Here in North America we’re rapidly approaching the end of Summer and if you’ve been riding your bike in the evenings like I have then you’ve no doubt noticed that sunset is coming sooner than it was at the beginning of the month. In fact, we’re losing a minute of sunlight each day while the Blokes and Sheilas in Australia are gaining a minute. I did a long evening ride a couple of weeks ago and felt I could have used a light then so I thought now would be a good time to talk about bicycle lighting.

Think he needs a light?

Think this cyclist needs a light?

Why use a bike light?

  1. First and foremost, you’ll want to use a bicycle light for safety. As the sun begins to set earlier each day our evening rides stand a very good chance of concluding in civil twilight (the sun has set but it’s not quite dark yet). There’s enough light to see but it is becoming more difficult due to lack of light and shadows. If you’re having a hard time seeing then other folks are probably having a hard time seeing you. In this instance, a bicycle headlight and/or tail light will make you more visible to other riders approaching or overtaking you and, probably more importantly, you’ll be more visible to car drivers who are feeling the effects of decreased light as well.

    Not only do bike lights improve safety so you’re more visible to other riders and drivers but you’ll be doing yourself a favor by using a headlight to illuminate where you’re riding. The area I ride is in pretty good shape but there are spots on the trail where an improperly illuminated rut, hole, or seam could see me injuring myself, another rider, and/or damaging my bike. A good headlight or helmet light will help illuminate the path you’re riding.

  2. Another reason you’ll want to use bicycle lights, and often forgotten, is that in most cities it’s required by law to have a light if you’re riding during darkness. Check your local laws but, even if there isn’t one, you should still have lights due to the safety concerns above.

Things to consider when choosing bicycle lighting

  1. What type of riding do you do? If you’re a road cyclist you may not need as robust (tough) a light kit as a mountain biker.
  2. How long do you ride in the dark? If you ride for long periods of time in the darkness you may need bike light options that offer long-life batteries or generators.
  3. Are you environmentally conscious? If so you may chose lights with rechargeable batteries or a generator over bike lights that require replacement of dead batteries.
  4. Is it very dark where you ride? If you’re a trail rider or ride in areas where there is no street lighting you may need bicycle lights that are very bright.
  5. Are you on a budget? Simple lighting systems for bikes can be very affordable where more advanced lighting options can put a strain on the bank account.

What kind of power source do you need?

  1. Standard Household Batteries. A lot of the smaller head and tail lights for bicycles use two to four double or triple A batteries for power. These are convenient and due to the small size (and power output) of the lights you can get run times upwards of 60 hours or more depending on the mode (constant light versus flashing) used.
  2. Rechargeable Batteries. Like a lot of electronic devices these days, you can get bicycle lighting that uses rechargeable batteries for power. Not only is this convenient, it saves money, and helps the environment. Battery options include Nickle-Metal Hybrid and Lithium Ion.
  3. Power Generation Systems. For those looking to have a lighting system that is not only super environmental friendly (no batteries required) but can last a long time (as long as you pedal it works) then this could be what you need. These lighting systems are run off a generator that’s attached to your wheel and makes electricity as long as you’re moving. Some have battery backups or reserves for when you’re stopped.

Halogen, LED, or HID?

The type of bulb you choose can have a big impact on the quality of light emitted. The type of bulb itself doesn’t generally drive the cost of the lighting system up as much as other components (type/size of batteries and accessories) but your higher quality lighting systems are generally LED or HID with rechargeable batteries. The bestselling lighting systems are typically household battery powered LED units with 3-5 LEDs.

  1. A halogen lamp is an incandescent lamp in which a tungsten filament is sealed into a compact transparent envelope filled with an inert gas and a small amount of halogen such as iodine or bromine. The halogen cycle increases the lifetime of the bulb.
  2. Light Emitting Diodes (LED) are an electronic light source. LEDs have many advantages over traditional light sources including lower energy consumption, longer lifetime, and smaller size. LED bike lights are very popular and what I use.
  3. High Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps are a type of electrical lamp that produces light by means of an electric arc. HID lights give a greater amount of light output per watt of electricity input than incandescent lights.

What to get?

As you can see above there are lots of options available but choosing a basic bicycle lighting system (a headlight and a tail light) isn’t hard. Find a balance between your needs and budget. You can easily find a good LED headlight/tail light combination that will fill your basic needs and meet safety and legal requirements. If you need something with a little more power or rechargeable batteries you can go that route as well. In addition to, Real Cyclist also has a good collection of bicycle lighting or you may find what you’re looking for at your local bike shop. It really doesn’t matter where you get it. Just make sure you have some kind of bicycle lighting if you’re going to be cycling while it’s dark.