Good bike lights are empowering, pun intended. But really, with the end of daylight savings plummeting evening commutes and dinnertime grocery runs into darkness, many readers may be spending a lot of time biking around town at night for the first time. But with a good set of lights, a little darkness does not need to be a reason to leave your bike at home. In fact, some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike happened at night. Having lights and whatever other reflective stuff helps you feel confident riding at night is an incredible feeling. Add in proper rain gear, and nothing can stop you from getting around by bike.
Speaking of night riding, Commute Seattle is hosting their annual Light Up Your Trip event from 3–5 p.m. Wednesday (Nov 8) in Occidental Park in Pioneer Square. You an score free safety gear, food and more.
The good news for bike light buyers these days is that technological advancements in LEDs and batteries mean that a good set of lights is easier to find and more affordable than ever. When I first started writing this site, awful little lights powered by watch batteries were still very common. Now you can get powerful lights in all kinds of form factors, which is great. The downside, of course, is that with so many choices and no clear standards (in the US anyway), it can difficult to know what to choose. So while I have written versions of this post many times before, here is my updated advice for 2023:
- Buy lights. This is the most important rule of all. It is not only legally required to have at least a front white headlight and a rear red reflector (a rear light is strongly recommended), but having lights is vital for safety.
- Your headlight should illuminate the street or path in front of you. If you find it difficult to spot things like potholes or unlit people, then it is time for a headlight upgrade. Spending a little more on a good light is probably the single most cost-effective bike upgrade I can think of. It is so much more enjoyable to ride at night when you can confidently see what is in front of you.
- Angle your light beam forward and down. Make sure the strongest part of your light beam is not pointed directly into people’s eyes. It may be counterintuitive, but people are better able to see you and track your position when your light is splashing off the ground in front of you than if your beam is going directly into their pupils. You can also look for a light that meets the German StVZO standard, which means they use optics to shape the light beam similar to a car headlight in order to prevent shining in people’s eyes while still being very bright. Most dynamo-powered lights meet this standard, and they are by far my favorite.
- Take your light with you when you lock up so it does not get stolen. Light theft is common, especially if it is battery-powered and easy to remove.
- Use your lights when the sun is low, not just when it is dark. Your lights can help you stand out when the low sun causes windshield glare. Likewise, use your lights when it is rainy or foggy out.
For the ultimate solution, I absolutely love hub dynamo-powered lights. They are a set-it-and-forget-it solution. They turn on automatically when I start pedaling, they’re very bright, they are bolted to the bike, and they do not require batteries. It’s my single favorite bike upgrade for someone who bikes all year and in all weather conditions. You can significantly reduce the cost by making the upgrade when you get a new front wheel since building a new wheel is a big chunk of the cost for this upgrade.