Editor’s Note: We continue our regular feature – providing a rundown from RBR Contributors on our favorites across the spectrum of components, nutrition, clothing, accessories, you name it. Today we discuss our lights. (Here’s a link to the gamut of RBR Favorites.)
Also, in next week’s RBR Newsletter, we’ll have a review of the Bontrager Flare R tail light (the favorite of a couple of our contributors), and in a future issue we’ll have a “roundup” article that will feature some basic info on a number of lights to provide a “selection resource” for anyone in the market for new lights.
We also want to hear from readers on your favorites! Join in the fun either by commenting below the Newsletter version of this article or using the form at Tell Us About Your: Favorites (you can always find it in the Talk to RBR section on every page of the site.) We’ll gather up your submissions and run them as a follow-up to this article (and future RBR Favorites pieces).
Enjoy, and let us hear from you about your own Favorites.
– John Marsh
Editor’s Note: Just a couple of things before turning this over to our contributors to tell you which lights, if any, they use regularly:
1. If you do use a full-time tail light (or headlight), ensure that the angle is correct. That is, the light should be as level (parallel to the ground) as possible. It should not be angled up, so that it doesn’t bother fellow riders. Also, if the light’s angled up, that will greatly cut down on the distance at which the light can be seen from behind (or in front), greatly lessening the effectiveness. Check the mounting of your light before hitting the road.
2. From Coach John Hughes: At night, randonneuring rules and many state regulations require a steady (not flashing) tail light. I’ll check to see if a second flashing light is okay and what the rules are during daylight.
3. The more discussion about lights, the more I’m noting usage differences based on geography, local traffic, etc. I’ll likely address this in a future column.
I do not run full-time lights, but I see riders with them more and more around here.
I don’t ride enough at night to need a front light. But I do have a favorite rear light, Planet Bike’s Blinky Super Flash. It’s about $25, runs seemingly forever on 2 AAA batteries and its best trick is that it comes with a handful of clamps allowing installation lots of different places.
This greatly improves the chances of being able to find an ideal location regardless of your frame type and other accessories that may be in the way. Also, this is one bright light. On blink mode, there are 2 small LEDs that blink and then a large center “Blaze” LED that is much brighter. The two different lights levels really get your attention. Planet Bike also gives a portion of its profits to bicycle advocacy.
One of our favorite tandem rides, the Colorado National Monument, requires front and rear lights for the 3 tunnels. I always wear brightly colored jerseys for visibility but I’ve begun to use running lights on most rides in spite of the bright Colorado sun, just to add an extra measure of safety.
I use a Bontrager Flare R on the rear, switching two of them around from the tandem to single bikes. This thing is a supernova! By far the brightest of the rechargeable rear lightsavailable. Holds a charge for several long rides, charges quickly, has several modes from flashing to steady and can be seen almost a mile away. On my first ride a woman in an SUV pulled over to ask me where to get one!
On the front of the tandem I use a Cygolite Dart. It’s plenty powerful and has a pulsing mode that attracts attention.
I’m upgrading. My LBS recommends the CatEye RapidX3 with either a white/clear lens for front or red lens for rear. It weighs 46g. It uses a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery, which is supposed to recharge in 3 hours using a USB port.
As a front light in the brightest steady state mode it puts out 200 lumens for an hour. This is good if a ride takes a little longer than planned or riding home from town at dusk / dark. If that’s not enough time I can switch to low steady state mode for 40 lumens for 5 hours. Flashing, it puts out 30 lumens for 30 hours. A flashing front light is very important for riding in town so that drivers in the front or sides can see me and don’t do something dangerous.
As a rear light it puts out 100 lumens steady state for an hour. Flashing it puts out 30 lumens for 30 hours.
I’ve been using CatEye front and rear lights for over 20 years, including 1200K brevets and RAAM, with extended night riding, and have never had a problem.
As I’ve mentioned a few times in various articles, I use See.Sense Icon full-time flashers, front and rear. (Click to read my review.) These lights are purpose-built for daytime be-seen use. I have been running flashers full-time front and rear for several years now, and these lights are the best I’ve used. The form factor for the front and rear lights is exactly the same, which makes for an unobtrusive mount on the handlebar as well as the seatpost (which is where I now mount my rear after freeing up some space back there).
But there are a few features that really make these lights stand out. The auto-on function, which uses an accelerometer to sense any movement of the bike, automatically turns on the lights when you ride. So even if you are forgetful, your lights are on. The accelerometer also senses your speed and changes the flash rate when you slow down or speed up. And there’s a light sensor in there, too, which makes the lights brighter when it gets darker out (like when you’re rolling through a tunnel, underpass, or shady street). Finally, the battery life for the lights is approximately 15 hours, so you do not need to recharge them quite as often as some other electronics.
I love my Blackburn 2’fer as always-on running lights. Each light has both white and red settings, solid and blinking for both – which makes for a very versatile be-seen light. I run blinking red rear and blinking white front. I also run a true headlight in flashing mode for daytime, a Light and Motion Urban 500. When it gets dark and I switch the headlight to solid beam, I still have the front-facing 2’fer blinking.
The rear light I’ve been using for several years on all my bikes is the Bontrager Flare R. It has several modes and can be seen up to 2 km away in bright sunlight. Also, it’s USB-rechargeable so no batteries to clog landfills. (Watch for my review of the Bontrager Flare R in next week’s edition of RBR Newsletter).
After testing the Bontrager ION 800 RT for an RBR review (click to read the review), I started using it on my bikes during the day. Cars can’t judge how fast you are going or don’t see you. The daytime running light (same concept as a motorcycle) makes me more visible. I definitely have seen a difference in how drivers interact with me when using the light. They seem to notice me more and don’t cut me off.
The Ion 800 RT and the Flare RT can be controlled by certain Garmin models to turn on/off with the Garmin unit. So you never have to remember to turn them on.
I use a rear red blinker light when it is dusk or darker. I don’t use it during the daytime. We had proposed legislation in Iowa for all bikes to have a “steady red light” on the rear. I don’t know why a “steady” light was proposed; I think a blinky is much more visible. I only use a headlight when it’s dark, as well. I use it at low beam in steady mode. Those blinky front lights drive me crazy.
My favorite rear light is the Supernova from Road ID – it’s very small, bright, lightweight, and inexpensive.
As for my favorite front light, I don’t even know the brand. It’s a lightweight LED light – also very bright, lasts a long time on a single charge, and is rechargeable.
Tip! I bought a couple of LED flashlights from Menards for about $3 each. When riding at night I throw one of them in my pocket as an emergency light in case my other one dies.
As for front lights, I like a number of them. The Cateye Volt 1200 can see into the future, it’s so bright. However, it takes a long time to recharge and it’s somewhat bulky. Lezyne and Niterider have great lights. I like the rear lights from both of these companies.
I use a rear light always, even on group rides in the daytime. Solo daytime riding I make sure I use a front blinking light every time out, as well.
Tell us about your Favorites by commenting below the Newsletter version of this article or or using the form at Tell Us About Your: Favorites.
John Marsh is the former editor and publisher of RBR Newsletter and RoadBikeRider.com. A rider of "less than podium" talent, he brought our readers consistently useful, informative, entertaining info that helps make them better road cyclists. That's what we're all about here—always have been, always will be. Click to read John's full bio.