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Bike lights

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Bike lights are your first line of defence in the dark.

Bike lights are needed for 2 reasons – to see where you’re going and to make yourself visible to others. Thanks to funding from Wellington City Council, all New Zealanders have access to the results of our test of front and rear lights.

From our test

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How to choose good lights

Getting the right light isn’t simply about picking the most powerful.

  • Where have all the batteries gone?
    Just a few years ago, it was common to see lights powered by replaceable AA, AAA or CR3032 batteries, but most lights now use a built-in rechargeable battery. While lights with replaceable batteries have considerably longer burn times, none of these lights we tested were good enough to recommend. Many suffered from water getting into the battery compartment.

  • Burn time
    Make sure you choose a light that will last your longest ride. We tested burn time on maximum steady mode and some barely lasted an hour. Most lights have low-power modes that extend burn time, but at the cost of visibility. All lights have flashing modes, which give the longest burn times. Most rechargeable lights charge in 3 hours, but if you can’t plug them in each day you should choose a light that’ll last a few days’ riding.

  • Battery indicators and auto-low
    A visible low-battery warning means you won’t get stuck in the dark. This notice allows you to turn the power down or switch to a flashing mode to buy extra time. Some lights automatically switch to a low-power or flashing setting when the battery gets low.

  • Male or female?
    Rechargeable lights have a built-in USB connector, which can be a male plug or female socket. All lights with a female socket come with a short cable to connect them to a wall charger or computer. A male plug is cable-free but it can be awkward to fit a bulky light into a USB socket.

  • Water-tightness
    Keeping water out is essential. Choose a light that has its on/off/mode button and USB port or battery cover out of direct rain or wheel spray, or at least very good sealing around these areas. Look for a continuous cover over buttons and a close-fitting rubber cover over the female USB port (water and grime can get inside if it isn’t closed properly). Male USB plugs are tolerant of water. Replaceable-battery covers often rely on plastic overlapping surfaces or rubber gasket seals. Most lights claim some water resistance, others go better and tout an Ingress Protection (IP) rating.

  • Too much light
    It’s tempting to choose the brightest possible light, but it’s not always the best option. If you need a powerful front light for navigating, consider adding a second “be seen” light for use in urban areas. Powerful spot-focussed lights can dazzle other road users, so should be pointed downwards to illuminate the road.

  • Mount to your bike, not yourself
    Bike lights should be firmly mounted to your bike. All rear lights we tested mount to a seatpost and all front lights fit to a handlebar. Don’t mount lights to your helmet. This is dangerous as you can easily dazzle other road users or render a rear light invisible to following traffic when you turn your head. Rear lights mounted on backpacks often end up pointing at the ground or to the sky, making them next to useless.

  • Fit and remove
    If you fit your light to more than one bike, look for a mount that fits different sizes of bars and seat posts. The majority of lights we tested mount directly to your bike using a “ladder-band” — a stretchy rubber strap with multiple hooking points. Ladder bands are versatile, but also easy to install and remove. You’ll need to regularly remove and refit your lights to charge them or for security while your bike is locked up. If you carry your lights in a bag, look for one that needs a long press to turn on and has no loose parts.

  • Going steady
    Research suggests flashing lights make you more noticeable, but they also make it harder for drivers to judge your speed. Flashing lights are useful at dusk and dawn, and under bright street lights. They attract attention where a steady light may be lost in high levels of background light. However, you may find a flashing front light distracting while riding. Many lights have bright “daytime flash” modes. These are a good idea, making you more visible even on a sunny day. Ideally you’ll have one flashing and one steady light front and rear. Apart from increased visibility, it also protects against a light failing or running out of juice. With just 2 lights, a flashing rear light and steady front light is the best combination. Some lights have a “pulse” mode, which combines steady and flashing modes. This is a good choice for either end of your bike.

  • Get reflective
    Lights are just one weapon to help you remain safe after dark, but your armoury should also include reflective material. Reflective clothing is best used on moving parts of your bike or body: feet and ankles, pedals and wheels where motion attracts attention like a flashing light.

It's the law

Our laws are very clear when it comes to when you need a bike light and how bright it must be.

Cycle lights are required between sunset and sunrise, or when a person or vehicle can’t be seen 100 metres away. Front and rear lights must be visible from 200 metres. All of your rear lights and 1 of your front lights can flash. But if you use 2 front lights, one of them must be steady.

All our tested bike lights could be seen from 200 metres away and have a steady mode, so are legal to use. All have at least one flashing mode.

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