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Lights test methodology

1 April, 2011

We’re proud of the thoroughness of our annual Lights test, so here’s the methodology laid out for all to see. Simon Vincett reports

The overall rating of each light in the Ride On Lights test is achieved in three steps:

  1. Visibility testing by a panel of judges in a realistic scenario
  2. Durability testing by RMIT Industrial Design team
  3. Amalgamation of results by Ride On.


The Ride On Lights test is primarily concerned with determining the most visible, best-value lights for a variety of bike riders. The range includes high-powered lights designed to illuminate the way ahead for riders, but we consider how effectively visible they are rather than their output. This is because the majority of riders travel on lit streets and their concern is the obligation to be visible to others and comply with the law.

Brightness is scientifically measured in lumens. While lumen output is useful in differentiating the strength of lights at a single point, visibility is usually more complicated. It is affected by angle, shape, colour and flashing phase of a light, all within the context of a real-life situation. Therefore, we conduct an observational test of effective visibility rather than a lumens comparison.

The visibility test is conducted after sunset in an urban environment. For the front-on test, judges will be 200m from the lights, as required by the road rules. For the angled test, lights will be displayed at an angle of 45 degrees to the judges. Judges will be 50m away. This simulates visibility at an adequate distance for a car travelling at 50kmh to react and brake before hitting a bike rider.

In the visibility testing, a panel of 10–15 judges give subjective ratings to each light, which is identified only by a number. Judges are drawn from CHOICE magazine, VicRoads Road Safety Unit, Victoria Police, RACV, Bicycle Victoria, bike shops and cycling clubs.

Visibility testing

The numbered lights are mounted on a stand 200 metres from the judges. Test staff operating the lights communicate by walkie-talkie with test staff coordinating the judges.

The Best in Test light for each category from the previous year’s test is used as a control light for its respective category in the current year’s test. It is shown before each light in the category and judges are instructed that it is worth an eight out of ten rating for the purpose of the test. Each light for the current year’s test is then rated relative to the control.

From a distance of 200m, the lights are displayed for 5 seconds each in turn, front on to the judges. The judges give each light in the test a rating out of ten relative to the control. Lights are displayed in their most visible flashing mode. The most visible flashing mode for each light is determined by Ride On staff. Where a light does not have a flash rate, the light will be displayed in constant beam mode. The judges will be able to request that certain light/s are shown again.

Following the front-on display of lights, the judges will move to 50m from the lights. The lights will be placed at an angle of 45 degrees to the judges and displayed in turn as per the front-on display.

We also ask judges to rate the flash rate of each light as this is a significant aspect of overall visibility. This rating is also subjective, based on what the judge feels is most effective. We ask the judges to rate the phase out of ten during the front-on display, but they are free to modify this score after viewing the angled display.

Where a light does not have a flash rate, the judges are instructed to give the light a phase rating of five.

Durability testing

Durability testing 2011

Because durability and usability of lights is another important factor affecting a purchase decision, all lights in the test are investigated by a team of RMIT Industrial Design team led by Dr Scott Mayson. The lights will be assessed for durability, weather resistance and usability.

Amalgamated results

The visibility ratings and the industrial design ratings are combined to determine the overall rating of each light. The test will list the visibility rating as a secondary rating of each light for the interest of the readers and to underline the importance of the effective visibility in choosing a light.

For the best bike lights, check the results from our annual tests:

and the aspects of the best bike lights here.

Ride On content is editorially independent, but is supported financially by members of Bicycle Network. If you enjoy our articles and want to support the future publication of high-quality content, please consider helping out by becoming a member.

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