bike lights we could find, and there are years and years of documentation available. Every year, Mtbr.com updates its lights shootout, Outdoor Gear Lab has a tool that lets you compare light beams side-by-side, and the Bike Light Database is constantly adding to its list of reviewed lights. These are the three most comprehensive and up-to-date resources we’ve found.
We contacted the major light manufacturers to ask for updates and details on new products, identified new trends, and kept an eye out while riding, often running to catch cyclists on the street and ask about their lights.
Our experts helped us focus on the most important features of a bike light:
- Bright enough to see and be seen (but not too bright to blind drivers)
- Steady illumination and blinking modes (and preferably another that does both simultaneously)
- Easy to install and remove (to prevent theft)
- Durable enough to withstand abuse and weather
- At least a week’s worth of battery life (which is fewer hours than you’d think)
- Easy-to-use buttons (but not so easy that it accidentally turns on in your bag)
Your headlight needs to have at least two settings—steady and strobe. Sometimes these are referred to as “see” and “be seen.” The steady beam is your “see” setting—it illuminates the road in front of you. The strobing pattern is “be seen”—it makes you visible to cars. Many lights now blink and illuminate simultaneously (the best of both worlds), a feature we looked for when choosing our light.
A good light has to install quickly and securely, stay put while biking, and be easy to remove when you arrive at your destination. Otherwise, it makes a tempting target for thieves. No tools, no battery packs, no cords.
It needs to be durable and weather-resistant for those unexpected rainy days, and also be able to handle some abuse from accidents and drops.
As for battery life, most lights advertise only a few hours of run time, which doesn’t seem like much. But Karoly reassured us, “If you commute, even five days a week, … just recharge it on your day off. I don’t have to charge mine except maybe once a week.” If you have it on for only 30 to 45 minutes once a day, this makes a lot of sense, and three to four hours of burn time is plenty to get you through the week.
Your light’s buttons must be easy enough to operate with gloves on but not so easy to push that they can turn on inside a bag, draining your battery without your knowledge. And all lights we looked at have an indicator that lets you know when it’s time to recharge.
We judged taillights by a lot of the same criteria as headlights—they have to be bright enough to see, have enough battery life to get you through the week, and be easy to take on and off the bike. They also should be red, so drivers can understand that they’re seeing a rear light and not a headlight. Extra waterproofing is good, too, because your rear wheel kicks a lot of spray on the back of your bike when it rains. And taillights must have a crazy blinking pattern, as their sole purpose is to alert people to your presence.
We skipped over lights that mount exclusively on helmets since they’re sort of a specialty item, and set aside lights that require you to use a proprietary charger instead of a basic, widely available standard mini or micro USB cable. We also didn’t consider dynamo lights, which are self-charging but hard to find in US bike shops.2
By now, we’ve run a lot of different tests on these lights. Like other publications, we have photographed beam spreads to observe not only how bright a light is but also where and how the light is directed.
To test our latest batch of lights, we simply shined each one on the ground, and didn’t find anything we hadn’t seen during testing in previous years: All the brands project different patterns, some square, some round, some smooth, some wavy—and when we look at them projected from our bike onto a city street, they all look the same.
We’ve installed every mount there is—the screw-lock mounts of Cygolite and Niterider, CatEye’s FlexTight bracket, Knog’s trademark bungee, the ratchet-style clamps of Planet Bike and Serfas, and every other iteration of silicone strap and hard-plastic mechanism—and ridden with them on terrible roads.
We’ve tested battery life, draining more than 25 lights to empty to cross-check run-time claims and find out how light output changed over time and how the lights turned off.
We even started freezing our taillights to see if cold temperatures would compromise the battery.
All of these things do matter. But we decided the most important thing we could do is look at each light from the vantage point of a car. So our panel of five testers sat in the driver’s seat and observed our top headlight contenders from two critical angles: as a bike is approaching the car from behind, in the bike lane, as the driver prepares to make a right turn; and on the car’s left as the driver is getting ready to pull out of a parking space or exit the vehicle.
We also had testers look at our taillights. They stood on the sidewalk a block away and observed in order to address a question that numbers can’t answer—when a driver looks at this light, will they see that it’s a bike? We’ve done this both in daylight and at night, and in a bracket-style elimination round we narrowed the field to our top choices.
The Cygolite Dash is the best headlight for most bike commuters because it’s one of the most affordable and user-friendly lights from the brand that consistently offers the most light for your money. Thanks to its eye-grabbing blinking pattern, you’ll never have to worry if a car can see you coming, and you won’t have to spend $100 for that peace of mind. Its silicone strap mount makes it simple to put on for use and to take off for theft prevention—it’s easier than the hard-plastic mounts used for past Cygolite models. It has seven settings for both day and night riding, including SteadyPulse, which will blink and illuminate your path simultaneously for almost three hours. (The light remembers the last mode you used so you won’t have to cycle through all of them every time you turn it on—only when you switch modes.)
A battery charge indicator light, easy to operate on/off button, and a standard micro USB charging port round out its feature set.
The Dash’s most important feature is its nighttime flash, a sort of erratic flutter that is more attention-grabbing than the slow breathing pattern of the Light & Motion Urban or steady flash of the CatEye Volt. This means you’re much harder to ignore from the perspective of a driver.
There are seven different blink patterns on this light, and four of them are for nighttime use:
In addition to the four night modes, this light has three meant for day use:
- Quad LED Steady
- Quad LED Flashing
DayLightning is a daytime flash, and it is so bright it’s almost violent. I inadvertently ran it at night when I first got the light. Pedestrians were covering their eyes from 30 feet away, and I had to cover the lens when I stopped behind cars to avoid blinding anyone. I could see the flash bouncing off street signs two entire (long) city blocks away. It’s too intense for night use, but it’s a great feature sure to get you noticed when the sun is out.
The Quad LED refers to the row of four LEDs on the top of the Dash, which are basically daytime running lights. They were incorporated as a way to save on battery power. If all you want is your light to blink, by switching the power from the main lens to these smaller lights, the Dash can run for up to 55 hours on one charge.
All of the settings on the Dash have a reasonable amount of battery life: Low will run for 9 hours, DayLightning will run for 10. On its highest setting, it has only 1 hour, 15 minutes, but if you’re in traffic we’re assuming you’ll be running SteadyPulse mode, which can run for 2 hours, 45 minutes on a single charge. That gives you about 26 miles worth of lighting at a leisurely pace. If you need a bright light to burn for a long time, get the Cygolite 720 instead and run it on low.
When used only for illumination in solid beam mode, the Cygolite’s optics aren’t as smooth as other lights.
The Light & Motion projects a smooth, round, even wash of light, while the Dash’s beam is a little uneven from edges to center. But after two years of regular use, I’m confident that if you’re riding in traffic, or anywhere that has a tiny bit of ambient light, it just doesn’t matter. The Cygolite has never compromised visibility or my ability to react to the road. Conversely, when I shine a light like the Urban 350 in front of me onto the pavement, its optical quality isn’t noticeably better. But bumps on the road, the texture of the pavement, the reflection of car bumpers, and windshields create a visual stew that obscure any perceivable smoothness in this lumen range.
When it comes to visibility, the breadth of a light’s beam is more important than how smooth it is, and the Dash’s beam is as wide as anything else we tested. This means you’re more visible from the side compared with some more inexpensive models, like the Planet Bike Blaze 2 Watt.
The Dash is also easy to use. It’s Cygolite’s first light with a silicone mount, which is a welcome improvement in usability compared with the hard plastic quick-release mounts from years past. No other mount style is easier to put on or remove, and it can mount to a broad range of handlebar sizes with no tools required. Also, there are no parts to lose—a concern we have with the tightening ring on the CatEye FlexTight mount and the screw on the Niterider Lumina. Wear, however, is sometimes highlighted by Amazon reviewers as a potential issue. Knogs, which rely on a silicone strap, definitely wear out, as Keith Wall illustrated by showing me boxes of stretched Knogs that have been left behind at his repair co-op, Spokeland. But there are lots of silicone strap designs that retain their elasticity, like the ones on the Light & Motion Urban and the Serfas Thunderbolt, which still work like they just came out of the box after two years of regular use.
If the strap does break, Cygolite offers a one-year warranty against defective parts and craftsmanship. I took advantage of this, and they sent me a new strap, no questions asked. Once I received the new band, it was easy to replace and I didn’t need tools. You pull out the old part by working it off of the small hook that secures it against the light body, then take the new part and push it back through the same small space until it fits into place. And if the warranty period is over, replacement mounts can be bought for $6 from Cygolite ($3 plus shipping) or $5 on Amazon.
The Dash is very light and maintains a low profile, preventing it from rotating over the handlebars, unlike the Knog Blinder Road, which is too top heavy for its strap. And the Dash can pan broadly from left to right, an improvement over the minimal give of the CatEye Volt’s hard-plastic mount.
The Dash is very new, so not a lot of reviews exist. But both of our former Cygolite picks, the Metro 400 and the Metro 360, have been highlighted by Mtbr, Bike Light Database, and Outdoor Gear Lab for their exceptional value. As of yet, we have no reason to believe the Dash will perform differently. If anything does go wrong, it should be covered by Cygolite’s one-year warranty.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
As we mentioned earlier, the optics aren’t as good as some other options at higher prices, and cycling through seven blink modes can get annoying very quickly. And unlike previous Cygolites, such as the Metro and Streak, which remain dimly lit for several hours before the battery goes completely dead, the Dash begins to blink brightly about five minutes before the battery is exhausted and then turns off completely. Even so, those issues weren’t significant enough to unseat our top choice, because they don’t hinder safety or performance. The USB port cover doesn’t close very securely. I found it lying open once or twice after not thoroughly securing it to the body. I suspect it won’t be an issue, but we’ll watch to see if over time this creates a flaw in the weatherproofing.
The mounting strap also broke during testing. This sounds like a dealbreaker, but we’re not really worried because we called customer service and they replaced the part, no questions asked. We also didn’t find any reports of broken mounts in the dozens of Amazon reviews, so it doesn’t appear to be a common problem. Also, the exact same mount is on the Hotshot Micro, and there have been no issues. For now, we believe it’s a single defective part rather than a design flaw.
The Cygolite Streak 310 is Cygolite’s cheapest headlight, but it’s still plenty bright and has all the same flashing modes as its more expensive brethren. If you’re on a budget, if you prefer a quick-release mount instead of a silicone one, or if the Dash is unavailable or its price jumps to more than $50, the Streak gives you most of the same features and comparable brightness at a lower price. It retains the all-important SteadyPulse blink pattern, an ultra-bright daytime flasher, and enough battery life that you won’t have to constantly recharge. But we think the convenience of the silicone mount is worth paying for.
A stylish upgrade
For the most part, the Light & Motion matches or improves upon the Cygolite Dash feature for feature, except when it comes to visibility. The flash pattern of the Urban series is subtle, more like the “breathing” battery indicator light on an old Mac laptop than a flashing bike light. Light & Motion says this is so it won’t be mistaken for an emergency vehicle, and the continuous pulse also provides a driver a consistent point of reference to judge how far away a cyclist is. Both of those are great ideas, but our testers found it less noticeable from a car’s rearview mirror compared with the traditional blinking pattern on the Cateye Volt, let alone Cygolite’s mesmerizing flutter.
For a bright, rechargeable taillight with long battery life, we recommend the Cygolite Hotshot Micro 30. It has the same attention-grabbing brightness as last year’s pick (the full-size Cygolite Hotshot) but is much smaller and has an easier-to-use silicone mount (like the Dash). A 2-watt LED combined with a parabolic reflector make it appear brighter to the naked eye than any similar light, and in blink mode it can run up to 100 hours between charges—you won’t have to recharge for months. It also has an updated single on/off button that we prefer over the confusing two-button design on the original Hotshot.
Taillights can be more difficult to compare than headlights because some are rated in watts and some are rated in lumens. These are different ways to measure output, but comparing numbers side-by-side requires some electrical engineering know-how. So to reach the conclusion that 2 watts was enough to be visible, we photographed a variety of taillights during the day from 45 yards away. This is roughly how much distance a car traveling behind you at 35 mph needs in order to stop without hitting you. The conditions were intentionally extreme, because sometimes it’s important to be seen during the day as well as night, and we compared 0.5 watt, 2 watts, and lights ranging from 25 to 80 lumens.
We discovered that 2-watt models provide an adequate amount of illumination and aren’t as costly as brighter options that might be unnecessary for average city streets. Once we set aside the large number of 0.5- and 1-watt lights available, the four or five lights that remained in the 25- to 40-lumen range were all $45 or more compared with the Hotshot Micro’s typical $30 street price, making it an easy pick.
The Hotshot Micro has the same lens as the Dash, which helps spread the beam at a wider angle, making it more visible from the sides. And to make sure it was as eye-catching as we thought, we stacked it up against some former competition for our panel of testers to observe by eye. From one block away, they singled out the Micro as the most attention-grabbing light in a field of 2-watt and 25- to 40-lumen lights.
The light will run for an impressive 100 hours on blink mode—nothing of comparable size lasts anywhere close to that long—and charges via micro USB. It’s bested only by the original Hotshot, which the manufacturer claims will run for 500-plus hours, and I haven’t charged it since I started using it last year. The next longest running light with a silicone mount that we found, the Knog Blinder 4, runs only half that time (50 hours).
The original Hotshot Micro is also larger and has a more finicky hard-plastic mount, while the Hotshot Micro uses the same mount as the Dash, which is covered under a one-year warranty against defects, and can be replaced anytime for less than $5. Furthermore, because the Micro is smaller and lighter, it’s less prone to drag the mount down over time. This means your taillight is less likely to end up angled at the ground.
The single on/off button on the Micro is also an upgrade over the Hotshot’s two-button design, which was a hassle to turn off. The Micro clicks on and off with ease.
While the Micro is new and doesn’t have many professional reviews, the first Hotshot was universally adored for reasons that made it into the new design, which shares many of the same qualities and has similar performance. Gizmodo dubbed the Hotshot “the grandmaster.” Wired is a big fan. And it holds the Best Deal award at Bike Light Database, which says, “No other light matches the build quality, battery life, output, and features of the Hotshot for this price.” As of yet, we have no reason to believe the newest Hotshot will perform much differently.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
In early Amazon reviews of the product, we noticed some commenters had problems with the battery not recharging, and the light not turning on in temperatures below 50 degrees. We tried to make it fail by sticking it in a zero-degree freezer, along with the larger Hotshot and Superflash for comparison. After spending a night in the freezer, all the taillights emerged in working order.
The original Cygolite Hotshot still delivers a bright 2-watt beam, an eye-catching blinking pattern, and a battery that will seemingly run forever—more than 500 hours, if the packaging is to be believed.
A battery-powered taillight
Even though the Superflash is only a 1-watt light, its randomized flashing pattern makes it as noticeable as technically brighter lights. It’s hard to explain how arresting a random flash is until you’re looking at it. I caught myself spacing out and staring at it often while testing. Combined with a parabolic reflector, which projects light straight back into traffic, this 1-watt light looks a lot brighter than it is. Our testers rated it the third brightest light to the naked eye, after the Hotshots—even when compared with brighter options.
We also love the Superflash’s simplicity. It has just three settings: blink, steady, and off. If you wear your light on a backpack, every time you walk into a building you turn it off by reaching behind you and counting clicks (since you can’t see it). If the button is hard to find or the light has six modes, it’s almost impossible to turn off. Less fuss is always a good thing.
A brighter, wider beam upgrade
*At the time of publishing, the price was $40.
Unlike our top picks, which have a parabolic reflector that points the beam in a particular direction, the Thunderbolt does not, and it is designed to flood light around you instead of straight back into the eyeballs of traffic. If you’re stuck in a situation in which you can’t get your taillight to mount and point straight back, the multidirectional beam of the Thunderbolt could make you more visible than a beam pointed at the ground.
We dismissed the following for one reason or another, but you can find a lot of good lights out there. For some we chose to highlight what makes them special, even if they couldn’t match the overall value of our top choice.
Ion 700 ($120) – I’ve read a few reviews that call this light the “best value,” but I’m not sure why it’s a better deal than similar lights such as the Light & Motion Urban 650 ($100) or the 700-lumen Lezyne Super Drive XL ($120), both of which have great looks and high-quality components.The Ion does have a pretty and compact design with quality optics and a silicone mount, and you get about 6 lumens per dollar, which is slightly above average, but the brighter Expilion 720 gives you more lumens for your money—nearly 9 per dollar—at current prices.
CatEye Volt 300 ($55) – We tested the Volt against the Dash and the Light & Motion Urban and liked it. This model is missing the user-friendly details of the Dash (like the silicone mount and low profile), the locking piece that could get lost on the mount makes us nervous, and the price fluctuates a lot. If it’s available only at its retail price of $70, getting the Light & Motion Urban 350 instead is worthwhile, but if you like the style or if the price drops below $50, then we wouldn’t hesitate to buy.
NanoShot Plus ($75) – This is a hefty light. And in previous tests we thought it was too expensive (originally it retailed for $120), though it’s currently deeply discounted on Amazon. We think you’ll prefer the look and feel of the Light & Motion Urban at that price. The 350 is less expensive ($60), and the 500 is roughly equivalent and currently $80.
CatEye Rapid 5 – For $23, this light is a good buy for a solid AAA-powered light. It has a 100-hour run time in flash mode, and I’ve seen it on the road and it will get your attention. But it doesn’t have the parabolic reflector or random flash pattern of the Superflash, and I trust the housing on the Superflash more, which didn’t even break when slammed in a door—twice.
Metro 400 – Currently about $50 on Amazon, this is the latest version of our former top pick. It is a great light at a great price and is still highly recommended. But the Streak is a better value, the Dash is more user-friendly, and the Expilion is brighter.
Metro 550 – This model costs about $55 and is also a great light, but we prefer Cygolite’s other options for the same reasons cited about the 400.
Expilion 850 – The 720 is already brighter than most commuters need and is about $15 cheaper, but the 850 is an excellent option if you need more light. The 850 package includes a helmet mount and USB wall charger, which makes it a better value if you want those things, but who doesn’t have a drawer full of USB chargers at this point?
Hotshot SL – This is a version of the Hotshot that has two fewer blinking patterns and doesn’t come with an included seat stay mount. We prefer the Hotshot for these reasons, but the SL can often be found for a couple bucks cheaper than the Hotshot (it’s about $25 right now) and is still a great light.
Cygolite has phased out several lights of many series that we recommend, including the Expilion 680 and 800, the Metro 300, 360, 500, and the Streak 280. According to PR, this is just a result of the company’s tweaking the light output. They’re the same design as current models, but they have been replaced by the currently available Expilion 720, Metro 400 and 550, and Streak 310.
Knogs tend to be overpriced, offering relatively little light for your money (the various models offer 1 to 5 lumens per dollar, below average for the models we tested); this is true of the Blinder Arc 5.5, Blinder Arc 1.7, Blinder Road 2 and Blinder Road 3, Blinder 4V, and Road Rear, even when they’re on sale. They used to be the only lights that had an easy-to-use silicone mount, but that’s no longer the case.
The Knog Blinder 4 was one of our alternate picks for a while because it was the only taillight with a silicone mount. In addition to the easily swappable mount, it provided a high-quality, bright wash of light. But since Knog no longer has a monopoly on this type of mount, we think you can do better with the Hotshot Micro.
Super Drive XL – A 700-lumen light in a machined-aluminum case for $120. On a par with the Bontrager Ion 700 ($120) and Light & Motion Urban 650 ($100) if you’re in the market for a high-end light. But not an exceptional value.
Lezyne Macro Drive ($70) – This one has everything the Light & Motion Urban series has, refined to a lesser degree. A silicone mount that’s good—but not quite as good. A beam spread that’s even—just not quite as even.
Micro Rear Light ($50) – It doesn’t have the battery life of our main pick and costs $15 more. It’s brighter, on a par with the Serfas Shield, but it lacks the heat the Serfas lights seem to emit.
Light & Motion
Vis 360 ($140) – We passed on any models designed specifically for a helmet mount—and that includes this one.
Vis 180 ($100) – The 180 is long, and the bulky housing didn’t fit in the space under my saddle. It’s not necessary to spend $100 on a taillight.
Vis 180 Micro ($45) – This one didn’t fit on my seatpost either. It looks like it should from the package, but it couldn’t sit properly flush against the post.
In the past, the Lumina series has been too pricy to compete, but cost has dropped a lot in the past year (a 350-lumen light once cost $90, but is now $55), so we’ll keep an eye on them for our next round of testing. But in the meantime, they still haven’t caught up with usability features that commuters gravitate toward, like silicone mounting options and lower-profile designs.
Lumina Micro 220 ($55) – The Cygolite has 100 more lumens of output.
Mako 200 ($40) – We think you’ll be happier (and more visible) with more than 200 lumens.
MiNewt Mini Series – Separate battery packs.
Solas ($40) – This taillight is strong competition for the Hotshot. They are both 2-watt lights and have a very similar beam pattern. But it’s heavy, and if you want a silicone mount you have to buy it separately.
Stinger – This model runs about $25, scatters light everywhere, and would make a better safety light than a dedicated taillight.
Superflash Micro ($25) – While compact, it ditches everything that makes the Turbo great. It’s half as bright. It takes rare N batteries ¯_(ツ)_/¯, doesn’t have a parabolic lens or a random flash pattern, and the on/off switch is a problem. It presses so easily that it turned on in my bag; my light was dead before I got to use it.
Superflash Micro USB ($25) – This USB version of the above light has similar problems.
Superflash Turbo Mini ($30) – You’ll have to find AAAA batteries, another strange size, and it has the same hang-ups as the Micro.
Superflash USB ($35) – It couldn’t compete with its battery-powered twin. This light is only 0.5 watt, yet costs more than the Hotshot.
Blaze 2W Micro ($35) – Headlights of the battery-powered variety are no longer able to compete with USB models for brightness and battery life.
Portland Design Works
Lars Rover 450 ($85) – Loaded with mounting options, including hard plastic, silicone, and helmet mount. But it’s a bit bulky, and 450 lumens can’t do much more than 300.
Lars Rover 650 ($100) – There are cheaper and brighter options.
Aether Demon ($30) – A quality light from a company that everyone in the bike community loves, but it’s only 0.5 watt.
Danger Zone ($25) – This AAA-battery-powered taillight could be competition for the Superflash now that the price has dropped. We’ll consider it again for our next update, but until then we have more confidence in the durability and tested performance of the Superflash.
Shield 60 ($60) – One of my all-time favorite lights. Serfas taillights don’t just look bright, they look like they’re throwing off heat. But it lasts only two hours on high and costs $60. It’s unnecessary for most.
Shield 80 ($75) – Even hotter, but overkill.
UTL-200 ($30) – Only 10 hours of blink time, and we found it a bit clunky.
Serfas has integrated a swappable lens and redesigned housing in the TSL series. Changing your light beam from wide to narrow lets you customize how far ahead you want to see—a narrowly focused beam can peer down a path much farther, whereas a wider flood beam is better for close distance illumination. This is a clever tool for mountain bikers, who have a great need for anticipating roots and rocks on the trail. But commuters don’t usually need to customize their beam width.
#1 Highest Selling Light On Amazon (yes, that was the real name at the time we got it, and it cost $18) – When we opened the box, the plastic packaging smelled like gasoline. It’s a battery-operated light, and a month after receiving it I still can’t get it to work. Though we didn’t test it, we’re convinced a product with a warranty from a brand that can offer you customer support is a better use of your money.
Moon – Another brand marketed by the company that manufactures Serfas lights, so the Moon Shield is the Serfas Shield, et cetera.
Owleye – Unreliable mounts, according to one of our experts.
Princeton Tec Push – Enough minor complaints in Amazon reviews and ratings to keep this one from standing out.
Magicshine Eagle – $150 for 600 lumens. You can do better with the Cygolite Expilion. The OLED display, currently the only one of its kind, offers three statistics: light setting, flash setting, and battery run time. But battery life is the only one that’s useful. You can see your light setting by looking at it, and our picks all have battery meters.
Tioga Dual Eyes – It appears to be nearly identical to the Serfas UTL-200.
Topeak Mega Red – They give the brightness rating of this light in candlepower, an antique unit of light measurement, which makes it hard to compare to other lights. It had a lot of the same specs as our pick, but it had none of the reputation, so it sat out.
What to look forward to
In traditional lighting, Blackburn’s Central Lights (around $100 for a set) just became available; Specialized has released Stix lights (though at 105 lumens we think they might be better safety lights); and upon contacting Serfas about its True 350/500 lights, I was informed they were about to release a redesign, so we decided to wait on testing until they were available. We’ll look at all of these for the next update.
Lights that project things in front or behind your bike for safety aren’t entirely new, but is a feature that is suddenly more widespread. Niterider has created the Sentinel, which projects lanes behind you. We got a tip from a commenter regarding the Blaze Laserlight, which projects a blinking bike lane projection. The similar CycleAware Laser Shark was recommended to us by a saleswoman a few weeks back, and it didn’t exist a year ago. There’s also this model and this one, and even a design testing the integration of symbols. But there haven’t been many professional reviews of lights using this feature, and it’s hard to tell if this is useful at all. After testing the Xfire, the Guardian concludes that projected lanes are more of a novelty than an effective safety measure. Reporter Trevor Ward writes that although he could see the lines clearly from his vantage point as a cyclist, “[his] neighbour, who volunteered to follow [him] in her car for the purposes of the trial, reported that she ‘didn’t really notice’ the lines, so felt no incentive to give [him] a wider berth than normal.” With that in mind, we’ve left them out of consideration for now, but we will reconsider them if the technology matures.
Another growing trend is lights that bolt to your frame permanently, like the Blackburn Grid Bolt On and several offerings from Fortified Bicycle. They’re intended to prevent theft. They could be a boon for the cyclist who is always leaving lights behind, but for most people they solve an issue that can be addressed at no additional cost simply by taking your light with you.
The Cateye Reflex has been around for a while, and more lights that are motion sensitive are starting to appear. These are lights that turn on when you start riding and turn off when you stop, so you don’t have to remember to turn them on and you get long battery run times. But as a whole the brighter designs need some additional R&D, and are still expensive. Blackburn has released the Central Front Smart Light, which adjusts automatically to the ambient brightness around you. It’s a neat trick, but with a price tag of $120 for 500 lumens, it’s probably not worth the cost for most commuters. We’ll watch to see if these gain momentum or come down in price.
CatEye introduced the Orbit 2, which clips to your spokes and creates a circle of light while you’re riding, accomplishing an effect similar to RevoLights (lights that attach to your tire rims and illuminate your whole wheel) for a fraction of the cost. It’s a safety light, and can’t stand in for a traditional set of commuter lights, but it’s an interesting idea for adding visibility to your ride.
League of American Cyclists certified instructor, Bay Area BART bike station manager, Interview,
Spokeland Co-Owner, Interview,
Alameda Bicycles Sales Associate, Interview,
Operations Manager for Boston Bikes and columnist for Bicycle Times, Interview,
Bicycle advocacy and personal injury lawyer, Interview,
The Best Bike Lights For Road Cycling, Bike Radar, January 19, 2015,
The Best Bike Light Review, Outdoor Gear Lab, August 25, 2015,
2014 Mtbr Bike Lights Shootout, Mtbr, September 20, 2015,
Best Bike Lights 2015, Road Cycling UK, June 2015,
Shine On, Bicycling, January 14, 2015,
Top 150 Bike lights 2015, Ride On, April 20, 2015
Lumens vs. Watts for LED Bulbs, SF Gate,
Virginia’s Driver Manual, Virginia DMV
Lumens and the Lighting Facts Label, Energy.gov, July 28, 2014
Originally published: September 25, 2015