Lighting gear: Best Commuting Bike Lights

bike lights - banner

Commuting via bicycle is an enjoyable mode of transportation that’s not just economical, but is also good for the environment and a great workout. Regardless of what style of bike you commute on, there are a few crucial accessories that every daily rider should possess, and they are – locks, helmets, and if your routine calls for riding at nights, bike lights. And it’s that latter accessory that we’ll be exploring today. These guiding bike lights aren’t just a good idea to have mounted on your bike but are required for a safe ride and recommended by pro bikers.

On top of lighting your path and allowing you to see into the night, bike lights also have the crucial added benefit of helping to ensure that you are seen by the other vehicles and pedestrians out on the street. But, with bicycle lights have existed for just about as long as bicycles themselves, there’s no shortage of types, styles, and models available, making the prospect of shopping for a light a daunting one, especially to the uninitiated. Below we’ll delve into what to look for when you’re in the market for a new bike light and, of course, the latest bike light offerings on the market today.

Factors To Consider Before Buying Commuter Bike Lights:

Lumens: Lumens are a measurement used to quantify an amount of visible or luminous light, and it’s the most commonly utilized light measurement metric. The number of lumens afforded by light will ultimately tell you how bright it’s going to be, though there are other variables, which brings us to our next factor.

Beam Distance: This one is fairly self-explanatory, but beam distance is simply how far light reaches. When purchasing a light for the express purpose of guiding your way on a moving vehicle, this is an important factor to take into account.

Battery: The type and size of the battery pack that powers a light is going to determine how long the charge will last, how long it will take to recharge (assuming it’s rechargeable), and how quickly battery life will degrade over time. Another area to consider is the heft of a battery, as many can be compact but still on the heavier side.

Wired Vs Cordless: In today’s increasingly untethered world, a lot of people don’t want to deal with wires wrapped around or hanging from their fork or handlebars. Wireless bike lights are great options, though they do however have to run an internal battery as they can’t link to an externally-mounted cell, often coming at the expense of a shorter battery lifespan.

Smart Features: Today’s all-encompassing cutting-edge world of techno-wizardry and smart devices very much includes bike lights. Some smart lights can detect light levels and adjust themselves accordingly, some react to speed, some can detect deceleration and activate brake lights accordingly, and some can warn bicyclists to cars approaching from behind, just to name a few.

Materials: Just like when purchasing any other gear, the materials used are a key area to focus on, as they will largely determine a decent amount of a product’s overall quality, and just as, if not more importantly, how durable and hardwearing it is. Its lifespan and reliability will also be greatly affected by the materials used in a light’s construction, as will the construction techniques themselves.

Weatherproofing: Unless your boss is cool with you not coming into work on days when the weather gets nasty, weatherproofing is an area to factor into the equation. If you reside somewhere like sunny Southern California, this won’t be as important as it is to someone living in the precipitation-heavy Pacific Northwest. If you live somewhere where temperatures routinely dip past the freezing point, you’ll want to make sure your light (and its battery) is capable of surviving that level of cold.

Mounting & Hardware: There’s a myriad of ways to attach a light, so it’s important to figure out what you like, or what’s most conducive to your particular commute. Most lights are fixed to the handlebar or somewhere in that general area, though there are helmet-mounted units (and lights that can do both), fork-mounted lights, and even some fancy wheel-mounted offerings. This area will also determine how easily light can be removed. Circling back to materials, you’ll also want to consider the materials used in the mounting hardware.

Size & Weight: Lights come in all shapes and sizes, so a light’s mass is an area to check in on. If you just threw a few grand at a 12lb road bike, it makes very little sense to turn around and add a marked amount of weight back onto the thing. There are a lot of extremely compact lights that still offer decent lumen output, though they do tend to cost more.

Style: As much as we’d like to think we’re very logical beings, we humans are affected by our emotional reaction to aesthetics, so it’s perfectly fine to scrutinize the appearance of a bike light. The form should take a back seat to the functional aspect (especially considering these are only used at night, in the dark), though there are enough attractive lights on the market that you shouldn’t have too hard a time finding one light that satisfies both areas.

Our top two picks, Cygolite’s Metro Plus 800 USB headlight and Hotrod 50 USB taillight, both offer good value and exceptional visibility thanks to wide-angle beams and solid, strobe, and pulsing modes.

Cygolite Metro Plus 800 Lumen Bike Lights

View at Amazon

This affordably priced light offers more brightness and a better-shaped beam than anything in its category. It’s fully waterproof and has a durable, easy-to-use quick-release mount. Headlights in the Cygolite Metro series have been picks since 2013 because they offer more brightness, more flashing modes, a wide beam—visible from many angles—and solid reliability at a consistently lower price than other comparable headlights. The new Metro Plus 800 USB bike light retains this winning formula and adds full waterproofing (IP67), a redesigned mount that’s easier to install and remove, and a Micro-USB charging port in the place of the older Mini-USB.

Rural commuters will appreciate that its 800-lumen “boost” setting is enough to light up unlit roads like a car’s headlights for up to one and a half hours, while urban cyclists will appreciate that even its lowest setting is more than bright enough to cut through light pollution for up to six and a half hours. The Metro Plus 800 also gets the little things right, including the ability to remember its last-used setting and a lockout mode for the power button. Although Cygolite’s one-year warranty isn’t as long as many other manufacturers’ offerings, repairs are easy and affordable thanks to the company’s California-based factory.

Cygolite’s quick-release mount is the best hard plastic mount we’ve come across. But it is still made of plastic, and as a result, you need to retighten it periodically to prevent slipping; you can easily do this by hand using the big adjuster knob. It would also be nice if the light came with a helmet mount instead of requiring you to purchase that separately. There’s also no way to add a GoPro mount, which can be useful for mounting a light under your GPS unit, but this is more of an enthusiast preference than a commuter need. Also, many people prefer the one-size-fits-all simplicity of a rubber-strap mount. If that’s you, check out our runner-up pick.

Some people might say that nine lighting modes are too many to sort through given that you’re most likely to find one you like and stick with it, but unlike some other lights we tried, the Metro Plus series remembers your last-used setting when you power it off and reverts to that setting when you turn it on. Although the Metro Plus 800’s battery life is pretty long, and tests say it lasts longer than Cygolite claims, other lights can go longer without needing to be recharged.

The beam can appear dimmer compared with those of similarly rated lights because it’s so wide and evenly spread out. However, we don’t think this is a dealbreaker because it’s still plenty bright enough, and the benefits of increased visibility outweigh the costs in concentrated brightness.

It would be nice if Cygolite offered a limited lifetime warranty on non-electronic parts, as many of its competitors do. In our experience, the company’s customer service has been responsive and reasonably priced when needed outside of the one-year warranty.

Read more: 

Blackburn Dayblazer 800 Front Light

View at Amazon

This slightly pricier headlight is a solid choice in every regard, including brightness, waterproofing, and particularly its all-metal body. Its rubber-strap mount secures easily onto almost any handlebar. For cyclists who prefer a rubber-strap attachment to a quick-release plastic mount, the Blackburn Dayblazer 800 Front Light is a close runner-up that offers a comparable amount of brightness and flashing modes for only a bit more cash on most days. It mounts easily to handlebars of any width (including wing-shaped aero bars) and even comes with a helmet mount in the box—an accessory that’s sold separately for most bike lights, including the Cygolite Metro Plus 800. The Dayblazer 800’s beam is wider than that of most lights but isn’t quite as wide as the Metro Plus 800’s, making for a brighter centre but less overall visibility. 

Furthermore, this Blackburn model lacks a lockout mode for the power button and hasn’t been as thoroughly vetted by other independent reviewers as the Cygolite. But the Dayblazer 800’s sleek all-metal exterior and IP67 waterproofing, combined with Blackburn’s stellar reputation for reliability (backed by a limited lifetime warranty that includes two years of coverage on electronic components) gives us confidence that this light will perform for years to come.

Cygolite Hotrod 50 Lumen Bike Light

View at Amazon

Twenty LEDs are more visible than one, especially during the daytime. This affordable strap-on taillight is an exceptional value and easily mounts to almost any part of a bike. The Cygolite Hotrod 50 USB bike light is the best taillight because it’s more visible from more angles under a wider variety of conditions than any other light we’ve tried. Testers agreed that its long strip of LEDs and transparent, domed enclosure helped them notice its 50-lumen flash from almost anywhere they stood.

We also appreciated how easy its rubber-strap mount was to attach to any number of locations on the back half of a bicycle—although some people may lament its lack of a clip for hooking onto bags or clothing. At three and a half hours, the Hotrod 50’s battery life on high flash mode is slightly below average, but it should still last most commuters a week between charges. It lacks a dedicated colour-coded battery-life indicator LED, but it does flash upon powering down to warn you that it’s low on battery.

The Hotrod 50’s three-and-a-half-hour battery life on high flash mode is low compared with the five hours you can expect from the similarly designed Serfas Thunderbolt 2.0 or Cygolite’s single-LED Hotshot line of taillights, but that’s still enough to last most commuters a week between charges, so we don’t think it’s that big of an issue.

The Hotrod 50 also lacks a clip for attaching to clothing or bags. We think this is okay since its mount can find purchase on a wider variety of locations on a bike than most competitors can. But if you want that flexibility, consider one of our other picks.

Blackburn Dayblazer 65 Rear Light

View at Amazon

You can clip this waterproof blinker onto your clothes or bag or mount it to any part of a bike without needing any tools. But it can be less visible in the daytime than our top taillight pick, and it has only three modes. The Blackburn Dayblazer 65 Rear Light with its integrated metal clip makes it a great option if you prefer to mount lights on your bag or body. Like the Cygolite Hotrod 50, the Dayblazer 65 features a clear, domed enclosure that’s visible from almost any angle. But instead of a solid strip of LEDs, it has two LEDs—one at each end—amplified by conical reflectors. In our tests, this design was more noticeable at night than the Hotrod 50’s solid strip array, but it made the Dayblazer 65 less visible from off-angles during daylight hours.

We also like that this model is fully waterproof (IP67) as opposed to merely water-resistant (IP64). Its multi-part mount can be confusing since you have to keep track of a few separate rubber bits, but this design offers unparalleled flexibility: It’s the only light we tested that has a clip for attaching to clothes and bags yet can also mount to any part of a bike (including oddly shaped aero seatposts) without tools. However, the fact that the Dayblazer 65 has only three lighting modes (two flashes, one solid) bumped it to runner-up status.

The biggest knock against the Dayblazer 65, and the main reason it wasn’t in contention for our top pick, is that it has only three modes: high flash (65 lumens for three hours), steady high (50 lumens for one and a half hours), and low flash (30 lumens for six hours). High flash is best suited for daytime use because it’s almost too bright at night. Either of the other two modes is fine for nighttime use. But this model is missing a pulsing mode, which many cyclists prefer because it catches the eye while also allowing viewers to better judge distance.

Cygolite Hotrod Front 110 and Hotrod Rear 50 USB Combo

View at Amazon

These lights offer all-around visibility at night and during the day, but the headlight (110 lumens) does nothing to illuminate a dark path ahead of you. If the vast majority of your commute takes place on well-lit urban streets, you can opt for the Cygolite Hotrod Front 110 and Hotrod Rear 50 USB Combo for less than the cost of a single headlight. This set includes the excellent Hotrod 50 taillight and adds a Hotrod 110 for the front. The Hotrod 110 is the same light as the Hotrod 50, except it uses white LEDs instead of red ones and flashes at 110 lumens. This set won’t light the path in front of you, but it will make you highly visible from every angle at all hours of the day and night.

If you’re reading through these descriptions and already fretting over the battery life figures, note that most of our picks have higher-powered, pricier variants that will last longer on lower brightness settings. It would be easy enough for us to recommend these variants as upgrade picks, but the truth is, you would be better off saving the money you’d spend on such a model to invest in a dynamo setup instead. Dynamo lights are powered by the rotation of your front wheel, so they never run out of juice. 

The white Hotrod 110 headlight uses the same, visible-from-all-angles design as the taillight. However, this is a big caveat, effectively useless for lighting the path ahead of you. But not all cyclists need that capability.

Final thoughts:

If you’re trying to stand out against a brightly-illuminated urban background or make your way through lampless backroads, you need a powerful pair of bike lights for safe cycling. That’s why we’ve curated these best bike lights to help you pick the right ones for your commute.