4th September 2018

What bicycle lights do I need?


What bicycle lights do I need? | Bike lights

Your bike must be fitted with fully functioning, switched-on front and rear lights when you ride after dark on public roads. This makes sense. It’s also the law in the UK.

But when bike light prices can range from under a tenner to £399 each, you might be looking for a steer on which bicycle light(s) to choose – hence this handy guide.

Bike light brightness is measured in lumens

A lumen is today’s standard measurement of light output. While the lamp’s build quality and the angle of its beam will influence its output, it is safe to make the assumption that while even a 5-10 lumen bike light will get you seen, a 50 lumen light will make you more conspicuous, especially from a distance. Similarly a 1,000 lumen front light will reveal more of the road/path ahead than a 500 lumen lamp.

bicycle light lumens | Bike Lights

A 20 lumen bicycle light vs. a 500 lumen light

cateye orb light sets for bicycles bicycle | Bicycle Lights | Bike Lights

The CatEye Orb Light Set

“City” Lights

You ride solely in town under streetlamps.

You can get by with a set of ‘be-seen’ lights. A be-seen front lamp barely illuminates the path or road ahead. However it does fulfil a bike light’s primary function of getting you seen by other road users after dark.

Be-seen lights, such as these sub-£20 sets by Cateye are the least expensive to buy and will do the trick on lit roads. Read our Best Bike Lights under £50 for more recommendations.

If you ride mostly in town but sometimes on unlit sections such as canal towpaths, you’ll need a beam to keep you on the right track (perhaps literally) and alert you of impending potholes.

To that end, we would recommend a front lamp with at least 100 lumen output. For more staff recommendations on bike lights, read our blog.

“Rural” Lights 

Lezyne Hecto Drive 400 XL Front Light | Bike lights | Bicycle lights

Lezyne Hecto Drive 400 XL Front Light will brighten up your path with 400 lumens

You sometimes ride out of town, on road or off road, perhaps for commuting, maybe for exercise, always (we hope) for fun.

You won’t regret upgrading to a more powerful 400-1,000 lumen front lamp.

A headlamp this bright lets you see well ahead, and gives you early warning of broken tarmac, loose gravel, broken glass and so on when road riding. It should also be bright enough to light up blue/red-grade mountain bike trails – especially if matched with a decent head torch.

If you are looking for an especially well made front lamp with this kind of output, we heartily recommend you browse our Lezyne range, every one with a tool-free rubber strap fitting for easy interchangeability between bikes.

“Trail” Lights

You appreciate having the trails virtually to yourself (or selves) after dark. You a mountain biking night rider.

One of the 400-to-1,000 lumen ‘rural riding’ lamps just described may well suffice for off road riding. If you’re into more adventurous / faster riding, bombing round red/black routes or exploring Highland glens or Yorkshire Dales, you’ll be amazed by the searchlight-like power (up to 4,500 lumens) of the latest Exposure lights – every one, CNC machined in Sussex.

Exposure Joystick MK13 Carbon Rear Light | Bicycle Lights | Bike Lights

Exposure Joystick MK13 Carbon Rear Light with 1,000 lumens

New developments in bicycle lights

COB Lights by ‘Moon’

Pioneered by Moon, COB technology has taken the be-seen LED bike light to a new level. COB means Chips On Board. Instead of relying on a single or a few individual LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes), a COB light has a strip of up to 30 LED chips to create a noticeably brighter light.

Like Lezyne, Moon lights are USB rechargeable and feature robust rubber fittings for fast interchangeability between bikes.

Daytime Lights

One of the benefits of these wonderfully efficient COB lights is they offer a Daytime Flash Mode option. As the name implies, this is bright enough to be seen in daylight. Smarter still, it pulses comparatively slowly (around once a second) so Daytime Flash doesn’t prematurely drain the battery. Offering up to 25 hours burn time per USB charge, there’s really no reason not to use these lights whenever you ride.

Polite Request

While it’s empowering to light the road or trail ahead with 1,500 lumens, its daft and it’s wrong to blind oncoming pedestrians and traffic. Take advantage of the fact that today’s brightest front lights make it easy to click between high and low power as conditions dictate.

Bicycle Lights | Bike Lights

8 comments on “What bicycle lights do I need?

  1. Matt Hodges on

    Your guidance appears helpful but unfortunately it is not legally very sound in England. I don’t know about any differences in Scottish law.
    Take a look at http://www.cyclinguk.org/cyclists-library/regulations/lighting-regulations
    While I am sure following your guidance would avert any attention from the police it could leave you in a very vulnerable position if you are involved in an accident. An insurance company may well try to get out of paying if your lights do not meet the strict legal requirements. If you injure someone the police and prosecution lawyers may well use the fact that your bike is not strictly legal to prosecute for “furious and wanton driving” as in the regent London case against Alliston.

    • Web Master on

      Hi Matt, thanks for your comment. All of the lights we stock (i.e. all of the lights included in the links above) are CE certified and legally sound in the event of an incident. As for what lawyers and insurance companies might say, they are famously slippery and we won’t attempt to speak on their behalf in terms of what they would consider an irresponsible, ‘wanton and furious’ bike light.

      • MJ Ray on

        You don’t sell any lights which are sufficient to comply with the Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations, do you? Last time I checked, you only sold so-called “additional” lights which must be used with a BS / K-marked or equivalent European standard light. I’ve asked you to start selling RVLR-ready lights such as the Cateye GVolt or any of the numerous K-marked lights from the likes of B+M, Axa and so on, mostly without reasonable reply. To keep promoting inadequate lights without warning people they won’t be legal to ride on roads without further action doesn’t seem very transparent and open… in other words, not very co-op, is it?

        • Web Master on

          Hi MJ, the legality or otherwise of bicycle lights is indeed a minefield. All our lights are CE certified which indicate their conformity to health, safety and environmental protection standards for products sold within the European Economic Area. They are the lights that we use on our own bicycles, and as a Co-op we continue to promote safe, legal cycling. We take our lead from the common sense approach of Cycling UK:

          ‘Provided you show some kind of white light in front and red behind, you are unlikely to be challenged.’ See full article: http://www.cyclinguk.org/cyclists-library/regulations/lighting-regulations

          • MJ Ray on

            In other words, you’re promoting safe-but-unlikely-to-be-legal cycling. That’s fine but you really ought to be clear that the law says we need better lights than you sell. CE marking doesn’t meant they comply with UK lighting regulations

          • Web Master on

            Hi MJ, this from our Accessories Buyer James: The technology has moved faster than the legal standards, which are outdated. Virtually all of the lights in the market today are more visible than the lights which meet the standards. The lights which we sell are certainly above those standards.

  2. Chris Laughton on

    I see you are advocating ‘pulsing’ lights aka as flashing or strobing. In principle this is serious problem according to this BBC guidance “…When using stroboscopic lighting effects, a key concern must be safety. A proportion of people with photo-sensitive epilepsy may be affected by strobe lighting, and the effect may also produce undesirable sensations amongst the general population if used without due regard. Certain people with epilepsy and photosensitivity may suffer a seizure if exposed to flashing or strobe lighting. Disturbed vision leading to trips or falls.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/…/aztopics/strobe-lighting.html

    In Germany, the road traffic permit regulations, Straßenverkehrszulassungsordnung (abbreviated StVZO) appear in translation to forbid flashing lights on bicycles due to reduction of distance estimation.

    It’s one thing to sell flashing bike lights but its another to advocate using them. It would be nice to see the Ed Bike Co-op taking a more considerate lead on this issue.

    • Web Master on

      Hi Chris, following the 2005 amendment to The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations it is now also legal (and we assume by that, safe) to have a flashing light on a pedal bike as long as it flashes between 60 and 240 times per minute.


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