Bike lights serve two purposes: they illuminate the way ahead and make you more visible to motorists and pedestrians. A white light mounted on the front, combined with a red light in the rear will help you be seen at night and in low-light conditions. How much light you need is determined by the places you’ll be riding in.
LEDs are the standard for bike lights. They are inexpensive, bright, lightweight and don’t emit much heat. In most Canadian cities, cyclists are required to have both a front and rear light when riding within 30 minutes of sunset and sunrise.
Safety/urban bike lights
On streets and bike lanes there’s usually enough ambient light to see, so your lights make you visible to motorists, pedestrians and other cyclists. Small safety lights of about 10 lumens use a coin cell battery, and are great as a back up or for unplanned after-dark rides. If you regularly ride at night, you’ll want a brighter version that can be recharged through a USB port or wall charger.
For regular commuting: a 60 – 150 lumen headlight is good.
Flashing lights are more conspicuous and attention grabbing than a steady beam. You may also want several lights in different locations to increase the chance you’ll be seen. Put them on you handlebars, helmet, backpack, forks, under your seat, and on your arms or legs. It’s often difficult for motorists to see you when they approach from the side, so add some side lighting so you can be seen from drivers turning left or right onto the street where you’re riding.
Trail and off-road
For places without street lights, you want enough light to illuminate obstacles and give you time to react. The faster you ride and the trickier the trails, the more light you’ll need.
For trails, choose a bright, focused headlight of 150 lumens or more.
The brightest lights should be on your handlebars or helmet. Handlebar mounts can be more comfortable as you don’t have any weight on your head, but they can create shadows from obstacles. Helmet-mounted create far fewer shadows, but the light can jump around as your head moves.
Can my light be too bright?
There is currently no upper limit for how bright a bike light can be, but if you ride with a super-bright 800+ lumen light, most cyclists agree that angling it slightly down so it doesn’t point directly at other riders, pedestrians or drivers, is a courteous thing to do. 700 lumens is about as bright as an average car headlight, so just as you dim your highbeams for on-coming traffic, pointing your bike light downward prevents temporarily blinding of the people in your path.
Care and storage
If you’re not going to use your lights for a while, top-up any rechargeable batteries before you store them. Rechargeable batteries can be damaged by sitting without a charge for an extended period of time. Pull them out a few times in the off-season and charge them for a few hours. It’s also a good idea to remove non-rechargeable alkaline batteries from lights before storing them, as they can leak and cause damage.