What kind of bike light is best?
June 23, 2012 2:54 PM   Subscribe

What kind of bear bike light is best?

I'm looking to get into biking, so I'm trying to upgrade my bike with some gear. Right now, I'm looking for a bike light, but I'm getting really mixed answers about how bright (in lumens) it should be. I'm just going to be biking around town - not in the woods or anything like that. I'd like a bike light that is bright enough for me to see, but NOT so bright that it blinds car drivers. A lot of the advice I've seen on biking forums is stuff like, "Get the brightest light you can find, cars will respect you more." That sounds like terrible, terrible advice, not to mention dangerous to boot.


1) How bright (in lumens) should I be aiming for when riding around town at night? I tend to ride on sidewalks, not the road. I have nothing against brighter, just don't want to be blinding anyone.

2) There are lots of different styles of bike lights - some with a very narrow beam, some with a wider beam. For example, this light (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005D7FXMA/) seems a little narrow, and is USB rechargable, which is nice. Is there a certain style I should be going for?

Any suggestions for lights are obviously welcome. Thanks!
posted by 254blocks to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Don't worry about blinding anyone. Car headlights are much brighter than anything you can reasonably put on your bike! If you must ride on sidewalks (which is generally considered a bad idea), just make sure to aim the light low enough so it isn't pointing straight in pedestrians' eyes at point blank range.

I like the Planet Bike Blaze 2W. Cheap, bright, takes batteries (so you can use your own rechargeables, rather than using a built in battery which eventually will fail or lose capacity and need replacing, at which you'll discover that you can't easily replace it and have to toss the whole thing). I find this light plenty bright for riding around town. If I were going to upgrade, I'd get a second one and aim one a little lower.
posted by ssg at 3:07 PM on June 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

As a car driver, please get something very bright and fairly wide. Inadequate bike lights wash out in the brighter lights of vehicles, and I can't always see y'all approaching from behind. I hate that. Don't worry about blinding me; the dude in the Audi with those sun-like halogens has already taken care of that.
posted by rtha at 3:08 PM on June 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Also, make sure that you are covering all your visibility bases: at least a bright, blinky rear light, ideally reflectors and reflective tape as well.
posted by ssg at 3:10 PM on June 23, 2012

As a pedestrian who regularly uses bike/walk trails and the family member of multiple epileptics, blinky lights even on the rear (though especially on the front) are painful, distracting, and potentially seizure-inducing to look at. I regularly need to avert my eyes when being passed by some winter cyclists in the morning and early evening.
posted by thatdawnperson at 3:16 PM on June 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

If I could mount a car headlight to my bike I would. Get the biggest, brightest thing you can.
posted by fshgrl at 3:16 PM on June 23, 2012

Yeah blinkys are utterly useless imho and I can't understand the enduring popularity. Get a white front right and a red tail light if you're on the street.
posted by fshgrl at 3:20 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Exposure Joystick Maxx 2 is the finest front light I have ever used, period. Bright enough to cover all road riding conditions, tiny, detachable, holds a charge for days, beautiful milled aluminium case, has a flash+main beam mode for traffic, and you can helmet-mount it if you wish (I don't). Daily use of the previous version since 2007, and I feel naked and vulnerable without it. They've just released a rear as well, but I can't (yet) vouch for it.
posted by cromagnon at 4:19 PM on June 23, 2012

I've been riding with two NiteRider MiNewt 600's. I ride with one on my helmet and one on my bars. They put out 600 lumens each when on high mode. I usually ride with them on high.

The one on my helmet allows me to look through turns and direct the light into windshields (useful on my commute since there are two spots where cars merge into my road, and they aren't alway looking for me).

I usually get off work at 9:30pm, and parts of my commute are on roads with absolutely no street lights, and the speed limit is 50mph. I need lights that allow me to see the road as well as be seen.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 4:27 PM on June 23, 2012

I should add that the MiNewt 600 uses a USB rechargeable cell. If and when it dies, it's easily replaceable, and it's a standard size that can be found at most battery stores (18650 cell).
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 4:40 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a no-name "1000 lumen" bike light from a third party seller on Amazon for $70. It is silly, ridiculous bright -- but it has a dim mode that won't blind anyone. Its rechargeable battery only lasts a couple of hours, so I keep a backup blinky light around too.
posted by miyabo at 5:33 PM on June 23, 2012

Even the brightest bike lights can't compete with car headlights, so get the brightest one possible. The only way you will "blind" anyone is if you aim it directly into oncoming traffic's windshield. Even then, the guy in a car in the lane beside you is probably throwing more light at them. If the light spills that far up with normal use it's of poor design.

I personally find the battery powered lights to be too dim, even if you get a fancy one. On my two bikes that I ride at night I have dynamo hub powered head lamps. Obviously more expensive since you need to buy a front wheel with a dynamo generator hub in addition to the light, but it's bright enough to not get drowned out by passing cars (or to descend down steep hills at a normal speed, or navigate back roads with no street or building lights around).

Whenever I ride at night with other people everyone comments on how they are really bright. I feel like cars can actually see me, as opposed to hoping some little blinker gets their attention. Maybe overkill for your riding, but if you ever find yourself replacing your front wheel you should consider it. It's also always there and available, and it's bolted on so no one is going to casually steal it. Most of the lights are German, which are required to meet very strict beam criteria (they are designed to not throw any light into car windshields - the beams are very efficient and focused).

On my commuter bike I have a cheap Sanyo dynamo wheel that was $60 on sale somewhere and a $45 Lumotec "Classic" light so it can be done for comparable to what a nice battery powered light costs . On my touring bike I have the more efficient/brighter Shimano 3N72 hub + Lumotec IQ which was around $350 for the whole setup (it is ridiculously bright, I can still see the beam even when cars shine their headlights onto my path).
posted by bradbane at 5:57 PM on June 23, 2012

I recently bought a Planet Bike Superflash Turbo for the back of my bike, which is crazy bright and has a neat "random" flash mode where the big LED and the two smaller LEDs flash in a sort of out-of-phase manner that is very eye-catching and hard to ignore. I love it.

I also have a 300 lumen flashlight (as in a regular flashlight, one of these guys to be specific) on the front, and I think it's lovely. It's quite bright indeed, and throws out a lot more light for the money than purpose-build bike headlights do. Only problem is that I have it mounted on there with one of these mounts which I don't recommend as it keeps cracking apart and having to be glued back together. If you go the flashlight-and-mount route, get something stronger like perhaps this thing which to be honest I have not tried but which looks much more solid to me.

In the middle I have a coil of green EL-wire which is fun and cheap and provides some side visibility. I just have it wrapped around my downtube and secured at intervals with cable ties. It flashes nicely as I ride along at night.
posted by Scientist at 6:00 PM on June 23, 2012

I work this in a few ways. First add, reflective patches in places where it makes your bike more visible. Always carry a battery operated front and rear light, the Planet Bike lights are great for this, easily detachable, last a long time, almost always available.
For much of the year, the PB's are all I need. When it starts to get dark early, then you start needing some road bed illumination, so I use a 900 lumen LED light I plug into a cheap Li-Ion battery pack. I go cheap on this as they are too easy to trash or get stolen. So, I try to have two sources if illumination, the PB's for regular riding, and the big gun iight for the dark of winter. Since the run time is relatively short, if the big lamp runs out, I've got the PB's as backup.
posted by diode at 7:02 PM on June 23, 2012

You don't have to get a bottle battery or anything, but as someone who rides, when I'm driving, I have a much bigger problem with riders on the street who cheap out and get something too dim. I agree that blink doesn't help, but all of them will come with it.
posted by rhizome at 7:05 PM on June 23, 2012

I just bought a 300-lumen light on eBay for $8. It's crazy bright, but I've got my eye on the 1000-lumen for $15.

EBay is your best friend for this. I got lucky with super fast shipping - arrived in a week. Even the 300-lumen is crazy brighter that the Planet Bike 2w.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 7:05 PM on June 23, 2012

Seconding the helmet-mounted light. It shines where you're looking, not just where your front wheel is pointing. Also, reflector strips and a rear blinking red light are a must. Your biggest safety issue is being visible to drivers, who will be approaching from the rear. Wear a reflective vest.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:13 PM on June 23, 2012

I run a 110 lumen, works okay. Its more of a be seen light rather than a see the path light. I do occasionally run a homebrew 1800 lumen light (yes, seriously, 6x300lm philips leds that I got originally for an art project) for night rides and on unlighted paths. Even that insanity was only about as bright as the old style halogen bulbs, and not as bright as the blue HID lights (~3000lm). I did notice that with the bright bulb cluster cars treated me like a vehicle.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 8:16 PM on June 23, 2012

Batteries are a pain and if you aren't always careful, you can be left in the dark.

Getting a hub generator is probably too much work, but getting a bottle dynamo probably isn't. See this Dutch-based site for a good selection and good info about dynamo lights for practical city bikes.
posted by parudox at 11:20 PM on June 23, 2012

Why are you riding on the sidewalk? Is that even legal?

I really like my Planet Bike 5 LED beamer -- very bright, and it was ~ $20 or so.
posted by TonyRobots at 12:00 AM on June 24, 2012

I use two Planet Bike 3 LED beamers. I like them both because I can aim one a bit higher than the other, so you get to see the road ahead as well as a wide view of what's directly in front of you (that's what I find most helpful).

Additionally, if you're concerned about visibility, consider getting some colored LEDs for your wheels. I originally bought some because I thought they were cool, but you WILL be seen with them.
posted by neveroddoreven at 8:11 AM on June 24, 2012

How bright your light need to be, even around town, quite simply depends. In New York City, there are streetlights and stoplights everywhere, so you don't need to light up the road and you're not going very fast. In San Diego, there are only streetlights at intersections and the roads are hilly and traffic lights are far apart, so you need to have a light bright enough to light up the roadway travelling at 30+mph.

In New York, whatever gets your seen is fine (100 lumens or whatever). In San Diego, you probably want one of the 600 lumen ones.

And lumens don't give you a single number that tells you "how good" a light is. Also of concern is beam pattern, how easy the light is to charge, how long the battery lasts, how easy the light is to attach/remove, etc.
posted by akgerber at 2:33 PM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I definitely suggest checking out at DealExtreme's ultrafire torches. They are so cheap (delivery might be a little slow) and although you'd need to factor in the cost of the batteries, a charger and a mount, you won't get more lumens for your buck.

Most torches have a number of settings, so it's worth getting a very bright one and running it on the low setting - 700 lumens is very bright, but you can set it low and direct it on the ground. The benefit is that you can use it as a normal torch whenever you need it.
posted by guy72277 at 2:13 AM on June 25, 2012

The real problem, as others have alluded to, is not a car striking you from the front, but a car running you down from behind. Think about it: a car coming at you at least gives you a chance to avoid it (maybe by diving into a ditch or bushes, but at least it's something); a car coming up on you from behind has you totally at its mercy. If the driver doesn't see you, congratulations, you're a hood ornament.

So yeah, get some good bright lights for the front, but don't skimp on rear lights. Something with a mix of solid and flashing lights, plus a reflector vest or clothing, is one of the better safety investments you'll make. And always wear light-colored clothing, obviously.

And worrying about blinding a driver with your little battery-powered light is silly. Those new high-intensity discharge headlights are orders of magnitude brighter than anything you're going to mount on a bike, and even regular-old incandescent headlights are typically 100W or so. Just keep it angled down vaguely towards the road surface, like a normal headlight, and they'll be fine.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:37 AM on June 25, 2012

The other day I was biking at night and a driver shouted as I passed him, "Turn off your brights!" I had that 1000 linen light and it was pointed downish but on full brightness. So yeah, it is possible to annoy drivers.
posted by miyabo at 7:48 PM on July 1, 2012

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