Commuting via bike can be the perfect way to gear up for a busy day at work — and unwind after a long one. To stay safe while riding after sunset, proper lighting is key to helping you see and be seen.
Even if you ride the same 5, 10 or 15 miles to work every day, seeing what’s on the road in front of you can be the difference between a flat tire and a smooth ride. Beyond being able to see the path ahead of you, cars and people need to see you as well — and it helps to be illuminated even when it’s light out. “Eighty percent of fatalities on bikes occur during the day, and forty percent of those are from behind,” notes Scott Kasin, director of electronics at Trek Bicycle Corporation. So yes, you do need a light on your bike both in the front and the rear.
For the back of your bike, a red flashing light is ideal to keep the attention of motorists coming at you from behind. “When you use a flashing light, you are recognizable from three times the distance than if [you have] no light,” Kasin says. Attaching a solid red light to your heels or ankles as well is shown to be even more conspicuous.
Kevin Balay of Bicycle Workshop in Tenafly, NJ says there are a few things to consider when shopping for bike lights. “Selecting the proper lights depends on how you are going to use them, what level of brightness and what you are willing to spend,” he says. The brightness will vary if you’re riding through the streets of New York, or along suburban roads outside of Bend or Austin. “We prefer rechargeable lights,” Balay says. “They tend to be brighter and you aren’t throwing money away on batteries. So, in the long run, they will cost less overall.”
David Weiner, co-founder of Priority Bikes, also acknowledges that commuters have it tough. You need a set of lights that will hold up to the rain, snow, sleet and wind, yet is also easily powered and hard to remove (or steal). “Charging lights sucks,” Weiner says. “I used to forget it all the time. Remembering to remove them when you run inside somewhere, so they don’t get stolen, is a hassle.” Certain light frames can stay on your bike when you lock it up outside, but for others, you have to physically remove them every single time you stop, lock up your bike and then go inside. It can be a pain.
With all of that in mind, we pulled together a variety of lights at a plethora of price points that will help you see and be seen. We also tapped experts from all over the country to share their favorites with us.
Bontrager Ion Pro RT/Flare Light Set
Balay of Bicycle Workshop recommends these lights: “There are multiple reasons for this choice — light output, runtime, beam color and spread, price, quality, warranty, etc. The front light on this set also provides enough light to actually see the road or trail at night and as a bonus, the ‘RT’ lights can be controlled with a remote or even your Garmin-compatible devices.”
NiteRider Lumina Micro 650 and NiteRider Sabre 80
“The NiteRider Lumina Micro 650 & NiteRider Sabre 80 are the lights I personally use,” says Shaun Fowler, a buyer at New York City’s Paragon Sports. “I have ridden over 70,000 miles in the last seven years commuting to work.” The Sabre 80 is a multi-LED taillight with 80 lumens and six different light modes. The Lumina Micro 650 is a USB-rechargeable easy on and off handlebar light with four levels of brightness.
Specialized Flux 1200 Headlight
The 1,200-lumen maximum on this double light works great on the streets of NYC. Once you attach the mount to your bike, you can just unclip the light from your bike and slip it into your bag, which also makes for easy charging. The light is nice to use in a variety of daytime and nighttime conditions thanks to its three different steady light modes and four flashing and low modes. It’s a powerful front loader for commuters. I pair mine with the Garmin Varia RTL510 radar tail light, but Specialized also sells a variety of Stix taillights that are super easy to attach and use.
Priority Light Set Front & Rear
“Perfect for an evening rider where you are trying to alert traffic that you are there,” says Weiner (who is admittedly biased). “If the roads are properly lit, as in NYC, you just want others to be aware of you. These are water resistant, fast to micro-usb charge, and they pop right off your bike in seconds.”
Kryptonite Street F-250 and Avenue R-50 COB
“Bike lights have come a long way,” says Melanie Mitchell, triathlete and CleverTraining.com rep. “More and more commuters are blazing lights on their bikes both day and night to alert motorists to their presence, as drivers are becoming more and more distracted.” For a light under $50, Mitchell worked with her team to recommend the Kryptonite pair. “The six different modes meet the needs of your ride, switching between nighttime pulse that demands the attention of drivers, to high steady that’ll show you every bump in the road.” The backlight is “designed for the everyday commuter, errand-runner or pub-hopper. This easy-to-operate light supplies you with the light you need to keep drivers aware of your presence, day or night.”
Beryl Laserlight Core and Burner Brake
Our team has been particularly impressed with Beryl’s lights. The simplicity and power of the Laserlight Core and Burner Brake lights just shines. The Laserlight is currently on Kickstarter, and way above its goal. You can pre-order the rear lights today. The front light pumps out 400 lumens, while the back offers 200. Each is waterproof and will help keep you safe from blind spots and rain storms.
Blackburn Design Dayblazer 800 Front and Dayblazer 65 Rear Light Set
Two lights under $100 is a pretty good deal for a rechargeable light set with a universal mount. This set is waterproof and built to help you focus in on the road, while also providing a clear visible path to follow. There are a variety of ways you can mount it, so do whatever works best for you.
Knog Big Cobber
Knog’s Big Cobber lights are some of the easiest ones to use. They seamlessly wrap around your handlebars and seat post, making them easy to remove. The best part is there’s no extra cord — you just plug these right into the USB port. Note: the price is for one light.
Light & Motion Urban 500 Commuter Combo
This Light & Motion combo pack features a durable 500 onyx front headlight and a smaller Vis 180 rear light — both of which are guaranteed for two years. It’s one of the most durable and long-lasting sets we’ve tested.
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