Helmet or bar Light?
The bar light is ideal for a powerful light that is out of sight, out of mind, with the ability for longer battery run times. A very wide beam pattern is desirable to see the periphery. A helmet light is ideally a smaller light that’s lighter with a tighter beam. That beam can see a long distance and will follow the riders eyes to help them see through corners and switchbacks. 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.
If the rider can only have one light, the helmet light is the more common choice. It allows the rider to use the Lumens more efficiently, aiming left to right with head movement.
Heat and run time
The great enemy of LED lights is heat. No bike light is designed to run at full power with no airflow, so various strategies are employed to move heat away from the LED using heat sinks.
When there is low bike speed or airflow, today’s LED lights throttle down output and grow dimmer. The most advanced lights automatically sense airflow and throttle the light back up when the rider speeds up. The more primitive lights need to be powered on/off or run for a while before returning back to full brightness.
Run time is the total time the light runs in high power until the light shuts off or dims down to half of its brightness as the battery loses energy.
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 1.5 hours at full power. Field replaceable batteries used to be an option but that is as a dying breed due to lithium cell battery concerns.
Features, features, features
As the race towards mega powerful lights has subsided, manufacturers have focused on features and usability. Some of the best we’ve seen this year are:
- Wireless Bluetooth remote
- Integrated camera to record ride or traffic violations by cars
- Integrated laser output to improve rider visibility in traffic
- Field replaceable batteries to provide ‘unlimited’ run time
- LCD displays to monitor light and battery status
- Accelerometers to monitor motion to turn the light on or make it brighter