The best bike lights on today’s market have come a long way since their early years. Back then, to illuminate the road or trail after sunset, a rider needed a light mounted on the handlebars with a wire running to a battery pack. They were cumbersome and were quite pricey. Nowadays, you can get the same number of lumens — a light’s measure of brightness — in a thumb-sized, USB-rechargeable clip-on light for under $50.
The best bike lights for road riding (with the occasional off-road jaunt) make riders more visible to cars and illuminate the road ahead. They should also have a solid battery life so you don’t end up in the dark halfway through your ride.
Spearheaded by lead tester Paul Mandell, we researched the top bike lights on the market and put 11 to the test, comparing brightness, charging times, and mounting configurations. Specs aside, we mounted each light to our bikes and compared the actual user experience of clicking through light modes and riding at the maximum (and minimum) power levels.
We made evening grocery runs, early morning commutes, and spent plenty of time in the saddle riding the gravel roads and country lanes of the Owens Valley in low light conditions while paying close attention to the usability and brightness of each light.
While this article touches on the best front and rear bike lights, you may want to get more specific. If you’re a mountain biker, we have a full guide for the best mountain bike lights that will help you navigate singletrack long after dusk.
In this guide, we’re looking at the best front and back bike lights and sets of both, with options ranging from $16 to $400. Whatever kind of ride you’re planning, you’ll find a light that’s right for you.
For a deep dive into what you need to consider in a bike light, check out our Buyer’s Guide and Frequently Asked Questions sections, where the experts at GearJunkie lay down our knowledge garnered from riding miles in the dark. When it’s time to compare prices and specs, have a look at our Comparison Chart.
Editor’s note: We updated this guide on September 26, 2023, to include new lights from Fenix, Garmin, and Bontrager, along with details about how we test and choose our favorite bike lights.
The Best Bike Lights of 2023
- Best Overall Bike Light: Fenix BC26R Rechargeable Bike Light
- Best Budget Bike Light: Cygolite Dash Pro 600
- Runner-Up Best Bike Light: NiteRider Lumina 1800 Dual Beam
- Best Rear Bike Light: Garmin Varia RTL515
- Best Bike Light for Commuting: Lezyne Lite Drive 1000XL
- Max Output 1600 Lumens
- Run Time 3.5 hours (max output)
- Recharge Time 4 hours
- Bonus Interchangable battery
- Super bright
- Swappable batteries
- Excellent dust & debris repellency
- Shock Proof to 1.5M
- Good handlebar mount
- Short battery life on full brightness
- Longer than average charge time
- Daytime Running Lights enhance safety
- 5 light modes
- Easy, intuitive mount
- Not as bright as other lights
- Longer charging time
- Supremely bright
- Excellent wide beam
- Easy to mount
- Highly visible
- Less than secure mount for rough roads
- Short battery life on high
- Supremely bright
- Excellent price point
- Super easy to mount
- Less than secure mount for rough roads
- Short battery life on high
- Helmet mount sold separately
- Max Output 60 Lumens
- Run Time 6 hours (max output)
- Recharge Time 3 hours
- Bonus Drastically improves situational awareness with real-time alerts about approaching objects.
- Drastically increases situational awareness and safety
- Highly visible light
- Picks up multiple approaching objects
- Excellent integration with Garmin Computer
- Not widely supported on all platforms
- Can't run multiple apps with Varia app
- Unbeatable waterproof technology
- Excellent handlebar mount
- The Trail version comes with a helmet mount.
- Rechargeable while riding
- More expensive than other models with similar lumen output
- Handlebar mounting hardware is small & finicky
- More expensive than others
- Max Output 1300 lumens
- Run Time 1.5hr (max output)
- Recharge Time 7 hours
- Bonus Double click feature prevents accidentally powering it on in your bag
- Super bright clear light
- Wide illumination
- Good mounting ergonomics
- Double-click safety feature
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Short life on full-blast
- Super long charging time
- No swivel mount
- Rechargeable lights are rarely this inexpensive
- Not needing to replace a battery is a major plus
- Some riders report issues with the mounting strap, which may depend on your seat post's size and shape
- Max Output/Lumens 200 white light, 40 red light
- Run Time (at max power) 2 hours at 200 lumens on the front, rear 4 hours at 40 lumens on back
- Perfect for when you realize you need a front light to make it home, but didn’t pack one (or don’t own one)
- You may want to buy two — while it’s cool to have the front light option, using the front light means you’re riding without a rear light
- Easy to switch between bikes because you’re wearing it, not attaching it
- Depending on what you’re wearing, it may be tough to attach
- Max Output/Lumens 450 lumens (front) 50 lumens (rear)
- Runtime (at max power) 90 minutes at max power for both front and rear
- Easy to mount
- The diameter of the front light clamp is too small for some handlebars
Bike Lights Comparison Chart
|Light||Price||Max Output (Lumens)||Runtime (At Max Power)|
|Fenix BC26R Rechargeable Bike Light||$89||1,600||3.5 hours|
|Cygolite Dash Pro 600||$65||600||1 hour|
|NiteRider Lumina 1800 Dual Beam||$180||1,800||45 minutes|
|Garmin Varia RTL515 Rear Light||$199||60||6 hours|
|Lezyne Lite Drive 1000XL||$85-115||1,000||1.5 hours|
|Light & Motion Vis Pro 1000 Blacktop||$125||1,000||1.5 hours|
|Bontrager Ion Pro||$139||1,300||1.5 hours|
|Blackburn 2’Fer-XL||$49||200 (white light), 40 (red light)||2 hours (front), 4 hours (back)|
|Lezyne Femto USB Rear STVZO||$17||8||4 hours|
|CatEyeSYNC Wearable||$50||30||1.5 hours|
|Cygolite Streak Front and Rear Set||$51||450 (front), 50 (rear)||1.5 hours|
How We Test Bike Lights
Our expert testing team is composed of experienced cyclists and outdoors-oriented people looking for the best products on the market. Our staff includes former bike racers, recreational cyclists, folks who bike-commute 60 miles a week, and everyone in between — people who care about fit, finish, and function in every product we use.
We take two approaches to our hands-on testing of bike lights. First, we take a look at the manufacturer’s specs and see if they hold up to real-life use, running down the batteries at different power levels and recharging them (when applicable). Then, we mount each light to our bikes and pedal off into the dark, looking at beam distance and how difficult (or easy) it is to change lighting modes and settings. Needless to say, the brightest light isn’t necessarily the best.
Lead tester Paul Mandell has two decades of experience in the saddle as a competitive racer and recreational rider. He completed his master’s degree in exercise science where he studied the critical power model for cycling. These days, he prefers lift-accessed gravity riding and long adventure rides with plenty of descending. He still finds time to get out for the occasional gravel grind or single-track loop near his home base in California’s Eastern Sierra.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Bike Light
Every cyclist should have a set of reliable bike lights. When shopping for the ideal lights to fit your needs, the vast market can feel confusing and difficult to navigate. From lumens to side visibility, there are lots of factors that must be considered when selecting bike lights.
In this buyer’s guide, we’ll break down each of these factors and hopefully simplify your selection process. You’ll be cruising down well-lit roads, paths, and trails in no time.
Brightness and Lumens
Just about every bike light on the market comes with a rating in lumens. Lumens are a unit of brightness. Simply put, the higher the lumens, the greater the brightness. However, while the lumen count is a good place to start when thinking about brightness, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Ultimately, the brightness of a bike light is a product of the lumen count, beam width, and beam angle. A light with a super-high lumen count is great, but only if it has been designed to use its brightness effectively.
Because every cyclist has different needs, there is no fixed lumen count that every shopper should aim for. If you are riding in the daytime and simply want to increase your visibility and be seen by other road users, 100+ lumen front and rear lights should be sufficient.
If you are riding in urban environments in the dark and need enough light to see where you are going, you’ll want a front bike light with at least 400 lumens. If you plan to ride on trails in the dark, we recommend a front bike light with at least 600 lumens.
Front bike lights are brighter than rear bike lights because they must illuminate the road ahead. Rear lights are meant to help you stand out from other people on the road or trail and generally emit red light.
It is important to note that most bike lights are not able to sustain their highest brightness setting for more than an hour or two. If you purchase a light that boasts 1,000 lumens, just know that the light will not able to remain on that setting indefinitely. For example, the brightest light in our test group, the NiteRider Lumina 1800 Dual Beam, puts out a staggering 1,800 lumens, but the battery only lasts for 45 minutes at this setting.
Brightness is good, but reliable brightness is better. A bike light with 600 lumens and excellent battery life may be a better buy than a light with 1,000 lumens and low battery life. Of course, this all depends on your riding preferences.
Front Lights vs. Rear Lights
While front lights need to be bright enough to light up the world in front of you, rear lights are mostly a safety mechanism that improves your ability to be seen. Most front lights are significantly brighter than their red-light-emitting rear counterparts. Front lights typically mount to the handlebars or front stem, while rear lights mount to the seat post or rear frame.
We recommend picking up both a front and a rear light, though your needs may vary based on your riding preferences. On this list, the Cygolight Streak Front and Rear Set is a great pair of bike lights.
Bike Lights for Different Kinds of Riding
Road riding generally involves straight lines and few obstacles. For this kind of riding, we recommend a front bike light with a narrow beam that directs its full brightness straight ahead.
On this list, the Garmin Varia is an excellent road-riding light. Road cyclists that will be sharing the road should also have a bright rear light with plenty of battery life for long rides.
Mountain bikers need to be able to see obstacles long before they reach them. Unlike most road cycling, mountain biking involves sharp turns and lots of major obstacles.
In order to best light the path in front of you while mountain biking, seek out a light that casts a wide and bright beam.
Side visibility can be an important factor to consider, and some lights rate higher in this category than others. When riding through busy streets, improved side visibility can help prevent accidents before they happen.
When mountain biking, extra side visibility can help you spot obstacles and remain in control on technical singletrack. On this list, the Lezyne Lite Drive 1000XL provides top-notch side visibility.
Mounting front and rear bike lights is typically a simple process. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions for mounting. When purchasing a front light, look for a mounting system that will allow you to adjust the beam angle on the go.
We especially appreciate lights that are easy to mount and dismount. When locking up your bike in a public place, you’ll want to be able to easily and temporarily remove your lights to prevent theft. The Cygolite Dash Pro 600 and the Lezyne Lite Drive 1000XL are among the easiest lights we tested to mount and dismount.
Battery Life and Burn Time
Battery life depends on many factors including the type of battery, the type of LEDs in the light, and the light’s settings.
Most rechargeable bike lights come with multiple settings. The highest and brightest setting will offer the shortest burn time. Good visibility is important, but you should always try to avoid unnecessarily bright settings in order to prolong your light’s burn time — especially on longer rides.
Flashing pulse settings tend to use less light than a steady beam, and they are great for being seen in the daytime. On this list, the Garmin Varia has extremely impressive battery life and burn time.
Bike lights vary wildly in price. Like most things, you generally get what you pay for. While it isn’t necessary to buy the most expensive light out there, we do recommend that you go for the nicest lights that you can afford. When you’re riding home in the dark, you’ll appreciate having a reliable light with plenty of battery life to keep you rolling along safely.
Generally, front bike lights range from around $25 to over $300. The less you spend, the more you’ll need to recharge or replace batteries to keep your light safely bright. Higher-end lights will stay brighter for longer, and include features like smartphone connectivity and even alert you to objects approaching from the rear.
Plenty of excellent front and rear light sets can be found in the $75-150 range while rear lights range from about $10 to $80. The Cygolite Dash Pro 600 is our favorite value option, boasting excellent performance with its 600 lumens of brightness and $65 price tag.
Frequently Asked Questions
A car’s headlights put out around 700-1,300 lumens on average, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association. Most brands manufacture bike lights up to 1,200-1,800 lumens. The brightest bike light in our test group is the NiteRider Lumina 1800 Dual Beam at 1,800 lumens.
But a few brands make ultra-high lumen lamps for diehard night riders who need to light up the trails: CatEye makes the Volt6000, which tops out at roughly 6,000 lumens.
It depends on what kind of riding you’re doing. For urban usage, you’re looking for something around 200 lumens or higher. The more well-lit the riding area is, the fewer lumens you need.
For trail riding, a bare minimum of 700 lumens is critical. Warning: Over 700 lumens can be pretty hard to look at, so make sure you’re angling your light slightly downward if you have a bright light to avoid blinding fellow riders and pedestrians.
A few lumens are all you need to stay visible for rear lights. Many rear lights drop as low as 4 lumens, although 20 lumens or more is ideal. The Blackburn 2’Fer-XL has a 200-lumen white light and a 40-lumen red light. Our favorite rear light, the Garmin Varia, produces a respectable 60 lumens with a very solid 6-hour runtime.
Unless you’re simply looking for a blinking rear light for the occasional commute, a rechargeable bike light is superior to a battery-powered option. Rechargeable lights might cost more initially but after just a couple of battery charges, the cost will balance out.
The Sierra Club notes that rechargeable options are more eco-friendly, as they avoid constantly disposing of used batteries.
It depends on how much you ride in the dark. A full bike light set is optimal if you find yourself regularly riding at night, at dawn or dusk, or in bad weather conditions. The Garmin Varia is an excellent matching bike light set that we tested, though it is perfectly suitable to mix and match between front and rear lights of different brands or models.
Studies have confirmed that bike lights do help make drivers notice cyclists. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found that the highest incidence of cyclist fatalities happens between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.
If you live in a well-lit area and rarely venture out on the bike in the dark, a rear light (and perhaps a headlamp for the occasional short night commute) will be plenty. The rear light is critical for making yourself visible to cars coming up behind you.
A front light can also help you stay visible to cars that might be veering off course, as well as to pedestrians who may run or walk opposite the flow of traffic. It can also keep you from crashing on the road. Legally, you might be obligated to have both.
During the day, very few places will require that you have a bike light, but at night, most cities and states have some requirements for visibility. You’ll want to check your local bylaws. Certain states require not just a small red rear light on your seat post, but a full light set.
The reality is, if you’re riding a bike in the dark, front and rear lights are critical for your safety. So, even if you can ride legally without them, you shouldn’t.
You should also run your rear light during the day, and possibly even a front light when the weather is poor. A Clemson University study found that cars were much more likely to spot cyclists who were using lights during the day, as well as at night.
While you can use a headlamp as a bike light, the space you need to be illuminated for your bike may not be quite the same as the lighting you need for hiking or running in the dark. That said, a headlamp can be a great addition to a bike lighting setup, especially for night-riding mountain bikers who want to scan the trail.
You can use the headlamp to scan from right to left ahead of you while keeping your trail directly ahead lit up with your handlebar-mounted light. For which headlamp to choose, check out our Best Headlamps Round-Up.