Spring and Fall are great times to ride but days are short which means you might find yourself riding in the dark, even if that wasn’t your original intent. Cycling lights are especially important during these times of the year. For riders looking for lights, there is one essential question you need to ask first: do you need to be seen, or do you want to see?
Flashing notification lights (AKA blinkers or flashers) are great for helping you be seen by others on the road, but they don’t have the power (lumens) to help you see the road in low-light conditions. These lights are meant for biking in the daylight when you can see the road, but you want to make yourself more visible to drivers. Even the most basic set will improve your daytime visibility with drivers, other cyclists, and pedestrians. They’re also relatively inexpensive.
These types of light usually run on triple-a or watch batteries. Higher-end flashing notification lights run off of more powerful, USB-rechargeable batteries. They usually have multiple flash settings that vary the battery life. Steady modes, flash modes, different levels of brightness all add up to one light letting you be as visible as you want to be, regardless of the conditions. Take a look at the Specialized Stix head and tail lights for prime examples of lights that will keep you visible.
Any cyclist planning to ride at dusk, dawn, or anytime in between needs to see be seen. The light should be bright enough to illuminate the road ahead of you and allow you to see objects and obstacles in enough time to avoid them.
To gauge how bright a light is, we use lumens. Lumens are a measurement of actual light output and have become the standard for comparing light performance across the industry.
How many lumens do you need? If you only have one light source at night, we recommend a minimum of 500 lumens to see what’s in front of you on the road. For a source of comparison, low beams on a car are about 700 lumens.
Cyclists want to stand out in traffic, and they want to see things regardless of conditions. You’ll find lights in the 650-1200 lumen range to be fairly common for commuters. One of the most popular lights out there, the, NiteRider Lumina 1200 even comes in a combo pack that includes their Solas tail light, measured at 250 lumens.
Most high-lumen lights come with multiple brightness settings and flash modes. You can adjust the level of light to fit the riding conditions. The lower brightness settings on a high-lumen light help the battery last significantly longer. Consider that a 900-lumen headlight typically gets 1-1.5 hours on 900 lumens, but at its lowest setting it’s putting out 500 lumens for over 5 hours.
These lights will often come with helmet-mounting options. Like a headlamp, the light follows where you look. For anyone doing a lot of riding at night, we recommend mounting lights on both the handlebars and helmet. This set-up keeps the road lit and allows you to see your surroundings. Check out all of ERIK’S high-lumen lights here.
Brave souls addicted to dirt take their mountain bikes offroad for some night adventures. Whether it’s an endurance mountain bike race, or for pure pleasure, the split-second decisions along the razor’s edge of technical night time trail riding require more light.
For that, you should look for something along the lines of 1000-2000 lumens. These lights often come with multiple LEDs to get a broader beam with fewer “hot spots” of light, which results in better depth perception and more intuitive riding. To match the power requirements of these lights, it’s not uncommon to find external battery packs, connected with cables to the lamp itself. Like the commuter headlights above, it’s not unusual to find optional mounts to put these spotlights on your helmet.
The NiteRider Pro 2200 Race is one such light, versatile enough to handle any trail, and strong enough to last the night. For riders pushing their limits, it’s the difference-maker.
If you don’t ride at night and just want to make sure that you are seen on the road, a pair of notification flashers will work. If you ride in low-light conditions, a 700 lumens USB-rechargeable light is a good start. For trail riding through the night, you’ll want the pinnacle of brightness that comes with 1000+ lumens and multiple LED bulbs.