Editor’s Note: This article is part of Mtbr and RoadBikeReview’s 2017 Bike Lights Shootout. For more check out the 2016 Mtbr Headlights Index and the RoadBikeReview Commuter Lights Index. Updated with new lights
The 2016+ Lights Shootout will cover roughly 20 new models to go along with the existing lights unchanged from last year. The Headlight Shootout for trail use is available here while the Commuter Lights Shootout is here.
First, though it’s important to understand how to go about choosing the right light for you. Deciding on that ideal light is of course dependent on intended use and understanding of the key issues outlined below. Read on to learn more.
How much light do you need?
For MTB trail riding, 700 Lumens is the minimum. It allows you to ride at a decent speed with a good sized beam pattern that allows you to clearly see the periphery. An even better setup is two lights: the more powerful light on the handlebars at about 1000 Lumens and a 700 Lumen light on the helmet.
The faster you ride the more light you need in order to not “outrun” your beam. That means 2000 Lumens on your bars and 1000 on the helmet.
For commuting, 400 Lumens is the minimum light output Mtbr recommends. You’ll also want a tail light, which allows you to be seen by drivers. This combination is also desirable during the day, as it increases rider visibility in traffic.
Picking a beam patterns
After output, the next most important attribute of lights is beam pattern. Beam pattern is the shape and size of the light that is projected by the light. As a light gets brighter, you want to look for a wide and even beam pattern. A bright light is more useful when the beam is dissipated over a wide area evenly, while also projecting out a fair distance.
A clean beam pattern that doesn’t have hotspots or dark artifacts is desirable, too. And finally, color is a factor as well. A white, slightly yellow (or warm) color is best, as it reveals trail contours better and is not harsh on the eyes. Pure white lights, or blueish lights may appear bright but they are difficult to see with and increase eye strain.
How is light output measured?
Light output is measured in Lumens which is the total light output of a light throughout the entire beam pattern. This output can only be measured accurately with a light integrating sphere which is a scientific instrument usually costing about $25,000 and requiring an engineering degree to operate.
Mtbr takes the time to measure light output with an integrating sphere and we match up actual output against the manufacturer claims. Many manufacturers used to fib or exaggerate their light output, but claims are much closer to reality these days.