BEST Bike Lights for the UK in 2018
Commuting by bicycle has become more than a fringe fad. With fuel prices higher than ever and environmental concerns growing, more people are leaving the car keys on the hook by the door, avoiding the crowded confines of mass transit, and opting for self-powered commuting.
Not only do we get to work in an environmentally-friendly way, we get fit doing it.
It’s a fact that we are more vulnerable when we’re cycling than when we’re in a car or on a train. For the bicycle commuter, safety is an active, important part of doing it right.
If you’re not a commuter, but love to hit the open roads when you’re not at work, these safety issues are no less a concern. Weekend drivers pay less attention and are often driving in unfamiliar territory, so it’s important that they can see you – even if they’re distracted trying to figure out where exactly their GPS is telling them to go.
Be seen and be safe!
What Makes a Good Bike Light?
The first thing that makes a good bike light is a good… light. Sounds too basic to mention, but the truth is, light technology has come a long way in the last decade, and there are choices. Almost every bicycle light now is LED, but they vary in power and quality. How much power suits your riding habits? Make sure you have enough for your needs.
What adjustments does it need to aim where you need it to aim? Beams can be narrow, or wide, aim high or low, and not every bike light allows for adjustment in these areas. It’s important to know what it can do, so you can choose the one that best matches your needs.
Cheaper doesn’t mean a better deal if the road ahead is dark, cars are dazzled by your light, or the thing goes dead half way home on a drizzly night.
Commuter bikes don’t normally have shock absorbers, and electronics aren’t generally known for putting up with a lot of knocks and bumps, so durable construction is important. The unit should be light, not only because you don’t want to be pushing around extra grams for no good reason, but also because lighter units tend to be impacted less by the roughness of the road.
Reliability isn’t just about construction, either. Make sure the battery life suits the length of your trip, and that you can tell when the unit needs charging or replacement batteries. Might also be a good idea to know if you can swap out batteries if they do fail midway through a journey.
What colour is it? Is it streamlined? Does it match the bike? Is it big and bulky or sleek and sexy?
You may say none of this matters to you, and you may be right, but if you carefully chose the colour of the bike, the model, the clothing and accessories you wear, and the paniers or pack that get your precious belonging there with you, then why throw on just any old light? A good unit will be highly visible to traffic, but in harmony with the bike that holds it.
Bike Lights Reviewed
Cygolite Expilion 800
Coming in at the top of our selected price range, the Cygolite Expilion comes with the most complete front light setup. Unless you’re plugging into an American electrical system, the direct adaptor does you no good, but the USB charger cable will do the trick, so not to worry. It does not include a rear light, however, so that adds to the cost and bother of kitting yourself out for the ride.
At 140g, the 800 lumen (Cree XM-L LED) output is exceptional, and few lights come close to the brightness it produces. This is powered by a lithium ion battery stick, which can be swapped out easily for extended rides, and includes indicator lights for low power and charge status,
The light can be set to each of 8 modes, including Medium, High, Boost, Low, Steady Pulse, Day Flash, Walking, and SOS. On the least power-hungry mode – steady pulse – the battery lasts up to 22 hours per charge.
The mount is a hard clamp style, with a high-quality, level-triggered quick release.
Like all quality bike lights, the Expilion is water resistant.
The downside of this unit is that it can interfere with some bike computers, rendering some or all of the monitoring features useless. This has been experienced with the Cateye and Sigma Rox 9 brands, but may affect others as well.
Two words come to mind when we look at this light: Battlestar Galactica. It’s spacey, seems solid and rugged, and has those flutes running back from the lens that make it look like some kind of alien weapon. The metallic finish works well beside the flat black, and the mount instils confidence that the beam is going to stay where you set it, regardless of terrain. From a style point of view, there’s nothing bad to be said here; we love it.
Cygolite Metro 360
The Cygolite Metro 360 comes in at 11cm long and 50g in weight, but packs a reasonable 360 lumens of brightness.
It comes with an internal, rechargeable battery, a mini USB charging cable, and a red rear light.
It is capable of 6 modes, including High, medium, low, steady pulse, daylighting, and walking. The red rear light has 5 adjustable flash speeds and patterns as well.
On flash mode, the front light maintains a 10-hour run time between charges, more than enough for commuting, and most longer day-trips as well.
The unit uses a hard clamp with quick release. There are some concerns that the quick release is too tight, so it snaps out quickly and some have suffered scraped knuckles. Some have also had problems with durability, while others praise the build quality. This may indicate an issue with quality control and consistency of the product. If you go with this light, take advantage of any guarantees in order to make sure you get a good one.
The set comes with a mini USB charge cable and is, of course, water resistant.
If the previous unit evoked feelings of space adventures, this one brings it down to earth. I can see something like this in a futuristic cop show. It has that same flat finish, but without any garnish or bling. It looks like a serious bit of kit – high tech, and rugged.
The Cree XP is a substantial jump down in terms of expense, but still packs a decent punch. Its front light is very bright for 200 lumens, probably due to the light colour – sharp and white, rather than the yellowish tinge some lights emit at lower power-levels – and is powered by 5 AAA batteries in the front, and 2 more in the rear. Batteries are not included.
The front light can be set to Bright, Medium, or Flash. That’s correct, there is no “Low.” This is a lot like turning your amp to “eleven,” or not being able to get “small” fries at some well-known food chains, but we get the functional idea, despite the lack of logic. It can also be adjusted to be narrower and more intense, or wider and more subdued. The red rear light can be set to On, Blinking Quickly, or Blinking Slowly. Run times will vary, of course, with the quality of battery used.
The plastic and rubber mount is secured by a strap and the light has a screw-tight, quick(ish) release feature. Because the light threads into the mount, it can sometimes vibrate loose, so some users loop the hand strap through the hole first as a backup in case the light falls free. The rear mount is of lesser quality than the front mount, so attach it somewhere with some protection from bumps and knocks.
The styling feels very gun-like, but not in the exciting, movie-like manner of the previous two lights. This one leans way forward from the mount – perhaps the reason it sometimes rattled loose – like a radar gun. An attempt is made to make it look cool, like the ring indentation around the front grip, but we think the result is “busier” than “stylish.” The slight shine on it also gives it the look of cheap plastic construction. It’s a big drop down in price from the others, and in saving that money we sacrifice some finishes.
The Cateye 300 is durable, water resistant and sleek. It carries the weight of the reliable Cateye brand name and, as the model number suggests, a solid 300 lumen output.
It can toggle through four modes, including High, Medium, Flash, and Hyper-Constant. Yes, another light with no “Low” mode. Documentation states that it runs for 3 hours on high mode, and 60 hours on flash, but some users report a charge life of about 12 hours on flash mode – still a good, functional duration.
The mount is an adjustable polymer strap, and features a quick release.
The battery system is interchangeable, for backup battery use, and spare batteries are available as an add-on. There are also a helmet mount and a recharging docking system available as add-ons. No rear light is included.
This design has that streamlined, aquatic feel to it. Despite being even cheaper than the Cree, and having a higher lumen rating, the design looks pretty good. There’s no mistaking it for anything else; it’s a Cateye.
The shine on the black portions doesn’t feel cheap, as is matches the sheen of the metallic finish up front. The little flares make the lens look even more like an eye, and give it personality, as if it doesn’t take itself too seriously – but it is serious kit.
The Cycleafer is a small, but solid unit, and puts out 200 lumens using a built-in, polymer rechargeable battery system. Though the battery cannot be changed out, at the £26.33 price point, it is affordable to buy a backup unit for longer trips, or for peace of mind – which is what most users do. An added bonus of buying a second one, is getting the second rear light; you can attach one to the bike, and the other to your pack.
It has 4 light intensity levels and a flashing mode. It lasts more than 2 hours on High, and 8 hours on Low.
It attaches using a hard clamp with a quick release feature. The rear light can flash red, or white, or alternating between the two colours. It can mount vertically or horizontally, or can easily be clipped to a pack.
It is water resistant, and carries a 3-year warranty (UK only, new or refund, no questions asked), which is longer than most by up to three time.
For a cheaper light, this unit has some serious style. It has the same basic feel of the Expilion, but at a fraction of the price. Flat black in back, understated metallic tones up front, and lines that show true care was taken in designing the casing of this economical light. The mount is plain and functional, but they kept it very small, so it disappears under the mounted light and lets the main feature hog the limelight – as it should be.
We also have to mention the rear light. Unlike the others, which include a rear light almost as an obligatory afterthought (if they included one at all), this unit has a high-tech look to this component, and care was taken to make it seem of similar quality to the front light; it’s a complementary style, without being an imitation. Add to this look the adjust-ability and quality of it, and we have a stellar supporting role backing up the star of the show.
The Pantala Trail is another unit coming in at under £25. Rather than the single, tubular light design, the Trail employs a side-by-side array to throw 400 lumens of brightness out in front of you.
The light is… well… light, at only 60g, and the rear light weighs in at a mere 25g.
It is capable of 5 modes, including Smart Mode, which adapts to light conditions (lasts 2.5-6hrs), Yellow Safety Side Light (25hrs), Half (6hrs), Full (2.5hrs), and Flash (8hrs). The package contains two USB cables for simultaneously recharging the lights, which takes about 2 hours.
The mount is an adjustable strap, includes a quick release, and full 360°rotating adjustment. The rear light attaches via silicone mount bands, which are easily removed as a type of quick release function. The rear light is of a less robust build quality than the front.
The unit is “Rain-proof”, comes with a 30-day no-questions refund or replacement and a 1-year warranty.
We move here from the tubular design evolved from wrapping a casing around a cylindrical battery, to the flatter, wider style of a horizontal array. This unit has just the right amount of shine to show off the aerodynamic fins (real or contrived), without looking cheap. It looks like a bat perched on the handlebars, and the broad, crystal face of the lens feels like it is all business, all about throwing a little daylight your way, regardless of the time.
The rear light is okay too, nothing special, but more than just a thoughtless add-on. They’ve kept it simple with the silicone strap mount, but the depth of the lens casing gives it an appearance of substance, and reliability.
Supersta Smart Sensor
The Supersta Smart Sensor is similar in look to the Pantala Trail, has the same power at 200-400 lumens, and is also rechargeable.
It is a mere 69g, is rechargeable (2hrs), and mounts with a strap and quick-release system.
Its modes include High, Medium, low, 50% flashing, 100% flashing, SOS, and the sensor mode will turn light off in high light conditions. On High the charge lasts 2 hours, and on low up to 7 hours. The front unit also includes orange side lights,
This package includes a red tail light with modes (which uses 2 lithium batteries, not included). A USB charge cable for the front light is also included.
It is water proof, of course.
The Supersta’s design is very similar to the Pantala, and all of the same comments apply, to one degree or another, but there are some differences. The Supersta is a little less “George Clooney Batmobile,” and a little more “Christian Bale Batmobile.” The contours are less flamboyant; they’re tighter a little more technical-looking. The lens wraps around the sides and leaves no doubt, even at first glance, that this light is all about getting the job done.
Though the styling of the rear light isn’t as good as the Cycleafer version, it is still a good look, fits with the military-Batman feel of the front light case, and has the right kinds of adjustment options. My one negative criticism of it would be that the light is very rear-centric; it would have been better if it wrapped around the sides a little, increasing visibility to the sides.
Overall, top marks for looks.
Cycle Torch’s Night Owl is almost a retro unit, but I suspect this isn’t on purpose. It’s the same type of design often seen on bikes a good thirty years ago, but with the addition of LED and rechargeable technology.
It weighs 80g, and puts out 200 lumens. This sounds dim compared to some of the more expensive units we’ve been looking at, but for most cyclists this is still sufficient to be visible to drivers.
Both the front and rear lights are rechargeable, and the front light has High and Low steady beam and flash modes. On High the charge lasts more than 2 hours, and the power button flashes to warn if the battery is getting low.
The mount is a rubber strap with no quick-release, but removal takes only a few seconds. For some riders this will quickly become an annoyance, but if you’re patient with that kind of thing, it will do the trick.
It includes a USB cable, is water resistant, and includes a 1-year, 100% satisfaction guarantee (replace or refund).
We want to love this light for bringing back memories of childhood bike riding, but we just can’t get around the fact that we aren’t kids anymore. We won’t stick cards in the spokes, or attach a big fibreglass rod with an orange flag on it, and the banana seat will stay safely stored in the attic. Likewise, it’s tough for us to justify the cost of this light on the basis of style.
There’s nothing glaringly wrong with it (we’ll say that pun was intended), but at the same time there isn’t anything strikingly right about it either. It seems that little care was taken at all to make it a stylish component. A familiar look. Upgraded tech inside. Pop it on the shelf. Likewise, the tail light employs the lowest common denominator.
This is a good light, and you might talk yourself into it being a cool retro light, but for us the design just misses the mark.
Yakamoz Cycle Light
This is the first of two truly low-budget selections, but depending on your needs, this light might be great value. They are small, at 4.5cm in diameter and 4cm thick.
The 3 LEDs (per light) put out a humble 40 lumens, but if you ride through relatively safe conditions, and the point is to be seen (rather than to light a dark road or path in front of you), they get the job done.
The front light is white, the rear is red, and each of them has a variety of modes, including Full brightness, half brightness, slow flashing, and fast flashing.
The lights are rechargeable, with indicator lights to show full charge. They can run for 48 hours (on low mode) between charges. The package comes with 2 USB leads.
They are mounted using adjustable silicone straps – love `em or hate `em, at least they’re simple – and can quickly be removed from the bars when you reach your destination.
Now these lights are cheap, and like the previous set, they employ an old design rather than a new or contemporary one. The difference is, that these lights evoke a design so old that it’s kind of Steam-Punk cool again.
I can picture these strapped to a bike in a seventy-year-old Japanese movie, or to some mutant’s head in a Mad Max movie. There’s something about them that seems like they’ve been re-purposed from car tail lights, or pressure dials from a huge, steam-driven machine. Sure, they’re cheap. Sure, they’re the same light, with a different-coloured lens for the rear. Sure, they aren’t even that bright.
But if your bike has whitewall tyres, wouldn’t look out-of-character with a wicker basket attached to the handlebars, and your commute is through reasonably-lit streets, then these little babies will do the job.
Yakamoz Cycle Light
The cheapest option selected is this offering from BV.
It’s a small light, but since it uses separate batteries, feels heavy when ready to use.
It has an array of 5 LEDs in the front with a range of 10-15m at 35 lumens. The angle can be adjusted to light the road ahead as desired. The rear uses 3 LEDs behind a red lens, and is also angle adjustable.
This is the only light we considered that is not rechargeable. It takes 4 AAA batteries front (not included), 2 AAA batteries rear (not included). The upside of this is that, when the power wanes and the light fades, replacement batteries are easily inserted into the front light, even mid-journey.
It has 2 simple modes: Steady and Flashing. On Flashing mode, it will run up to 80 hours, depending on the batteries chosen.
This light features a hard plastic mount system with rubber inners and quick release (front and rear). It’s a lot to ask at such a low price point, and quality suffers. It looks the part of a more expensive clamp, but is not likely to hold up to much abuse or wear.
Sure, we can talk about the design and style of this light set, but that isn’t the point of it. This is a ten-quid cost for an entry-level device that will increase your safety when riding your bike. It’s not that no effort was taken, it’s just that the effort is on par with the price: it’s minimal.
It’s not especially ugly. It’s not great-looking either. The diagonal contour line up the side of the case, and the clear band just behind the cap are efforts at elevating the style a bit, but it was a half-effort at best. The rear light says it all: “Do I work? Yes. Well then… job done.”
Whichever light you decide to go with, make sure it suits the demands of your ride and your style. Be seen and be safe!
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