Lights test 2014 – the top 100 lights
The various bike tribes may be strangers to each other but they are united in their need to be seen. Simon Vincett offers all comers a run through the best lights out there.
Which lights for you?
Sooner or later, every bike rider finds they need lights. Despite your best intentions, you leave work late or the weather closes in halfway home and you’re mixing with traffic in the half light. Of course, if you don lycra before dawn to catch the bunch ride or tear around the singletrack at night you know it’s a BYO lights affair, but bike riding is an outdoor activity and very often, particularly in winter, you find yourself riding in the dark.
The road rules require that riders have a white light on the front and a red on the back, and that both are visible from 200 metres. That’s easy—pretty much all bike lights currently on the market are that powerful. It’s more a matter of making the most of your visibility for the money you spend, and matching with your carefully crafted colourway.
So you do the choosing—we’ll do the testing. Here’s how we do it.
Keeping it real
The first part is the visibility test. For a realistic scenario, it is conducted after twilight on an urban street. There’s a panel of 10 or so judges and the lights are set up 200m from them down the street. We display each light in turn, with a control light displayed in between, and the judges score them for visibility. We refer to each light by number only.
Next, we bring the lights 50m from the judges and turn them 45 degrees. This simulates visibility at an adequate distance for a car travelling at 50km/h to react and brake before hitting a bike rider. Again the judges see each light in turn, alternating with the control light, and score it for visibility.
The judges also decide on a score for the effectiveness of the flash rate of each light. We test every light in a flashing mode because research shows this is the most visible mode for a bike light. Together, these scores make up a total visibility for each light.
The testing is conducted in Melbourne and judges are typically drawn from the Police, VicRoads, Choice magazine, RACV, RMIT, Bicycle Network members, bike shops and cycling clubs and BUGs.
Because the durability and usability of the lights are also essential considerations, all lights in the test are investigated by an industrial design team from RMIT convened by senior lecturer Dr Scott Mayson. The lights are assessed for durability, weather resistance and usability.
Finally, the visibility scores and the design scores are combined to determine the overall rating of each light. Because visibility is the primary purpose of a bike light, it is weighted to make up the majority of the overall score.
The test is cumulative, using the same method each year to test new lights on the market. The results for these new lights are added to the results of lights from previous years, creating a long list with all the lights ranked. We publish a list of the top performers, all of which are good buys.
Finally, if you’re familiar with the Lights test you might wonder why the same lights get slightly different results each year. With new lights on the market each year, the landscape changes and older lights have to be re-assessed. Using the original test data we re-calculate the scores of all the lights listed each year and this often results in changed scores.
For more, read about our test methodology.
We share our test results with Choice, who also produce an annual article on bike lights.
Ride On thanks the following people for judging at the visibility testing this year:
- Peter Persic, Victoria Police, Melbourne West Bicycle Patrol
- Blake Harris, RACV engineering
- Scott Mayson, RMIT Industrial Design
- Lachie Major, RMIT Industrial Design
- Ross Arnold, RMIT Industrial Design
- Lindsay Thebus, RMIT Industrial Design
- Harry Major, Bikesportz
- Ji Ae Bak, Bicycle Network
- Grace Stubee, Bicycle Network
- Mark Liddle, Bicycle Network
- Nathan Stevens, Bicycle Network
- Grace Macpherson, Bicycle Network
- Alistair Wenn, Bicycle Network member
- Jacqueline Anderton, Bicycle Network member.
Thanks also to Dr Scott Mayson and the RMIT Industrial Design team for conducting the design testing again this year.
With great power comes great responsibility
We should explain our category of ‘high-powered’ lights. Rear lights are simply rear lights but front lights have this sub-group reflecting the much higher output of some light over their compact, ordinary fellow front lights. Once it was only lights with an external battery pack that achieved this high output but with improved LED and battery technology, high-powered output is possible from a light that is also compact and self-contained.
Our distinction is that lights with a stated output of over 300 lumens are ‘high-powered’. This means that some of the ‘compact front’ lights have an output of 300 lumens, which is still pretty dazzling for on-coming riders on the bike path. These need to be pointed down at the ground a few metres in front of the front wheel. Better still is to have a compact front flashing light for the street-lit part of the ride. Helmet-mounted lights shouldn’t be used when sharing the paths or roads—they are for mountain biking in the dark. Research shows that bike riders are most effectively seen by other road users when they have lights at handlebar height. That goes for front and rear lights.
For more argument about how much light is about right, as well as issues to look out for when choosing a bike light, check out the article on last year’s test.
Manoeuvres in the dark
Depending on your riding, you’ll weigh up a few different qualities in a light when choosing what you need. These qualities include: visibility, price, durability, weight, appearance and output.
If you ride only on roads with street lights, simple flashing lights are fine. If you ride unlit shared paths, you’ll want a light to see where you’re going. For country roads, you’ll want the most visible rear light you can find. Roadies are famous for wanting the lightest, most low-profile gear and mountain bikers need powerful illumination for tree dodging in the dark. Finally, manufacturers realise that most of us appreciate lovely aesthetics, so there are also plenty of offerings with design appeal.
Ride On recommended lights
See the tables further down for the results and ranking of the Top 100 lights.
For more examples, here are suggestions of lights for some different rider types [stereotype alert!].
This tribe has the widest variety in wants and needs from bike lights, but needs them to work day in, day out in all weather. Needs high power for unlit shared paths, excellent visibility for negotiating traffic and is drawn to reliable performance that is still affordable.
Moon mask $59.95
Top visibility, compact
Ilumenox Vega 3w $130
Capped beam doesn’t dazzle others
Serfas True 500+ $149.99
Lights up the paths
Owleye Highlux 5 $39.95
Good, reliable performance
ES Beacon rear$50
Tioga Dual Eyes $39.99
Good, reliable performance
Favours attractive, petite lights with classic style (metallic) or design appeal. More inclined to spend on accessories not for the bike, so cheaper is more appealing than ‘high performance’.
Knog Blinder 1 front and rear $29.95ea
Lezyne Hecto Drive front and rear $54.95ea
Design appeal, good visibility
Moon Comet $44.95
Under-seat attachment if the seat is too low
for a seat post mount
Demands lights weight and low profile, and is habituated to high performance. Needs powerful visibility, particularly in the rear, for country roads but needs a courtesy dimmer setting for bunch riding.
Moon Mask $59.95
Light with top visibiliy
Serfas Raider $59.99
Low profile, good performance
NiteRider Solas 2W $69
Group ride mode
Knog Blinder Road rear $64.95
Lezyne Micro Drive rear $54.95
Daytime boosted visbility mode
Design is everything with this tribe and lights are another element of the carefully assembled statement of uniqueness that is their bicycle. Suave riders who don’t self-identify with reductive labels also, coincidently value lights with high aesthetic appeal.
Knog Blinder 4 front and rear $59.95ea
Lezyne Micro Drive front and rear $49.95ea
Moon Mask $59.95
The mountain biker
Isn’t afraid of a bit of weight, so the external battery is quite acceptable for the power of the light provided. Not so concerned with the rear visibility—any budget flasher will do. Durability and waterproofness are essential.
Fyxo King Bright $79
Top power, best price
Magicshine MJ808E $179
Lezyne Power Drive $99.95
Compact for a lights cannon
BBB Highlaser rear $34.95
Solid, affordable visibility
Moon shield $59.95
Top visibility, bombproof construction
Top 100 lights
These 100 lights are all good options to make yourself visible when riding your bike. The list is an aggregation of our nine years of testing, with discontinued models removed. The highest in overall ranking are the best available, but that doesn’t mean that the rest are worthless. Far from it, they all meet the legal requirement of being visible from 200 metres and meet the usability standards of this test. The lowest scores here do not reflect poor performance on the part of individual lights but the accumulation of losses in the many aspects of the testing. Many small losses can add up to a significant overall loss. You’ll note that the highest rated lights only achieve scores in the eighties. There are other current lights that we have tested that do not make it onto this list.
Compact front lights
|Moon Mask front||$59.95||USB||36||8.5||9.25||86||88|
|Lezyne Macro Drive front||$74.95||USB||109||10||8.17||90||87|
|Serfas Raider USL-5||$59.95||USB||40||9.5||9.50||80||84|
|Knog Blinder front||$49.95||USB||37||9||9.08||75||83|
|Cateye Nano Shot||$99.95||USB||99||10||9.50||80||83|
|Lezyne Micro Drive front||$54.95||USB||66||10||8.6||80||83|
|ES Gamma Ray||$130.00||USB/mains||143||9||8.17||86||81|
|Owleye Solar Highbred 40||$79.00||USB/solar||138||10||8.33||83||80|
|Knog Blinder Arc 1.7||$69.95||USB||102||10||10.00||64||78|
|Serfas 200 lumen Headlight||$74.99||USB||102||10||9.11||73||78|
|Owleye Highlux 5 front||$39.95||USB||41||8||7.67||76||76|
|Serfas Thunderbolt front||$49.99||USB||48||10||9.08||65||77|
|LiteRover Deluxe White LED||$29.95||AAA x 4||140||8||8.22||76||77|
|Knog Blinder Road 2||$84.95||USB||76||10||9.56||63||77|
|Blackburn Super Flea front||$69.95||USB||40||10||9.6||70||76|
|Tioga Alien front||$29.99||AAA x 3||67||10||9.50||65||76|
|Blackburn Flea 2.0 USB front||$64.95||USB||20||9||8.75||70||76|
|Knog Boomer USB Front||$49.95||USB||46||7||7.92||65||75|
|Moon Comet front||$44.95||USB||47||10||9.50||58||74|
|BBB Spark front||$44.95||USB||27||9.5||8.42||66||74|
|Knog Blinder 1 front||$29.95||USB||16||10||9.8||55||74|
|Lezyne Zecto Drive front||$44.95||USB||50||10||9.00||63||74|
|Planet Bike Beamer 5||$39.00||AA x 2||116||10||8.25||75||73|
|Knog Gekko||$32.95||AAA x 2||54||10||9.11||63||71|
|Ilumenox Vega 3w||$130.00||USB||140||9||8.83||71||71|
|Ilumenox Highpower SS-L1222W||$79.00||AAA x 3||93||10||8.33||79||71|
|Lezyne Hecto Drive Front||$54.99||USB||66||5||6.67||71||71|
|Owleye Highlux 30||$52.95||USB||65||10||9.00||59||69|
|Lezyme Femto Drive Front||$16.95||USB||27||10||8.33||49||68|
|Planet bike Blaze 2W||$89.95||AA x 2||142||6.00||7.7||68||65|
|NiteRider Mako 200||$59.00||AA x 2||164||8||6.50||77||65|
|BBB EcoBeam||$24.99||AAA x 3||76||10||8.56||61||64|
|Bontrager Ion 1.5||$39.95||AAA x 3||107||10||8.11||55||64|
|Portland Design Works Dreadnought||$59.00||AAA x 3||121||8.5||7.00||81||64|
|Bontrager Ion 2||$49.95||AAA x 3||107||10||8.11||54||62|
|Bontrager Ion 1||$34.95||AAA x 3||102||10||8.11||47||59|
|Bontrager Ion 700||$139.95||USB||141||10||6.33||50||56|
Table key RRP: Recommended retail price, Ch/B: Charge method / battery, W: Weight (grams), WR: water resistance (/10), D: Design score total (/10),V: Visibility (/100), OR: Overall rating (/100).
Compact rear lights
|Moon Shield rear||$59.95||USB||57||9||8.83||83||86|
|Knog Blinder 1 rear||$29.95||USB||16||10||9.67||69||83|
|Knog Blinder rear||$49.95||USB||40||9||9.08||72||82|
|Serfas Thunderbolt rear||$49.95||USB||48||10||9.08||74||81|
|Tioga Dual Eyes USB||$39.99||USB||81||10||8.44||85||80|
|Lezyne Micro Drive rear||$54.95||USB||73||10||8.83||69||79|
|Serfas Seat Stay Taillight||$29.95||CR2032 x 2||37||10||8.83||73||78|
|BBB BLS-Highlaser||$34.95||AAA x 2||64||10||8.11||84||78|
|Serfas Raider rear USL-5R||$59.95||USB||38||9||9.00||69||77|
|S-Sun Eaglefly||$25.00||AAA x 2||73||10||7.44||88||77|
|Serfas True 80||$89.99||USB||81||10||9.33||69||76|
|BBB Spark rear||$44.95||USB||27||8||8.25||70||76|
|Knog Blinder 4V rear||$49.95||USB||44||8||8.00||65||75|
|Tioga Alien rear||$29.99||AAA x 2||67||10||9.50||66||75|
|Moon Comet rear||$44.95||USB||47||10||9.50||58||75|
|Skully 1W Rear||$25.00||USB||12||9||7.67||81||74|
|NiteRider Solas 2W||$69.00||USB||73||10||8.67||68||73|
|Blackburn Super Flea rear||$59.95||USB||33||10||8.50||68||72|
|Cateye Rapid 5||$49.95||AAA x 2||59||9||9.00||56||72|
|Lezyne Zecto Drive rear||$44.95||USB||52||10||9.00||55||71|
|Portland Design Works Danger
|$39.95||AAA x 2||74||7||7.33||69||71|
|Owleye HighLux 5 rear||$39.95||USB||48||8||7.67||64||70|
|Lezyme Femto Drive rear||$16.95||USB||28||10||8.33||53||70|
|Knog Blinder Road R||$64.95||USB||53||10||9.56||49||69|
|Moon Gem 3.0 rear||$34.95||USB||33||7.00||8.25||66||68|
|Cygo-lite Hotshot USB||$69.95||USB||60||9.00||8.50||58||67|
|Fibre flare Long Red||$39.95||AAA x 2||84||9.00||8.00||60||67|
|Planet Bike Superflash||$34.95||AAA x 2||70||10.00||7.00||65||66|
|Cateye Rapid 3||$14.95||AAx1||61||10||9.63||48||66|
|Ilumenox Crocolight||$29.00||CR2032 x 2||32||10.00||5.00||67||62|
|Infini Amuse rear||$14.95||CR2032 x 2||13||6.00||6.00||67||61|
|NiteRider Cherry Bomb 1W||$39.95||AAA x 2||79||8.00||5.25||69||61|
|Bontrager Flare 2||$29.95||AAA x 2||73||9||8.33||49||60|
|Bontrager Flare 1||$19.95||AAA x 2||70||9||8.33||47||60|
|Knog Beetle rear||$25.95||CR2032 x 2||21||10.00||5.00||66||60|
|Lezyne Hecto Drive rear||$54.99||USB||68||5||6.67||51||60|
High-powered front lights
|Moon Power 500||$149.95||USB||174||9||9.29||81||86|
|Fyxo King Bright||$79.00||Mains||411||7||9.00||83||82|
|Lezyne Power Drive||$99.95||USB||158||10||8.67||71||80|
|NiteRider Lumina 350||$119.90||USB||170||10||9.83||71||80|
|Lezyne Mini Drive||$74.95||USB||103||10||9.00||66||78|
|Cateye Nano Shot+||$149.95||USB||179||10||9.50||73||78|
|Serfas True 750||$179.99||USB and mains||258||2||6.22||78||78|
|Light and motion Urban 550||$200.00||USB||113||10||9.50||67||77|
|Knog Blinder Arc 5.5||$129.95||USB||150||10||10.00||59||76|
|Serfas True 500+||$149.99||USB and mains||150||5||7.89||74||75|
|Serfas True 1000||$349.99||USB and mains||327||10||9.78||69||74|
|BBB Strike 500||$149.99||USB||131||10||8.11||73||71|
|Cygo-Lite Expilion||$169.00||USB and mains||169||10||9.00||64||71|
|Serfas True 250||$99.99||USB||150||8||8.89||60||71|
|Knog Blinder Road 3||$99.95||USB||105||10||9.56||52||71|
|NiteRider Mi.Newt Pro 750||$329.00||Mains||259||10||6.00||79||70|
|Exposure Lights Joystick||$320.00||Mains||150||8||8.33||61||67|
|Ay-Up V Twin Sport||$275.00||Mains||184||9||8.17||68||66|
|BBB Strike 300||$119.99||USB||131||10||8.11||63||66|
|Exposure Lights Diablo||$299.00||Mains||175||8||8.50||62||58|
Table key RRP: Recommended retail price, W: Weight (grams), Ch/B: Charge method / battery, V: Visibility (/100), WR: water resistance (/10), D: Design score total (/10), OR: Overall rating (/100).
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