Buyers Guide: Bike lights for City, Trail or Road Riders
You’d think one light would rule them all, but the reality is, if you head out for a trail ride with a set of bike lights more suited to urban exploring than all-mountain adventures, then somewhere up ahead is a tree with your name on it - and we don’t mean a tree engraved with an oh-so-romantic love heart (Geoffrey & Anna ’79, woo!), we mean a tree in your path set more stubborn than a stuck seat post.
Whether trail, road or city is your regular pedalling ground, low light and night time riding demand the correct bike light, so to avoid the proverbial tree in the woods, take a few tips from us as we unleash the Always Riding bike hose of knowledge and turn it to super-soak. Oh hell it’s kinked, who the flip used it last!?
The City rider
Whichever city you call home in this big old world, it’s undoubtedly flooded with artificial light come sunset. For this reason, city cyclists are best served with small led bike lights primarily designed to attract attention rather than to illuminate the way ahead. Of course, light technology advances in recent years have meant that even the smallest form factor bike lights do put out a steady beam sufficiently wide and forward of the rider to avoid accidents, but ‘be seen’ rather than ‘to see’ is still the mantra for urban escapades.
Charge Almost Anywhere
Whilst there are still models and great demand for lights that utilise replaceable watch style batteries, above a certain price point rechargeable bike lights are now increasingly common. For city riders, rechargeable will often mean simple and exceedingly handy USB charging. On arrival at ride’s end, which is most likely a place where computers are used, the lights can be plugged into a free USB port and topped up. Depending on light run times and the length of your commute of course, this might only be a once a week ritual!
The Trail Rider
Cup of tea drunk, bike fettled, it’s time to saddle up and hit the Misty Mountain. Apart from sleep inducing moonlight, there’s little illumination trail side, which is why mountain bike lights are so powerful, often featuring exterior battery packs to supply the juice, big lumens (a measure of brightness), and considered beam patterns with good centre focus, and side bleed. The Big Thing is most definitely on seeing where you are going, what’s right and left near you at speed, and brightness adjustability leading to run-time variation.
Mounting options & Charging
At the higher price points that these much more powerful lights demand, commonly bundled accessories might include a helmet mount, bar mount and battery with well-thought out attachment points. Charging can sometimes be handled by USB (but with long recharge times) but more often than not by a dedicated included charger.
The Road Rider
Somewhere in the middle resides our black-top focused roadie. Frequently alternating between un-populated country lanes with little artificial lighting and well-lit suburbs, our beloved cyclist faces a mix-bag of terrain, and some head scratching regarding the ideal road cycling light with which to conquer it.
The key points to consider are whether an external battery is desired, required run-time (which may affect the former) physical size (handlebar space is at a premium!) and ease of use on and off the bike. Mounted and in motion, the light should be easily adjustable and stable, with a light beam displaying a fine balance between focus and side bleed. Off the bike, and charging should be hassle free, quick and simple.