Best bike lights and hi-viz gear for cycling at night, and through long, dark tunnels

Bicycle lights are essential in the dark, despite what some London cyclists seem to believe. Now the clocks have gone back, it's dark at about 3pm in the UK. Meanwhie, the streets are both thick with traffic and trafficked by the thick.

Even the most fashion-conscious rider should also consider employing hi-viz kit in twilight and at night, too.

Yes, yes, we know that black cycling kit is cool, manly and very, very slimming but the night sky also tends to be black. That means no-one will see how dandy you look if you go monochrome after dark – and that includes drivers of 7.5-tonne trucks.

How to buy and fit bike lights

The first thing to say abut bike lights is that, unless you are going to be off-roading at night, brighter isn't necessarily better. We'd say the key things are battery life and how well shaped the front beam is.

In town, an LED front bike light rated at 300-500 lumens is more than adequate. On the rear, 60-70 is fine.

That said, most modern front lights have multiple power modes, so you could buy something more powerful (1,000 lumens, say) and run it on a lower setting, keeping the full beam in reserve for foggy nights in town or dark, country lanes.

Most riders these days seem to opt for flashing settings on front and rear but there is a lot to be said for using a constant beam - either on its own or in addition to a flashing one - even though this will drain the battery faster. Flashers make judging distance harder and can be irritating for other road users.

What is definitely irritating for other road users is shining one of today's high-powered LED beams straight in their eyes, so for heaven's sake, please point your god-damn front lamp downwards. Thanks.

Fitting will depend on the layout of your bike but do take the time to ensure your lights, particularly the rear, are actually visible to someone coming up behind you in a car, monster truck or steamroller. Yes, we know that's incredibly obvious advice but it's remarkable how even experienced cyclists sometimes forget to follow it.

It's so easy for luggage racks to get in the way or for rear lights to be angled too steeply downwards when attached to a seat post. That's why attaching lights to clothing and helmets is increasingly popular.

One final thing to note is that many lights these days are rechargeable, and a number of compact rear lights take watch batteries.

That's fine and dandy in some ways, but does mean that once you're on the road, you can't just whack in a new pair of AAs if you run out of juice. So make sure you buy a light with a long enough battery life for your purposes, and remember to charge it regularly.

Which light is best?

This is a very tough call, due to the endlessly varying requirements and preferences cyclists have. As a general rule, we find you can't go too far wrong with Exposure, Cateye and Lezyne lights.

However, in recent years we've mainly been using Light & Motion's Urban family of front lights, and can find very little to complain about, so that's what we're going to recommend. Any of the rears listed here will do a sterling job.

Front lights

1. Light and Motion Urban 350

A perfect commuter light

Maximum lumens: 350 | Battery life: from 1.5 hours | Rechargeable: yes

Compact and lightweight
Excellent light
Easy to attach
Needs regular charging

For urban commuting, this light, compact, USB-charging front lamp is very hard to beat.

Its highest setting is a bright, 350-lumen light that runs for 90 minutes. We've used it while riding down the rural 'cycle paths' from St Albans to London and it's been sufficient to avoid us dying, and in town it's perfect.

With its additional side lights, the Urban 350 maintains visibility even on the lowest, 75-lumen strobe setting, which last for up to 6 hours. Although obviously, at that level it doesn't throw much actual illumination on the road, in urban areas that's not too problematic.

The rubber, pull-to-fit handlebar attachment is so reliable and incredibly simple to use, that it makes you wonder why some supposedly urban-friendly lights still require a screwdriver to attach and detach.

Need more lumens? L&M also do similarly compact, solidly built and generally groovy 500 and 800 rated lights.

Buy Light and Motion Urban 350

2. Blackburn Central Front Smart Light

All-day (and night), self-adjusting front light

Maximum lumens: 500 | Battery life: from 1.5 hours | Rechargeable: yes

Longer battery life in smart mode
Strong light
Not as solid or compact as the Light and Motion

Have you noticed that most modern cars now feature some sort of LED daytime running light set-up? It's a safety thing and it's slowly making its way to two-wheels.

To facilitate that, this ultra-tough smart light from Blackburn cleverly adjusts its brightness and focuses its beam depending on ambient light levels and weather conditions.

That means you can switch it on, no matter the time of day, and benefit from the extra visibility but really reap the rewards when the sun sets or the storm clouds gather, without worrying unduly about battery levels.

It charges in four hours via USB and lasts up to 12.5-hours on its smart setting. Even set to full, 500-lumen beam with no smartness at all, it'll last a good 90 minutes.

Buy Blackburn Central Front Smart Light

3. Supernova E3 Pure 3 Dynamo Light

Literally brilliant, pedal-powered lamp

Maximum lumens: approx 230 | Battery life: N/A | Rechargeable: N/A

No battery required
Incredibly small and well made
Very bright
You will need to pedal to keep it shining, of course

Never underestimate the usefulness of dynamo-powered lights. They can't run out of battery, but they can give plenty of light.

This is the smallest legal road light with an aluminium housing, but don't be fooled by its size. It's much brighter than the headline lumen rating - 205 lumens at 25kph - might suggest.

That's thanks to its innovative inner housing design, which directs the heat of the LED straight to the cooling fins for maximum brightness.

Forget about damage because it's sealed watertight. And if that doesn't seal the deal, it comes with a five year warranty.

4. Lezyne PowerDrive 900XL

Literally brilliant, pedal-powered lamp

Maximum lumens: 900 | Battery life: From 1 hr 25m | Rechargeable: Yes

Very powerful LED beam
Numerous power options
A bit over-powered for a lot of peoples' purposes

Bike lights aren't always just there to help you be seen. In particular, those of us who live outside of the bright lights of the city need something that will also help us ride quickly and safely in the dark.

Lezyne's Power Drive 900XL light is just such a thing, but it is priced not unlike a normal bike light.

With 900 lumens of lighting power at it's brightest setting, you can hack along unlit back roads at a hell of a pace.

This Lezyne has six lighting modes, so you can dim the high beam to avoid blinding oncoming traffic, or use a lower setting to eke out more battery life.

At its lowest, 150-lumen economy and flashing settings, it'll last a very decent 11 hours.

Buy Lezyne PowerDrive 900XL

5. Lucas KOTR City 500F

Versatile, long-lasting light can give a bright beam for 2 hours or flash for nearly 6 days!

Maximum lumens: 500 | Battery life: From 2 hrs | Rechargeable: Yes

Strong, powerful 180-degree illumination
Good battery life
Decent VFM
Relatively slow, 6-hour charging time
A bit chunky

KOTR stands for King of the Road - well, of course it does - and with a whopping 500 lumens of lighting power available, and a maximum battery life of 120 hours (albeit on a relatively weedy, flashing mode) it's hard to argue with that label.

The City rules in urban areas. Sure, the light is bright, but that's only the start; side lenses add 180 degree visibility so that you'll be seen as you pull up to junctions.

An added bonus is that it can work as a USB battery, so you can get a cheeky charge for your phone… Or your USB rear light, come to that.

NB: weirdly, Lucas also does a light called the "F500". That's not the one you want, unless you're after a sportier option with less all-round illumination.

Buy Lucas KOTR City 500F

6. Bontrager Transmitr

Handlebar-mounted lighting control system of professional quality

Maximum lumens: Varies | Battery life: Varies | Rechargeable: Yes

Some excellent compatible lights
Lets you add indicators to your ride
Instant control
Nobody really needs this as such, and it ain't cheap

Not so much a light as a lighting system, Bontrager's Transmitr is one of those gadgets you didn't know you needed until you use it.

The handlebar mounted remote lets you control up to seven compatible lights – the Ion 700 front (£110) and Flare rear (£50) are especially tasty.

You can not only switch both lights off at the same time, and scroll through different settings on each light from your bars, but, if you have two of the ANT+ compatible rears, you can even make them work as indicators.

Yes, we appreciate this is by no means essential, but it is addictive and the compatible lights are just dandy.

Buy Bontrager Transmitr

7. Garmin Varia Smart Bike Lights

Handlebar-mounted lighting control system of professional quality

Maximum lumens: front 600, rear 28 | Battery life: Front from 2.5 hrs, rear from 4hrs | Rechargeable: Yes

The most advanced lighting system we've seen
Also among the most expensive if you factor in the cost of a Garmin Edge computer
A wider choice of lights would be good

An even more advanced rival to the above, this can be paired with one of Garmin's latest cycling computers to give a genuinely revolutionary lighting system.

Once linked, you have a headlight that automatically projects further ahead or closer as you accelerate and brake. The rear light also glows more intensely when braking is sensed.

Feeling flush? Start with the front and rear light bundle, then add a second rear, allowing the option of using them as indicators.

Oh, and there's also a compatible 'bike radar' that you might also want to shell for. It lets you know when over-eager traffic is heading up your jacksy.

Lights don't get much smarter than these Bobby dazzlers, in short.

Buy Garmin Varia Smart Bike Lights

8. Cygolite Metro 360 USB

Textbook single LED urban illumination

Maximum lumens: 360 | Battery life: Fronm 1hr 45m | Rechargeable: Yes

Textbook urban light
Potentially handy daytime mode
Pricier than the similar Light & Motion Urban 350

Comparable to Light and Motion's list-topper in terms of specs, compact robustness and excellent quality of light, this boasts 360 lumens up front and an element of side illumination too.

With both daylight and night-time friendly flash modes this is a great all-rounder.

We do prefer Light and Motion's more straightforward mount, but if you're otherwise inclined, this is a great choice.

Buy Cygolite Metro 550 USB

9. Blaze Laserlight

A good light with a very novel additional safety feature

Maximum lumens: 300 | Battery life: From 2 hrs | Rechargeable: Yes

Excellent battery life
Light + laser illumination
Rather costly
We're not quite convinced about the laser

The Laserlight works as a perfectly decent front light, but it's more than that.

As the name suggests, it laser-projects the image of a green bicycle onto the road ahead of you.

What's impressive is that even with the laser on constantly and the full 300 lumens coming out of its LED, the Blaze still lasts for two hours. Make the laser flash and dial the light down to 100 lumens and it'll run for over six hours.

So why paint a laser bat signal on the road? The idea is that bike will make you more visible to motorists by, for instance, nosing into a junction before you, thereby pre-warning the impatient and quite possibly over-tired driver of a white van of your impending arrival.

We have got to be honest; we're not convinced that makes it worth it's fairly high price. It can be off-putting to other road users and we're not sure it has the benefits claimed for it.

But what do we know? Santander is currently fitting it to all of its sponsored hire bikes in London.

Buy Blaze Laserlight

10. Knog Frog Strobe Front and Rear Light Set

Perfect lights for well-lit roads and when your rechargeable has died

Maximum lumens: front 8.5, rear 2.5 | Battery life: Front from 50 hrs, rear from 40hrs | Rechargeable: No

Cheap, robust and effective
Perfect backup lights
FOUR watch batteries?
Rural night rides not recommended

Made to battle the elements, and easy to pop on and off, this silicone built set shoots a combined 11 lumens of brightness and will give from 40 to 80 hours of illumination from four coin cell batteries, which are included.

Their longevity is based on which of its lighting modes you choose to use. Options include steady, strobe and 'disco strobe', if you want to cycle back into the 70s.

The cheap and cheerful Knogs are our pick for back-up lights, or merely low-ish light/heavy winter clouds, as opposed to deathly black.

These also fit cheaply into the burgeoning trend for having lights on even during the day, as on modern cars.

Rear lights

1. Exposure Blaze

The daddy of all tail lights

Maximum lumens: 80 | Battery life: From 6 hrs | Rechargeable: Yes

Extremely bright
Easy to fit and remove
Decent battery life
Arguably over-specced for some purposes
Expensive as rear lights go

There's bright, and then there's the 80-lumen Exposure Blaze. It's one of the best rear lights available.

There are three brightness settings with either constant or flashing modes in each, and the rechargeable battery can power the 80-lumen light for up to 48 hours in flash mode.

Yes, it is much pricier than many rear lights, but the Blaze is great when you need real reassurance that you're visible. In fact, if you ride in a chaingang, riders following you might need shades. 

Cateye TL LD610

Reliable old stager that won't let you down

Maximum lumens: not quoted | Battery life: From 30 hrs | Rechargeable: No, takes 2x AAA

Very good illumination
Long battery life
We're not huge fans of Cateye's mounts

This has been around for yonks, and offers very little in the way of innovation. It's just five LEDs and an annoyingly fiddly thing to attach them to your frame. 

However, once fitted you don't really need to worry about the mount again, other than to tighten it up periodically, and it's a textbook rear light: tough, water-resistant, bright enough for day and night use and with lengthy battery life.

The TL LD610 takes two AAA batteries, so is easy to keep running as you can buy them anywhere and carry spares. 

Battery life ranges up to a very passable 60 hours in its three flashing modes (note that you're likely to get a bit less if you use rechargeable AAAs).

In short: boring but effective.

Hi-viz gear

Please note: there are multiple product types here, and as such are not listed in any particular order. It's all good.

Proviz Reflect360 CRS Cycling Jacket

Proviz has long been the go-to brand when it comes to providing eye-burstingly bright high-visibility gear for winter cyclists and its CRS (Colour Reflective System) jacket is now sold in over 40 countries.

The only issue with previous generation gear is that the silvery hue of the material isn't very visible during overcast days, where motorists haven't bothered to switch their headlamps on.

Problem solved: the latest jacket comes in five new vibrant colours, which manage to attract attention by day (and not look too ridiculous off the bike), then shine like a lighthouse following a gas explosion when darkness creeps in.

Lumo Bermondsey Backpack

Lumo's light-up cycle wear recently featured on The Apprentice, but don't let that you put you off. 

We love its best stuff as much for its stylish look and excellent design as its built in LEDs, and that goes for this light-festooned urban backpack as much as it does its clothing.

The water-resistant, waxed canvas and Italian leather straps look great and there's plenty of space for a laptop, spare clothes and your packed lunch, while red LEDs on the rear and white ones on the straps provide decent levels of added visibility to complement your bike's various illuminations.

It is a bit pricey, but think of it as both a very stylish backpack and a potential life saver, and it doesn't seem as overpriced.

Rapha Reflective Climber's Shoes

"Sweet Jesus! My eyes!" we hear you cry. Good, because that's exactly the reaction Rapha wanted to achieve when it created these ludicrously bright road cycling shoes.

The uppers on these glow-in-the-dark monstrosties are constructed with a reflective mesh-backed synthetic leather, chosen for its low weight and exceptional breathability, while the soles are none other than the very stiff, extremely light and stupidly complex-sounding EC90 SLXII.

It's a proper pro-spec shoe that also, clearly, benefits from being extremely visible at night. Great for all those Chris Froome wannabes who want to put in the training miles this winter.

Buy Rapha Reflective Climber's Shoes

Albedo100 Invisible Bright

Spray this on your clothes or bike (make sure you buy the right variety for each) and its invisible until lights hit the transparent glue and reflective glass microspheres that make up the paint. Then it gives off a ghostly silvery glow. There's also a version for your pets, believe it or not.

We could add that it also offers all manner of invisible-genital-painting-based hi-jinks potential on friend's clothes, but that would be childish. Anyway, it's okay; it can be washed off.

POC Octal AVIP MIPS Road Helmet

With more acronyms than a military handbook, this pro-spec road bike helmet claims to be the absolute pinnacle of cranium safety, with the added bonus of sporting reflective patches for improved visibility in the dark.

The AVIP bit stands for Attention, Visibility, Interaction and Protection, although we'd argue that the first three points all relate to the same thing: the eye-catching colour ways and reflective stickers.

However, there's no denying that Swedish brand POC takes safety seriously, as the MIPS bit translates to: Multi-directional Impact Protection System, which reduces the rotational forces to the brain in the case of an oblique impact.

It's not cheap but hey, have you seen the price of a new brain, these days?

Altura Night Vision Commuter Jersey

Riding in high-visibility, reflective gear used to mean looking like you'd just finished your shift on the bin lorry or helping children cross the road. Now, even if you have just completed the last rubbish collection of the day, you can be seen, be comfortable and look vaguely stylish.

British brand Altura's Night Vision jerseys are among the best shiny biking products out there. They're well made, brilliantly fitting, good looking and have excellent thermal properties - ie, they're warm without cooking you down to a sweating ragu. They also have 360-degree reflectivity which is, of course, the main point of a product with Night Vision in the name…

There's a nice, short-sleeved version available too, but maybe save that for spring.

Prologo Onetouch-2 Handlebar Tape

Handlebar tape may not be the sexiest cycling product on the market but it is the finishing touch to any steed that prevents hands embarrassingly slipping from the bars and the ensuing massive crashes.

Prologo has taken its grippy stuff one step further by decking this ultra-comfortable, Polygrip offering with neat reflective strips that light up like a Christmas tree as soon as a vehicle's headlights dance off the surface.

The tape has a foam core, which is sandwiched in polyurethane, to offer superb grip, vibration damping, airflow and blood flow stimulation. It can also be easily applied to anything from a stylish single speed racer to a cast iron workhorse.

Castelli Reflex Overshoes

There's nothing pretty about donning the Lycra, saddling up and hitting the open road when it dark, thundery and generally grim outside. There's also nothing pretty about the sort of garments hardcore cyclists must wear in order to stay dry... and visible.

These Castelli overshoes have been designed to protect your expensive road shoes from dirt and water, as well as shine brightly at night to improve safety during the long winter months. They do a sterling job.

Sizing is rather on the tight side, so order a size or two above your usual, if buying online.

Buy Castelli Reflex Overshoes

dhb Flashlight Highline Waterproof Jacket

Wiggle's own brand has massively upped its game in the quality department but managed to remain impressively affordable and this Flashlight Highline is a great example of this.

It has been crafted for 'the serious commuter', according to official spiel, which means it features a technical three-layer construction that is epically waterproof, taped zip seams to ensure not a drop of precipitation reaches your shirt and 'critically' positioned 3M Scotchlite eflective prints and trim for the highest reflectivity.

It won't win many style points - it looks a lot better in black than it does fluro - but it will keep you warm and dry.

Buy dhb Flashlight Highline Waterproof Jacket

HipLok FLX

The darker months all too often tempt cyclists into an early evening ride with balmy temperatures and beautiful sunsets, only to leave them stranded without a light when gloom rapidly prevails.

The brilliant HipLok FLX features a high visibility red LED that is incorporated into the neat 'Clip+Ride' design. Simply clip the small to the back of your jersey or rucksack and then pedal away.

When the loo break/restaurant/book club beckons, simply whip out the retractable steel cable lock and lash it to something sturdy. Clearly, it's not the sort of thing you want to lock your pride and joy up with for any length of time, but it's a handy solution for a pit stop.

If you're after something tougher, there's the Hiplok Gold Superbright. This is about triple the price of the FLX and much heavier, but that's cos it has - and flaunts in its name - a Gold 'Sold Secure' rating.

Buy HipLok FLX

B'Twin 500 Winter Gloves

Designed to offer warmth and protection from the elements over longer rides, these snug digit-warmers pack plenty of features into a package that costs less than your weekly takeaway coffee habit.

Reflective detailing, a foam-padded palm, fitted cuff, water repellent outer fabric and a smartphone compatible finger make these well worth a purchase if you're thinking of braving the cold this winter.

Buy Decathlon B'Twin 500 Winter Gloves