Looking for front bike light recommendations.
February 8, 2017 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Requirements: visible, but not "laser their retinas out of their skulls" bright; options for steady or slow-pulse (no strobe); long battery life (doesn't matter if it's AA/AAA or USB-recharge, or even dynamo). What should I be looking at?
posted by curious nu to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I really like my Cygolite Metro 420 which is rechargeable by mini-USB. It looks like the Metro 500 is the current model. It has a mode which is mostly steady but with some strobe-like flashes built in which I think makes a nice compromise between illuminating the road and improving visibility to others, but there is also a steady mode (or maybe two with different brightnesses).
posted by exogenous at 9:34 AM on February 8, 2017

I also have the Cygolite metro 360 (it looks like the 400 is actually the 'entry' model for them now) and like it. I do use the pulse setting but it has good steady low and high settings. And the mount is decent too.

I've also used the Planet Bike Blake 2W in the past, which uses AAs, but it eventually shakes apart at the seams and needs to be glued back together.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 9:39 AM on February 8, 2017

I've been using the Serfas TrueLumens line of lights for years. They're USB-rechargables, and are "all in one" devices that clamp to your handlebar (the clamp itself is actually pretty nice, and allows you to remove the light without removing the clamp).

The first one, a 500 lumen model, worked for about 3.5 years in what I think of as a moderate duty cycle -- I ride every Tuesday and Thursday evening, and need a light for ALL non-DST months plus a little bit on either end of DST. In late summer, I realized its battery life was getting a little shorter, so I looked into either a new battery or a new light.

I found a GREAT deal on an open-box new model capable of 750 lumens, and pounced on it. I think this is the one I have, but at this point it's the prior year model.

All the Serfas lights (and probably nearly all such lights as a class) have several output levels. My usual plan is to run on the lowest setting when I'm in relatively well-lit areas, and only crank it up on darker roads. I've never had any trouble getting a 2-3 hour ride out of either of my lights; that battery life reduction I mentioned about my old one just meant I had less time at "high output" before it started warning me.
posted by uberchet at 10:13 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would recommend one of the Busch und Müller lights. They have a reflector that produces an asymmetrical beam with a cutoff, like a car headlight, so you can put light far ahead on the road without blinding oncoming traffic.

Flashing bike lights are illegal in Germany, so they don't have a blink mode, but they have high- and low-power settings. My Ixon IQ lasts several hours on high beam.
posted by brianogilvie at 10:19 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have a set of the Serfas Thunderbolts.. They're at 90 lumens. When they flash, they're probably at the same rate a car blinker goes. USB rechargeable, and I like the fact that they go on and off my bike really easily.
posted by astapasta24 at 10:31 AM on February 8, 2017

I have a Cygolite Metro 360 as my backup light. It's USB-rechargeable, which is nice, and the holder is better than several other brands I've tried, but the battery life is just OK (recharge every 4-5 night commuting rides, so every 3-4 hours of use). I use the mode exogenous describes, since a lot of American drivers seem to expect blinking lights for visibility.

However, my main front light is my dynamo light. It's one of the Busch und Müller Lumotecs - it's bright but not blinding, and its beam pattern is significantly better at actually illuminating the road in front of me than any battery or rechargeable light I've had. Plus, of course, I never have to worry about charging it - I actually keep it on as a running light during the day. However, as brianogilvie noted, German lights are generally designed without a flashing mode (and a lot of the dynamo light manufacturers are German, e.g. Busch & Müller, Schmidt, and Supernova.)
posted by ubersturm at 10:43 AM on February 8, 2017

When I was looking for both front and rear as visible as possible and not cost prohibitive, I ended up on a bunch of British review websites, which I guess due to their unfriendly weather, pay a lot of attention to bike lights. I finally settled on these, and they've been great for over a year now. Several settings, but easy to change, USB charging, and very bright: Exposure Lights
posted by subajestad at 11:34 AM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

Not a specific but what I liked best was quite a small light that could point straight ahead and sometimes blink and a larger bright light that I could point downward and just not use if it was not dark enough. Also I got a very bright light on deep discount on amazon, worth poking around there.
posted by sammyo at 12:06 PM on February 8, 2017

The Light & Motion Urban series should fit your needs. I have the 650. High mode is very bright, but it does have a lower pulse setting that is not a strobe, but a slow pulse between the low setting and something a little dimmer. USB chargable.

Also a bonus feature of amber side lights that give your cock-pit a little light and increases your visibility from sides. The mount is great as it can be transferred between any bike without any tools.
posted by kpraslowicz at 12:11 PM on February 8, 2017

I like my Cygolites, but I've had problems with the mounts--the screw that holds the lamp bracket to the bar mount gets loose, so the lamp swings to the right, and the tab you depress to take the lamp with you I've broken twice now in like three or four years of daily use. Not at all deal-breakers, but annoying.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 12:32 PM on February 8, 2017

Seconding Light & Motion. I have the 800, which from your description may be too bright, but the 650 should be pretty perfect. The amber side lights are nice, it's easy to get on and off your handlebars, and it's pretty durable.

Also: I can get a week's worth of commuting - an hour a day - and a two hour Saturday morning ride off a single charge. Which is pretty great.
posted by pdb at 12:52 PM on February 8, 2017

My partner researched ALL the options for my birthday a few years ago. I think he went with Busch und Müller and some sort of generator hub by Peter White. (I had a lot of fun lacing the hub into my front wheel.)

I haven't had to change a battery in several years and it is the BEST. I get on my bike, it thoroughly lights up the path. Always.
posted by aniola at 1:07 PM on February 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

The Sweethome did some testing. I've got the Light & Motion Urban 350 and it works well for my needs; holds enough charge even in sub-freezing temperatures to light my way in the morning and evening (or more trips if I'm making stops other than work and home.) I usually charge at work during the day, whether I need it or not, just to be totally sure I won't have any problems on the way home; I could get away with charging every few days, but then I'd probably forget.
posted by asperity at 1:21 PM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I like this Vision II light a lot. I think it meets all your criteria.
posted by bearwife at 2:19 PM on February 8, 2017

Also not a headlight but you may want to think about this goofy but very effective suggestion for your wheels. I get a lot of compliments and more importantly am always visible from the side.
posted by bearwife at 2:33 PM on February 8, 2017

The hub is actually Sram (sold by peter white)
posted by aniola at 5:51 PM on February 8, 2017

I also have the Light & Motion Urban 350. Its brightest setting is very bright, but it also has a slow pulse visibility mode that’s decent. I use it when I’m riding in the hills and worried about visibility on infrequently-traveled roads. For urban riding where I just need a blinker, I use the Cateye SL-LD110 (“Loop”) which I can remove quickly from my bike so it isn’t stolen and fits the CR2032 batteries I buy in bulk for my other lights.
posted by migurski at 6:16 PM on February 8, 2017

I'm aniola's partner. As she says above, we use B&M dynamo lights (specifically the Lumotec IQ Premium Fly RT Senso Plus). Crazy naming scheme aside, these are superb lights. They are very bright, but use a special reflector to project a beam that is dim nearest the bike (so it doesn't blind you) and gets brighter as you look further ahead, resulting in a huge trapezoid of evenly-lit road ahead of you with a sharp cutoff at the horizon when properly adjusted. There's also an array of six forward-facing LEDs below the main light, and during the day the circuit diverts more power to these wide-angle "visibility" lights. I think this is the best design I've seen for simultaneously putting lots of light on the road, being visible, and not blinding other people.

Aniola's SRAM hub is actually not sold by Peter White; I got that one on closeout through a shop I worked at. I would highly recommend the Sanyo hub sold by Peter White for a (relatively) low-budget dynamo system. It's a little on the heavy side and isn't quite as efficient as the various $100+ dynohubs on the market, but has served me well over several years of commuting. If you don't want to replace your front wheel immediately, consider an AXA sidewall dynamo - they're a little more noisy and less efficient, but still a big step up from the ones that came stock on older bikes. I'm using one on my trike these days because it can't easily fit a dynohub.

The price tag for upgrading to dynamo lights nearly overwhelmed my frugal self, but after 3ish years of bright light 24/7 and not a single dead battery... it's worth it. /bikelightevangelism
posted by sibilatorix at 6:27 PM on February 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I got this cheap ($16)light yesterday which is 320lumens and can run upto 6 hrs on low and rechargeable. Bonus it has a horn built in. Its a bike light, atleast i cannot justify spending $100 for a bike light when most flashlights from reputable companies are ~$30
posted by radsqd at 7:54 AM on February 9, 2017

I have the Light & Motion Urban 500. I did a weeklong ride last year and used it for 80 miles/day. I charged it each night but it was good for the whole ride. I think the options are SUPER bright, regular bright, or slow pulse. I like it because the strap allows me to quickly swap between bikes but fastens pretty tight.
posted by AgentRocket at 8:30 AM on February 9, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks for the recommendations! I'll go by some shops and see what I can try in person now that I have some models to look at.
posted by curious nu at 8:08 AM on February 10, 2017

SP dynamo and B&M Dynamo light I have the Eyc and love it, but the actual model depends on your need. I've not even thought about batteries for 2 years. Fit it and it just works - every time. Worth every penny.
posted by Dr Ew at 3:40 PM on February 10, 2017

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