What to look for when buying a light
Good lights are essential, not only to ensure you stay safe out on the road, but also to ensure you get out in the first place. If you have any ambition of riding fast next summer then a solid winter’s training is vital and you don’t want your kit to let you down.
Loosely speaking, bike lights fall in two categories: those to be seen with, and those to see with. The former are for riding on well-lit roads, ideal for commuting, or even on rides which takes place during the day but in gloomy, overcast conditions.
LEDs – that’s a light emitting diodes – have become the bulb of choice for bicycle lights over the past few years.
In times gone by you had to choose between inexpensive halogen bulbs, high intensity discharge (HID) lamps and early LED systems.
Fortunately LED technology has advanced at a rapid pace and the decision is simple. LEDs are inexpensive, quick to power up to full beam, run cool and, most importantly, are very bright.
Batteries have improved dramatically, too. After all, what’s the point in having a super-bright light if its limited run time leaves you stranded on a dark road with a battery that has run dry?
Almost all bike lights use lithium-ion batteries, which are far more efficient than the old lead acid or NiMH batteries.
Battery run times vary dramatically. Never judge a book by its cover. Treat the manufacturer’s claimed run times with a little caution – they represent the best possible scenario (a brand new light, with a fully charged battery and an LED which is right on spec, for example). Lithium-ion batteries will also deteriorate with age.
USB charging is all the rage and offers a quick, easy and convenient way to top up the battery’s juice. Just plug in your lights when you get to work to top them up before the ride home.
It’s not all about the light. In fact, a great lamp is useless if the mount’s not up to scratch.
Look for a tool-free mount which is easy to install, particularly if you’ll be regularly switching the light between bikes.
Most manufacturers of commuter lights have got this sussed, and many opt for a silicone strap or o-ring to attach the light to your handlebar. Otherwise, many lights use a hinged cam-locking clamp.
A good mount will lock the light in place, ruling out any chance of it falling off when riding on rough roads, and, when riding on unlit roads, keeping the beam focussed on where it should be. Also check that the mount is wide enough to fit your handlebars.