Bike 'Taillight' Test: Red Blinkers Mandatory for Riders of the Night

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.

rear red blinker on bike.jpg

Like a taillight for your bike, red blinkers are mandatory for riding at night

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.

serfas red blinker copy.jpg

Silicone body and bright lights, the TL-ST from Serfas

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.

serfas seat stay light.jpg

TL-ST mounted out of the way on a seat stay

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.

Serfas - Shield Light copy.jpg

Shield USB from Serfas

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.

light and motion vis 180 light.jpg

Light & Motion Vis 180

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.

rear red blinker bike.jpg

Bulky but bright, the Rapid 5 from CatEye

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.

—Stephen Regenold is editor of GearJunkie.com. Connect with Regenold at Facebook.com/TheGearJunkie or on Twitter via @TheGearJunkie.

Posted by vo2max - 04/05/2012 11:25 AM

A bit pricey, but definitely worth a look, also consider the Dinotte 300R.

I love the articles, GJ. Keep ‘em coming.

Posted by Mike - 04/05/2012 04:19 PM

To second the prior post:
Jordan Rapp (pro triathlete who miraculously survived being hit by a car while on the bike several years ago) has done extensive testing on rear taillights and highly recommends Dinotte lights. Pricey ($200), but they are bright enough to be seen during the day and rechargeable with a USB cord. From his article on Slowtwitch: http://www.slowtwitch.com/Features/Two_Years_2654.html

Posted by STU - 04/05/2012 10:39 PM

i have the TL-ST and commute across LA. it’s a killer tail light with several bright blink setting. two thumbs up from me!

Posted by Re - 04/06/2012 12:03 AM

Why isn’t the bike planet turbo flash and such rear light posted. They are bright and affordable and compact. Lots of people have them for a reason….

Posted by Scott - 04/06/2012 08:33 AM

Portland Design Works seems to be on the power end of “everyday” tail lights … seem to be some of the brightest stuff out there; worth a look (I don’t work for them).

Uber-pricey rechargeable/USB units are kind of silly since these devices draw little power to begin with – a set of batteries lasts me a whole season (and you can go to over-the-counter rechargeables if you want for a lot less money).

Whichever brand you favor, use something – it’ll save your life.

Posted by Jonathan - 04/06/2012 09:42 AM

Might want to check out the CygoLite Hotshot – 2 watt and USB rechargeable. About $25 online. Here’s a review… http://bicycles.blogoverflow.com/2012/03/tail-light-review/#hotshot

Posted by hj - 04/06/2012 09:43 AM

After having gone through quite a few models, I have settled on a collection of the ‘regular’ and ‘turbo’ PlanetBike rear flashers. I modified a ‘turbo’ with a small metal plate glued to it to mate with a magnet on the back of my helmet, and now use that year round, day and night. Using cheap NiMH rechargeable batteries results in very acceptable runtimes. For me at least, this combo has been the most “bang for the buck”, as well as reliable enough for Minnesota winters. I spend the “extra” money on clothing.

Posted by Plinko - 04/06/2012 12:03 PM

re: TL-ST mounted out of the way on a seat stay

Be very cautious when mounting LED lights in this manner, as most LEDs have a limited viewing angle. If they’re mounted off-axis, such as on a seat stay, the effective brightness is lost almost entirely.

Posted by NWmtnBikeCommuter - 04/06/2012 12:47 PM

Regular commuters should have lights top to bottom.

Planet Bike Spoks on the helmet, super small and run a long time, these work amazing for getting drivers attentions, especially when your handlebar and seat post lights are blocked by other cars.

Handlebar and seat post lights. PDW owners used to work for Planet Bike so their lights use a lot of the same mounts.

And then lower lights, on the fork and seat stays or the end of a pannier rack.

Hands down, having small blinkers on the front and back of my helmet has made the biggest difference in getting driver’s attention.

Posted by jpea - 04/06/2012 06:03 PM

I had a driver flash me their brights the other night while I was using Petzl’s Ultra Belt on a night ride – http://www.petzl.com/us/outdoor/headlamp/performance/ultra-belt-accu4 – gotta say that it was kinda funny

Posted by Scott - 04/07/2012 08:59 AM

PlanetBike SuperFlash! Everyone has one of those, and I think they’re fantastic. Only downside of the PBSF if that it lacks “passive” reflectivity – something required in some states, and a nice feature in general. Mine’s about to fall apart and die but I’ve got a few thousand miles on it over the last 3+ years. Can’t beat that for the price!

Posted by Bruce - 04/10/2012 10:20 AM

you should check out the Exposure Flare light, its awesome. Tricky to tell how amazing, but no one has crashed into me at night!!
Exposure Flare
(and its british made, so must be brilliant ;-) )

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