The nights may be drawing in but that's no excuse to stop riding. Whatever turns your wheels, from quiet commutes to charging through the woods in pursuit of better night riding skills, there's a light for you. We know because we've tested them. Make sure you're comfy and read on - it's the last excuse you have for staying indoors.
What we looked for
There's no doubt that the increase in popularity of 24-hour racing has driven the rapid advances in light technology. It used to be that you had a choice between the sort of light that illuminated a faint area just beyond your front wheel and expensive rechargeable things with battery packs that doubled the weight of your bike and a lamp that often faded to nothing (for no good reason) just as you reached the darkest area. These days, though, reliability has gone up while battery weight and charge times have come down. And thanks to advances in LED technology, the market has filled up fast with lights powerful enough to do the job, but that don't require a second mortgage to buy.
HID used to be the gold standard for anyone wanting a powerful beam. It still is really: there's nothing quite like it for providing a beautiful ray of light that almost turns night into day. However HID lights are expensive, fragile and have limited run times. They also have a very directional beam, which is great for seeing a long way but if you're planning to ride twisting singletrack through the darkness, increasing your vision on the trail margin will help a lot.
This is where LEDs come in, as they provide a broader beam that will light up your peripheral vision. The trade-off used to be that you then had to compromise on power, but at the top end
of the market that's no longer the case, and you can get fantastic LED lights that will give you enough reach, with a better spread of light. A bit like having your cake and eating it, too.
Once you've chosen your technology, it's down to the practicalities. Does it fit your bike and equally importantly, is it easy to fit? Lights with an integral battery where you have to remove the whole unit to charge ideally need a separate mount so you can pop them in and out fast. In our experience, simple works best (if it's a faff now, imagine the swearing in the dark and the pouring rain).
Battery and run times are inextricably linked, so you'll need to decide how much juice you need - then add a bit for safety. Most lights are moving to the lighter, more reliable, faster charging Li-ion batteries, but you can save a few pennies by going for something with a Ni-Mh battery. Your trade-off is that it will be heavier for the equivalent output and need more careful charging. You can extend run times by carrying an extra pack, so if you know you're going to need that security, look for offers on additional batteries when you buy.
Read on for the reviews...
Infini Adventurer | £30
At a shade under £30 you wouldn't expect this to be race ready - and it's not. But the round, open face of the light means that it does look like it should be brighter than it is. The low-power beam has a dark centre spot with progressively blue and yellow rings spreading from it, so you're not going to strap it on the bars and trust it to get you down anything trail wise.
But it is extremely light in weight, which means that it won't break your neck if you use it on your helmet and it's easy to use. So if you're looking for a budget priced secondary light source to supplement the light you run on your bars, this would be okay.
A low-cost secondary light option, but too underpowered to use on its own
BLT Ozone | £65
This is a neat little unit that feels well made. The mounting system is easy to use and it's small enough to throw in a pack so it can be snapped into place for the trundle home after late-finishing trail sessions. And that's what we'd keep it for - the last half an hour after the sun has set, or as an emergency backup.
The light lacks power and is too torch-like and restricted for serious trail use, although if you're absolutely limited to under £100 then the Topeak Whitelite does have a more versatile beam for trail use. But if it's a low-cost, small pack size, urban commute light you're after (and for relatively short distances or you're gonna burn through the batteries) this could fit the bill.
Basic light that's too narrow and under-powered for off-road use
Petzl Tikka XP | £40
Not strictly a bike light but we've included this because everyone needs a handy chuck-in-the-pack/around-the-camp light and this is so much better than clenching a torch between your teeth as you struggle double-handed with the enmeshed tent zip after coming in from a night lap.
The light itself is surprisingly good, with a flip-across lens switching it from spot to flood, and a boost button to provide extra power (the downside being you have to keep your finger on it to get the boost). We'd use it as a helmet light at a push - and it's invaluable for trailside repairs in the dark.
Emergency/pits light (practically compulsory for 24 hour races)
Topeak Whitelite HP3W | £76
This torch-like light can either be used alone or with an optional add-on Li-ion battery pack.
With anything under £100, your power options will always be limited and the run time on the Whitelite is comparatively short, but the quality of the beam is good. Although there is a definite centre spot, it has a reasonable spread and the tone is even, making it easy on your eyes.
With a simple bracket it represents a relatively low-cost entry into night riding (just don't be throwing yourself down anything too technical or unknown at speed or you'll outrun your power source). You can increase the run time to seven hours with the battery pack, but the extra £80 takes the combo into a new price point with frankly better lights. Our advice? Buy the light and not the pack.
Makes up for in consistent beam quality what it lacks in power
Cateye EL-600 Single Shot | £60
The Singleshot looks like what your dad would call 'a proper light.'
It has a reassuringly solid feel with the nice touch of durable rubberised bits. With looks like this we're going to put it on our retro-tastic pub bike - and to be honest that's pretty much where it belongs because the light isn't powerful enough to ride in anger and the beam has a blue centre with a surrounding yellow-hued spread that makes us want to look at the light more than the way it's supposed to be lighting.
The Ni-Mh battery is helping to keep the cost down, but bear in mind that it will also take longer to charge.
Keep this one in reserve for brief jaunts through the city
Cateye Double Shot Pro | £180
A really nice looking light in a quality housing. The battery is small and lightweight, and both fit quickly and securely to the bike.
However, the quality of the beam from the light we tested simply wasn't up to the standard of others at this price point. Very 'pointy' and with a definite spot, the central bright area was small with a halo effect of dark and light rings around it.
It plays havoc with your eyes when you're dodging the trees and we really wouldn't rely on it for any sort of trail riding. But if you love the styling and are happy with the run time of that discreet battery then we'd keep it for well-lit commutes.
Neat light/battery combo but too weak for serious off-road use
Lupine Wilma 6 | £430
If you've been wondering what spending top dollar gets you, let us introduce Wilma. From a practical perspective the minimal lamp connects via a short cable to the stem-mounted battery. The switch is in a separate 'stalk' of cable that can be positioned close to the grips for easy use.
Once in place the small square button glows blue in the dark and also has a low power indicator. Hit the switch and your sight line is filled with a bright clean light that has a natural, even tone. It's as close to daylight as you'll get, so yes, spending the extra money could very well revolutionise your night riding. Which is just as well, because you won't be able to afford to do anything else this winter.
Expensive but high-quality light for committed night owls
Hope Technology Hope Vision HID Stem Mount System | £299
Apart from being a thing of great beauty, you'll be struck by the simplicity of the whole battery/lamp mounting combination of this light. If you run a Hope stem then the battery sits neatly below, with the light dead centre above: it's as close as you'll get to perfection.
Other options are available for different stems and you can buy a bar mount/helmet mount combination too. You'll hit the switch first time every time and tweaks of angle take a second - and most importantly, hold firm.
The light quality is outstanding, with more than enough power and a fantastic broad sweep with a superbly even tone. If you can afford it, run - don't walk - to buy this.
A high performance light that's well worth the extra spend
Niteflux HID Arc 1.0 | £250
We liked the powerful beam from this light - the clean tone gave great clarity but it didn't provide enough in the way of peripheral vision for us when we took it for a spin on our favourite gnarly night-time trails.
Having said that, if you're mainly riding fire roads, tracks or on the road (that is, in a straight line) the Nitefux provides enough reach for your fastest rides. The mount takes some sorting but feels secure once it's in place.
Our main beef with ease of use, however, is fixing the battery. The cylindrical shape is best suited to going in a bottle cage, but it's too small to sit firmly in place and needs liberal use of the Velcro - and we weren't completely confident of keeping it in one place by lashing it round any available bit of tube.
This light does come with a helmet mount but it's a little on the heavy side, plus there's that battery again - it doesn't sit well in a back pocket.
Far-reaching light that will suit fast non-technical riding best
Lumicycle HID | £340
The first thing that struck us about this light was the sheer weight of the battery - it was easily the heaviest of most we've tested.
However (and here's where you get to thinking about trade-offs), it also lasts longer, and if you're after this sort of power for more than three hours, the extra heft may well be worth it. You can see practically to Mars and the breadth is reasonable, but there's a definite centre spot that tends to burn out detail. And that's where you need to think about the sort of riding you'll be doing.
If you're planning on a fast pace in mainly straight lines, you'll be as happy as if you were in broad daylight. However, get to tricky terrain and you'll be wishing for a little more peripheral vision. Plus, the battery is really difficult to fix in one place, with a tendency for the cables to pull out at inopportune moments.
It's that combination of directional light and slightly diva-ish tendencies in the rough is making us save this one for dark commutes and winter road training. If you fancy trying one out for size, Lumicycle hire lights to test at Dusk til Dawn.
Powerful but expensive light best suited to winter road training
Exposure Enduro Maxx | £299.99
Exposure's lights have undergone a serious revamp, and the R&D guys have obviously been listening to rider feedback.
A new bracket has distilled attaching and detaching your light into a simple one-handed operation without compromising security. Run times lived up to claims, and the beam has plenty of reach and a uniform spread of natural looking light, and the 'Maxx' boost gives an extra burst of brightness when you really need it. The unit is larger than some because the battery is integral, but it's still sleek and the no-wires operation minimises faffing. The switch is fiddly until you get used to the double-click operation but that's a bit of a niggle because this light has the high quality finish you'd expect for the price.
No-fuss fixing and operation and bright natural light quality - a good investment
Niteflux Photon Max | £249.99
This is one powerful light - with a bright white quality beam that reaches a long way.
It doesn't have the spread of some other lights though, meaning your peripheral vision is limited. We found the helmet bracket was fiddly to attach and the Velcro strap worked slightly loose. The separate cylinder-shaped battery doesn't fit into a bottle cage unfortunately and it wasn't that comfy in a jersey pocket when running the light on a helmet (where it does provide a good spotlight). If you want HID power from an LED and are into road or less technical riding this could be for you, but it's not our first choice for winter mountain biking.
A good light that's let down by its practicality in use
Niterider Flight | £425
If HID lights have been around long enough for anything to be called 'old school' then that's what you'd call the Nite Rider Flight.
The battery is smaller and lighter than the first incarnations, but it does fit to the cross bar in the traditional way. The beam is tight and powerful and there's the option to switch to LED to save power - but in our experience the tiny bulbs are best for emergency use. And it's a niggle, but the bar attachment sits quite high which makes it prone to vibration. You can attach it to your helmet, but the unit is heavy so make sure your lid fits well or you'll give yourself neck-ache. Much as we'd love this power (if we could afford it) on the road, this wouldn't be our HID of choice for the trail.
Powerful but pricey light, with more road than trail appeal
Topeak Whitelite HP5W | £249.99
We loved the look of this light - it's small and sleek and will appeal to anyone with minimalist tendencies.
As will the mount, which replaces the cap in your stem and allows the battery to slide easily place with a short, positive cable attachment to the light - always popular with us as there's less to tangle ourselves up in. In use however, we were disappointed with the beam quality, which wasn't up to the same standard as others at this price point. It may be that the quality of the battery
and the connections (which are some of the best we've seen) has pushed the price up. We reckon it'll be very reliable, but you're going to have to weigh that up against the light quality and the price.
Reliable, well thought-out design but lacking in clarity and power relative to its price
Infini Luxo | £39.99
At around 40 quid you're probably not expecting the Luxo to be a top-end performance trail light - and you'd be right.
The beam is very narrow and a bit torch-like, and has very little power or spread so it isn't up to the job of full-on night riding or 24-hour racing. It is a really nice thing though - lightweight, with a slim triangular shape it has a high quality, beautifully made feel. Running off easy-to-get-hold-of AAA batteries and, with a simple bar attachment, it takes up virtually no space in a pack so would work well as a good take-with-you-at-all-times emergency light, and a lanyard attachment means you can use it in a torch-like manner when you're just sat around the campsite.
Well made emergency/campsite light, not powerful enough for regular night riding
BLT Triton T4 | £114.95
The Triton looks and feels like a Flash Gordon ray gun (or is that just us?).
Solid with a substantial feel, it mounts quickly on the bars and can be easily adjusted. The integral batteries are rechargeable (the recharging unit is included) but they do need to be removed from the light in order to do so. One big benefit is that it includes two sets of batteries so you can have one on charge and one on the bike, or carry a spare set that's ready to go. The beam itself is reasonably powerful, but a bit narrow and pokey with little peripheral vision, so it's not great for technical trail needs. It does come with a helmet mount but we found it was too heavy to have it on the helmet for anything but very short distances.
Futuristic looking light with a narrow beam, best suited to non-technical use.