One of the most obivous signs that the summer is soon to be over is that it gets dark sooner and sooner and it means that you are less and less visible to other participants of the traffic. We all tend to underestimate the importance of being seen, assuming that drivers can see us, even without being properly illuminated, but anybody who has driven car in the dark knows that things look very different from inside a car. On the other hand, once you decided you are ready to buy a light, you face an abundance of choice in every price band. To make the decision-making a bit easier, we set out to do a comprehensive lights review to show you how a couple of different lights work in real-life situations – the fact that a light delivers 100 lumens didn’t tell us much either. A couple of words about our methodology: we went to an empty road where we parked Will‘s car. He walked roughly 50 feet from the car, we left the headlights turned on and snapped a photo from the driver’s seat. Same conditions for each and every light, so the results were comparable. We distinguished three price bands: sub £50, £50 – £100 and £100+. Whilst comparing a light that costs £19.99 and one that costs £244 wouldn’t be fair, we had our favourite in every category. Some lights were almost perfect but there was a tiny detail that lowered our overall impression. And now, without further ado, let’s see the tested 14 lights. For your convenience, we have also prepared the PDF version, so if you prefered a printout version, follow the link to download our bike light review .
Sub £50 lights
Electron Backupz Led Twinpack - It does what it says on the tin: it's a backup solution, even though it turned out to be surprisingly good. They can be put on the bike in no time and you can fit them even into a purse - might be a lifesaver on a dark autumn evening
Smart Polaris 4Lux - A neat and simple lighting solution from Smart. The rear one looks a bit cheap but it delivers when it comes to lighting. The front light runs on 2xAA batteries and delivers suprising amount of light and the same applies for the back (2xAAA), however, after changing batteries, it can be a bit tricky to put the two parts back together.
Cateye HL270/LD270 - Apart from the Backupz, the smallest ligths in the review, but they did very well, compared to their bigger competitors. There were two minor things I didn't like: they require an obscure battery type (LR-01) and the front light's mount is different from other Cateye lights.
Cateye EL135/TL150 - A decent light set, the back light blinks reasonably brightly and the front emits enough light too, though I wouldn't use them to actually light the road, it is not strong enought for that. The front runs on 2xAA, the rear runs on 2xAAA batteries.
Cateye EL220/TL150 - A good set of lights, the front light might even be capable of actually lighting the road in front of the bike, though in continuous mode it will eat the batteries pretty soon - and that's personal experience, I used to use the same front light for years. Front runs on 4xAA, rear runs on 2xAAA batteries.
Cateye EL320/TL610 - The first lightset in the £50-£100 category. The TL610 is a very good, bright rear light, unfortunately, though the photos can be deceiving - it is much brighter in reality. The front light runs on 2xAAs, the rear runs on 2xAAAs.
Cateye EL520/TL610 - A bright light set a little above £50. While the rear light runs on 2xAAA batteries and it's dead easy to change batteries, when I changed the 4xAA batteries in the front unit, I was afraid that I might break it or ruin it some other way the locking mechanism.
Cateye EL530/LD1100 - The first really big light set - especially the rear light looks like a weird monster's eye. Accordingly, both were really bright, but battery replacement (front: 4xAA, rear: 2xAA) can be tricky, especially the front light freaked me out, I was afraid that I might crack it while I tried to open it. I quite liked, however, that both front and rear requires AA batteries.
Exposure Flash/Flare - The Exposure Flash/Flare are small but very-very effective lights. Both the front and the rear lights emit ample light and it's very easy to install on the bike. The batteries are a bit problematic, however: they run on CR123 batteries which is very hard to buy, so if they die while you are out and about, there is only a slim chance that you can replace them.
Cateye Single Shot / TL610 - Just a little bit below £100, this excellent pair of lights, it features the first rechargable front light. It's a powerful front light and it can lasts up to 24 hours with one charge. The rear light needs 2xAAA batteries.
Niterider MiNewt Mini 250 - It looks like an ugly taser from an early Star Trek movie, but when it lights up, it's performance is very close to the Exposure Strada. If you can look beyond looks, it's a very good front light at an excellent price point.
Exposure Joystick + Redeye - The Joystick/Redeye rechargeable combo offers a single-battery solution: a chord connects the front and the rear light and the the front light's battery powers the rear too. Whilst this decreased the size of the rear light, it just adds extra clutter to the bike and removing the lights can be a chore. The amount and the quality of light is excellent though.
Exposure Diablo / Flare - The Diablo has a built in battery and provides a lot of light. It comes with a nifty helmet mount that can be installed pretty easily but a handlebar mount is available, too. It takes the light 4 hours to fully charge and in low setting, where it still very bright, lasts until 10 hours.
Exposure Strada + Exposure Flare - The brightest light of this batch is the Exposure Strada - it creates almost daylight in front of you. It might be a bit of an overkill for commuting, on the other hand, no one can say that they didn't see you coming. Takes 8 hours to recharge fully and it comes with a handlebar mount.
Conclusion The dark of the winter brings the imperative of being seen and the lights above will help you do that. You can find simple lights, that do a great job illuminating you so others can see you. Our favourite was the Smart Polaris which is a great lightest for only £19.99. If you need more power to light your way to or from work, the deceptively small but very powerful Exposure Flash/Flare kit for £84.99 is definitely a great choice. If you, however, want to use your light not only for commuting but on lonely training rides during dark and cold winter nights, the best option is probably the Niterider MiNewt Mini 250, a blindingly strong front light with a very modest price tag at £129.99.
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