The most important aspect of front and back illumination for cyclists is to be seen by, and communicate with, motorists and non-motorists. Like cars, white lights indicate the front of a vehicle and red lights indicate the back of a vehicle. We can all agree that someone who is driving a car at night without their lights is endangering themselves and others. Why should cyclists riding at night without lights be any different?
After four months and nearly 1,000 miles of daily bike commuting, our testing team has selected the top 10 best bike lights for front and back illumination:
The Top 5 Lights for Front Illumination
#1: Fenix BC21R ($96): Projecting a bright, broad beam of 880 lumens, the Fenix BC21R is all about extending the ride time. It comes with a spare rechargeable lithium-ion battery and a power-saving feature called Intelligent Output Downshift that automatically shifts the light down to a lower setting. Its five brightness modes of Turbo (880 lumens), High (380 lumens), Medium (200 lumens), Low (100 lumens) and Flash (alternating 380 lumens and 100 lumens) are accessed with a glove-friendly on/off button that glows in the dark.
Beam projection is outstanding thanks to its Optimized Dual Distance Beam system, a series of grooves on the top one-third of the lens, that redirects a portion of the light downward on the path right in front of the bike while the lower two-thirds of the beam project light down the trail and with a relatively wide angle.
For enhanced safety on urban streets or trails, the Fenix BC21R is equipped with red sidelights that provide 180 degrees of visibility. They are activated when the light is turned on and remain illuminated in all five light modes. When the light is in flash mode, the red lights flash too. fenix.com
#2: Lezyne Macro Drive 1100XL ($100): Projecting a bright, wide, powerful beam of 1100 lumens, the Lezyne Macro Drive 1100XL has six brightness modes of Overdrive (1,100 lumens), Blast (650 lumens), Enduro (450 lumens), Economy (150 lumens), Flash (150 lumens) and Pulse (150 lumens) to provide a variety of illumination levels for urban and mountain bike rides. A large, tactile glove-friendly on/off switch clicks through all the modes.
The battery-indicator light changes color according to the battery level, making it easy to know how much charge remains. For enhanced safety on urban streets or trails, the Lezyne Macro Drive 1100XL LED lamp is slightly recessed on the sides to provide 180 degrees of visibility. lezyne.com
#3: NiteRider Lumina 900 Boost ($79) Projecting a bright, focused, powerful beam of 900 lumens, the NiteRider Lumina 900 Boost offers six brightness modes of Boost (900 lumens), High (700 lumens), Medium (350 lumens), Low (200 lumens), Flash (200 lumens), and Walk (40 lumens) to provide a variety of illumination levels for urban riding, bike commuting and mountain bike rides. The light mode switch is tactile but cushy, making it glove-friendly for regular-weight cycling gloves. However, heavier-weight cold weather gloves make it challenging to find the switch.
The NiteRider Lumina 950 Boost attaches to the handlebars via a high quality silicone mount. And as bike light theft is a reality in urban areas, a quick-release mount that allows the cyclist to simply lift the plastic “trigger” and remove the light when away from the bike. niterider.com
#4: Light & Motion Urban 700 ($80): Projecting a bright, broad, and even beam pattern of 700 lumens, the Light & Motion Urban provides six brightness modes: High (700 lumens), Medium (350 lumens), Low (175 lumens), and Pulse (175 lumens) to provide a variety of illumination levels for urban riding and bike commuting. It features a large, tactile glove-friendly on/off switch and clicks easily between its four modes.
An impressive amber sidelight delivers a pulsing light that increases the cyclist’s visibility in the dark when the light is set to Pulse mode. The Light & Motion Urban 700 attaches to a variety of handlebar diameters via a flexible silicone quick-release mounting strap and a sturdy plastic clip. The rubber strap contains belt-lock notches to ensure the light is secure. While the Light and Motion Urban 700 does not have a quick-release trigger, the silicone mounting strap is flexible enough that it’s quick for the cyclist to detach and re-attach, although it does require a degree of finger strength. lightandmotion.com
#5: Knog Blinder ARC 640 ($90): Hailing from Australia with a broad beam projection of 640 lumens is the 100 percent waterproof (IP rating not listed) Knog Blinder ARC 640. Powered by a USB-rechargeable lithium polymer battery, it is durable and its integrated silicone mounting system accommodates a wide variety of handlebar diameters. It is waterproof and clicks easily between its four modes: High, Medium, Low, and Flash. It is the simplest and most intuitive to operate of all the lights in this lineup. However the small light mode switch is not glove-friendly. Beam projection is sufficient for urban riding and general bike commuting after dark. The Knog Blinder ARC 640 can be charged two ways: Slotted directly into a laptop or via a traditional wall mounted plug. A helmet mounting kit is included as well. knog.com.au
The Top Five Lights for Rear Illumination
#1: Lezyne Laser Drive ($60): With a retina-searing 250 lumens at its highest setting, the Lezyne Laser Drive doesn’t stop there. Not only does it catch the attention of motorists like no other light our testing team has seen, it projects two parallel laser lines on the pavement to create your own virtual bike lane and safety zone. It has a total of nine modes, including two laser-only modes. Our testing team was impressed with the wide lens angle that delivered 180 degrees of visibility. Users will definitely want to avoid looking directly at this light. lezyne.com
#2: NiteRider Sentinel 150 ($55): With its bright 150-lumen output, the NiteRider Sentinel 150 provides exceptional nighttime illumination. It projects laser lines on the ground around the cyclist and bike to create a virtual safety lane. It offers four main light modes and three separate laser modes to ensure that motorists see you day and night. Our testing crew loved the Group Ride Mode (so you can ride with friends and not blind them) and the Daylight Visible Flash to keep you visible during the day. The only downside is it takes a lot of (not-especially-glove-friendly) button pressing to get the setting you want. niterider.com
#3: Light and Motion VIS 180 Pro ($100): With 150-lumen output, the Made-in-the-USA Light and Motion VIS 180 Pro projects 180-degrees of visibility around the cyclist. It offers four operation modes of High (150 lumens with pulse), Medium (125 lumens), Low (75 lumens with pulse) and Paceline (five lumens, amber only), which is perfect for group rides. Amber side lights flash on all settings and its mounting straps are the most durable among all the rear lights tested. Our testing team was impressed with its longevity on one charge, ease of use and exceptional quality. lightandmotion.com
#4: Cygolite Hotshot Pro 150 ($50): Delivering 150 lumens of output at its highest setting, the Cygolite Hotshot Pro 150 is our testing team’s choice for 24-hours-a-day visibility. With six modes (Steady, Zoom, SteadyPulse, Triple Flash, Single Flash, Random Flash) the cyclist’s margin of safety is increased with an extra-wide, long-range beam. Our testing team appreciated how noticeable it was on bright, sunny days as well as in low-light conditions. cygolite.com
#5: Tern Vizy Light ($40): The Tern Vizy proves that rear visibility is about catching the attention of motorists behind you, rather than blinding them with a super-bright light. While the Tern Vizy offers just 60 lumens of total light, it projects downward in a wide 360-degree fully-illuminated circle around the bike and cyclist, making it the most exceptional — and most obvious to motorists — rear bike light in the lineup. Five different modes of light alternate between flashing and a quick-release mounting system makes it simple to switch between bikes or simply remove when away from the bike to prevent theft. ternbicycles.com