Best Commuter Bike Lights

After almost 30 hours of research and testing, we picked the ~$55 Cygolite Metro 360 as the best bike headlight. Why? It can flash for visibility while simultaneously illuminating the road, it's dead simple to mount and it outperformed more well-known competitors that cost $20-$30 more. We also recommend the $34 Planet Bike Superflash Turbo 1 W taillight. It's the newest update to Planet Bike’s Superflash series, which received high praise from many publications, including Bike Radar, Bicycling and Gear Junkie.

Who should get a bike light? And why?

If you’re gonna ride at night, you’ve gotta get some lights. They’re vitally important to keeping you safe, and it could be illegal to ride in the dark without a headlight depending on which state you live in. What really tips the balance for me is knowing that if I get into an accident at night and don’t have a light on my bike, even if the driver is at fault, it’s still possible to be held liable.1 One of the experts I consulted on this piece, Jim Burakoff, the general manager of the San Francisco Bay Area’s BART bike station system and 10 year car-free commuter, very succinctly sums it up: “Compared to the consequences of not being seen, bike lights are incredibly cheap.”

What makes a good headlight?

Distilled to the absolute essentials, you need a light that is bright and easy to get on (and off) your bike.
Distilled to the absolute essentials, you need a light that is bright and easy to get on (and off) your bike. Durability and water resistance are also must haves. Battery life is important, but not as important as you might think.

All lights worth considering will have both steady lighting and strobe modes. The steady beam is necessary to illuminate the road in front of you, and a strobing pattern is what makes you visible to the cars around you. Some lights, like our pick, can do both at the same time. That’s actually a useful feature to look for. What aren’t terribly useful are side cutouts, a design feature that allows a bit of light to spill to either side of the headlight in addition to illuminating the way in front of you. The idea is that this makes you more visible to traffic on your left and right. Sometimes you’ll see the housing expose a bit of the bulb to each side or otherwise notice “gills” cut into the sides, which are both intended to serve this purpose. These gills can be a nice feature to have for sure, but are neither necessary nor significant enough to base any buying decisions on.

Jim Burakoff explains: “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.”

Brightness is measured in lumens, and this is the most prominent number you’ll see advertised on the packaging. You’ll want something with at least 100 lumens. Anything less and you’ll risk not being able to see on dark streets without street lamps. 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 while you can spend $100+ on a 700+ lumen light, it’s total 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 but only on the lowest setting. 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 the cost started ballooning out of control.

It’s also important for a good light to install easily and stay on tight while you’re biking, but it should also be easy to take off when you arrive at your destination. Otherwise it makes a tempting target for opportunistic thieves. For ease of use, a handlebar mount is a no-brainer. (As is an all-in-one, tool-less mounting unit.) Helmet mounts are another option but not everyone uses a helmet so it’s a nice bonus at best.

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.

Surprisingly, I found that battery life isn’t all that important. 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% left, 10% left, so you know when.” Battery life still weighed into our decision making, but suddenly 3-4 hours of burn time didn’t seem like such a pitiful amount.

How we picked our headlight

Up for consideration were the entire product lines of 29 different brands. We narrowed the field according to our criteria laid out above, and then also eliminated options that were powered by CR2032 batteries (the ones that look like giant watch batteries) because they’re not bright enough and are expensive to refill.

Similarly, we eliminated lights designed only for visibility (only a blink mode), because it’s better to have a light that can illuminate the road when you need it to.

Anything that requires an additional battery pack that mounts to your bike frame or what have you was also axed.
Anything that requires an additional battery pack that mounts to your bike frame or what have you was also axed. There are too many great one-piece solutions to even consider those.

Finally, we cut out performance headlights like the ones covered in this MTBR roundup because they’re just too bright and too expensive. This basically narrowed our search to models in the $40-$100 range, a much smaller haystack. Yet we were still left with far more options than could be reasonably tested.

We then turned to previously existing reviews of lights to get whatever information we could. Wirecutter contributor Brent Rose did a roundup comparison to find the best bike light under $100 for Gizmodo. Bike Radar also has a good roundup of the best road bike lights. Lights that received less-than-favorable reviews were stricken from our list. This BlogOverflow review was also quite good, but popped up after we had already narrowed down our list of contenders. Good thing they arrived at very similar conclusions!

Given the wide variety of options, we felt that we should really ask a lot of our light. 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 that were not so easy that they’d turn on inside of a bag.

We also gave bonus points to lights that charged via USB, because they don’t create waste. The rechargeable lights should also have some sort of battery light indicator to let you know when it was time to recharge.

And finally, it had to have a warranty from a reputable company that exists outside of the ether of the internet. This meant excluding sketchy offerings such as this one that’s only on Amazon and has some questionable characteristics according to user reviews.

Our final headlights selected for testing consisted of the $40 Planet Bike Micro 2W, $55 Cygolite Metro 360, $80 Light & Motion Urban 200, $80 Knog Blinder 2, $85 Serfas S250 and the $90 Niterider Lumina 350.

How did we test?

All Lights

First I photographed the beam spread of each light. Brightness is one thing, but where the light is directed and how it illuminates is equally important. The first camera setup involved looking over the handlebars in a cyclist POV. All lights were set on their highest output level, and I found pitch black territory on a secluded path in the forest at night. Camera settings of f/3.9 and ISO 800 did a nice job of revealing specific objects each beam could see, though it was difficult to accurately capture all of the ambient light each headlight gave off on film. Every light provided adequate illumination to see in the dark. Here are the results:

POV Grid

(Top row from left) Knog, L&M and Planet Bike. (Bottom row from left) Serfas, Niterider and Cygolite.

To get another look at how our products distribute light, I mounted each bike light on a tripod. We then set the tripod three feet away from a dark wall (an approx. distance from the road to your handlebars) and projected the beam upwards. This way, I could get a clear look at exactly what the shape of the beam would look like were I to look directly down on it from overhead. To photograph, I found that an F-stop of 3.9 and shutter speed of 400 was the sweet spot for capturing the shape of the beam without letting ambient light from streetlights interfere.

Serfas, Niterider and Cygolite (left to right)

Serfas, Niterider and Cygolite (left to right)

I also wanted to make sure battery life was as advertised. To test, I charged all lights to capacity (or put in brand-new batteries in the case of the Planet Bike) and set them in a dark closet. I ran them on the closest output settings possible, around the 200 lumen range. I took a snapshot with a security camera every minute and after 9.5 hours went back and found the exact image and timestamp at which they faded or turned off.

Battery Test 2

And finally, we wanted to check the durability of a handlebar mount. Turns out Oakland, CA, is an extremely fertile testing ground. Gaping potholes, cracked asphalt and general debris litter the road. The only better place to evaluate whether a light would stay in place would be the moon, or perhaps the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Here are the before and after results:

Mount 2

Nitrerider Lumina 350 (top row) and Light & Motion 200 (bottom row)

Mount 1

Knog Blinder 2 (top row) and Cygolite Metro 360

Mount 3

Serfas S250 (top row) and Planet Bike Micro 2W (bottom row)

This mount test was an important exercise in determining our best taillight as well. Testing battery life at 100+ hours seemed like an exercise in futility. And aside from making sure that the light was visible to angles to the side as well as the back, beam spread didn’t come into play as much as a bright, attention-getting blinking pattern. But a light pointed at the ground due to a crummy mount does you no good.

We narrowed our taillight choices to AAA-battery-powered lights with 100+ hours of battery life in blink mode and 1 W LEDs. That’s as bright as I found before getting into USB-rechargeable territory, and 1 W packs a lot of punch in a taillight. This brought our options down to just three:

Niterider Cherrybomb – $35

Blackburn Mars 4.0 – $16

Planet Bike Superflash Turbo – $34

Of the three, the Niterider is the only one that didn’t survive, pointing full towards the ground by the end of my three laps.

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Our headlight pick

The Cygolite Metro 360 is a clear standout. During testing, it ran neck and neck with the Niterider in terms of performance, but it has a few more lumens and is $30 cheaper so it’s a better value.

The Cygolite is brighter than any other model we tested. You can see from the overhead photo the unique beam spread it has—at first I thought it had to be a flaw, but once I turned it on in the forest it made total sense: nothing else covered the foreground and middleground as broadly while still reaching into trees down the path and to the right.

The Cygolite (left) illuminates everything the Niterider (right) does, and then goes even further.

The Cygolite (left) illuminates everything the Niterider (right) does and then goes even further.

It had longer battery life than everything but the Niterider, which ran an hour longer. If battery life is your main concern when purchasing a light, you may want to consider if spending an extra $30 is worth an hour of time. But I felt the Cygolite was still a better option because it was cranking out 40 more lumens at the setting I had it on, still provided a solid 3 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 4 hour mark. While I wouldn’t claim that the Cygolite was usable for the last 6.5 it remained flickering, I’d still rather have that bit of light to guide me home rather than get stuck navigating my way in pitch blackness.

During the mount test, the Cygolite didn’t budge, and the mount itself was incredibly simple to install…
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. It has a 1-year warranty. It’s sturdy and weatherproof. The button is easy to operate while riding, even with gloves, but isn’t very soft so 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 is every one of our ideal requirements, the entire laundry list, and the Cygolite still had more to offer.

Remember side cutouts? We mentioned they wouldn’t weigh into our final decision making, but as luck would have it the Cygolite has cutouts in the housing that let the light illuminate to the side as well as the front, a welcome safety feature.

It offers a few additional settings that have extremely practical applications. One is 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. Steadypulse mode runs a blinking pattern simultaneously with a steady beam, perfect if you’re alongside traffic at night. It’s kind of baffling that more lights don’t do this; it’s such a practical feature.

And finally there’s a walking mode, perhaps the one thing that’s overkill if I had to nitpick. It’s a very low-level output setting meant to preserve battery life if you need to get off and walk. The good news is that the mode doesn’t reset every time you turn it off… it’ll be on the same setting where you left it, so no pesky cycling through five different options to get to the one you want every time you turn it on.

Since it’s a brand-new iteration of a former model, its user reviews are just starting to roll in but they’re overwhelmingly positive so far. Scott recommended it by name at the store. Its predecessor, the Metro 300 is very well loved, receiving a 4.7/5 star average rating from 97 reviewers with not a single 1 or 2-star review.

The Bicycles sub-blog of StackExchange was one of the few editorial sources we’ve found that’s also had a chance to take a look at the Metro. They rated it Best Value, writing that, “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.

A brighter, more expensive option if you really need it

If you need something brighter, you could get this year’s Metro 500 for $70. It’s just a brighter version of the Metro 360, but 500 lumens is pushing the line between useful visibility and excessively bright so we can only recommend it for people with the darkest of commutes. At the time of this writing, last year’s Metro 420 is also on clearance for $60, making it brighter for the same price (though you miss out on walking mode, which is no big loss). Alternatively:

The headlight competition

The Blinder 2 is Knog’s very first commuter headlight. This is the only model I felt had some unnecessary tech. There are four modes—narrow beam, wide beam, both together and blinking—and each mode has two settings, Hi and Low. That’s 8 settings, which is a lot to tinker with while you’re riding, and I don’t understand why you would separate narrow and wide beams. I can’t envision a situation in which I wouldn’t want both. That said, the Knog illuminated well but moved around a little too much in our mount test. However, the dealbreaker is that 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 2-4.

The Blinder 3 is their next model, and it comes out this month. We’ll test it when it hits shelves, but unless it has a lot more battery life and is a lot cheaper, it’s hard to see it being better than our pick.

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

The Light & Motion 200 is easily the best-looking light in the line up, slim and compact. I also thought it performed really well. But again it has 160 fewer lumens than the Cygolite, slightly less battery run time and is still more expensive.

The Serfas S250 was the dark horse of the competition in that I hadn’t heard it mentioned by name or seen it in any shops. But it fit all of our requirements and had some positive feedback online so we checked it out. The biggest issue is that the mount failed, twisting completely downwards after only one of my laps down the bike lane of terror. I double checked to make sure I installed properly. I scanned the box for parts or padding I may have missed. I tried a second time, and after only one lap it fell again. Serfas is releasing a new version of this model later this month. We’ll take a look at it then, but for now it doesn’t come close to the performance or price of the Cygolite, so we’d pass on this one.

The Planet Bike Micro 2W is the only AA-battery-powered light in the lineup and has the fewest lumens, clocking in around 139. (It is labelled as a 2-watt light). Planet Bike came recommended by our experts as a budget option that works very well for many commuters.

But the mount on this model didn’t even make it to the test lap. I wrestled with figuring out the little latch for an eternity. When I decided I had figured out the proper way it worked, it didn’t fit my handlebars at all. I had my camera assistant take a look at it. We found an adjustable band on the underside but tightened it too far and then couldn’t undo it. It was so frustrating to try and figure out that we eventually gave up.

Yes, it’s cheaper than the Cygolite at only $40, and 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.

What other headlights did we look at?

There are other lights and brands that almost made it to the testing round, but ended up being eliminated for various reasons:

Cateye is well-known and widely available, but every Cateye I looked at I thought was comically large. Their Econom lights, which are also liked online, are not only big but their lumen output wasn’t indicated anywhere in their literature… not a good sign. The Cateye Volt 300 has sixty fewer lumens than our pick and is the same price. Amazon says this needs 8 hours to charge; their website says 6. None of our final contenders take longer than 5 hours to fully charge. But they’ll sell you an optional “quick charge cradle” for more money, which is nonsense.

I purchased the Cateye NanoShot. I wanted to take a good look because it has a setting similar to the Cygolite Steadypulse. It’s heavy. I couldn’t imagine it staying in place on a rough patch of road, but even if it the mount is rock solid, factor in a whopping 8 hours of charge time and an unnecessary amount of illumination at twice the price of the Cygolite and it’s easy to set the NanoShot aside.

Blackburn is generally highly-regarded in Amazon reviews and the bike community as well. However, upon speaking with them, I found out their USB lights charge using proprietary technology, meaning that if you lost the little piece that plugs from your computer into the light you couldn’t just use any old USB cable you had lying around to recharge. You had to buy a new, Blackburn-specific cable. I felt that that was enough of a reason to disqualify them from competition; it’s easy to lose something you cart back and forth to work.

The brand Moon make a few models that people seem to be happy with in general, but I was unable to obtain samples. I looked into purchasing, but it would’ve taken weeks to get it from England, and a bike light that takes forever to arrive certainly isn’t a good pick anyway.

And finally, I wanted to look at the Lezyne Super Drive XL. There was a surprising lack of reviews online for this really gorgeous light, and I wanted to know why. Their handheld bikes pumps are top notch, and the one or two reviews I did find were both 5-stars on Amazon. They could also not be reached for a press sample, and I was informed online that they were out of stock when I went to order. Basically, it’s a unicorn.

We also eliminated dynamo lights, which are lights run on energy generated by your wheels. They can be a big commitment, both in expense and installation time.2

These didn’t make it to the test round:

Exposure Flash – Hard to find outside of a set, which will set you back $120. 260 less lumens than our pick at twice the cost.

L&M Urban 550 – If you want more lumens, the Niterider 550 is $30 less.

Light & Motion Vis 360 – Helmet mount.

Magicshine Eagle – The only Magicshine I found without an exterior battery pack, this was unreleased at press time.

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

Niterider Mako 150 – The Mako series has side illumination, but it’s red, which could be confusing to cars who might mistake you for a cop bike or something along those veins.

Niterider Mako 200 – Same problems as the 150. On top of that, 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.

Serfas 350 – Replacing the 250, unavailable at the time of writing.

Owleye – unreliable mounts according to one of our experts.

Princeton Tec Push – 3.5 stars.

Princeton Tech Eos-R – 70 lumens, $45.

So that’s it for headlights, but you also need a taillight to be really safe.

What makes a good taillight?

An erratic, annoying, crazy blinking pattern is what you’re on the hunt for.
Just like headlights, the bare-bones essentials for a suitable taillight are brightness and durability. But taillights serve a slightly different function from headlights because you don’t use them to illuminate the road in front of you; their sole purpose is to make you visible to the traffic around you. An erratic, annoying, crazy blinking pattern is what you’re on the hunt for. (It should be noted that 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.

In order to settle on the Niterider Cherrybomb, the Blackburn Mars 4.0 and the Planet Bike Superflash Turbo we ran through the mount test above, we first narrowed the field by picking a red light. By having a white light on front and a red light in back, you are adding a level of communication: now the cars around not only see that you are a moving object but which way you are going to move next. We also wanted a light that had a clear housing so that the flash would be visible not only to the rear but to the side of the bike as well.

We wanted a removable light with a rock-solid mount and weatherproof housing. In wet weather, the place where your rear blinker sits is exactly where your wheel kicks up water.

Almost all of the headlights we chose for testing are USB rechargeable, which is a fantastic feature in a headlight. It allows you to get a brighter beam in a smaller, more affordable package and also prevents waste. There are USB rechargeable taillights as well. They start at about $40, but we found that this uptick in price is the cost of brightness that the average commuter just doesn’t need, so we didn’t focus on that type of taillight. Have you seen a 1 W taillight? They are crazy bright. 1 W seems to be bright as you can get before requiring a USB, so that’s what we went after.

Also, how annoying would it be to have to charge not just one but two lights? We’re trying to keep maintenance at a minimum, so our ideal taillight is something that can be stuck on a bike and forgotten about. The great news is that battery life for rear blinkers running on AAAs is insane—100-150 hours. Worrying about whether it will go out or how many batteries you’ll have to change is practically a non-issue.

We eliminated rear lights that run on CR2032 batteries because small batteries freeze in cold weather. In my experience, AAAs have been hefty enough to weather sub-freezing temps but I’ve had smaller ones stop working.

Our taillight pick

We chose the Planet Bike 1 W Superflash Turbo, which revealed itself to be a bombproof little device. First off, it met all of our criteria for battery life and brightness. Following that, it came highly recommended by everyone I talked to. I spoke at length to Keith Wall, a co-owner of Spokeland, the East Bay Bicycle Coalition’s sister co-op. He spends a lot of time tinkering with and fixing all manner of 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 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, 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, which is exactly what it’s supposed to make you do!

Another thing to notice about the Planet Bike is the round, parabolic reflector inside the housing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur three finalists all have this design feature. Ehow has a concise explanation of how parabolic reflectors are beneficial, saying they “are often used to focus a signal or wave that emanates in several directions… For example, the light from an open light bulb may be of little use in seeing across a large open field, but placing the same bulb in front of a reflective parabolic dish will direct its light in a single, more useful direction.”

Exactly. You need the light dispersing upwards, downwards and towards the front of the bike focused to the sides and back, right into the eyeballs of the people behind you and to the sides. There’s no special testing required; the difference is very noticeable to the eye. A quick demonstration performed in the aisles of my local REI had me quickly convinced that a sharper, brighter, more piercing light is created when it’s focused in this way.

The older generation ½ W Superflash was a good light, but it’s beginning to show its age in light of new advancements. So for $5 more, springing for the Turbo is the way to go. It also has a lifetime warranty, which is not something I expected for a $34 piece of gear.

As a quick aside, Planet Bike also sells the 2 W Micro headlight and the Superflash Turbo together for $75. If you have a well-lit urban commute and money is an issue, this may be a viable option that’ll help keep you safe on the road, so long as you can deal with that awful awful mount.

The taillight competition

The NiteRider Cherry Bomb has the same specs as the Superflash Turbo (1 W; 100 hr runtime; retail of $35), and I liked the heft of it and its rock-solid housing. 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, not a requirement, but it’s still just one step behind the Planet Bike. The 2012 Bicycle Community Blog comparison also found the light pointed in the wrong direction if mounted in the horizontal position.

I was hoping the Blackburn Mars 4.0 would be stiff competition for the Turbo. It has an advertized additional 50 hours of run time in blink mode. It did just fine in the mount test, and it’s only $16. It doesn’t have a clear housing for 180 degrees of visibility, but it did have extra side amber lights built in specifically to illuminate the sides, and that kept it in our lineup.

But the amber flashers faded quickly with distance, and instead just 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. And reviews, while generally positive, consistently cite issues with battery life.

The Planet Bike maintains a 4.5-star average on Amazon with over 155 user reviews. The Mars maintains 4 stars with 65 user reviews.

What other taillights did we look at?

To reiterate our logic behind not testing some very popular USB models, including the Cygolite Hotshot, Serfas Thunderbolt, Serfas Shield, Niterider Solas, Blackburn Flea, Portland Design Works Aether Demon and Light & Motion Vis 180, it’s annoying to charge more than one light on a regular basis. We wanted to keep this simple. For the average commuter, the extra bit of brightness you get was not a good tradeoff for the additional cost or hassle.

Knog Blinders are also in the USB family and very popular, but can’t compete with our top pick. The GT and the Standard don’t have clear housings, limiting their side visibility. My seatpost was also not tall enough to accommodate their vertical length. The 4V only has 3.5 stars and the housing fell off before I got it out of the package. The Road has a see-through stripe in the housing around the outside that lets some light out, but it seems more decorative than functional.

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

Portland Design Works Radbot – 70 hours less runtime.

Portland Design Works Red Planet – Not enough firepower.

Avenir Tail Spot – Only ½ W.

Blackburn Super Flea – 2.5 stars.

Exposure Flare – $70. 88 fewer hours of runtime with disposable batteries.

Cateye Rapid 5 – Less powerful LEDs.

Cateye Rapid 3 – Older version of the Rapid 5.

Planet Bike Blinky – Not nearly as bright.

Metroflash Safety Zone – Metroflash seems to have just come on the scene as of 2012 and has zero word of mouth backing them as of yet. Half as bright as our pick. Reports of inadequate battery life.

Metroflash NightForce – One ½ W LED, 64 hours less runtime.

niceEshop Double Red – No LED specs, runtime details or lens info. Assuming they use CR2032s, there’s no way these can touch our pick.

Blackburn Mars 3.0 – Replaced by the 4.0.

Cateye TL-LD130 – The FlexTight mount is often unreliable or at least lackluster, and I feel the housings are quite cheap.

Cateye Omni 5 – Less brightness, plus the above.

Cateye Reflex – “…essentially a giant reflector with some LEDs inside.”

Blackburn Click – Wrong batteries, less brightness, no reflector.

Knog Boomers – The Wearable Rear Boomer isn’t as bright as our pick and has 64 fewer hours of runtime. The Boomer 1 W has 28 fewer hours of runtime. It’s $4 less expensive, but it’s still glitchy and requires a decent amount of seat post real estate, which you might not have. Bike Radar is lukewarm about the mount.

Knog Beetle – Takes two CR2032 batteries, which are costly and easily freeze in cold weather.

Sodial Ultra Bright 5 LED – Never-before-heard-of brand, zero useful specs listed. Untrustworthy.

Tioga Dual Eyes – Hard to find product from a company that doesn’t specialize in lights.

Topeak Mega Red – Same price as our pick, none of the reputation.

Princeton Tec SwerveQuality issues.

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.

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 states: “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. Dynamos are incredibly interesting! Everything I researched indicated that they are reliable and insanely bright. Keith had some great insight into why they’re such good lights, but also 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, really 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. League of American Cyclists certified instructor, Bay Area BART bike station manager, Jim Burakoff, Interview
  2. Spokeland Co-Owner, Keith Wall, Interview
  3. Alameda Bicycles Sales Associate Scott Karoly, Interview
  4. Operations Manager for Boston Bikes and columnist for Bicycle Times, Thom Parsons, Interview
  5. Bicycle advocacy and personal injury lawyer, Daniel H. Rose, Interview
  6. nhinkle, Review of the Best Bike Headlights in 2013, Blog Overflow, 9-11-2013
  7. Best bike lights for road cycling, Bike Radar, 10-15-2013
  8. Brent Rose, The Best Bike Light For Less Than $100, Gizmodo, 9-5-2012
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.