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I've started really getting into mountain biking over the past few months and I'm keen to carry on riding through winter, preferably after work as well as at the weekends. To do this I'm going to need some good off-road lights. So, I have two questions:

Firstly what should I look for when buying off-road lights?

Secondly can anyone recommend some good lights?

UPDATE:

In the end I opted for a budget MagicShine light, which I can recommend. It's very cheap, they cost between £50-£100. For the price you get a very powerful light but there are some sacrifices. The model I bought is advertised at 900 lumens, but the reviews I read suggest that the output is closer to 700. The light is attached to the handlebar using a rubber band, which seems to be okay so far, but there could be problems on rougher terrain. However managed to get hold of a separate handlebar mount for £2 which should make it most secure.

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see also bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/370/… –  Ian Oct 5 '10 at 14:59
    
If that thin piece of mounting rubber wears off. Replace it with some foam self adhesive weather stripping. –  user5082 Sep 22 '12 at 9:12

7 Answers 7

up vote 7 down vote accepted

There are a few terms bandied about that have significance. Watts, Lumens and Candlepower (Candela). In my experience lumens has the most significance in that it typically reveals, generally speaking, how bright the light is going to be. What it doesn't refer to is what type of beam pattern it will have, how bright it will be at the centre as compared to the edge and so on and so forth.

So, to get to the question at hand. What should you look for? Personally I set a 300 Lumen minimum for trail riding at night. Yes, some could argue you could go lower but I like to go semi-fast and find that is the barrier (for myself ... terrible eyesight I guess). For in city use I have a nice little minewt mini usb (niterider) which has a claimed 110+ lumens and I find it absolutely fantastic for in city use (and rail trail, slow speed trail riding). It also works great as a back up/secondary/get to trail/oh crap my main light died light.

Bulb type is up for debate but the general trend was Halogen (old) to HID (newer) to LED (newest). LED seems to be taking the lead with some larger companies (such as Niteride and Light & Motion) offering mostly LED systems. LED systems create less heat, are less finicky and you can change your own bulbs so ... I'm partial to LED.

To summarize that section. 300+ watts (my recommendation) and LED for trail riding.

Brands? I have had great luck w/ Light & Motion (have a SECA 700 on the way) and Nite Rider. In Canada I have had some warranty issues w/ Nite Rider but ... that was a while ago so I'll let bygones be bygones. Plus, I love the Minewt I mentioned above. Ayup are quite nice as well I hear. And there are much much more. Models? Well like I said I have a Seca 700 on the way and the aforementioned Minewt that I love. If you are into spending the dough, Niterider has a line of lights that you can customize the beam pattern and brightness from your computer. I don't have experience with that, it seems awfully expensive and complicated but ... at the same time ... awesome.

Of note, MTBR has a neat Lights Shoot out review that shows actual trail beam comparison. It's from 2009 but I thought it was really cool.

hope this helps. Sorry for the on and on nature of the reply.

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Also, cygolite.com makes some decent trail lights like the Triden X, Centauri, and mighty cross. –  Benzo Sep 22 '12 at 15:38

As well as getting a powerful set of front lights on your bike, get yourself a good head torch (or helmet light). You wish to light what you are trying to look at that may not be in the same direction your front wheel is pointing.

Combining two front lights so you have a wide beam and a long beam can work well. By using two lights you have a backup when one of them fails.

The head torch will also come in very useful if you have to do any repairs at night.

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Two things. First, you should edit the spelling mistake and change it to "head torch", not "head touch". Second, I heartily second the idea that having a combination of head torch and handlebar lights is a really good idea. The head torch allows you to see round corners on twisty trails but provides no depth perception as you cannot see the shadows cast by rocks. The handlebar lights provide the depth perception, but are limited for going around corners. –  deemar Oct 6 '10 at 0:29
    
I use a Nite Rider MiNewt USB as a helmet light for street riding and it's great—fairly lightweight and compact. It would be a good addition to some powerful bar mounted lights for off road riding. –  Drew Stephens Nov 17 '10 at 14:13

I recommend http://www.dinottelighting.com/ lights, the 200L-AA series, which is what I use for mountain biking at night (see this answer).

Why? Because they're bright 200W - I can comfortably ride singletrack at night with just one of them (though it really takes two to get to high speeds), they use AA batteries - which means you're not locked into a proprietary battery, and they're tiny and easy to mount.

I'm really keen on the ability to use a standard battery (AA). And the price for two of them is comparable to a Nite Rider of similar brightness. I prefer to have one on the handlebars - because that provides some shadows, and one on the helmet - because that lets me put the light where my head points. I find the combination of two lights in that configuration beats a single light in either spot. The lack of shadows of a helmet mounted light makes it difficult for me to see the terrain.

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There is a lot of talk about what to use while trail riding, and I find that everyone has their own preferences that they swear by. I have ridden on trails with many combinations of lights so I will try to describe each set up the best I can.

Niterider Minewt 150 on Handlebar: This setup, with 150 lumens, provided ample light for fire roads, and slower single track type stuff. However, I found that with bmx style jumps, drops, really technical sections, and ridgeline descents, the 150 lumens was lacking. I have scene people bike with less light than this, but I find this to be a little scary as you approach a lot of obstacles rather blindly.

2 Niterider Minewt 150s on Handlebar: This set up allowed me to direct one light closer and the other further out. The advantage here was that the light shining closer up allowed me to see the terrain I was approaching, whereas the light shining further ahead gave me an idea of what to expect. This set up allowed me to run down the trail much faster. As the lights were mounted next to each other on separate sides of the handlebars, I also gained a little more spill light to the left and right of the trail.

Niteride 150 on handlebars with 600 lumen helmet mount light: I found this to be the best set up as my vision wasn't limited to where my handlebars were pointed. Because the bicycle will bounce around a lot, and you turn your bars to balance, or stay on trail, the light isn't always directed where it may be ideal for you with just a handlebar mount. Having a light on your head/helmet offers a much more steady beam of light pointed wherever you may need it. It becomes much easier to bike in the dark as you are no longer limited by and blindspots and unlit patches.

Some people may argue that the lower the lights are to the ground, the better your perception of bumps and obstacles become as the shadows are cast differently, and run multiple lights on their bars instead. While others I know only run a helmet light. With all that said, it is up to you to decide what is right for you. If you are lucky your local bicycle shop may be able to help you decide, or you might be able to borrow some lights from them or a friend. I can safely say that you do not want to go less than 150 lumens, though. The more the better. It may also benefit you to understand the throw pattern of the light you are purchasing. Some lights have an intense "spot" type beam, while others have a more diffused flood pattern. Once again, you are going to have see what is best for you.

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I have the Exposure Toro (with rear red light, which runs off the main front lamp). It has 3 settings: bright, brighter and "wooo, that is bright". It claims 24 hours on the lowest setting and I have no cause to doubt it, although a little lower with the rear light attached.

I do some mixed terrain cycling in the winter (towpaths along the river, a bit of unlit parks as well as road) and the Toro is a perfectly capable device for this. You can helmet mount it, too.

It's definitely a light for seeing with, not just for being seen.

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I only ride on the street, but I use a Nite Rider MiNewt on my helmet, which gives great visibility of the road ahead. For off-road riding you will want significantly more light, but I still think having a light on your helmet that follows where you look is quite useful. Couple something like the MiNewt with a 500 or more lumen bar light and you'll be in good shape.

If you're handy, you could also build your own light.

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A friend of mine just did a review of the Lupine Betty 7. The light turned night into day. It's a 1750 lumen max, but can be adjusted in 5% power increments. It also has a rechargeable battery with plenty of run-time, even at max. I would say that this light is comparable to one of the headlights on my '07 Civic. If you want to feel like you're riding in the day, and money isn't an object, go for the Betty.

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