If you plan on riding on the roads at night or in low light, you need a set of lights for your bike – it’s the law. While it’s a legal requirement to use lights in the dark, many riders now use daytime running lights (DRLs) to make sure they get noticed.
A 2012 study found DRLs reduced the risk of accidents by almost 20 per cent. Modern USB-rechargeable LEDs offer much improved running times over old-style cell batteries and can be much smaller. You can easily top them up via an office computer or a pocket powerbank too.
Pay attention to the “lumen” rating of lights – it’s a measure of their brightness. If you’re after a set of DRLs make sure they are rated to around the 100 lumen mark so they can be seen far off in daylight.
If you need to travel on unlit roads in the dark you’ll probably need a front light with at least 600 lumen so you can see the road well ahead of you.
There are a variety of fitting options available, from simple elasticated bands through to more substantial clip-on fittings. Clip-on attachments tend to be more expensive but they make it really easy to remove and reattach your lights – something you will appreciate on cold winter nights, or if you struggle with your dexterity.
Many of our selected lights will warn you when their batteries are running low – some even do it via bike computers – but it’s not a bad idea to buy a couple of cheaper lights as a back-up, just in case you ever find yourself running low on juice on a dark ride home.
We put a selection of lights to the test from dusk to dawn – and even tried them out in driving rain and blazing sun to check how well they could be seen in daylight.
Our testers also looked at how easy they were to fit to bikes, and gave them a run out over cobbles and rough roads to make sure they didn’t work loose.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Bontrager ion pro RT / flare RT light set
If you’re after a set of lights that can cope with everything from navigating unlit roads in the dead of night through to helping you stand out on daytime training rides, this is it. The ion pro and flare are beautifully built and their sleek styling won’t ruin the look of even fast road bikes.
Fitting the front mount is easy as it just loops around the bars and screws down tight. The rear one mounts easily thanks to a rubbery band that wraps around your seatpost, and the light is so small it won’t get in the way if you ride with a saddle pack. The ion pro offers five settings, with a searing 1,300 lumens available in steady mode for 90 minutes.
The flare RT offers up to six hours of daytime flash at 90 lumens. You can pair both lights with a suitable Garmin bike computer, allowing you to control them remotely and see on screen how much battery charge is left.
Knog plugger front and rear set
This is an excellent smaller set to keep you seen on the streets and in murky conditions. With 350 lumens from the front light and 10 in the back, they’re bright enough to keep you visible if you get caught out in the dark or bad weather on a ride (as we did in testing).
There are a good range of five modes including the brilliant eco flash in which they can work for more than 100 hours. Knog has designed them to offer a degree of side-on visibility too, while the rubber mounting loops make them simple to fit.
Beryl burner brake
This 200 lumen rear light has an accelerometer that allows it to function like a car brake light – brightening when you slow down to warn the traffic behind you. It has four flashing settings along with a steady mode, and offers up to 17 hours of use.
We like that you can mount it sideways or upright, so a saddlebag shouldn’t get in the way. A quick press on the power button illuminates a series of LEDs that indicate how much battery life is left. At almost £40 it’s not cheap, but it is covered by a two-year warranty.
Cateye AMPP 500
We really liked this 500 lumen front light. It has a detachable mount that you can leave on the bike when you need to charge it. Cateye has kept things simple, with just four modes – a couple of constant settings, a daytime option and a flashing 250 lumen mode offering a staggering 50 hours of running time.
You’ll know when it’s time to charge as a red indicator light comes on when you switch off. While it’s made out of plastic, the light feels very robust and comes with a two-year warranty.
Specialized stix switch
These tiny units can switch between being white front lights or red rears just by holding down the on/off button. They have three white modes and five red, with maximum outputs of 100 lumens and 30 lumens respectively. Mounting to handlebars, helmets or seat posts is easy as they use simple rubbery straps.
While you won’t want to rely on them on unlit country roads in the dark, they are perfect for daytime rides or as a back up. Unclipping from the mount is easy and you can plug them straight into a USB port to charge so you don’t need to carry a cable.
Who hasn’t wanted to zap drivers with a laser? Go on, admit it – you love the idea. Well now you can, almost. As well as having a 300 lumen white LED, this ingenious unit incorporates a green laser which projects an image of a bicycle on the road in front of you. It’s designed to warn drivers of your presence when filtering into traffic or approaching blind corners.
Charging is via magnetic pins which connect to a USB cable. Battery life is quoted at up to 18 hours on the flashing mode and the solid aluminium body gives it a quality feel. We particularly like the mounting system – it bolts to your bars and you unclip the light by pressing a trigger.
NiteRider sentry aero 260
The standout feature of this one is its incredible 260-degree visibility. The blade-like design means it makes you a lot more noticeable from the sides – a potential lifesaver at junctions. There are six settings of variable brightness and flash patterns, with a maximum 260 lumen output and a run-time of 30 hours at its lowest setting.
A tiny LED lets you know whether you need to recharge the battery when you shut it down, a process that takes up to two-and-a-half hours. It comes fitted with a strap for a standard seatpost and there’s also a bigger one for an aero post in the box.
Blackburn dayblazer 400
If you’re looking for a smaller front light to use as an attention-grabber on daytime rides you could do a lot worse than buying this one. It will run for up to a claimed 10 hours in its 200 lumen strobe setting – one of four – or give you an hour of scorching 400 lumen output if you ever find yourself trying to navigate an unlit country road at night.
The rubber fitting band seems fiddly at first but you can just twist the light sideways before stretching the strap over the retaining hook. You can tell how much battery power is left by the colour of the on/off switch when you turn it on.
Kryptonite street F-500
Kryptonite make tough locks, so it’s no surprise this light is equally rugged. It’s got six output settings, from an economical flash that will run for up to a claimed 24 hours, through to a blinding 500 lumen that will light up the night for around 90 minutes. We loved the daytime pulse, which uses the full 500 lumens to catch the eyes of drivers when navigating traffic.
The mount has to be fitted to your bars using a plastic strap. Some might find it a bit fiddly – we had to use a pair of pliers to get it really tight – but it stayed in place. The light simply clicks on and off the mount, making it really easy to slip the F-500 into a pocket at your destination.
The verdict: Bike lights
If you need seriously bright lights for commuting and everyday riding you will love the Bontrager ion pro /flare set – there are bigger and brighter lights out there but they tend to be much more expensive. If your budget doesn’t run to almost £140, the Knog pluggers will do a very decent job. Tech lovers will adore the burner brake with its magical speed sensing abilities.
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.