Best bike lights for trail riding

For trail and and street riding

News Pro Reviews

Bike lights today let you expand your riding hours without interfering with the ride.

Front bike lights can be split into two categories, to see with and to be seen lights. The first category is like a car headlight or flashlight that throws a beam of light to help the rider see while in motion. The next category is like a reflector or tail light meant to enhance the rider’s visibility to avoid getting hit by a vehicle or other traffic. This article will cover lights to see with in the sweet spot range of $100-$300. There are other very expensive lights and much cheaper ones but we’ll tackle those in subsequent stories to help you find the best bike lights for you.

Here are our recommendations:

Niterider Lumina 1200 features a very well built housing unit with good ventilation.

Niterider Lumina 1200 – $100

The Lumina line is one of the most established lights in the business starting with 400 lumens many years ago. They’ve provided a robust, heat dissipating chassis that has stood the test of time. The mount is first-rate and cinches down on the bar securely while allowing adjustability for proper aiming.

The light itself is bright and it is stable, as it dissipates heat properly to provide a consistent beam throughout its runtime. Sealing is excellent, as this will take you through a season of wet weather without any issues. The heat sink materials are nicely integrated with a shock absorbing rubberized material, so this light can take a few hard knocks.

Now, it pumps out an impressive 1200 lumens and it’s still as reliable and compact as ever.

And there’s something to be said about a company that has employed dozens of people in San Diego, CA for the last 25 years. They’ve stayed true to form designing and building lights right here in the U.S. under the leadership of their founder Tom Carroll.

Pluses
Minuses
  • $100 price is good for the output
  • Only one hour run time at full power
  • OLED option for users who want info
  • Full power is hidden in Boost mode
  • Proven chassis from proven company

Price: $100
More info: www.niterider.com/product/lumina-1200-boost
Hot Deal: www.amazon.com


Bontrager Pro RT – $100

1300 honest lumens for $100

Bontrager has a fascinating line of Ion lights. This latest one called the Ion Pro RT sporting 1300 lumens in a compact package. It’s packed in a robust, reliable package with a nice switch and versatile bike mount.

Beam pattern is bright and even and the output is an honest 1300 lumens. There is side lighting available which is handy for side visibility for the commute home. Wireless technology allows the use of a remote Bluetooth switch as well.

Pluses
Minuses
  • 1300 lumens for $100 is a great value
  • Beam Pattern could be wider
  • Very good beam pattern
    • Bright enough to run at half power to extend runtime

      Price: $100
      More info: www.giro.com
      Hot Deal: www.amazon.com


      1700 lumens in a compact package

      Cateye Volt 1700 – $220

      1700 lumens is a very good achievement as they keep making this dual lens chassis more powerful. Battery life on high is 2 hours with a powerful 3100 mAh battery. Charging time is 5 hours with a 1 watt USB or longer with a standard phone charger, as the light can detect and take advantage of more powerful USB currents.

      The beam is shaped as well, with squared-off edges to track the trail better and use the light more efficiently.

      It sports quality construction that CatEye has been long known for. The mount is the old bike computer ‘radiator clamp’ type mount and it works perfectly for this application. It accommodates all handlebar sizes and the light can be cinched down very securely.

      Pluses
      Minuses
      • Big, wide beam pattern
      • Can get quite hot
      • Cateye quality
      • Mount could be better
      • Modular, replaceable batteries

      Price: $220
      More info: www.cateye.com
      Hot Deal: www.amazon.com


      The Light and Motion Taz is self-contained but has a no-compromise beam pattern.

      Light and Motion Taz 1200 Black Raven – $130

      The Light & Motion Taz 1200 is all about beam pattern. We’ll even go out on a limb and say it has the best beam pattern of any self-contained bike light. The only thing that held it back was it wasn’t quite bright enough when it was initially introduced at under 1000 Lumens. The beam pattern is so big that it needed a lot of light to execute good throw and even spread.

      With the Taz 1200, now it is bright enough. It’s ideal for riding fast or even using by itself. For the ultimate speed setup, complement it with a bright helmet light and you’re off to the races.

      Of course it is self-contained without replaceable batteries, so run time is the limiting factor. Although it is a flashlight style light, it is too big and bulky with the non-removable mount to use as a flashlight.

      But if it’s uncompromising self-contained performance that you want, the Taz 1200 delivers with a bright, even and wide beam pattern that even has a pleasant yellow color tint that allows you to see shadows and trail contours clearly.

      Pluses
      Minuses
      • Beam pattern, beam pattern. Just like the Seca, the beam is wide and far since it has a wide, shaped beam
      • Light head is a little big for a self-contained light
      • Side lighting that can be switched off is very versatile

        Price: $130
        More info: www.lightandmotion.com
        Hot Deal: www.amazon.com


        What you need to know about buying a bike light
        Lumens

        The industry standard for measuring brightness is Lumens similar to horsepower ratings for an engine. It is the true measure of visible light and for reference, a 100-watt incandescent light bulb emits around 1600 lumens while car headlights emit about 3000.

        A mountain bike needs about 700 lumens minimum of light to ride safely on a dark trail at about 20 mph. A road rider can get away with about 400 because the surroundings are better lit and there is less hazard on the path. The other key factor is beam pattern or how the light throws and spread the available lumens. A laser, for example, is useless for riding it’s needle focused. A car headlight, on the other hand, spreads the beam nicely over a very wide area. In general, one needs a big, even beam pattern that allows one to see 25 yards down the trail while illuminating some of the side areas of the path.

        Unfortunately, there are many manufacturers that claim lumens but when mtbr measured them, the actual lumens were only half of their claims. This used to be common practice several years ago and we’ve weeded out many of these lights from consideration. Only lights that deliver what they claim are included in our recommendations

        Helmet or bar Light?

        For trail riding, it’s best to have both but if one can only have one modest light, a helmet light is best. A helmet light will follow the riders eyes to help them see through corners and switchbacks.

        If one has a very powerful, wide beam light, then a handlebar light works very well. Ideally, the rider will have both lights complementing each other and lighting up the periphery with the bar light and seeing through corners with the helmet light.

        Battery life and charging

        No one wants to be plunged into darkness half way though the evening commute – so of course battery life is an important consideration.

        The vast majority of bike lights are now USB rechargeable, usually with a rubber bung covering the port to ensure weatherproofing.

        Self-contained or wired?

        All bike lights used to be wired, but the emergence of LED and lithium batteries have allowed bike lights to combine the light head and battery into one compact package. The big advantage is no wires and connectors to fiddle with. The self-contained bike light can also be used around the house or campsite as a very powerful flashlight.

        The disadvantage of self-contained lights is lower brightness and shorter run times. Since battery size is limited by the unit’s packaging, light output is typically limited to about 2+ hours at full power. But with modern technology, the lights are bright enough to be run at half power for 4-6 hours.

        Mtbr is committed to finding, researching, and recommending the best products. We earn commissions from purchases you make using the retail links in our product reviews. Learn more about how this works.


        About the author: Francis Cebedo

        The founder of mtbr and roadbikereview, Francis Cebedo believes that every cyclist has a lot to teach and a lot to learn. "Our websites are communal hubs for sharing cycling experiences, trading adventure stories, and passing along product information and opinions." Francis' favorite bike is the last bike he rode, whether it's a dirt jumper, singlespeed, trail bike, lugged commuter or ultralight carbon road steed. Indeed, Francis loves cycling in all its forms and is happiest when infecting others with that same passion. Francis also believes that IPA will save America.


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        • vernon d says:

          Regarding 5 dollar ebay light, google “Chinese bike lights burn down home”.
          You got to have some balls to trust a 5 dollar 8k lumen light……not worth saving 85 bucks.
          https://www.singletracks.com/blog/mtb-interviews/a-cheap-chinese-bike-light-nearly-burned-down-this-riders-house/

          • Francis Cebedo says:

            Absolutely agreed. The price, performance, safety, reputation, support of these US and International brands is very compelling now. $100 for 1300 lumen light that will outlast your bike? That’s worth it.

        • Peper says:

          An old tail light on my dogs collar helps me keep track of him in the weeds as we are out at nights trail riding. My black Lab disappears and reappears from the shadows fast. Helps me to see him waiting at the next turn, off to the side, of the trail. I’ve bought 3 of those Lumina lights and they are great. Good recommendation Francis on the Lumina. I love the build, longevity, actual lumen count, light tone and durability of them, NightRiders are my go to.

        • WE. Coyote says:

          Usin NiteRider for more than few years. Excellent qusality and great customer service.

        • Brian M says:

          I’ve tried everything to keep my L&M Taz aimed correctly, but even biking on a paved road with some minor cracks causes it to tilt down, hit a pot hole and it’s upside down and I’m lit up like I’m on stage. I’ve pulled the rubber strap as tight as I can, the little holes in the strap are stretched to over 1/4″ in length, I’ve put electric tape and a section of a handlebar grip where i mount the light but it still spins. I ended up getting a cheap light on amazon that has a qr style clamp, no spinning or slipping with that, just wish it had a beam pattern like the L&M (yes I’ve tried swapping clamps but it doesn’t fit)

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