Outdoor Gear Review: Bicycle Lights

Find the right bike light for winter’s dark days

By Jennifer Donahue

With the days getting ever shorter, it’s time to think about lights for your bike. There are so many lights on the market; it can be dizzying trying to pick the right one. But like most things cycling-related, let the type of riding you do be your guide.

To keep it simple, think in terms of whether you need to see or be seen.

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If your commute or regular routes involve riding on unlit streets or dark trails where you need a bright headlight to light your way, opt for higher lumens (in the hundreds, for example) and consider a dynamo hub (that is, a light where you generate the electricity yourself) so you won’t risk running out of light when you need it most. These lights are also a good choice for people who do nighttime, off-road riding.

Be seen

If most of your rides are on well-lit streets, you still need front and rear lights for visibility. While you don’t need the same kind of output you’d want on a dark trail, you still need to be bright enough to be visible to the surrounding traffic. Even if you are a recreational cyclist and don’t plan to ride at night, it’s important to be prepared.

Lights to help you see — and be seen

Light & Motion Urban 180

Light & Motion makes lights that are a great fit for the rainy Northwest. As a company that also manufactures dive lights, they know waterproofing and their lights and connectors can be counted on to perform in all conditions. The Urban 180 is ideal for city commuters facing dark roads: a self-contained USB rechargeable light featuring 180 lumens, a battery status indicator and amber side markers. $99; http://www.bikelights.com/urban180.html

Supernova E3 PRO

Supernova has made a name for themselves across Europe and throughout the U.S. with high-quality dynamo light systems that offer the kind of reliability and performance that discerning cyclists expect. Their rugged E3 PRO is no exception, with a glare-free Terraflux lens, corrosion-resistant aluminium housing and a new mounting option. The 2011 model is 10 percent brighter to cut through even the darkest Northwest nights, making it great for off-road riding. $195, www.supernova-lights.com


The Lightster, from European innovators Sigma, is designed for commuters and features a high-powered LED light that helps drivers see you even better because it’s glare-free. You can mount it without tools, and slide it off easily when you’re parking your bike so it doesn’t get stolen. Four AA batteries give this light its power (up to 20 hours of battery life); or you can use rechargeable batteries, charging them in the Lightster’s integrated charging socket. A handy two-stage battery indicator tells you how much battery life you have left. About $30; http://www.sigmasport.com/us/startseite/

Lights to help you be seen

Planet Bike Superflash Turbo

We love it that Planet Bike donates 25 percent of its profits to causes that promote bicycling. And we also love its lightweight Superflash Turbo taillight! The price is right, and with a powerful one watt LED plus two red LEDs you’ll be visible from up to a mile away. Set the light to flash for extra visibility, or opt for a steady glow. The Superflash Turbo offers up to 100 hours of run time on two AAA batteries. $34.99; www.planetbike.com

Knog Boomer USB

It’s 100 percent waterproof, easy to recharge with any USB port, and a piece of cake to mount on your bike. What’s not to like? Knog’s Boomer USB pumps out 55 lumens (a measurement of visible light) for nearly 4 hours at a steady beam —12 hours when flashing — plus it has a storage mode to preserve battery function if you know you’ll be off your bike for a while. Perfect for recreational cyclists who don’t want to get caught in the dark! $39.95; www.knog.com.au

Blackburn Super Flea

If you thought Blackburn’s Flea was a great light, wait until you get your hands on their new Super Flea. Just a few millimeters larger and with the same awesome features (battery fuel gauge, great run time) found in the popular 2011 Flea, the Super Flea boasts double the light output – from 40 to 80 lumens. And we think that’s twice as nice. $44.99; www.blackburndesign.com

CycleAware’s Wand-a

When you want to be seen, pop the Wand-a, from woman-owned CycleAware, in your handlebar for visibility up to one mile. Powered by two AAA batteries, the Wand-a is easily removable from your handlebar and can also be used as a portable safety light. You can choose from six different constant or flashing modes for the Wand-a, which features two white LEDs in front and three red LEDs in back. The Wand-a is highly water resistant, which is a must for Northwest winters. $15; http://www.cycleaware.com/index.php?main_page=index