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Bike lights

13may bike lights hero default

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

High-output LEDs and USB rechargeable models have revolutionised bike lights, but there’s no New Zealand standard for them. This means there are plenty that are so dim they're almost useless – and also some which are too bright.

From our test

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About our test

We put our front and rear bike lights through several tests.

These tests included:

  • Straight on (0°) from a distance of 2 metres, in both steady and standard (medium-speed) flashing modes
  • At a 20° angle from 2 metres away, in steady mode
  • At a 45° angle from 1 metre away, in steady mode.

Although the 20° and 45° tests are tough, they represent some of the angles at which you want your bike to be seen.

Each bike light’s output was measured in lux (the standard international measure of light intensity).

What we found

Some lights are so dim as to be useless. Others are too bright. So which ones are best?

Front lights

The Lezyne Micro Drive
The Lezyne Micro Drive

Out of 42 front lights in our test, we recommend 4:

  • Lezyne Micro Drive
  • Ontrack Phazer 240 LI-11F
  • NiteRider Mako 2 Watt 5043
  • Topeak Whitelite HP 1 Watt TMS027.

A further 4 lights are “worth considering”.

However, 3 of these 8 – the NiteRider Mako 2 Watt 5043 and 1 Watt 5042 and the Cateye Econom Force HL-EL540 – are so bright on their steady mode’s brightest settings that you risk dazzling other road users. We suggest you use the less-bright settings or point the lights slightly down towards the road.

Rear lights

The NiteRider CherryBomb 1 Watt 5072.
The NiteRider CherryBomb 1 Watt 5072.

Of the 39 rear lights tested, we recommend 3:

  • Moon Shield
  • Lezyne Micro Drive 71068
  • NiteRider CherryBomb 1 Watt 5072.

4 more are “worth considering”.

The Lezyne Micro Drive is the brightest rear light in both steady and flashing modes. While rear lights aren't as bright as front lights, you might blind another cyclist directly behind you with the Lezyne – so think about using its less-bright settings.

Flashing modes

Almost all the lights we tested (with the exception of the Cateye Opticube EL-110) had a flashing mode. Many had several flashing, dimming and almost strobe-like modes.

While a flashing light will usually make you more noticeable than a steady light, we think the standard (medium-speed) flashing modes are better than the more fancy settings.

Choosing your lights

Buying only 1 front and 1 rear light? Look at the recommended models that have the highest overall scores.

The best solution – if you can afford it – is to use a pair of front lights and a pair of rear lights. Ideally one of each pair should be a light that scores well for steady mode at 0° (straight on), and the other a light that scores well for steady mode at 20° and 45°.

Backup lights

It’s also a good idea to keep backup lights somewhere handy – so you can take them with you when you’re going out, in case you have a problem with your usual lights.

Your backups could be cheaper lights that have a reasonable overall score in our test plus a “lit area” – the area around your bike illuminated by your lights – that’s medium or large. (A small lit area is unlikely to be an issue with brighter bike lights but a larger lit area is helpful if the light’s less bright.)

Batteries

It's also worth thinking about what sort of batteries will suit you best. The 2 top-performing front and rear lights are USB rechargeable – this is handy if you commute to a desk job but it’s not so good if you don't regularly use a computer or if you’re likely to forget about recharging.

Bike light law

A bike used on the road must have a rear reflector that’s either yellow or red. If ridden at night, the bike must also have:

  • 1 or 2 front lights (these can be white or yellow; only 1 of them can be a flashing light)
  • at least 1 rear light (a rear light must be red; it can be steady or flashing)
  • front and rear pedal reflectors (or other reflective items such as clothing).

This makes sense until you ask "how bright"? The law says lights and reflectors must be visible from 100m away and that they mustn't dazzle other road users – that's it! In good conditions, a candle meets these requirements.

Common sense says ...

The more visible and recognisable you are at night, the safer you are. This means using a combination of lights, reflectors, reflective clothing and bright colours that make you obvious in any conditions.

But does this mean the brightest lights are the best? Not necessarily. A light may be bright when seen from straight on, but not when seen at an angle – and many night-time accidents between bikes and cars happen side-on or at an angle rather than from directly in front or behind. So being visible from all angles is important.

Some of the brightest lights we tested did well across most of our tests – and this was attributable to good lens design as well as light output. (Other bright lights in our test had more-focused beams: this means your bike can be seen from a long distance but only more-or-less straight on.)

Even though their straight on light output was comparatively low, other lights tested had light output that didn't vary much when viewed from 20° and 45° compared to straight on.

Remember: On the front you’ll have to choose which of your 2 lights will flash; on the back you can have both flashing.

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