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Over the past decade, brands have made big improvements in increasing the output and reducing the weight of their bike lights. That progress is driven by advances in two key technologies: the switch to efficient LED lamps that produce dramatically more light per watt than older halogen or metal-halide bulbs, and lithium batteries that pack more power into smaller packages. The result is brighter lights with similar or longer run times in smaller, lighter systems.
See at-a-glance reviews below of five of our top bike-light choices, or scroll deeper for more high-ranking options, plus a few questions you should answer to help narrow down your picks.
Where and When Will You Use the Lights?
If you typically commute to work in daylight and low light, a simple front and rear blinker set should suffice. If you ride before sunrise and after sunset, a more powerful front headlight to pair with a blinking taillight is necessary. And while it might seem counterintuitive, remember that the brighter the ambient light, the brighter the system you’ll need for visibility. Rear blinkers that put out 15 lumens may seem bright after dark but are harder to pick out in full sunlight.
We know that many guidelines from health organizations and state officials or land managers limit riding and access right now. Night riding on trails is not as safe or available as it was. But more people than ever are dependent on their bicycles for transportation (at all times of the day) and many of the lights here will make your journey easier and safer. And if you are looking for trail lights, some of the ones we recommend here are on sale. It’s a great time, if you can, to support you local shop and gear up for the fall.
Do You Need a Rear Light Only or a Full Set?
A rear blinker light is a good place to start if you don’t have lights now and ride only in daylight. But consider that being seen from the front is important for safety as well. Plus, you’ll want to be able to see what’s out in front of you. If your budget allows, a front and rear light set can offer a slight discount over buying each separately.
Where Do You Want to Mount Your Light?
Most headlights mount to the handlebar, but some models can also be helmet-mounted. The handlebar mount is a good first location—it’s more secure and isn’t dependent on a snug helmet fit for steady illumination. Helmet mounts are more appropriate for night mountain bike rides, for which you may want illumination to follow your gaze (say, around a switchback) rather than where the bike is pointing. A helmet mount can also be a good secondary location if you run two headlights, as the beam patterns from the different positions fill in shadowed areas and provide more even illumination.
Is Brightness All That Matters?
Lights are typically rated in lumens, which is a measure of the total light output of the system. It’s not perfect, but it’s a decent gauge of brightness. And there are other important factors, chiefly beam pattern (how wide and far the light reaches, and how evenly it illuminates), which relies heavily on the geometry of the reflector in the light. Some companies, like Light & Motion, have useful comparison tools on their websites to show how their beam patterns stack up to the competition.
What Should You Look For and What Should You Avoid?
When purchasing new lights, look for sturdy, no-slip attachments; an easily removable light body for charging and theft prevention; battery indicator lights or sounds to alert you when it’s time to recharge the system; and an IPX water-resistance rating of five or higher (anything lower and a splash, spray, or spritz is as much as they can handle). Try to avoid anything that’s not a purpose-designed bike light. Sure, you can duct-tape a Maglite to your handlebar (yes, there are even handlebar mounts for them). That doesn’t make it a bike light.
How We Tested
Every light on this list has been thoroughly tested in all conditions by our team of editors. We start by researching the market, surveying user reviews, speaking with product managers and engineers, and using our own experience with these lights to determine the best options. Then we spend many hours riding many miles using these lights for their intended purpose—as well as unintended purposes—to push the limits of their functionality. We’ve commuted to and from work with them, used them for nighttime road and trail rides, even tested the water resistance of one with an unintentional trip through the washing machine. We gauged battery life based on real-life usage, even if it meant riding the last mile or two home in the dark when the light died on us. And because these things are meant to live on our bikes, and everything else on our bikes is meant to look good, we evaluated them on their aesthetics as well.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more feature-rich taillight than the 50-lumen, USB-rechargeable, 30-buck Hotshot. Two buttons allow you to toggle between customizable blinking and strobe modes, as well as six programmed daytime and nighttime modes: steady, zoom, triple flash, random flash, DayLightning (bright flashes to call attention to you when the sun’s up), and SteadyPulse (a beam that gradually changes intensity to keep motorists alert at night). Though the Cygolite is intended for commuter use, we found the clamp is strong enough to survive bumping and jostling over rocks and roots during mountain bike rides, too. And after accidentally sending it through the wash, we can vouch for its water-resistance.
Serfas Thunderbolt USB
The Serfas Thunderbolt has everything you need in a taillight. Two included rubber straps let you mount it almost anywhere and the light’s no-slip exterior ensures it holds fast to a seatpost, a seatstay, or elsewhere. Serfas claims the strip of 30 mini LED lights can grab motorists’ attention for 2.5 hours on the high-flash setting (35 lumens) and as many as 8.5 hours on the low-flash setting (10 lumens). There are also steady low and high modes. An indicator light warns you when the juice is low, and charging via USB takes about 3.5 hours.
Light & Motion Vya Smart
In addition to the standard features, the Vya—a 50-lumen, USB rechargeable taillight visible at just over half a mile and lasting up to eight hours on a full charge—does something not many others do. It uses smart sensor technology to adjust to the ideal light mode. Simply insert the Vya into its mount, start pedaling, and the light turns on when it senses motion, flashing in daylight and shining steadily at night. Stop pedaling (or remove the light altogether) and it shuts off. But don’t worry when you stop at intersections; there’s a slight delay before the system shuts off.
Lezyne LED Femto Drive Rear
The Femto taillight is small, simple, and unobstrusive. It comes in seven anodized colors, including purple and gold, and attaches just about anywhere via one stretchy strap or its clip-on system. The red lens, which doubles as the power button, shines in 180 degrees but puts out only seven lumens (a flash boosts visibility). This isn’t the brightest taillight out there, and it runs on two single-use batteries rather than a more convenient USB charge. But for the price, it’s a handy option for clipping to backpacks, belts, or pockets.
NiteRider Lumina OLED 1200 Boost
Commuting, mountain biking, and gravel riding—the rechargeable Lumina is good for them all. At full power, it blasts out 1,200 lumens in a widespread beam that nicely illuminates the road or trail up to 20 yards ahead. Its OLED screen shows the remaining battery life for whichever of the five light levels and four daylight flash modes (from 275 to the max 1,200 lumens) you’re using. When the battery gets close to empty, the Lumina automatically shifts down to the lowest setting to preserve juice. In testing, we found the battery indicator to be pretty accurate, and in twilight and post-sunset riding conditions were able to get almost two hours of life by making good use of the various settings to save power. After 15 months of consistent use, albeit less in the summer, this light is still one of our favorites.
Blackburn Countdown 1600
On high, steady mode, this handlebar-mounted headlight emits 1,200 lumens and lasts a claimed two hours, long enough to fit in a respectable after-hours trail ride. (You can double the battery life and cut the lumens in half if you run it on medium.) The backlit digital display is easy to read and lets you know how much juice is left depending on which mode the light’s in. Charge time via USB is a claimed four hours, but the battery will reach 80 percent after being plugged in for just 10 minutes, according to Blackburn. And the Countdown’s mount allows you to adjust the angle of the beam, so you can point it wherever it’s needed most—handy if you’re simultaneously running a helmet-mounted light.
Light & Motion Trail 1000 FC
The Trail 1000 FC headlight is compact and easy to attach to a handlebar using a rubber strap or to a helmet with the included mount. It also includes an interface for a GoPro mount. Ready to go in 2.5 hours via USB charging, it lasts a claimed hour and a half on high. This light is best kept to mellower trails—with a max output of 1,000 lumens, the beam projects far enough that you can see what’s coming in plenty of time but not enough to make this your go-to light for technical terrain. For those you’ll want a higher-powered, bar-mounted light. Bonus: The Trail 1000’s long shape is comfortable to hold as a flashlight in case you drop your keys midride and need to search for them.
Bontrager Ion 200 and Flare RT
For such tiny lights, the 200-lumen Ion 200 RT (front) and Flare RT (rear) daytime lights pack a lot of power—Bontrager says they’re visible from 1.25 miles away. With multiple steady and flash modes and the ability to control them from your cycling computer, they’re also the most user-friendly lights on this list. The taillight clip is angled to match your seat tube angle, shining the light straight back rather than slightly downward, and the USB charging port has an IPX7 rating, meaning it can be submerged for 30 minutes in up to one meter of water. Be sure to push the rubber charging port cover firmly back in place when removing the light from the charger. Should you forget, road spray can get into the USB port and short out the light. It’s an expensive set, but it stands the test of time. One of our editors is still using the same taillight he originally tested when he reviewed the light in 2018.
Garmin Varia RTL510 (add $100 for Radar Display Unit)
The Varia has all the typical features of a taillight: Solid, night flash and day flash modes, 220 degrees and up to a mile of visibility, and a slim vertical design that easily attaches to a seatpost. So why the high price? It can also warn you of approaching vehicles. Using a radar display unit (for which you’ll have to pay an extra $100) or a compatible Garmin device (the list is endless), the Varia senses vehicles approaching from behind and sends a visual and audible alert to your device. It also automatically adjusts its blinking pattern to alert drivers of your presence. It’s not as useful on busy roads when there are always cars around, but it provides additional comfort and awareness in areas with intermittent traffic, especially as quieter hybrid and electric cars become more prevalent.
REFUN Bicycling Light Set
This light set makes no bold claims about being visible for over a mile, nor does it have rechargeable batteries. It’s refreshingly simple and very effective. Push on the top of the light to toggle between steady and flash modes. Push the top again to turn the light off. CR2032 batteries power the lights for enough hours to get most of us through a solid month of riding, although they get a little dimmer after about 36 hours. The set includes two front lights, two rear lights, and eight spare batteries.
Ascher USB Rechargeable Bike Light Set
They aren’t as small and sleek as the Bontrager Ion 200 and Flare RT light set, but these lights are $106 cheaper, so the extra size and less refined shape is a reasonable tradeoff. Choose between two steady and two flash modes, and confidently get 2.5 to 10 hours of runtime, depending on flash mode. We consistently got more than 10 hours of run time on fast flashing mode and love these lights because we can safely do multiple rides on a single charge. Even better, these batteries don’t deteriorate quickly—we’ve been using our set for more than a year. Last but not least, the micro USB charging port has a rubber cover so there is no need to fret if you get caught in the rain.
Blackburn Luminate 360
The Luminate 360 set takes Blackburn’s already popular Dayblazer 400 and Dayblazer 65 head and taillights and adds two side lights, which you can attach to the fork, down tube, or top tube. This comes in especially useful when you’re crossing an intersection and need drivers that might want to make the right turn to see you. Count on getting a 90-minute run time at 85 lumens or up to six hours at 50 lumens on the low strobe setting. The Dayblazer 400 headlight remains the same, giving you four modes to choose from, ranging from 200 to 400 lumens with 10- and one-hour run times, respectively. The Dayblazer 65 taillight can shine for up to six hours at 35 lumens, or 1.6 hours if you run it in the 50-lumen solid mode. All four lights mount via rubber straps and can be recharged with a micro-USB cable.
Gyhuego USB Rechargeable Bike Light
This budget light found on Amazon makes bold claims: 10 hours of run time at 3,000 lumens. We were unable to verify the lumens claim but, from using this light, we can attest to the fact that it is incredibly bright and the battery life is astounding—10 hours of run time on full power was easily replicated. Once battery life gets low, just after the 10 hour mark, the light switches to a lower setting to save power but keeps running for nearly four more hours. We haven’t used it long enough to know how the battery stands up to repeated charging cycles, so check back for updates. The set includes a taillight, which leaves something to be desired in terms of visibility, but for 23 dollars it’s hard to be upset about that.