How to choose the best bike lights for cycling in the dark
The most important safety rule for cycling in the dark is to see and be seen. If you want to be a year-round cyclist, having the right bike lights is crucial. The Ampler bikes have permanently installed lighting in the basic package, which means you are well prepared for dark winter nights. If you want to dig deeper into the topic, we have written a guide for the lighting of your bike.
Basic rules and EU laws for bike lights
Before looking at the details and consumer choices, let’s get the basics clear. What does the law say about bike lights?
According to traffic rules and regulations for cyclists, every bicycle within the European Union is required to have:
- A white (or pale yellow) front light that is non-blinking;
- A red brake light at the rear of the bike that stays lit when you’re stationary;
- At least 2 yellow reflectors on each wheel or the tyres or spokes need to be reflective.
The lights on Ampler e-bikes are fully StVZO certified, so they are completely proved by German law. Blinking lights are allowed, but it is recommended that cyclists who are riding in areas without street lighting use a steady front lamp instead. Blinking lights do increase the visibility of a bike significantly though, also during the daylight.
Using a flashing tail light in the daytime makes you 2.4 times more noticeable than with no lights at all and 1.4 times more visible than in steady mode. A little add-on to this basics is: do not blind the others with your light!
In Germany and some other countries, it is possible to be fined by the police if your bike is equipped with the perfect lights but they are not switched on in the dark. Another possibility to get a fine is when the lights are so dirty that they do not have a full effect anymore.
Choosing the best bike lights for dark roads
Now, when we know the basics, we can get into details: how to choose the best front light, rear light, and reflectors within the legal limits?
Recommended brightness for front and rear light
The brightness of a bike light is measured in lumens, which shows the total amount of light emitted by a light source. 100 lumens is a good benchmark to be seen by others when riding on lit roads, but 300 lumens or more will be better for dark roads to see a little more of what’s going on at the ground level ahead of you.
At the rear, anything from 20 to 100 lumens is enough. Normally the more lumens, the higher the price of the light in a store.
The second quality of the light that counts towards cycling visibility is lux. Lux is the measure of the intensity of light on an area and is usually measured at a distance between one and ten meters. If the number of lumens in light remains constant, the larger the surface area, the less lux it can provide.
Beam angles and beam types for best visibility
Different lights have different beam angles which help to concentrate the light to either a wider and less intense or more narrow area with more light intensity. Some lights focus directly ahead (increasing a light’s lux), while others have a broader beam angle that spreads (decreasing a light’s lux). All this is important when choosing which light is best for your cycling needs.
When you go to buy a bike light, brands offer different beam types (called Super, High, Full, Standard, etc). If you want to find the best deal, it might be a good idea to ask or read what each of those types offers, regarding brightness and distance of visibility. If a light has different settings (flash, pulse, full mode), it is also a good idea to check how long the battery lasts in each of those modes – sometimes some mode diminishes the overall time notably.
Best bike lights for cycling in cities and off-road
The best choice of bike lights depends on where you cycle: whether you plan to always stay on the road, or occasionally also make some side-trips off-road.
While cycling on the roads, people ride mostly in straight lines and there are few obstacles on the way — therefore the best light is the one with a more narrow beam angle. Off-road cycling, however, requires a broader light to be able to see where the path takes you, how smooth it is and if there are any rocks, tree-roots or other objects on the way.
Wherever you’re cycling, in cities or off-road – the lights should be visible from 200 meters. As for reflectors, the critical minimum of being visible is considered to be 50 meters.
In terms of brightness, if you are commuting or simply riding on the road and want a light to see with, you should be looking for a higher lumen count and narrow beam angle. This will narrow the focus down the road helping you see well ahead.
If you are commuting during the day or along paths that are well lit and only looking for a light to be seen, opt for a low to moderate amount of lumens with a broad beam angle. This will help drivers and pedestrians see you from acute angles.
The optical design: type of lens, the LED and the angles of the beam are as influential for the level of brightness as the lumen number. High-quality modern reflectors provide light both forward and downwards directions and do not blind the oncoming traffic.
Light size, durability & mounting options
Secondary qualities to consider when choosing your bike lights are size and weight of the light, the durability and type of power, the price, water-resistance and ease of mounting the lights to your bike.
Most bike lights used to be dynamo-based, and this remains a great and sustainable choice.
Modern lights tend to have changeable batteries or be rechargeable by USB. If you go for a light that requires changing batteries, make sure you find this type of batteries from some store not too far from your itinerary.
Before purchasing bike lights, it is worth checking whether the front light is easy to attach onto the handlebar and whether the rear light mounts easily to the seat post. Most bike lights will easily mount to the majority of handlebars and seat posts, but for those with aero bars or aero seat posts, mounting the lights can become more difficult.
Normal circular surfaces usually pose no problems to mount the light, but non-circular surfaces or larger than standard circular diameters, such as double wrapped handlebars, can offer some extra challenges and might require a specific strap.
Bike lights for trailer or child seat
If you use a bike trailer, you’ll certainly need rear lights for the trailer too. The main choices for trailer lights are LED lights or incandescent bulbs. Generally, LED lamps are suggested as their life expectancy is about six times longer than that of an average incandescent bulb. They last longer because they withstand road vibration and shock much more effectively.
It is not recommended to mix LED lamps with incandescent lights on a trailer. The problem is the amount of power required by each type: LEDs require much less power than the others. If one of each were on the same circuit, the draw from the incandescents could damage the LEDs.
The last tip about the trailer light is related to the water and mud that can easily hit the light when cycling in winter. When selecting a LED light, it is better to choose one which states it is waterproof or submersible – the moisture should not damage this kind of light.
If you use a child seat at the rear of your bike, then that probably covers the rear light. That means you need to have a light attached to the back of the child seat. Clips can be used for that, but make sure before buying that they will fit with your child seat.
Cycling visibility: Summary
It does not matter which bike you use or where you cycle, you will need a white non-blinking front light, a red rear light and at least two yellow reflectors on each wheel. The front light should have 300 lumens or more if you plan to cycle during the darker time, at the rear, it can be less. If you use your bike mainly for commuting, then a narrow beam angle fits you the best. Before making the choice, consider also the type of battery – how can you charge it? – and is it possible to attach the light easily to your bike. If you use a trailer or child-seat with your bike, then don’t forget to attach an extra light to the back of it.
Bearing all this in mind, you should have absolutely no problem cycling anywhere even in the middle of the night!