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Top 50 lights for commuting

1 May, 2012

Our Lights test 2012 ranks the best 28 front and 22 rear bike lights to keep you visible when riding in the dark. Simon Vincett reveals the very human art of selecting the best lighting.

The 2013 test results, incorporating and building on these 2012 results, are now online.

Meet our lux meter, the newest member of the Lights test team. We’ve always preferred humans to judge effective visibility of bike lights, so the lux meter’s involvement is an innovation for this, our seventh year of testing.

To our satisfaction, we were right to trust people. The human judges didn’t agree with the lux meter in the complex business of rating which lights were most visible to people. For instance, the brightest front compact light in lux (17 lux) was rated eighth out of 11 lights. The most visible front compact light according to the judges was 5.8 lux.

Before you write off mere humans as unreliable, just think about whom is operating the vehicles on the roads.

Dr Scott Mayson, who heads up the RMIT design team that is Ride On’s partner in the annual Lights test, suggests the difference between lux measurement and human rating is that people interpret “a combination of environmental factors, perception of the flash rate and the actual output of the light.”

The visibility test is conducted after dark on an urban street to be as realistic as possible. The judging panel view the lights from 200 metres, which is the minimum distance at which lights must be visible according to Australian road regulations. Judges are drawn from Choice, Victoria Police, VicRoads Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety, RACV, RMIT Industrial Design, the bike industry and bicycle user groups. However, the method is a ‘blind test’ where the judges aren’t told which light is which, so their expertise doesn’t influence their judgement. After rating each light relative to a control, the lights are then brought to 50 metres from the judges for them to rate each for the visibility on a 45 degree angle.

The lux test is a separate process in a controlled environment. Each light is measured from ten metres, in line the strictest regulations for bicycle lighting in the world, the German StVZO standard. We measure first head on and then on a 45 degree angle, as per the visibility test, and take an average of the two readings as the final lux output.

Read more about the Lights test method.

Which lights?

The 2012 top 50 is the result of testing 30 new lights and comparing these lights to those tested last year that are still currently available. Some of this year’s lights didn’t make the resulting top 50 list for this year because the lights of last year are superior.

All results from this year and last were put through the same formulas, which are slightly different from last year. This explains why last year’s lights may have different scores this year. The important thing is that all lights are judged the same way.

The increasing convenience of bike lights continues, with many of the new crop being USB rechargeable and mounted with easy-to-use silicone straps. Weight and size is also not an issue now, with technology so improved. The Best in test front light of this year at 36 grams is nearly a third of the weight of last year’s Best in test.

Visibility has improved in the front lights without a corresponding hike in price. In fact, the Best in test this year is more visible and $20 cheaper than last year’s.

Compare all fifty lights ranked below.

OR: overall rating /100 RRP: recommended retail price W: weight (grams) V: visibility /100 WP: waterproofness /10 VFM: value for money /10

OR: overall rating /100 RRP: recommended retail price W: weight (grams) V: visibility /100 WP: waterproofness /10 VFM: value for money /10

Design testing

It’s amazing how many lights ratchet down and end up pointing at the ground

The other major aspect of the Lights test is the design testing conducted by a team from RMIT Industrial Design. As experts in the field, they assess the design and construction of each component of each light and provide ratings in the categories of useability, durability and waterproofness. Areas assessed include the quality and toughness of the mouldings and the mounts, ease-of-mounting and operation, including quality of instructions provided, and waterproofness.

This year we asked the team to also consider how easily the switch is turned on accidently, such as inside your bag during transport, as this was a factor readers requested we investigate. This score was incorporated into useability, which is one of the ratings that adds to the overall rating but isn’t shown in the table here. Durability also adds to the overall rating but isn’t shown in the table here.

As part of the durability testing, the RMIT team drop the lights from handlebar height to simulate a number of scenarios. There were three significant casualties of this test this year. The Moon Gem 3.0 broke apart, revealing that the back and front of the casing was simply glued and not clipped like most lights on test. The housing of the central LED of the Serfas TL-ST Seat Stay Taillight broke and with the Ilumenox Vega the connection between the light and battery became loose.

The lights are also mounted in their brackets and the bike is lifted slightly and dropped to simulate riding over a sizeable pot hole. RMIT team leader, Scott Mayson, remarked, “It’s amazing how many lights ratchet down and end up pointing at the ground.” The NiteRider Cherry Bomb 1W was particularly notable for this and needs its mounting bracket tightened securely.

Cygo-lite Expilion models were the most waterproof USB rechargeable models

We think waterproofness is an important attribute of lights for commuting riders. A few lights did notably poorly in this regard. The Ilumenox Vega allowed a relatively large volume of water in, which compromised the battery contacts. The X-tech front also allowed water in around the batteries.

Many of the USB rechargeable lights allowed a small amount of water just inside the USB cover but no further. Two to watch are Moon Power 500 and the Serfas TSL 500, which allowed a bit more water inside. The two Cygo-lite Expilion models on test were the most effective in keeping water out of the USB port.

High-powered lights for commuting

All the high-powered lights included in the test are considered for how well they suit the commuting rider. That is, they are considered in flashing mode for their effective visibility and not in steady beam mode for how well they light the way for the rider.

For urban riding, most people don’t need a light designed for night mountain biking. Street lights illuminate the way and flashing bike lights show other road users where we are. Flashing is the mode considered because it is the most visible when riding with other traffic.

Bear in mind also that lights that are too bright temporarily blind other riders and drivers, which is obviously not conducive to safety.

Assessing the output of high-powered lights for lighting your way through unlit commuting routes is a test we look forward to conducting for a future issue.

Interesting cases

The Ilumenox Vega front light has been developed to restrict glare in accordance with the German StVZO standard and has a capped and narrow beam. It’s the brightest in lux, with a combined front and angled measurement of nine lux. However, by people it was judged to be seventh most visible out of 11 front compact lights on test, with a visibility score of 67. The Best in test front compact light rated 86 for visibility, though it has a combined lux measurement of 3.5 lux.

Similarly with the high-powered lights for commuting, the brightest in lux were not judged to be the most visible. The LiteRover Supernova measured 42.5 in combined lux but was found fourth for visibility (rated 78). The most visible high-powered light for commuting was (rated 81) measured 9.5 in combined lux, more than four times less output.

The Cateye Rapid 5 performed surprisingly poorly. It seems to be a new version of a Cateye model that has long been regarded as one of the best rear lights but it dropped to 13th ranking in our test this year. To its credit, its waterproofness has improved.

Ride On thanks the following people for their time for the visibility testing this year.

  • Rebecca Gatto of Choice
  • Juliet Bartels of VicRoads Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety
  • Blake Harris of RACV Vehicle Engineering Team
  • Scott Mayson of RMIT Industrial Design
  • Joe Coleman of Museum BUG
  • Phil Gray of Bicycle Network
  • Paul Shub of Velo Cycles

Thanks also to the Scott Mayson and the RMIT Industrial Design team for conducting the design testing again this year.

The Ride On Lights test supports National Light Up!

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.

49 Comments leave one →
  1. MJM permalink
    1 May, 2012 5:53 pm

    Simon, I’m interested as to why the Knog Blinder did not rate a 10 for WP? Especially as its IP rated and totally impenetrable.

    • 3 May, 2012 3:47 pm

      Following our test there was some water around the USB tab. Nine is a good result though and it’s an impressive light in all regards.

      • MJM permalink
        4 May, 2012 9:58 am

        Thanks Simon. The light can be fully immersed in water, so I would imagine water around USB tab a non-issue?

    • inopinatus permalink
      9 May, 2012 6:45 pm

      I’d like to welcome Knog’s marketing department to this comment section.

  2. Alan Mallows permalink
    7 May, 2012 3:24 pm

    It appears to me that bicycle lights have become a very expensive item, and that the new technologies need time before they are reasonable value for money.

  3. Michael JAMES permalink
    9 May, 2012 6:21 pm

    Dear Alan,

    I hope you’re still alive when those prices finally do come down.
    Have a couple of hundred lumens on your helmet to inspect the road
    and blast dopey drivers and night commuting becomes a much less hit and miss affair.

  4. inopinatus permalink
    9 May, 2012 6:47 pm

    I have a Cateye Rapid 5 and agree with the finding that it is a very poor successor to the TL-LD610, which remains my favourite rear light for aesthetic reasons.

  5. 9 May, 2012 7:14 pm

    Why were no Dynamo-powered lights included?
    Surely, in order to make cycling as practical and easy as possible, not to mention as safe as possible, permanent, fixed dynamo lights would in many cases be superior to detached, battery powered lights which are easy to forget and run out of juice rather quickly!

    • 10 May, 2012 9:55 am

      With today’s LED lights, they don’t run out of juice quickly. I have a Blackburn Flea, only 18gms, so ideal for the weight consious roadie; it has a USB rechargeable battery that lasts 5hours on flashing mode, so bright that road signs flash up in front of you, 100s of metres away. My rear light has two AAA batteries, that I change at the beginning of each winter, the batteries have never run out, I just don’t want them to corrode and ruin the innards!

  6. Cluey permalink
    9 May, 2012 11:28 pm

    I look forward to the test for actually lighting your way. While I understand this test is important for riding on the road I’ve been using bike paths as frequently as possible, even if it is slightly longer. The Gardiners Creek Trail is not well lit in many parts, the landing lights down the side are great but I’ve been slapped in the face by hanging plants while passing a rider coming the other way. I’m not sure a brighter light would have stopped the plants kiss without startling the oncoming rider but seeing where I’m going in the dark areas is something I want to improve.

    • 10 May, 2012 9:48 am

      Cluey, I agree with you, regarding commuters needing lights that ‘light your way’. I hate shared paths, but sometimes there are few other options, and at night they are even more dangerous.

    • Alan Mallows permalink
      10 May, 2012 10:12 am

      I agree that lights which light the road ahead are important, but manufacturers have only provided what they can make and what they can make money on. Bike paths are much safer than roads in Melbourne, but they are not lit as well as the roads are. This is not addressed with the currently available reasonably priced products.

    • The Big M permalink
      19 June, 2012 7:43 pm

      I’m also looking for this. I’m not a fan of the flashing mode, and never use it myself. I agree you don’t want a blinding light, but the flashing light doesn’t do more for visibility than a steady beam.

      • susan permalink
        25 June, 2012 2:46 pm

        one huge advantage of flashing lights is that drivers can see that you are a cyclist and distinguish you from car lights. A car-driving mate works on a busy road and when he leaves work at night, he naturally waits for a break in traffic. He says it is very hard to see an on-coming cyclist with a fixed beam when there are car lights not far behind him.

  7. 2 cents worth permalink
    10 May, 2012 8:49 am

    FYI the most lit cyclist i have ever seen on the road had installed hallogen lights around the pedal area, that pointed down onto the road, similar to how some motorist fit lights under the carriage, this was in addition to front and rear lights. This cyclist was a beacon from near and far. I am both driver and cyclist.

  8. Alison permalink
    10 May, 2012 9:22 am

    Why did the S-Sun Eaglefly score lower than the Tioga Dual Eyes? It has a higher visibility score and it costs less, but somehow has a lower VFM score and overall score? Plus it weighs less. Is there a mistake or am I missing something?

    • Richard O permalink
      10 May, 2012 10:54 am

      I was wondering the same thing.

    • 10 May, 2012 3:06 pm

      Good question. The S-Sun Eaglefly pops out of its mount easily and is also very brittle and tends to smash on impact with the road. Otherwise its a fantastic light. The value for money category is it gets penalised for its fragility.

  9. Elizabeth permalink
    10 May, 2012 9:47 am

    I need to see in dark areas as around 10km of my commute does not have street lighting. Not so bad in summer, but leaving before 6am, it is a definite need in winter. Testing for lighting the way is something very important to me. I would be very interested to see the results of those tests when you do them.

  10. 10 May, 2012 10:41 am

    To all the cyclists that are in an arms race for multiple bigger, better, brighter lights on their bikes, take a second to consider the other riders who have to share a bike path with you.

    These newer ridiculously powerful lights that people are using on their helmets and bikes these dayas are so bright and aimed so high, I have to shield my eyes so I don’t lose sight of the bike path. They can cause other riders to suffer temporary blindness and are bloody dangerous when riding on a narrow bike path at night that has little to no lighting.

    If they help keeps cars away from you on the road, great. But FFS dip them or turn them off when you are on a bike path with other riders!

    • Martin permalink
      10 May, 2012 11:27 am

      +1 to this.
      Helmet lights are the worst as riders tend to look directly at you as you approach -my eyes! As a motorcyclist (as well as cyclist) I’ve been hit by a car at night, with my headlight on – she still said she didn’t see me. Don’t rely on lights to protect you.

      • Michael JAMES permalink
        12 May, 2012 9:12 am

        My hate is bright handlebar lights. Cars dip their lights for oncoming traffic. Bikes now have lights bright enough to need to but don’t/can’t. Helmet lights give the rider control, for better or worse. When I’m faced with oncoming traffic I look at and ride on the left edge of the road. This avoids blinding/being blinded and makes the most space/safety. The cyclist needs to be aware that looking into the eyes of another road user is like flashing high beam, a sign of irritation. And a commuting cyclist needs the ability to readily signal irritation. In a half hour commute I will flash 6 cars thinking of pulling out from behind stop signs.

      • bob hoffart permalink
        2 June, 2012 3:26 am

        A solution to the helmet lights has been sovled. While these are super bright LED’s they are non directional. Check them out at I live in an area where there are no street lights. Myself and alot of the neighborhood kids have these. I can pick them out a mile away and when approaching them, they are non-distractive. It is a great new product. Just released.

      • James permalink
        11 April, 2013 12:29 am

        Sorry, but I agree with some of what you say, but not other things.
        Yes, High powered lights around other cyclists, or pedestrians are not good.

        HOWEVER, I have found that a light of 500+ lumens or more mounted to ones helmet is great at stopping motorists dead who are about to pull out on you.
        Sorry motorists, but if you want to endanger my life I will feel perfectly free to hurt your eyes by shinning my ridiculously bright light straight at your face.
        If many motorists were not so blind, stupid, or plain aggressive I would not need to do this.

    • Richard O permalink
      10 May, 2012 11:28 am

      I totally agree that it is dangerous. Bright lights mounted on helmets have no place on a dark bike path. Low powered are fine.

    • Karin permalink
      10 May, 2012 8:39 pm

      It’s great to see that other cyclists feel the same way about lights that are not only unsuitable for city cycling, but are more often than not diected straight into the oncoming cyclist’s eyes.
      Take note cyclists: You don’t need to shine your lights directly into my eyes. I can see your headlight. I almost ran over a pedestrian outside Crown Casino because I was momentarily blinded by another cyclist. Even more disappointing is when you say something & then get verbal abuse in respone. Since I’m on a roll ….. what is is with cyclists using tail lights (the red one for those who just aren’t sure) as a headlight. Am I missing something?

      • Alan Mallows permalink
        11 May, 2012 8:55 am

        You are right but this is also totally due to the manufacturers only giving us what is easy and profitable. Cars have had suitable headlights for years now, so why can’t we? I think that we all need to be more discerning and to not buy the expensive junk now on offer.

    • Aron permalink
      11 May, 2012 10:08 am

      I couldn’t agree more! Karin, you have just as much rights on the track/path as the ‘search light wielding cyclist’ forcing you in to unsafe counter moves that endanger yourself and others. It really isn’t that hard to consider others and to keep your fellow commuters safe. Shining a bright light in their eyes is not safe!!

      If you’re not sure about how bright your light is, simply turn all the lights off inside and stand in front of your mounted headlight, then walk toward it and try and focus on the saddle (or anything else for that matter). This might help you adjust your light for the comfort and safety of others. Really not that hard.

      I personally don’t like yelling at a cyclist as they wiz bye, but unnecessarily bright lights on a bike are dangerous when you have cyclists and pedestrians coming the other way!!
      Please have respect!!!!

      Please, for everyones sake, think of the safety of others as much as your own.

    • 11 May, 2012 4:15 pm

      Spot on Andrew and to the others who have posted a reply. As someone who commutes against the peak hour bike path traffic, I’m pretty fed up with being blinded constantly on my ride each day. I have a light that ensures that I can see the path but not blind others. It’s all about respect. There’s no need for a spotlight that is capable of summoning Batman to get you home. However if you feel the need to have a light (or lights) that haw the ability to stun small animals in your beams then please direct the beam a little closer to the front of your bike and not 20m down the path.

    • DaMunch permalink
      3 June, 2012 5:17 pm

      I agree that these high powered lights have no place on a helmet when on the road or path. And if you have them handlebar-mounted, aim them at the road. I have one of these lights for my 80km/h downhill each morning, but make sure that it’s on either 1 or 2 of the 5 power settings AND that it’s actually lighting the road, not the suburb.

  11. NIghtrider permalink
    10 May, 2012 11:01 am

    Very disappointing to see that no non-battery powered lights were test. With a proper (hub-)dynamo light output is not an issue

  12. Peter Bruce permalink
    12 May, 2012 4:40 am

    I have a Tioga Dual Eyes….Battery killer or is it faulty…put batteries in and it is indeed a very bright rear light…fantastic as I do a lot of night commuting. BUT….the next time I go to use it the batteries are dead flat!! I have tried heaps of different batteries with the same result every time. Not worth $10 of batteries every ride! Any one else have this problem or do I have a faulty unit??

    • 14 May, 2012 3:50 pm

      We’ve got a couple of those in our gear library and haven’t had a similar experience of battery drain. You may have a dud.

    • AndrewB permalink
      9 April, 2014 11:46 pm

      Sounds like you have a dud. My Dual Eyes has just run out of batteries for the second time in 3 years. Mind you, I’m an infrequent early morning rider.

  13. KED permalink
    19 May, 2012 10:18 pm

    Can you please test helmet lights as well. Earlier thi year in NZ, I saw a great Topek. helmet light, red at rear. whte at front. Unfortunately I missed out as the last one had been sold.

    • bob hoffart permalink
      2 June, 2012 3:28 am

      A solution to the helmet lights has been sovled. While these are super bright LED’s they are non directional. Check them out at I live in an area where there are no street lights. Myself and alot of the neighborhood kids have these. I can pick them out a mile away and when approaching them, they are non-distractive. It is a great new product. Just released.

  14. jimmy d permalink
    21 June, 2012 11:33 am

    Good article. Plus some good follow-up comments.

    The science of measuring LED light output is annoyingly difficult to understand, but suffice it to say there are some valid explanations why your measurements didn’t correlate to your human perception results.

    Some good explanation on the science of evaluating light output here:

  15. susan permalink
    25 June, 2012 2:51 pm

    for rear lights, i think it is important to access the various settings. some are so bright that if one is cycling behind them (e.g. during a night group ride) they can blind cyclists a few metres back. we have to some members of our tuesday night to set these to fixed beam which is less blinding than flashing.

  16. 27 June, 2012 3:24 pm

    Hit up ebay for ’76 led bike light’ – it’s under $20 delivered, and if you pull out the battery pack and wire it to a 6v lantern battery you’ll get weeks of use out of a single battery. If there are four of you in the family with 2 or 3 bikes each, this is a budget way to make sure everyone has a visible headlight.

  17. grandsalmon permalink
    28 August, 2012 3:47 am

    Even though many of these lights employ leds, they are not all equal in “conservation” of battery power. Some of the newer, popular rear lights for example can waste the battery in 18 hours- and that is too fast. My commute home would necessitate new batts every two weeks. But more important, and my main point, is not getting stuck w a weak light or dead battery -this is a safety concern -and thus needed rating. Thanks. To this I still hold onto my Blackburn Mars 3 because it is bright, eye catching in its blink modes, and goes months before I even think of its battery. (…partial solution is always carry some back-up, they’re so small.)

  18. 26 November, 2012 1:51 pm

    Reblogged this on Alt Route Clothing and commented:
    Does Santa also need to bring you new lights as well?

    Time to sort out that wish list – if not for Xmas, then for the New Year’s Sales!

  19. Paul JAMIESON permalink
    6 December, 2012 8:03 am

    I need to track down where to buy the onya mountain bike terminator 2. Can you help?

  20. 25 January, 2013 3:48 am

    After using USB lights and GPS units I needed a way to power them when I’m cycling. I went with the Pebble.

    My thoughts can be found here

  21. Wayne permalink
    1 January, 2014 6:18 pm

    My hand is up for high powered lights…… what the problem here is, miss use. High powered lights need to be pointed down to light the road in front of you. When I first started commuting I used a moon 200 lumens and honestly it is just not good enough to light the road in front of you, even with streetlights. You need to be able to light the road properly in all weather conditions, accidents can be caused by hitting items like branches etc on roads and bike paths, especially after stormy weather. If you ride all year round, to be only “seen” just does not cut the mustard.

    I look and notice other bike path users. I get much more scared when I find myself on top of a black dressed pedestrian or bikes with no lighting. Even low powered lights can disappear in the mist of many braking tail lights of motor vehicles. Helmet mounted lights are awesome, you can light where your about to turn and highlight your pressence and speed to vehicles at cross roads. Yes you do need to consider oncoming cyclists on cycle paths, due to your close proximity and look where your going not at the oncoming rider. I ride at night alot and to be honest I very rarely get blinded.

    If street lighting is enough to light your path, most high powered lights can be set to a lower setting. In my experience im still to find a road to be lite this well, but then I live in Perth where street lighting is poor.

    To me brighter is better, as long as they are used correctly

  22. 23 June, 2014 11:27 pm

    I think Moon Power Light is more effective due to its usb rechargeable batteries and the power compare to all other lights.


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