The Best Commuter Bike Lights

After beating out 63 competitors in the first round of research and testing and 15 new ones during a second round, the best bike headlight remains the $50 Cygolite Metro 360. While we still love the Planet Bike Superflash, our previous pick for best taillight, the rechargeable Cygolite Hotshot is an equally good option, and brighter, for just a few dollars more. We didn’t go into this expecting to recommend a set, but it just so happens that the Metro and the Hotshot come together in a combo pack for $80. Simply put, Cygolites are more affordable than anything that outperforms them and outperform anything that’s more affordable.

Last Updated: July 4, 2014
We tested 15 brand new 2014 headlights to see if any could top our pick, but the Cygolite Metro 360 is still the best for most. However, we’ve added a number of alternative picks. The Light & Motion Urban 550 is a sure bet if you’re looking for a big upgrade in quality (for a price, of course). For taillights, we tested USB-powered models for the first time, and the Cygolite Hotshot is the clear standout. The Superflash Turbo remains an unsurpassable battery-powered option. And we found an additional rear light that had so many potentially useful applications, we couldn’t pass it up. The biggest difference between now and October of 2013 is that lights got a lot brighter for a lot less money. If you wanted a brighter light for a dark commute but were reeling from sticker shock ($150+), there are now more affordable options, and we have a recommendation for one of those, too.

As it turns out, our favorite headlight and taillight are offered in a combo pack. The two lights perform better than anything more affordable and whatever lights do outperform them are not as affordable.
To make these picks, we spent a combined 45 hours examining 31 different brands and more than 150 individual products. We compared basic technical requirements like light output and battery life, but in testing we aimed beyond just confirming information on the package. We examined lights not just for brightness, but for where and how the beam spreads. We examined battery life, but more importantly looked at whether the beam remains bright over time and how the light turns off. We tested taillights to see just exactly how much wattage you need to be seen in daylight, how much might be too much, and we examined every mount for effectiveness and ease of use. And we’ve also researched and tested a number of alternative picks for various scenarios for both headlights and taillights.

Headlights

Also Great
The Cygolite Metro 360 still can’t be matched in quality, even after several new designs debuted. It can run for two hours on the highest setting, easily detaches to prevent theft, and has a Steadypulse mode that alerts cars to your presence while keeping the road illuminated.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $54.
Since we last started looking at bike lights last fall, there have been several new designs to give the Cygolite Metro 360 a run for its money, but none can match its quality for the price ($50). In addition to being super bright and having a solid two hours of runtime on the highest setting, it has a number of important features that commuters actually care about, like a solid, quick-release mount that lets you easily detach it to prevent theft and a Steadypulse mode that projects a bright beam to light the road ahead while simultaneously flashing every few seconds to alert cars to your presence.

Also Great
*At the time of publishing, the price was $55.
If you can’t find the 360 or want something brighter, the Cygolite Metro 500 can sometimes be had for a couple bucks more. Otherwise, it’s identical to our main pick.
However, it’s worth noting that sometimes the brighter, but otherwise identical, Cygolite Metro 500 can sometimes be had for just a couple bucks more if that’s something you’re interested in (it’s dropped to as low as $55 in the past). It’s what we’d buy if the Metro 360 were to sell out or become unavailable. The Metro 360’s 360 lumens are already brighter than necessary for the vast majority of commuters’ needs, but if you want more and are willing to pay a few extra bucks, consider the Metro 500.

Also Great
For those who want the best possible headlight, the Light & Motion Urban 550 can’t be beat. The aluminum housing oozes luxury and it casts an even glow that may be preferable to the more concentrated beam of our main pick. You don’t need any of these things—and you risk losing an almost $90 investment if it gets stolen— but it’s the nicest light we could find.
If you want a higher-quality headlight with a more luxurious fit and finish, the Light & Motion Urban 550 has no equal. It features an aluminum housing that feels much better in the hand than hard plastic. It’s not just a pretty face either: Its smooth optics cast an even glow that some people might prefer to the more concentrated beam of the Metro, it has yellow lights on the sides for improved visibility, and it comes with a silicone mount that is both practical and easy to use. You don’t need any of these things—and you risk losing an almost $90 investment if it gets stolen—but it’s without a doubt a beautiful product with some great R&D behind it.

Also Great
*At the time of publishing, the price was $94.
If brightness is a primary concern due to lack of street lighting, the Cygolite Expilion 800 is very bright and packs more lumens for the price than the other 11 models we tested. It's good for scenarios where you need that extra lighting because you're not getting it from anywhere else, but it's not our main pick, as it's overkill for most people, and you’ll have to use the low setting in high-traffic scenarios.
If you feel more comfortable with a brighter headlight either because of a lack of street lighting or treacherous roads, the $95 Cygolite Expilion 800 is a sure bet. We haven’t tested this model ourselves, and it’s a bit too new to have reviews of its own, but the previous model, the 700, is liked by Outside, MTB Community, the readers at MTBR, and the Bike Light Database, who all found its performance exceptional. And if you’re talking pure numbers, in a side-by-side comparison it has more lumens for the price than the other 11 models we pitted it against, a long battery life at a lower setting, and a swappable battery option that’s icing on the cake. It’s worth noting that 800 lumens truly can overwhelm the vision of oncoming drivers (it’s basically like staring into a projector), so if you do buy one, be careful where you point it and use the low setting in high-traffic scenarios.

Taillights

Also Great
The Hotshot is bright, is USB rechargeable, and lasted longer than other rechargeable tail lights by several hours. The randomized blinking pattern ensures more driver visibility as well.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $33.
As far as taillights go, we have updated our guide with an entirely new category, USB rechargeable taillights, and the $33 Hotshot ended up being the best of them. It’s bright—2W as opposed to just the 1W Superflash—and, in testing, it lasted longer than all the other rechargeable taillights by several hours. It also has a randomized blinking pattern that’s sure to be noticed by drivers and a parabolic reflector that further increases visibility. Long-term testing by one of our editors revealed that during an entire winter of (admittedly short) nightly commutes, it only needed to be charged about once every two or three months. Of course, your mileage may vary based on the length of your commute.

Also Great
The Planet Bike Superflash Turbo is what we’d get if the Hotshot is unavailable for whatever reason. It runs on a AAA battery and we haven’t had to replace the battery the entire eight months we’ve used it.
That being said, a AAA-powered taillight will run seemingly forever. If that appeals to you, or if the Hotshot is sold out or unavailable, we still love the $29 Planet Bike Superflash Turbo (it’s still my personal favorite and what I keep on my bike, but based on reader feedback, many of you prefer the idea of a rechargeable). None of the four newer Planet Bike models I looked at could compare. It’s super bright and noticeable, thanks to a parabolic reflector and an irregular blinking pattern. And I haven’t had to replace the batteries a single time in the eight months since I first started using it for daily commutes.

Also Great
If you want to double up your rear lights or mount a light to the back of your helmet without any special mounts, the Serfas Thunderbolt is for you. This isn't something that attaches to your bike, so it's not our main pick, but for those who want to be extra careful, it's useful to have.
Finally, the $45 Serfas Thunderbolt is so uniquely qualified to do a couple of different things that we had to give it a shoutout. Its wide side visibility makes it one of the best add-ons you can find if you want to double up your rear lights. I also had success mounting it on the back of a helmet without any fuss or special mounts—a feature that’s much rarer than one would expect given how many people want it.

Table of contents

Should I upgrade? | How we picked and tested | Our pick | Flaws but not dealbreakers | The step up | If you need more firepower | Our favorite battery-powered taillight | The Thunderbolt | The competition | What to look forward to | Wrapping it up

Should I upgrade?

If all you have on your bike is small, cheap blinkers: Yes. Do it now. Lights are vitally important to keeping you safe, and depending on where you live, it could be illegal to ride in the dark without one. And should you get into an accident at night without a light on your bike, it’s still possible to be held liable—even if it’s not your fault.1 Jim Burakoff, general manager of the San Francisco Bay Area’s BART bike station system and 10-year car-free commuter, succinctly told us: “Compared to the consequences of not being seen, bike lights are incredibly cheap.”

How we picked what to test

Headlights

The steady beam illuminates the road in front of you, and a strobing pattern makes you visible to cars.
A lot of things comprise a great headlight. First off, it needs to have at least two settings—steady and strobe. The steady beam illuminates the road in front of you, and a strobing pattern makes you visible to cars. You toggle between the two depending on what kind of situation you’re riding in. Some lights, like our pick, can do both at the same time. That’s a useful feature to look for.

You also need a light that is bright. Brightness is measured in lumens, and you’ll want a headlight with at least 100. But there’s also such a thing as too bright. I spoke to Scott Karoly, a veteran sales associate from Alameda Bikes, who told me that a 700+-lumen light is overkill and can even be a hazard on normal roads: “Those are for mountain biking at night and are really only useful for the trail when it’s pitch black. I mean, if you had an 1,800 lumen light on the street you would get a ticket.” He personally uses a 650-lumen light, set to its lowest setting (about 200 lumens). As we continued our research, lights in the 200-350 lumen range revealed themselves to be exactly what we were after—plenty of illumination, even for darker paths, but not so bright that the cost started ballooning out of control.

It’s also important for a good light to install quickly and stay on tight while biking, yet remove easily when you arrive at your destination. Otherwise it makes a tempting target for thieves. For ease of use, a handlebar mount is a no-brainer. (As is an all-in-one, tool-less mounting unit.) You’ll want to make sure that your lights are weather-resistant should you find yourself stuck in a downpour. They should also be able to handle some abuse from accidents and drops.

Side cutouts, a design feature that allows a bit of light to spill to either side of the headlight, aren’t all that useful. The idea is that this makes you more visible to traffic on your left and right, but Burakoff explained: “Once someone is looking at you straight from the side, there’s a good chance that things have already progressed pretty far towards an accident. A light without these side windows can still have a pretty great viewable angle and may be just as effective the majority of the time.”

Surprisingly, I found that extremely long battery life wasn’t as important either. Karoly told me, “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. And a lot of these have a little light on top and the button will turn from green to red when you’ve got 20 percent left, 10 percent left, so you know when.” Battery life still weighed into our decision making, but three to four hours of burn time no longer seemed like a pitiful amount.

Up for consideration were the entire product lines of 29 different brands. We narrowed the field according to our criteria laid out above. Anything that required mounting an additional battery pack was also axed. There are too many great one-piece solutions to consider those.

The product lineup for round one of testing.

The product lineup for round one of testing.

We eliminated front blinkers (not bright enough), performance headlights like the ones covered in this MTBR roundup (too bright and expensive), exclusively helmet-mounted lights (not everyone wears a helmet), and then we turned to previously existing reviews to get whatever information we could. Wirecutter contributor Brent Rose did a comparison to find the best bike light under $100 for Gizmodo. Bike Radar also has a roundup of the best road bike lights. This Blog Overflow review was also quite good. We also looked at the Best Bike Lights To Buy at T3 and RideOn’s Lights test 2014.

In addition to looking for a product that delivered on all of the above, we required that testing candidates have buttons that were easy to operate even with gloves on but not so easy to push that they’d turn on inside of a bag. We gave bonus points to lights that charged via USB, because they don’t create waste. The rechargeable lights needed to have a battery indicator to let you know when it was time to recharge. And finally, it had to have a warranty from a reputable company. This meant excluding sketchy offerings such as this one that’s only on Amazon.

Taillights

Just like headlights, the bare-bones essentials for a suitable taillight are brightness and durability. But their sole purpose is to make you visible to the traffic around you and so an erratic, annoying, crazy blinking pattern is key. (In some states, blinking lights are illegal. The logic behind this is that the blinking impersonates an emergency vehicle. We only tested lights with both steady and blink modes.)

And just like headlights, brighter doesn’t necessarily mean better. Bright is certainly good, but it’s the flashing pattern that gets the attention of drivers. Color is important, too. Using a red taillight in addition to a white headlight will make sure that drivers can see you from behind and know that you’re going away from them, not towards them. A white light in front and a red light in back indicate that you are a vehicle, as opposed to who knows what else. Other colors are available, but you should avoid them as they can add unnecessary and possibly dangerous confusion into the equation. (“What’s that green light? I’ll drive closer to investigate…”) Stick with red.

Weatherproof housing is exponentially more important for rear lights. In wet weather, the place where your blinker sits is exactly where your wheel kicks up water.
Weatherproof housing is exponentially more important for rear lights. In wet weather, the place where your blinker sits is exactly where your wheel kicks up water. And for the battery-powered taillights we considered, we eliminated options that run on CR2032 batteries, which are small, somewhat expensive disc-shaped batteries that don’t have a lot of power. They can also freeze pretty easily, which is no good if you have plans to roll around on your fat bike somewhere in the hinterlands this winter.

Some of the products we looked at advertised something called “group ride mode,” a low-light setting designed to make your rear blinker less annoying to riders behind you. I thought this was neat, but it wasn’t a deciding factor. “Group ride” can mean different things for different lights. For example, on the NiteRider Stinger group ride is a low, steady mode, while on the Portland Design Works Aether Demon it’s a flash pattern. And in the end, there are plenty of lights that offer flashing or steady patterns on lower settings—there were five in our lineup alone.

Speaking of blinking patterns, a lot of taillights have several of them, so the trick would be to get a light where the multiple options are actually useful. Multiple bright-light blinking patterns are cool, but often don’t have a function outside of fun factor. Steady and flashing are absolute requirements, but a low-light or “breathing” option, like the group mode discussed above, could be nice, especially if you ride in a city where commuters cluster together at red lights. Another purpose-driven setting would be a random flashing pattern, as those are extremely attention-grabbing.

Parabolic reflectors are also important for taillights. Ehow has a concise explanation of how they’re beneficial, but in a nutshell, they focus the light—right into the eyeballs of the people behind you. There’s no special testing required; the difference is very noticeable. A quick demonstration in the aisle of my local REI had me quickly convinced that a sharper, brighter, more piercing light is created when it’s focused this way.

The parabolic reflector on the Superflash Turbo: it’s the red piece inside the housing.

The parabolic reflector on the Superflash Turbo: it’s the red piece inside the housing.

Another factor that comes into play is how long, vertically, the mount is. There were a surprising number of lights I had to set aside because they didn’t fit on my seatpost—way more than I ever imagined. Obviously you’re good to go if you’re tall, but a great light for most people should fit most people’s bikes. In our quest for more information and other recommendations, the Bike Light Database has proven to be an exceptional resource, especially when it comes to taillights.

Testing

We did months of information gathering to see how these lights performed. First, I photographed the beam spreads of all of them, because where the light is directed and how it illuminates are as important as how bright it is. We looked at them from two angles, one directly ahead and one from above, to piece together a clear picture.

Of course we double-checked the claimed battery life. I ran down every single light at the closest output settings possible and monitored them with a security camera. Not only did we learn how long they lasted, but how they turned off and if they lost power somewhere in the process. Many did.

We timed how long it took the batteries to die on every single model.

We timed how long it took the batteries to die on every single model.

And finally, we tested the mounts: how easy they were to use and install and whether they stayed put on rough roads. Turns out Oakland, CA, is an extremely fertile testing ground. Gaping potholes and cracked asphalt are par for the course. I did a mile loop around an astoundingly poorly paved stretch of city street for every one of our lights, trying to shake them loose.

The taillights got another special round of testing. One thing that makes them extremely difficult to compare by numbers alone is that some are rated in watts and some are rated in lumens. These are different ways to measure output, and comparing numbers side by side requires some electrical engineering know-how. So I decided to just look at them instead. I photographed all of them turned on in broad daylight 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. In these extreme conditions, lots of lights disappeared from view, leading me to the conclusion that .5W is simply not going to be bright enough. The next brightest lights were the 2W lights, which were definitely visible in both blinking and steady modes. And the brightest lights were 60+ lumens.  (If you’re confused about the watt-to-lumen comparison, we don’t blame you. There is no easy or direct way to compare wattage—a measure of electrical current—to lumens—a measure of light output over a certain area. The part that you really need to know is that the higher the wattage and the higher the lumens, the brighter the light will appear.)

If you want loads of light, the 60-lumen lights look good, but for our purposes it seemed like overkill. 2W was our sweet spot for cost and effectiveness.

This is what a .5W taillight looks like in daylight from 45 yards away:

A .5W tail light burning on steady from 45 yards away is almost impossible to see. The top image is the actual distance. The bottom image is zoomed.

A .5W tail light burning on steady from 45 yards away is almost impossible to see. The top image is the actual distance. The bottom image is zoomed.

And here’s a 60-lumen light:

The 60 lumen Serfas Shield from 45 yards.

The 60-lumen Serfas Shield from 45 yards.

Our picks

Best headlight

Also Great
The Cygolite Metro 360 still can’t be matched in quality, even after several new designs debuted. It can run for two hours on the highest setting, easily detaches to prevent theft, and has a Steadypulse mode that alerts cars to your presence while keeping the road illuminated.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $54.
The Cygolite Metro 360 is a clear standout in the headlight category. During testing, it ran neck and neck with pricier models like the NiteRider in terms of performance, but it has a few more lumens (for a brighter light) and is $30 cheaper.

When we looked at the beam spreads on a dark trail, nothing else covered the foreground and middleground as broadly while still reaching into trees down the path and to the right.

Top row: Knog Blinder 2, L&M Urban 200, and Planet Bike Micro 2W. Bottom row: Serfas 350, Niterider Lumina 350, and Cygolite Metro 360.

Top row: Knog Blinder 2, L&M Urban 200, and Planet Bike Micro 2W.
Bottom row: Serfas 350, NiteRider Lumina 350, and Cygolite Metro 360.

Our pick had longer battery life than everything but the NiteRider, which ran an hour longer. If battery life is your main concern, you may want to consider whether spending an extra $30 is worth an additional hour of light. But I felt the Cygolite was a better option because it was cranking out 40 more lumens at the setting I had it on, still provided a solid three hours of run time, and as an unexpected bonus I noticed that the light never fully turned off during the entire 9.5-hour test. It faded at hour three, but still provided a touch of illumination. NiteRider snapped off at precisely the four-hour mark. While I wouldn’t claim that the Cygolite was usable for the last 6.5 hours it remained flickering, I’d still rather have that bit of light to guide me home instead of navigating in pitch blackness.

Left to right, the beams as seen from above on the Serfas 350, Niterider Lumina 350 and Cygolite Metro 360.

Left to right, the beams as seen from above on the Serfas 350, NiteRider Lumina 350, and Cygolite Metro 360.

During the mount test, the Cygolite didn’t budge, and the mount itself was incredibly simple to install, requiring just a few turns of a screw. The light itself can be detached from the mount with a quick release button for quick pocketing on your way inside.

Knog Blinder 2 (top) and Cygolite Metro 360 (bottom). The Knog has tilted downward, but the Metro didn’t move during our mount test.

Knog Blinder 2 (top) and Cygolite Metro 360 (bottom). The Knog has tilted downward, but the Metro didn’t move during our mount test.

It has a one-year warranty. It’s sturdy and weatherproof. The button is easy to operate while riding, even with gloves, but it’s also hard enough that it won’t turn on when jostled in your bag. It has a battery indicator light. And with one exception, it’s less expensive than everything on this list. That right there includes every one of our ideal requirements, and the Cygolite still had more to offer.

First, it has a setting called Dayflash mode, which is a piercing blink meant to be run during daylight hours. Throw it on if you feel like you need it, or use it so cars can see you better in snow or rain. It also has Steadypulse mode, which runs a steady beam at full brightness with flashes interspersed every few seconds for better visibility. This is perfect if you’re alongside traffic at night. There is only one other light that does this, the Cateye Nano Shot, which was too expensive and kind of heavy.

Its reviews are overwhelmingly positive. Scott recommended the Metro by name at the store.

The Bicycles sub-blog of StackExchange was one of the few editorial sources that also had a chance to take a look at the Metro. They rated it Best Value, writing, “The Metro series is one of my favorites. It’s just the right size, has Cygolite’s special steady-flash pattern which is great for riding at night on city streets, and is a great value… you’re unlikely to find a better light for this price.” The Cygolite is a slam dunk. If you can’t get the 360 for whatever reason, we like the 500 too. It’s not our top pick because you probably don’t need a light that bright, but you’re sure to be happy with it.

Best taillight

Also Great
The Hotshot is bright, is USB rechargeable, and lasted longer than other rechargeable tail lights by several hours. The randomized blinking pattern ensures more driver visibility as well.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $33.
For a bright USB light with great battery life, I’d recommend the Cygolite Hotshot, which costs $35. It’s the right amount of light for the right price, and we got a whopping 10 hours of continuous battery life out of it. That’s six hours more than the closest competition and a month of rides home before you have to charge it, even if it’s at the highest setting. There were no duds in our pool of USB taillights. I tested 16 other popular and all-around very good models, but there was no other light that could offer that much brightness, that long, for only $35.

A mounted Cygolite Hotshot.

A mounted Cygolite Hotshot.

It has four flashing patterns, including a random one for maximum attention-grabbage and also a slow “breathing” pattern which you could use for your group rides to avoid zapping anyone behind you directly in the eyeball. It has that all-important parabolic reflector that focuses the light into the right place—behind you—instead of letting it disperse in useless directions, like up. And it didn’t come loose in our mount test. It’s not quite as magical as a silicone mount, but those are proprietary technology and expensive, and the Hotshot is light enough that it never tilted downward or twisted—it’s not going to go anywhere, and this also frees you up to clip your light to a bag if you choose.

In addition to the distance test, our beam test also helped us judge the best ratio of light to cost.

.5W lights didn’t seem to be quite enough. Left to right: Planet Bike Superflash Micro, Planet Bike Superflash Micro USB, Planet Bike Superflash USB,Portland Design Works Aether Demon.

.5W lights didn’t seem to be quite enough. Left to right: Planet Bike Superflash Micro, Planet Bike Superflash Micro USB, Planet Bike Superflash USB, Portland Design Works Aether Demon.

25-44 lumens, left to right: Niterider Stinger (25), Light & Motion VIS Micro (25), Serfas Thunderbolt (35), and Knog Blinder Road (44).

25-44 lumens, left to right: NiteRider Stinger (25), Light & Motion VIS Micro (25), Serfas Thunderbolt (35), and Knog Blinder Road (44).

2W lights, from left to right: Niterider Solas, Cygolite Hotshot

2W lights, from left to right: NiteRider Solas, Cygolite Hotshot

50-80 lumens, left to right: Light & Motion VIS 180 (50), Serfas TL60 (60), Lezyne Micro Rear (70), Serfas TL80 (80).

50-80 lumens, left to right: Light & Motion VIS 180 (50), Serfas TL60 (60), Lezyne Micro Rear (70), Serfas TL80 (80).

Who else loves it? Everyone. Our peeps at Gizmodo dubbed it “the grandmaster.” All-around five-star reviews from customers at Performance Bike. Wired is onboard. And it’s a top pick over at the Bicycle Light Guide.

There is also the slightly cheaper Hotshot SL which stands for “slimline.” I was under the impression that the light would be physically smaller, but it’s the same size as the non-SL model. The only thing that’s slimmed down is its feature list. I found four small differences: It doesn’t come with a seat stay mount, it has two fewer flashing modes, it does not have a low battery indicator, and it has lower advertised runtime.

Left to right, the Cygolite Hotshot and the Cygolite Hotshot SL.

Left to right, the Cygolite Hotshot and the Cygolite Hotshot SL.

If this is the model you end up with, you’ll be happy—it’s practically identical. But the flashing modes they eliminated were the ones that struck me as the most useful—the random flashing pattern and the breathing mode. While the “up to 500 hour” runtime on our top choice is kind of a crapshoot, the promised extra battery life, plus the two very useful modes made the standard version our model of choice and well worth paying a couple bucks extra for.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Both Cygolite models have a lot of different modes. Several have useful applications, but let’s be real: On and off is as far as anyone really cares. People that want blazingly bright lights will buy bright lights and always run them on high. People that want tons of battery life will always run theirs on low. And ultimately the nuanced difference between low and high, between dayflash, nightflash, walk, and whatever is so negligible. The good part is that they’re not doing any harm, they’re just there.

The Hotshot is like this, too. You can change the speed of the flashing patterns on the Hotshot, from very slow to very rapid. That’s fine, but I simply can’t picture myself leaving the gym/hospital/jail and taking the time to mess around with the blink pace of my light. But it’s there and if you don’t want to use it, it will automatically turn on to the last-used setting so it’s unobtrusive.

The claimed “500 hours” of runtime on the Hotshot also sounds too good to be true, and it might be. It might be possible on the most infrequent flash setting, but in our tests, which were run on steady mode, we got about 10. That’s still a ton of runtime, but the numbers as advertised should probably be taken with a grain of salt.

The step up

Also Great
For those who want the best possible headlight, the Light & Motion Urban 550 can’t be beat. The aluminum housing oozes luxury and it casts an even glow that may be preferable to the more concentrated beam of our main pick. You don’t need any of these things—and you risk losing an almost $90 investment if it gets stolen— but it’s the nicest light we could find.
The Light & Motion Urban 550 is the very definition of a step up. You’re getting a bit more light, but otherwise you’re mostly paying for aesthetic improvements and technology tweaks that are very nice, but not necessary. If you want something that feels a little sturdier and has a nicer heft in the hand than the plastic housing of the Cygolite, the Light & Motion is machined aluminum. The optics are beautiful, extremely clean and even, and that costs money. It has an enviable silicon mount that was reliable in all our tests, and the yellow side illumination lights are a nice touch. The light looks and feels great, so if you’re looking for a beautiful light to match to a beautiful bike, this is it, if you’re willing to pay $90.

It has one feature that might be considered a minor flaw (but not a dealbreaker): The flash pattern of the Urban series is extremely subtle. It looks more like a breathing battery indicator light on a Macbook than a flashing bike light. The reasoning is that this prevents the flash from mimicking an emergency vehicle, which could potentially be confusing on the road. It’s not as attention-grabbing, but I’ve ridden with it for a few months and it’s alright.

If you need more firepower

Also Great
*At the time of publishing, the price was $94.
If brightness is a primary concern due to lack of street lighting, the Cygolite Expilion 800 is very bright and packs more lumens for the price than the other 11 models we tested. It's good for scenarios where you need that extra lighting because you're not getting it from anywhere else, but it's not our main pick, as it's overkill for most people, and you’ll have to use the low setting in high-traffic scenarios.
We’ve been advocating strongly that you don’t need an intensely bright light for commuting, but since the cost has become a bit more reasonable, it’s not a bad option if you really want it. For a long, dark commute we’d recommend the Cygolite Expilion 800 for $95. You simply can’t get more light for the price.

To get to this pick, I put together a rudimentary features comparison of lights in the 500-800 range from brands that we’ve become familiar with through testing.

table

Right there, clear as day, you can see it’s the best value. What’s more, when you consider the positive accolades from Gizmodo, the ever-comprehensive Bike Light Datebase, a solid five-star Amazon user rating, and our own experience testing and using Cygolite products for this guide, we’re confident it’s the right choice. It also happens to be the only model on this list with a swappable battery and the only one that allows you to run a blink/steady pattern simultaneously.

Our favorite battery-powered taillight

Also Great
The Planet Bike Superflash Turbo is what we’d get if the Hotshot is unavailable for whatever reason. It runs on a AAA battery and we haven’t had to replace the battery the entire eight months we’ve used it.
The Planet Bike 1W Superflash Turbo is a bombproof little device and came highly recommended by everyone I talked to. I spoke at length to Keith Wall, co-owner of Spokeland, the East Bay Bicycle Coalition’s sister co-op. He spends a lot of time fixing bikes and gear and digs the Superflash “because it never disappoints you. Its runtime is legendary and it’s very bright for a light that runs on two AAA batteries.” Scott name-checked it as well. “It is the best selling taillight we have, it’s really bright, and it has a random flash pattern so it’s never the same. I can’t imagine someone not seeing that,” he said.

And that brings up another thing: the random blinking pattern. There are hardly any taillights out there with random patterns (the Hotshot has one), and 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! It has received high praise from Bike RadarBicycling, and Gear Junkie. It also has a lifetime warranty, an unexpected bonus for a $29 piece of gear.

And I know this sounds nitpicky, but a big reason I love this light above all others is that it has just three settings: blink, steady, and off. If you wear your light on the back of your bag, 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. Sure, taking off your bag isn’t incredibly difficult, but when you start doing it two, three, or four times a day, every day, a streamlined, hassle-free methodology of getting on and off your bike is priceless.

The Thunderbolt

Also Great
If you want to double up your rear lights or mount a light to the back of your helmet without any special mounts, the Serfas Thunderbolt is for you. This isn't something that attaches to your bike, so it's not our main pick, but for those who want to be extra careful, it's useful to have.
This taillight couldn’t be in the running for best-of for a lot of reasons—it doesn’t fit on short seatposts, it’s only 35 lumens, and the battery life is also very short. But it’s uniquely qualified to address a lot of concerns cyclists have. It mounts effortlessly on the back of a helmet without having to mess with adaptors or DIY solutions, which is surprisingly rare. Without having to mess with Velcro, zip ties, magnets, glue, screws, or any other experimental combination of adhesives, I was able to easily get this on to the back of a typical road bike helmet.

The Serfas Thunderbolt mounted to a road helmet.

The Serfas Thunderbolt mounted to a road helmet.

It also has a very wide beam pattern. If you are concerned with how far your light reaches to the side, adding this to your top tube or down tube could be an excellent addition to any rear-facing blinker that you may have.

Finally, if you have an aero seat post that’s shaped like an airplane wing (something most commuters don’t have), it’ll fit on that as well.

The competition

Headlights

The Cygolite Streak 280 is strongest new competitor to come out since we last tested. Compared to the Metro series, the Streak is smaller, has fewer modes, has larger side illumination ports, and retails for $50. Those are good improvements for a commuter model, and yet the 360 currently costs $46 on Amazon. 80 more lumens for less money is a good deal. And the Streak’s smaller size means a smaller battery. We got twice the runtime from the Metro at similar output levels.

NiteRider Lumina 350 was almost our pick. NiteRider was the number one brand recommended to me by all my experts, and it lived up to the hype. What it comes down to is that the Cygolite does the same thing and is $30 cheaper while giving you extra features like the Steadypulse mode.

…the Cygolite does the same thing and is $30 cheaper while giving you extra features…
The Lezyne Macro Drive is a nice product that falls somewhere in between our pick and our step up. It has everything the Light & Motion Urban series has, just refined to a slightly lesser degree. A silicone mount that’s good—but not quite as good. A beam spread that’s nice and even—just not quite as even. And it can’t outperform the Cygolite.

The Knog Blinder Road 2 was Knog’s first commuter headlight, and it kind of feels like a first attempt. It features Knog’s simple and attractive silicone mount that shoppers adore, but so far, it hasn’t been strong enough to keep the headlights from shifting a bit in our mount tests. This is also the only model I felt had some unnecessary tech. It had eight settings that operate via two different tiny buttons, which is a lot to tinker with. Even worse, it only gives you an hour of battery life at 200 lumens. That’s just not enough, considering less expensive models on our list are running for two to four.

The Knog Blinder Arc 5.5 is new for 2014 and is a great improvement over the Blinder Road because it’s less top-heavy in the front (which means it won’t droop as easily over time). It has just one beam (as opposed to separate wide and narrow beams). There are only four modes instead of a mind-boggling eight. The button is much easier to access and press. It squeezed in 30 more minutes of runtime on the battery than advertised on the package. But the Arc series still couldn’t unseat our top choice, and at $120, it couldn’t compete in price.

Knog Blinder 1.7 Arc is $15 more expensive than our pick, 190 lumens dimmer, and has an hour and a half less burn time on similar settings.

With all the design improvements Knog made with their Arc series, it was easy to set aside the Knog Blinder Road 3, which is bulky and expensive.

Upon contacting Serfas about their 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.

The Planet Bike Blaze 2W Micro only costs $40, which makes it cheaper than the Cygolite. It’ll get the job done, but you get so much more value from the Cygolite in terms of light quality, brightness, and ease of use that spending an extra $20 seems like a no-brainer. Plus, it uses AA batteries, which need replacing.

These options were considered, but never made it to the test round:

Dynamo lights are amazing little inventions that run on energy generated by your wheels. The problem is that they can be a big commitment, both in expense and installation time.2

Blackburn is generally highly regarded in the bike community. But upon speaking with them, I found out their USB lights charge using proprietary technology, meaning that if you lose the little piece that plugs into the light, you have to buy a new, Blackburn-specific cable to charge it. It’s so easy to lose parts like that and so annoying to replace them that we didn’t look at Blackburn models.

Moon is the in-house brand by the company that manufactures Serfas lights, so the Moon Shield is the Serfas Shield, and there are a few others.

The Cateye Volt300 takes eight hours to fully charge the battery, which makes this slightly less hassle-free than other options that typically only take five hours, tops. You can buy an optional “quick-charge” cradle that charges it faster, but having to buy an additional piece of equipment to get performance on par with other models is a dealbreaker. It also has sixty fewer lumens than our pick and is the same price.

Cateye’s NanoShot has a setting similar to the Cygolite Steadypulse. But it’s heavy. And factoring in a whopping eight hours of charge time, more lumens than most people need, and a price that’s twice as much as our pick made it easy to pass on.

The Exposure Flash is hard to find outside of a set, which will set you back $120. For that, you get 260 fewer lumens than our pick at twice the cost.

Light & Motion Vis 360 is designed specifically for a helmet mount (and not everyone wears a helmet).

Magicshine Eagle – An unreputable brand that costs about $150 and has 600 lumens. You can do better with the Cygolite Expilion Series.

NiteRider Lumina Micro 220 – The Cygolite has 130 more lumens for $10 less.

NiteRider Mako 200 – Our pick is $5 cheaper, has 160 more lumens, and uses Li-ion batteries as opposed to the NiMH found here.

NiteRider MiNewt Mini Series – Separate battery pack.

Owleye – Unreliable mounts according to one of our experts.

Princeton Tec Push – Enough minor complaints in Amazon reviews and ratings didn’t make this one stand out.

Princeton Tec Eos-R – Only 70 lumens at $45.

Taillights

It’s interesting that both headlight and taillight categories came down to a Cygolite and a NiteRider. The NiteRider Solas is the strongest competition for the Hotshot. They are both 2W lights that have a very similar beam pattern. But it retails for $10 more and had six fewer hours of battery life, so the Hotshot edged it out.

New for 2014 from PB, the Planet Bike Superflash Micro, while awesomely compact, ditches everything that makes the Turbo great. It’s half as bright. It takes N batteries (which I had never heard of in my life until now), which are a specialty purchase. It doesn’t have a parabolic lens or a random flash pattern, and the on/off switch is a major problem. It presses so easily that it turned on in my bag; my light was dead before I even got to use it.

It’s half as bright. It takes N batteries (which I had never heard of in my life until now)…
Planet Bike Superflash Micro USB – USB version of the above light. This was the second-longest running light in our battery test, lasting a full seven hours, but who cares because just like the Micro, the button on this turned on in my bag and it was dead before I got to use it.

Planet Bike Superflash Turbo Mini – Takes AAAA batteries, yet another battery I didn’t know existed, and has the same hangups as the Micro, including the easy-to-push switch. This light also turned on in my bag.

Also new this year, the Planet Bike Superflash USB couldn’t compete with its battery-powered twin. This light is only .5W. Costs the same as the Hotshot, is significantly less bright, and had three fewer hours of battery life.

Serfas Shield 60 - The 60 lumens this thing pumps out are crazy bright, and if I had $60 to spend on a taillight, I’d buy this. But it only lasts two hours on high (compared to the Hotshot’s 10) and costs a lot more. It’s awesome, but unnecessary for most.

The Light & Motion Vis 180 didn’t fit under my seatpost. And it ran for only 2:30, a full hour and a half less than advertised. I considered retesting since the difference was so big, but I think they have us on a technicality: The main light went out at 2:30, but the auxiliary light kept blinking. If you count the time the blinking light kept going, run time was exactly as claimed, but a light that’s $100 should be able to run for four hours.

I couldn’t get the Light & Motion Vis 180 Micro to fit behind my seatpost either. It looks like it should from the package, but it couldn’t sit properly. This light also doesn’t have a blinking pattern, just a slow steady breathing pattern. According to their site, this is to prevent the light from imitating the flash of an emergency vehicle. Which is a great idea, except I feel like I can’t see it blinking at all. Spend your money on something really blinky.

Portland Design Works’ Aether Demon, a quality light from a company that everyone in the bike community seems to love, had a nice fat extra 30 minutes of battery life. But at $50 for .5W it wasn’t the best choice.

The Aether Demon tilted down in our mount test.

The Aether Demon tilted down in our mount test.

The Demon also tilted a bit in our rear light mount test. However, having tested dozens of these at this point, I’ve noticed that sometimes with these hard plastic mounts the lights slip because the first time you take them for a ride the screw on the mount tightens in the direction of the ground. I repositioned the light and retested and the second time it didn’t move.

This mount is standard on a lot of lights. It’s not perfect, but it’s the one mount that fits on all seat posts, and as long as your light isn’t really heavy it works well enough. An added benefit of this type of mount is that it’s interchangeable with a lot of models, such as the Superflash, and there is real value to this. I have a friend who buys lights based solely on whether or not they can all fit in the same mount, because the hassle of finding the right light for the right bike is just that—a hassle.

Without the battery life of our main pick and $15 more expensive, we set the Lezyne Micro Rear Light  aside. It’s really similar to the Serfas Shield—the specs are almost identical and it’s a really nice-looking light. But for whatever reason, the Shield packs a wallop that the Micro just doesn’t quite have.

Of all the Knogs I looked at, the Knog Blinder 4 is the one that had enough real-world application to give me pause. It fits on your seatpost (as it should). It has a high quality, bright wash of light. But this mount… this mount is where it’s at. If you’re one of those always-moving-lights-around people and have a few bucks to spare, this is a decent option. For us, it still has seven hours fewer battery life than our pick and is $10 more expensive, and it can’t touch the durability and battery life of the Superflash.

The Serfas Shield 80 is a little on the bulky side and overkill for your average commuter.

The USB version of the NiteRider Stinger was new so we included it in testing, but its 25 lumens scattered everywhere and it wasn’t very bright.

I got decent visibility and battery life out of the Serfas UTL-200, but it’s clunky. The mount has an extra adaptor piece that allows the clip on the light to fit onto the seatpost mount—just one more thing to lose, and there’s not a whole lot preventing it from popping out of the clip.

The NiteRider Cherry Bomb has the same specs as the Superflash Turbo and I liked the heft of it. But the weight of it was also part of its downfall, as it was too heavy to pass the mount test. It just wouldn’t stay still, no matter which way I turned it or how much I tightened the screw. The blink pattern isn’t random which isn’t a requirement, but it’s still just one step behind. The 2012 Bicycle Community Blog comparison also found that the light pointed in the wrong direction if mounted in the horizontal position.

Battery-powered, and therefore free of that proprietary cable, the Blackburn Mars 4.0 was worth checking out. A nice light with good run time and a steal at $16, but doesn’t have the oomph of the Turbo—no random blink pattern, one less watt. The amber flashers on the side I thought were neat, but they faded quickly with distance and hindered the spread of the center LED. I don’t trust the housing on this as much as I do on the Superflash, which I feel like I could slam in a door a few times just for fun with no adverse effect.

The Knog Blinder 4V and Knog Road Rear don’t fit on shorter posts. I never realized how big of a problem this really was until even a sales rep at a store said he couldn’t use them. The rep at REI said the same thing.

These never made it to testing:

Portland Design Works Danger Zone – Half the runtime of our pick, half as bright, and retails for $4 more.

Blackburn Super Flea – Poor Amazon ratings citing quality issues and battery life.

Exposure Flare – A $70 light with 90 fewer hours of runtime.

Cateye Rapid 5 – Less-powerful LEDs.

Tioga Dual Eyes – I don’t have confirmation from Serfas, but I think this is the UTL-200.

Topeak Mega Red – They give the brightness rating of this light in candlepower, which, come on, is a meaningless measurement for a consumer. 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

Lights that project things in front or behind your bike for safety aren’t entirely new, but this is a feature that is suddenly more available and widespread. We got a tip from a commenter regarding the Blaze Laserlight that projects a blinking bike projection. The CycleAware Laser Shark was enthusiastically recommended to me by a sales woman a few weeks back, and it wasn’t there five months ago. There’s also this model and this one, both of which pop up easily with quick searches.

But there’s not a lot written about the effectiveness of this feature and it’s hard to tell if it’s useful at all. Can you even see these projections on the road from a car? Can you see the projected lines in daylight? Does it work if you clip your light to a helmet or bag, or are you limited to seatpost mounting only? This review from the Guardian points towards no, so for now these have been left out of consideration.

Wrapping it up

If you’re a bike commuter, get some lights. The Cygolite Metro 360 is the best headlight we’ve found because it gives you a lot of lumens at a reasonable price, is durable enough to stand some rough roads, and is incredibly simple to use. The Planet Bike Superflash Turbo is the best taillight we’ve found, with a proven track record for quality and performance, and if you want a USB-rechargable model, the Cygolite Hotshot is worth it, providing loads of battery run time and a bright, random flash pattern that’s hard to come by.

Footnotes:

1. I spoke to Daniel H. Rose, a personal injury lawyer that has specialized in bicycle law and advocacy for more than 25 years. In an email I received from him regarding cyclist liability, he stated: “Yes, a cyclist can certainly be found at fault (or liable for another’s injuries or property damage) for not having a light. This happens frequently, and many fewer cyclists would not have been injured or killed if they had lights.” Jump back.

2. Everything I researched indicated that dynamos are reliable and insanely bright. Keith had some great insight into why they weren’t a practical option for this guide:

“Dynamo lights can absolutely be a practical option for the average commuter; just look at the Netherlands. In Amsterdam, where bicycle commuting is paramount, there is a lot of dynamo hub usage. The practicality, at least in the American market, boils down to availability from your local bike shop. In Amsterdam, bikes are sold with dynamo hubs standard and pre-installed whereas in America a hub generator is usually an aftermarket purchase. Since installation of a dynamo requires at minimum the replacement of your front wheel there’s a rather large barrier to switching over.” Jump back.

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Sources

  1. Jim Burakoff, League of American Cyclists certified instructor, Bay Area BART bike station manager, Interview
  2. Keith Wall, Spokeland Co-Owner, Interview
  3. Scott Karoly, Alameda Bicycles Sales Associate, Interview
  4. Thom Parsons, Operations Manager for Boston Bikes and columnist for Bicycle Times, Interview
  5. Daniel H. Rose, Bicycle advocacy and personal injury lawyer, Interview
  6. nhinkle, Review of the Best Bike Headlights in 2013, Blog Overflow, September 11, 2013
  7. Best bike lights for road cycling, Bike Radar, October 15, 2013
  8. Brent Rose, The Best Bike Light For Less Than $100, Gizmodo, September 5, 2012
  9. Dynamos, Wikipedia
  10. Max Parker, Best bike lights to buy in 2014, T3, October 17, 2013
  11. Simon Vincett, Lights test 2014 – the top 100 lights, rideOn, May 5, 2014
  • Jason Williams

    nice piece

  • mike

    A note about the CR2032 batteries: if you are near an Ikea they carry little cards of 8 for about $3. Before I found this out, I thought that it was basically cheaper to buy new micro-lights rather than replace batteries.

    I bike commute in NYC, so lighting a dark trail is not as important for me as visibility, and so the little silicon band lights are my preference.

    • http://thecyclingadmin.com Allan Watkins

      I buy like 100 of these energizer cr2032′s at once off amazon for 35-40 bucks, problem solved for a couple or few years.

  • poiuytman

    I’ve had my Lezyne Super Drive (precursor to the XL mentioned in the article) for nearly two years and I love it. It tops out at 450 lumens, amazingly bright, but I usually use it on one of the two lower settings. My favorite feature is that it’s USB rechargeable, but you can buy extra 18650 batteries for about $15-$20 on Amazon and carry a spare on extended rides, or when you forget to recharge. The Cygolites use proprietary batteries that cost $30-$40 a piece depending on the model.

  • Josh Berezin

    i appreciate the footnoted shoutout to dynamos — they’re great! One of the big advantages for me is that I run them during the daytime, too, so my bike and I are that much easier to notice. I suppose I could do that with battery lights, but I find that I’m too stingy with the battery power.

    If you’re buying a bike, and you have the option of getting a dynamo light at that point, it’s a good decision. I can understand not wanting to swap out the front wheel on an existing bike, of course.

  • BCEd

    Lumens as a specification metric for headlamps are almost meaningless. A 60W incandescent bulb produces 800 lumens but would any use a bare bulb as a headlight? Whereas a puny laser pointer can burn your retina if you stared into it.

    Instead, Center Beam Candlepower & Beam Angle (Full or Half-Angle Half Max) are much more instructive but are rarely if ever given by bicycle light manufacturers.

    • Eve O’Neill

      If you have any recommendations on how to accurately measure such a thing, I would be pumped to know about it — hit me up on Twitter or my email. At one point during testing, I actually did have my hands on a light meter that measured in candlepower in the hopes of verifying manufacturer brightness claims. But even after repeated tests I couldn’t get consistent results. I shared my findings with some other insightful nerds but we got stuck because no one could relate to “candlepower” — it was just kind of a meaningless measurement. When I looked into how to convert candlepower to lumens, problems again, as there is just no easy way to do it. Without some serious equipment and the assistance of an electrical engineer, I wasn’t comfortable with the level of accuracy I was achieving to make any kind of reported claims.

      • Nathan Hinkle

        To accurately measure light brightness you need an integrating sphere, and they’re very expensive scientific instruments. This is something I’ve struggled with in making brightness comparisons for my light reviews too. Some people have made their own in various ways (candlepowerforums has a lot of info on this) but it still requires a lot of work and some electrical engineering experience. Despite help from some of my EE friends I haven’t had the time to put one together – getting a good sphere is the hard part.

        I’ve found that beamshots give a better representation of light output than a number for “lumens” since it tells you more about where the light goes than just how much light there is. I like your photos showing the lights up against a wall; that’s a novel way to illustrate beam shape! In case you haven’t seen it, I also made a beamshot comparison tool for my lights review, and I’ll be updating it with new lights in December!

        If you’re interested in how the pros measure light output, look up some info on the FL1 standard. It’s an ANSI standard developed by the flashlight industry for measuring light performance, brightness, battery life, etc. Light and Motion is the only bike light company currently testing their lights with the FL1 standard, but I’ve been talking to other manufacturers about it and some are interested in using it for benchmarking future products.

      • BCEd

        Nathan below gave a very good response. (I was going to say “it’s somewhat difficult and/or expensive, which is why so few do it)

  • jlargentaye

    I’d like to add a note for the [Reelight SL120 lights](http://www.amazon.com/dp/B001PLEIBU/). They’re “visibility” lights, not “illuminating” lights so don’t really fit the category of the article. They mount on the hub of your wheels and a magnet is affixed to the spokes to power them. As soon as you start rolling, they’ll start blinking, and have a capacitor to continue blinking for a couple minutes after you stop. That means they won’t go off at a stop sign of traffic lights!

    I discovered them in Europe (they’re Dutch), and they’ve only recently appeared on Amazon in the US. I love them because I *don’t have to think about them*, they just work!

    • cico

      Reelight are awesome, but I believe they’re Danish ;)

  • DSTROY CO

    AWESOME PIECE!

  • eaadams

    How bout a reco on a cheap student bike to put this on?

  • Harvey

    My Blackburn Flea experience: I don’t mind the proprietary charger. It works and it’s small. The problem is that the lights must be disassembled from their mounts to recharge. The headlight must be removed from the bike and have the mounting strap removed as well. The rear light must be unclipped which wouldn’t be bad except the clip is *really* strong which makes it hard to re-clip to fabric straps (like the back of a helmet). The rear clip also rusts. The rear light battery died down to 20-30 minutes of life very quickly. The headlight is still going strong after a few years. However, I’ve had to buy replacement straps for the headlight because it broke from all of the stress from removing and replacing it for each charge. The front light is *very* bright. It illuminates stop signs for up to four long blocks and can even be used as a poor man’s headlight in a pinch.

  • Harvey

    Helmet-mounted lights should have been considered. No commuter (or cyclist) should be riding without a helmet. The other advantages? (1) Helmet lights look where you do (which saved me from getting hit at least twice by looking a driver in the eye). It also lets you check shadowy places to the side of a path that make you nervous. (2) No need to remove your lights from your bike for stops and charging. Your helmet always comes with you and you can easily plug in the lights to a charger without removing them from your helmet.

    • Brian

      Totally agree. It should be illegal for anyone to ride without a helmet. Then again, I suppose not wearing a helmet is a Darwinian good thing for our species.

      • poiuytman

        Google “bicycle helmet laws australia” and see what good mandatory helmet laws do. By some estimates the number of cyclists have been reduced by 30-40% due to such laws, hurting the overall health of the population. Helmets are often seen as an easy stopgap for bicycle safety, when the focus should be on preventing car-bike collisions through proper city infrastructure and teaching public awareness.

  • Brian

    How hard is it to change the battery in the Superflash Turbo? I bought a Serfas tail light that I’m seriously considering returning because it requires a coin to open the battery compartment. The last thing I want to do when out on a long, cold ride with gloves (in the rain, up hill both ways–you get the idea) is have to find a coin to change the battery.

    • Eve O’Neill

      Riiiight, the worst. It’s the same scenario with the Turbo… you’re gonna need a coin and non-frozen hands to pry that housing off.

      • Andrew Heining

        I always use a key to change the batteries on my Superflash. Easy as can be.

  • Gregory Jacob

    Just out of curiosity, did any of your research lead you to consider a flashlight with a handlebar mount? This is a relatively cheap setup, with cree LED flashlights selling for $10 or so. Also, the batteries are replaceable on the fly (and rechargeable if you desire).

    • Eve O’Neill

      I skipped those because I’ve never heard of a flashlight with a blinking option. I have a pretty well lit urban commute, which means I hardly ever use a steady beam but I use the flasher pretty much constantly.

      • Dan Berkman

        Blinking flashlights exist, I have owned more than one to use as a bike headlight. However, it should be noted that the beam pattern and potentially blinding light from a flashlight can blind oncoming traffic. I had a flashlight mounted to my fork until someone showed me how annoying it is on a two way bike or multi-use path.

  • Nathan Hinkle

    Hi! I wrote the lights reviews on Bicycles Stack Exchange that you referred to. Great reviews here – it’s always nice to see folks adding to the discussion of what makes a good bike light.

    I find it curious that you almost exclusively looked at USB-rechargeable headlights, but didn’t seriously consider any USB-rechargeable taillights. I personally find that charging both lights is far less hassle than having to constantly be purchasing new AAA batteries, and the rechargeable lights really are much brighter – often 2-10 times brighter! I’d definitely recommend at least giving them another try if you take another look at lights later.

    Also: “An erratic, annoying, crazy blinking pattern is what you’re on the hunt for.” This isn’t always true. Take a look at Safety data: Which is safer, head/tail lights which blink or emit a steady beam? posted on the parent site for the blog I write on. Studies show that while a flashing pattern grabs attention better, a steady beam is much easier to focus your eyes on and judge distance by. It’s therefore recommended to have at least one flashing and one blinking light on the back so that drivers see you (flashing) and then can tell how close they’re getting as they pass (solid). This is where rechargeable lights are also an advantage: steady burn mode uses battery much faster, so a rechargeable is nice. It might be nice to link back to the companies’ websites for the chosen lights so people can search for local bike shops with the products too!

    Great work on this review. Cheers!

    • Eve O’Neill

      Thanks so much for saying hi! Your piece is absolutely killer.

      As I was using the USB rechargeable tail lights, the major red flag was that they caused me to cheat –– If I hadn’t charged it or couldn’t find it (or just straight up forgot it, which was often) I just wouldn’t take it. Having it always mounted and ready to go seemed like an awesome, life-streamlining benefit to me, especially since the tail lights really do have a such a long run time with those AAA.

      Thanks again for dropping a line… looking forward to the 2014 guide!

      • Nathan Hinkle

        Also I just realized… I think you used the mount on the Serfas light wrong which is why it flipped over! The Serfas mount was actually my favorite out of all the headlights I reviewed, so I was surprised to read that it slipped on you. If you snap down the lever there, it makes a really tight grip on the handlebars, and you can adjust the thickness by twisting the light 90 degrees, pulling the rubber part out, and moving it to a different position. For most bikes the default position works fine though.

        • Eve O’Neill

          Nathan, thanks for this heads up. I had a really hard time with this mount, including the release feature, as did my crew. But I really dig Serfas and am hoping for a better showing in the next round of testing!

  • http://rochesterfitnessequipment.com/make-resolution-reality-invest-treadmills-elliptical-machines/ bence2038

    Hi, you explained the topic very well. The contents has provided meaningful information

  • Bhav

    BLAZE LASERLIGHT!

    Just received their first production unit after backing the kickstarter project. Amazing unit, think Apple quality, fully waterproof and a laser that projects an image of a bike onto the ground ahead of you that warns others you are coming!

    Genius for my commutes in London!

    Check out my review here: http://youtu.be/EDLxZwR2GI8

    (Not for weight weenies!)

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Is this only available for pre-order? Looks pretty neat.

      • Bhav

        Yep afraid so. Small company who joined kickstarter late 2012 when I backed the project. Fell in love with the laser projection idea. What a great safety feature.
        Only just got my light which was from their first run and went out to all the kickstarter backers.

        • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

          Very interesting. How long until they’re available regularly?

          • Bhav

            Not sure tbh. The site says next batch will be dispatched March if you pre-order now.

  • Ben

    I have the Cygolite metro 360, and it’s my favorite headlight for commuting, the light modes just make sense. I love the flash for dusk/dawn visibility. If I was buying now, I’d get the 500 lumen version.

    However, the mount bothers me a lot. It’s not the part about mounting it on the bars, that works great, the part that bugs me is that despite tightening down the top screw, the mount pivots horizontally all the time, so it doesn’t stay centered on the road when I’m throwing my bike around.

    Niterider nailed it with their mount by having little ridges in the clip piece and base. However, the Nightrider clamp kind of sucks, it’s just hard to operate sometimes, my girlfriend always asks me to clamp the thing on her bars, while the Cygolite is easy (but doesn’t adapt to smaller bars as easily).

    On the Cygolite for small bars (I swap my light between bikes A LOT), I just wrap a piece of intertube around the spot where I regularly mount my light and a bit of electrical tape to keep it on. I leave it there, so when I want to strap on my light, it’s always good to go. I’m never going to be able to keep track of some little rubber spacer they provide with the light.

    • Ben

      I also tossed a touch of black reflective tape on the sides of my cygolite metro for a bit more night visibility. Doens’t stand out till the light hits it.

  • Ben

    I’m looking for recommendations on the best white LED flasher I can zip tie to my messenger bag (on the chrome buckle). I had a Avenir white led light, but it started to just eat batteries for breakfast. It’s really hard to find clip on white LEDs, as a lot of stuff is silicone or bar mount only now.

    I find it’s super handy to have a light zip tied to the front and rear of my messenger bag so that I always at least have some visibility lights, despite my lack of preparation sometimes.

    • Ben

      My favorite light to zip tie to the light loop on my messenger bag is definitely the planetbike superflash since it’s a really bright light and it is easy to zip tie to the bag by looping the zip tie on the curvy part of the back of the clip. This works well and the light is always secure.

      The cygolite hotshot and Nightrider cherrybomb are really hard to secure with zip ties so that they don’t fall off. I don’t ever trust just the clip when I’ve got a light that costs more than 30 bucks.

  • G Close

    I have the red DiNotte tail light, and it’s just blinding. Compared to other tail lights, well, there is no comparison. Very well made. Expensive, but it’s cheap insurance, I would venture.

    • Ryan Stenson

      300r? Would love to see Sweethome look at that one!

      • G Close

        I have an older model, but it’s crazy bright.

  • KoKotheTalkingApe

    I have used the Planet Bike Micro 2W and its predecessor, the Blaze 1W, for years. Both use the same mount. I have never, ever had that mount loosen up the way you experienced, and I ride on city roads every day. From the picture, it looks like it is adjusted way too loose, i.e., you didn’t spin the cam on the threaded shaft to draw it in. The cam should be difficult to draw over the edge of the cradle. Once it is in, you pull up the lever and it draws super tight. At about 2/3 the price of the Cygolite, the Micro is a worthy option, I feel.

  • http://www.starstreetsports.com/ Jeremy Levine

    You guys gotta try out the Fortified lights as well. Have a feeling they’ll end up being your recommendation – http://fortifiedbike.com/products/best-bike-light.

  • bikermanlax

    Helmet mounts are useful for a couple of different reasons. First, you can carry your helmet in more easily and don’t have to worry about dismounting the light. Second, in traffic, you can turn your head to shine on or near a car (as long as you’re not so near to blind the drive), such as one making a turn into your lane of traffic. I’ve found a moving light gets a drivers attention. I think the L&M has a helmet mount (or at least it did a couple of years ago when I bought one).

    The improvement in these lights in the last five years or so has been dramatic! On older models, the only purpose was to be seen, as the area illuminated in front of you was dim and not extensive. These new light actually allow you to see ahead in the dark.

  • Avinoam

    Thanks for this very well-written and thought-out review.
    I just wanted to shout-out my appreciation of my Light and Motion Urban 200.

    It has all the light output I need, easy on-off mounting, looks great, and is about the same price as the Cygolite. I find that brighter than this really seems to annoy urban motorists.

  • http://thecyclingadmin.com Allan Watkins

    I’d vote for Dinotte lights, 1200 lumen front / 300 lumen rear.

    http://store.dinottelighting.com/dinotte-xml-3-headlight-with-300r-taillight-p177.aspx

    With 10+ hour run time on low settings and the “low” settings are still around 400 lumens, it’s pretty awesome.