As bike gear goes, illumination is one category where I go all out. For safety while riding on roads in the evening or at night, I’m going to be that guy you see from a literal mile away.
From behind this means powerful rear-facing, blinking lights. These taillights for bicycles come in a hundred sizes and shapes, most all incorporating a piercing line of tiny red L.E.D. bulbs that catch a driver’s eye.
This spring, I’ve been testing a few new lights, including a funky flasher from Serfas that has a silicone body. The TL-ST model is made to be mounted on a bike’s frame near the rear wheel.
I tested the “clear” color TL-ST light, which appears as actually more like a shade of white. Regardless, the rubbery light hooked easily onto my frame with no tools. A single button ignites its seven L.E.D. bulbs, which run for hours off tiny lithium-ion watch batteries.
At just $20, the TL-ST is a steal. It’s not the brightest you can buy, but its convenience makes it worth the price. You can mount the TL-ST and leave it on a bike all season, its low-profile build essentially unnoticeable as you roll along.
A second taillight I tested from Serfas, called the Shield USB, is billed as the company’s “brightest taillight ever.” It can indeed send out a shocking pulse of light to keep you visible (hopefully) to even the most distracted driver.
I like the Shield’s brightness and small size, and it’s rechargeable via a USB port on a laptop — convenient. But it costs $60 and the included belt-clip attachment is not ideal. With the light attached on my backpack’s webbing strap, which is made to hold a light, the Serfas clip is not tight enough and the light can bounce around.
A high-end option, the Light & Motion Vis 180 costs a steep $99 but offers a bright main blinking light (35 lumens) that’s flanked by a pair of blinking amber-color lights on the sides. The package, which we review in full here, gives 180 degrees of glow.
The Vis 180 has built-in batteries that recharge via a cell phone micro USB cord. You can plug it into your computer for a charge. The company cites a run time of 4 hours on high and up to 8 hours of red light on pulse mode.
Finally, the Rapid 5 from CatEye has a high-power center light flanked with smaller 5mm L.E.D.s. It takes two AAA batteries and runs for 50 hours on pulse mode.
The company touts 180-degree visibility for cars approaching from side streets or from behind. At $25, the Rapid 5 is a good enough deal. But it is bigger and bulkier than the other models in this review.
Overall, the lights in this column are all good picks. Indeed, as a product category bike taillights are for the most part solid. Spend $15 or more at a bike shop and you’re bound to get a good light.
Most importantly, be sure and always use the rear red light when riding near dark or after the sun goes down. For safety, a little bit of flashing visibility can go a very long way.