Making yourself visible on the road when it is dark is a no brainer. It's also a legal requirement in most countries.
Although a simple set of cheap lights might seem like enough, there is a strong reason - your own safety - for fitting lights that are more than simply adequate. The lights in this roundup are predominantly self-contained units that are easy to fit, run on readily available AA or AAA batteries and kick out enough light to ensure that you're 'seen' in the dark. (It's purely a bonus if they produce enough light to help you 'see' where you are riding. We'll have a test of larger, more powerful, and more expensive lights that light up the road soon.
Trelock LS725/LS605 twin pack | £36.99
Both of these lights are available separately, and that's a good thing because the LS725 front light is fantastic, while the LS605 rear isn't.
The front Ecopower LED runs off four AA batteries, kicks out nearly as much light as the very bright Cateye Single Shot and is hugely visible. It gave just over nine hours of use before the light level dropped off considerably, and then ran for a further 19 hours. It is also bright enough to see with.
The six-LED rear LS605, powered by two AAAs, is pretty dismal. It doesn't give out much light, and what it does has to poke through a tiny slot in the light unit. It is visible from all angles, but it isn't really bright enough from those angles. If we had tested the LS725 alone it would have easily scored 9 out of 10.
The LS725 is a wonderful light, buy it alone and get a proper rear light.
Nite Rider Ultrafazer 3.0/TL 5.0 combo pack
The front Ultrafazer 3.0 packs quite a punch considering it's just three LEDs powered by two AA batteries.
It gives off an impressive puddle of light, just enough to ride with but with good visibility thanks to the LED arrangement and the side 'window' on the body of the light. It is also waterproof to 50 metres - untested, as we don't have 50-metre deep buckets - aided by the magnetic switch on the rear. The mounting is a tool-free design that's reasonably easy to install, and it is accompanied by a good little rear light.
The TL 5.0 uses three large LEDs and two smaller ones pointing out to the sides.
The clamp for the seatpost requires a screwdriver to fit, but the light body itself has a clip for hooking on your bag or jacket. They're both very well sealed and offer fantastic performance.
Good all-round lights with great build quality
Blackburn Quadrant/Mars 3.0 combo pack
Two tried-and-tested lights in a sub-30 quid package has to be a good deal in anybody's book.
The Quadrant front light is a good all-rounder and, thanks to the open front lens design, its visibility from the side and obtuse angles is excellent. With a quality mount and 102 hours of run time (claimed 110 hours) in constant mode, and just over 310 hours in flashing mode (claimed 300 hours), the Quadrant is a star performer in its own right.
The fact you get the great little Mars 3.0 rear light for this money too makes it a bargain.
The mount is a little fiddly, but this is a rear light that's bright from all angles and one of the best sealed units you can buy. You do have to use a screwdriver and remove three screws to change batteries, but after two years of service our old test sample is still working fine and has never failed due to ingress of water. Runtimes for the rear exceed the claimed 150 hours by nearly 20 hours.
A cracking buy if you're after a front and rear lights set
Electron Nano 1 Front / 7 LED Rear Light - twinpack | £29.95
With a 1 watt LED and a fairly well controlled beam pattern the Nano 1 is a light you can ride with at reasonable speeds.
It's not too visible at obtuse angles so is worth supplementing with a secondary light for visibility.
The all alloy construction is top quality though, and the sealing first rate.
The rear light is excellent. Similar in design to the Nite Rider TL5.0, it is a seven-LED unit with a lens that lights up, rather than focuses the light. The rear mount requires a flat blade screwdriver for fitting, and the front is toolless.
For the money, this is a nice balance of lighting, edged out by the Nite Rider Ultrafazer and Blackburn Quadrant/Mars 3.0 combo packs.
Top quality and good performance for not much money
Electron Backupz LED Safety Light - twinpack | £12.95
These are small and surprisingly bright units that you can more or less mount anywhere you like.
They are perfect for keeping in your bag, desk drawer or saddle-pack, so if your main lights run down you can stick these on and be seen.
The rear is brighter and features a CR2032 battery, with the front slightly dimmer and running on two CR2016 batteries.
The run times, as you would expect due to the battery differences, are much longer on the rear.
The Backupz are not designed to be used as main lighting but they're prefect for keeping handy for those 'just in case' moments as the batteries will last a long time when the lights are not in use.
Simple, well thought out product that works, scored on their intended purpose
Bbb BLS27 | £15.95
This is a three-LED unit that runs on three rechargeable AAA batteries (Ni-MH 600mAh), which are included.
There's a problem with that right away in that most chargers on the market charge AAA batteries in pairs, with only a few letting you charge just one, or three. So you will have to buy a single battery matching these batteries for capacity in order to charge them on most chargers.
Putting that aside this is a simple unit that is pretty well made, but with a basic handlebar mount which does not allow the light to be twisted from side to side at all. But... at £15.95, it is bright, well sealed and the little side window on the LEDs works pretty well for visibility.
You'll need a suitable charger, or you could just use regular AAA batteries
Blackburn Design Voyager 3.0 | £29.95
The light readings showed the Voyager 3.0 to be surprisingly bright, but only in a very narrow portion of the beam.
Given both this fact and the distance by which the LED is recessed into the lens, the light's side-on visibility suffers. It is nowhere near as visible as the Quadrant - which comes in a two-pack for the same money.
The beam from the Voyager is just enough to ride with on dark roads, but if you're travelling at any kind of speed its limited projection soon comes into play and you find yourself riding beyond the scope of the light. Running on four AAA batteries it gave 18 hours of constant light, which is two hours less than claimed. This isn't a bad light by any means, but it's not bright enough to ride with at speed, and not as visible as other comparable lights.
Well made but stuck between a riding light and a commuter light
Cateye EL 135 3 LED LIGHT | £19.99
Small but bright from all angles and with a simple tool-free mount that works well.
Powered by two AA batteries this light gave well in excess of Cateye's claimed run times of 80 hours constant and 320 hours flashing (we recorded 91 and 328).
The LEDs are set forwards in the open lens design, making the impressive light output for such a small unit really stand out from the side and obtuse angles, and although it's not bright enough to ride with on dark roads at speed, this is a cracking little light to be seen with. When you power up the unit it starts in flashing mode so that when your batteries are running low you do not need to cycle through the full power setting first, resulting in a light that will at least flash to get you home on virtually flat batteries.
Typical Cateye - well made, functional, well thought out and affordable
Cateye LD150F | £12.99
Five LEDs in a traditional lozenge shaped case designed purely for visibility form the basis of the LD150F. It is also available as a rear light in red (for £9.99) and comes with a the excellent Cateye Flex-Tight mounting allowing it to be fitted almost anywhere you like.
There is also a clip mounting in the box, allowing it to be fitted to clothing loops and bag straps. Run times again exceeded Cateye's claimed time by about three hours, and we got 93 hours of flashing, and 49 hours of constant use. This is a nice little supplementary unit and it is versatile enough to be used either on the bike or on your jacket/bag/helmet and so on.
Well made and well sealed, with good run times for its batteries
Cateye Single Shot | £59.99
We're the first to properly test this brand spanking new offering from Cateye and its new reverse lens technology lighting out on the roads.
The single LED is placed at the front of the light, pointing backwards to a lens which then focuses the light and aims it forwards. This results in almost all of the available light from the LED being used rather than allowing it to spill or spread in unwanted directions.
Powered by its own 4.8v Lithium Ion battery pack and coming complete with dedicated charger, the Single Shot is very bright, but also highly visible thanks to the front lens design. It's a superbly well made unit with a compact and neat alloy body, robust seals, and a very smooth switch. The Flex-Tight mounting is excellent, and run times from a full charge were exactly one hour in excess of the claimed 2 hours on high, 6 hours on low, and 24 hours flashing.
Pricey, but fantastic, easily good enough to ride at speed with too
Niterider UltrafazerMax | £45
A 1 watt LED running from just two AA batteries is not going to last for a long time.
Sure enough, we managed just under the claimed three hours on full power, just under five hours on low power setting, and a little over the claimed nine hours in flashing mode. Unlike the Ultrafazer 3.0, though, there is no side window on this light, but visibility isn't too bad at more obtuse angles. It does give off some nice peripheral light though, and it is bright enough to ride with at pretty good speeds on unlit roads.
The clamp is nice, easy to fit and very solid in use. We can't help but think this light should be powered by four AA batteries instead of two for better run-times. That said, it's waterproof, very well made and comes complete with two bar mounts. As well as the short run times it's also a little pricey.
Nice and bright, but a bit short on burn time
Torch LA4100 | £14.99
Our initial aesthetic impressions of the LA4100 from Torch weren't that favourable but as soon as we turned it on that all changed.
This thing fires out an impressive little beam, but also scores highly for visibility thanks to an open side 'window' on the body.
The run time was a little over 13 hours in constant mode, which is good going for a 1 watt LED running from four AAAs - the flashing mode saw that stretch to just under 32 hours. Despite its cheap and plasticky appearance the light is well made and well sealed, although the clamp could be better, it works and is reasonably easy to fit.
All in all, a surprisingly good little light
Cateye LD610 | £19.99
he old Cateye LD600 was a great rear light, and the LD610 is the logical evolution of that design.
Powered by two AAA batteries housed inside a well sealed and well made unit, its light comes from five LEDs each with their own lens 'nest'. The Flex-Tight mounting as found on other Cateye lights is quick and simple to use, not to mention secure and durable.
The sealed rubber switch requires you to push and hold to turn it off, meaning you cannot accidentally kill the light - single pushes simply cycle between the flashing or constant modes. With the LEDs mounted further out than the old LD600 this light is more visible from wider angles, and also offers longer run times; we managed just under the claimed 30 hours of constant light with 29 hours and a few minutes, but longer than the claimed flashing time of 60 hours with just over 61 hours.
One of the best rear lights you can buy
Knog Bullfrog Rear | £16
This is a light unit contained within a silicone housing that also doubles up as the clamp.
Sporting five LEDs powered by three AAA batteries, there are an assortment of flashing modes to choose from, as well as constant light. The run times were nowhere near the claimed times though, with a little over 132 hours in flashing mode, well under the claimed 220.
Although not that bright in the light readings, the impressive thing about the Bullfrog is its visibility. The whole silicone body more or less lights up in the dark, making it highly visible from all angles. The lack of a mounting makes it simple to fit almost anywhere, although on smaller diameter seatposts it did tend to move over the bumps when wet. A white front version is also available.
Soon ends up beige with dirt, but a good performer nontheless
S-Sun Doubleview | £17.99
The idea of a combined white and red light in one unit might seem like a good idea, until you fit it to a bike.
If you put it on your seatpost, you end up with a red light only visible from one side, and a white light which illuminates the back of your leg. If you put it on your bars, then you get a white light in front, and you light yourself up red. But... If you put it on the side of your helmet... Ah ha! You would need two of them, but it's not a bad idea, and adds a lot of visibility at the expense of looking a bit like a Christmas tree. The only problem is, you have to pay £17.99 two times to do both sides of your helmet. A slightly bonkers product, but one that we couldn't help but try to find a use for purely because it exists.
Strange, slightly silly, but in a way reassuringly quite good - on your helmet...
Niterider Tailfazer rear | £15
In terms of brightness, this has the edge on the Electron unit found in the Electron Nano 1 front / 7 LED rear light twin pack, but it is not as bright as the Cateye LD610 (which is only a fiver more).
It is slightly less bright than both of those lights at obtuse angles, but it is still very good indeed.
Despite initial reservations about the weatherproofing, it is well sealed and runs substantially longer than the claimed 30 hours, with ours only recording a marked drop in brightness at the 36 hour marker from the two AAA batteries. Like the Cateye and the Electron it can be mounted vertically or horizontally, and the supplied mount is pretty easy to install.
Bright, well made and easy to fit, but the birghter LD610 is only a fiver more
The Big Verdict
If you're shopping for a pack of lights then you'll be hard pushed to better the Blackburn Quadrant/Mars 3.0 combo.
The Trelock pack contains the fantastic LS725, and the Nite Rider Ultrafazer 3.0/TL 5.0 pack is a cracking little set-up too. If you're buying just a front light, then you can't really beat the new Cateye Single Shot for performance. The price might seem steep, but once you start using it you'll realise it is indeed one of those rare products that are truly worth the money.
Trelock do sell the LS725 by itself, and it's a stunning performer let down only a little by its mount. As for rear lights, the new Cateye LD610 sets a high standard. It is just a little better, in all aspects, than any other comparable rear light out there, and that sets it apart from the crowd. Both the rear lights from the Nite Rider and the Electron Nano packs are great too, and they're available separately as well. Remember, though, that any light is better than no light at all. It could make the difference between a car seeing you and braking, or your worst nightmare...
Be seen, be safe and be sensible in the coming winter months.