Best bike lights: LED headlights for cycling at night safely

Fire up your bicycle light and head out into the black night with a spring in your step, a song in your heart and significantly lowered risk of mortality

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Bicycle front 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. Meanwhile, the streets are both thick with traffic and trafficked by the thick.

British law states that cyclists using the road after dark must have a white front light and a rear red light if they are to avoid a stern word from the local Bobby, but it is also just common sense. Especially as today's LED lights allow more brilliant illumination, for longer, at lower cost than old-fashioned bulb lights.

Hacking around in your ultra-cool, super-slimming black cycling gear during the darker hours might be the ultimate style statement but it means no-one can see how dandy you look – and that includes drivers of 7.5-tonne trucks.

Of course, reflectors, high-viz gear and wearable lighting are all also recommended but let's start with the most basic and important piece of kit: the humble front light.

Not only does a lamp allow oncoming road users to pinpoint your vulnerable self, it also lights up the road ahead so you can actually see where you're going.

Which light is best?

We've been thoroughly impressed with Lezyne's most recent releases and its Hecto Drive 400XL offers great illumination at a very reasonable price around the £30/$30 mark.

Admittedly choosing an outright winner is a very tough call, due to the varying requirements and preferences cyclists have. As a general rule, we find you can't go wrong with Exposure, Cateye, Lezyne and Light & Motion's offerings.

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 light is secured well, so it doesn't start to droop or even fall off the first time you hit a bump – that happened to me once and the £100 lamp was promptly flattened by a truck.

One final thing to note is that most front lights these days are rechargeable, although some smaller rear lamps use bloody watch batteries, for some demented reason. 

Being rechargeable is great and all, but it 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. 

What you can do is charge up regularly, and carry an external battery and cable to recharge via USB, if supported.

The best front lights in T3's order of preference

1. Lezyne Hecto Drive 400XL

Best bike light under £30 for urban riding

Specifications
Maximum lumens: 400
Battery life: up to 17.5 hours
Rechargeable: yes
Reasons to buy
+Many modes for maximum battery life+Light weight+Integrated USB charging
Reasons to avoid
-Not amazingly robust

Lezyne steals the urban night ride crown from Light and Motion with the latest version of its Hecto Drive, by virtue of much longer battery life and a flatter, better balanced profile. 

Battery technology has come on leaps and bounds in recent years and this latest model from Lezyne makes the most out of a Li-Poly set-up to deliver up to 17.5 hours of light at its lowest output setting.

It's a doddle to set up, with a simple rubber strap that's suitable for most styles of handlebar, while the easy-to-remove base is great for slipping into a backpack when not in use.

Fashioned from heat-dissipating CNC machined aluminium, it is designed to last, although we have certainly found other models that are built from sturdier stuff, so we wouldn't suggest dropping it under a bus. But then we'd never suggest that.

The integrated USB charging stick is a killer feature, making locating a charging cable redundant, although it means you'll need to choose an external battery carefully if you ever want to charge while riding. The price is extremely competitive.

2. Cateye Volt 6000

Best bike light for trail use

Specifications
Maximum lumens: 6000
Battery life: up to 12 hours
Rechargeable: yes
Reasons to buy
+The brightest light money can buy+Remote mode switch
Reasons to avoid
-Heavy control unit-Slow to charge

We couldn't not feature this hulking brute of a front lamp, simply because it kicks out a truly staggering 6000 lumens, which is enough to make a farmer's track at midnight look like a summer's day in California.

Designed with serious endurance racing in mind, the Cateye Volt 6000 comes with its own separate remote control, which is also rechargeable and lasts around two months before it has to be plugged in.

Said remote can flick between various modes, from one-hour of full 6,000 lumen brightness, to a more sedate, 500-lumen all-night lamp.

Its whopping output and cost make the Volt 6000 overkill for a regular urban commute. It also requires an external battery that can only be charged/discharged around 300 times before performance starts to drop.

3. Blaze Laserlight

Best bike light for safety

Specifications
Maximum lumens: 300
Battery life: Up to 13 hours
Rechargeable: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Laser shines image of a bike on the road ahead+Decent battery life considering
Reasons to avoid
-Rather costly
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T3 had a bit of a downer on the Blaze Laserlight when we first tried it, but we've come to appreciate its qualities. 

It works as a solid front light, but its USP is that it uses a green laser to project the image of a bicycle onto the road ahead of you. Initially we felt this could be rather annoying to other road users (ie: we found it annoying when cyclists packing one came up in our slip stream) but it's actually a very handy way to warn motorists not to nose out of that junction, and to inform road bikers that you're about to overtake them… on a Boris Bike. They're now fitted to all of London's hire bikes.

What's also impressive is that even with the laser on constantly and the full 300 lumens coming out of its LED, the Blaze lasts for two hours. Make the laser flash and dial the light down and it'll run for up to 13.

4. Light and Motion Urban 350

Another great urban commuter light

Specifications
Maximum lumens: 350
Battery life: up to 6 hours
Rechargeable: yes
Reasons to buy
+Compact and lightweight+Excellent light+Easy to attach
Reasons to avoid
-Short battery life
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For urban commuting, this light, compact, USB-charging front lamp remains a decent deal, despite a battery life that feels a few years out of date.

Its highest setting gives a solid, 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. 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. The Lezyne that's usurped it at the top takes a similar approach. 

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

5. Blackburn Central Front Smart Light

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

Specifications
Maximum lumens: 500
Battery life: Up to 12.5 hours
Rechargeable: yes
Reasons to buy
+Longer battery life in smart mode+Strong light
Reasons to avoid
-Not as solid or compact as the L&M or Lezyne
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Most modern cars now feature some sort of LED daytime-running light set-up as a safety feature. As often happens, bike brands are now finding ways to make it work on two wheels, and with no car battery to assist.

This ultra-tough smart light from Blackburn gets around the power drain issue by cleverly adjusting its brightness and beam focus, to suit ambient light and weather conditions.

You can thus 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 solid 90 minutes.

6. Supernova E3 Pure 3 Dynamo Light

Best pedal-powered front light

Specifications
Maximum lumens: approx 230
Battery life: theoretically infinite
Rechargeable: N/A
Reasons to buy
+No battery required+Incredibly small and well made+Surprisingly bright
Reasons to avoid
-Yes, you will need to pedal to keep it shining
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Never underestimate the usefulness of dynamo-powered lights. They can't run out of battery, and they can give plenty of light.

This is the smallest road-legal 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. German engineering, you can't beat it.

7. Garmin Varia UT800

Best bike headlight for MAMILs

Specifications
Maximum lumens: 800
Battery life: up to 20 hours
Rechargeable: yes
Reasons to buy
+Tech adjusts light based on speed+Uses Garmin quarter-turn mounts+Connects to Garmin ecosystem
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive

One for those who favour Lycra and speed, this is near the cuttiong edge of headlamp tech. In short, the faster you go, the brighter Varia UT 800 will be, but it requires you to have already bought into the Garmin ecosystem of bicycle computers and sensors to get that full effect.

For those suitably tooled up, the Varia and its rear siblings easily sync with the latest Edge computers and use speed calculated from their GPS to automatically adjust the intensity of the headlight’s beam. It will also automatically turn on or off when the computer is fired up or shut down.

Visible in daylight from more than 1 mile, it's a powerful piece of kit and its slim and lightweight design means it won't play havoc with your expensive road bike's meticulously plotted aero gains.

8. Fabric Lumacell

Best bike light under £20

Specifications
Maximum lumens: 800
Battery life: N/A
Rechargeable: yes
Reasons to buy
+Neat 'USB stick' design+Light, cheap and portable
Reasons to avoid
-Not amazingly bright

Ignore the Fabric Lumacell's less than dazzling 30 lumens, as this simple and easy-to-use, nylon-cased lamp can be mounted to pretty much any front part of the bike for improved visibility.

No, it's not exactly going to pour light upon the path ahead but it will ensure other road users see you during the darker hours, making it perfect for city riders.

The USB stick design means there is less junk to carry around, while the cheap price, both as a standalone or as a pair with its red, rear relative make it a perfect stocking filler. You could even purchase several, and light up the front of your bike like a Christmas tree.

9. Exposure Link Plus Combo Light

Best LED light for helmet mounting

Specifications
Maximum lumens: 150
Battery life: Up to 48 hours
Rechargeable: yes
Reasons to buy
+Easy helmet mounting+Front and rear light combo+Great for city riding
Reasons to avoid
-Not so great in properly low light

This clever combination light is designed to sit atop a helmet, via the mount provided, and act as both a front and rear visibility lamp, making it a great choice in busy cities where the lofty mounting position improves visibility over thick traffic.

It kicks out a maximum of 150 lumens, which can be seen up to one kilometre away, while a three-hour constant runtime on the maximum setting is good enough for even the longest commutes.

10. Knog Frog Strobe Front and Rear Light Set

Best backup lights or for twilight riding

Specifications
Maximum lumens: front 8.5, rear 2.5
Battery life: Front from 50 hrs, rear from 40hrs
Rechargeable: No
Reasons to buy
+Cheap, robust and effective+Perfect backup lights
Reasons to avoid
-FOUR watch batteries?-Rural night rides not recommended
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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.