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As winter approaches I am looking to upgrade my cycle lights. My commute takes me on an unlit section of canal tow path so I am looking for suggestions of a super bright headlight or cycle light that can illuminate the road ahead. Any suggesions? (UK Seller if possible.)

EDIT: In response to the comments:

  • I would say my buget is under £50
  • I need to use it for 2 x 25 mins a day and then charge overnight is fine

UPDATE:

In the end I went for Akslen lights:

I bought an HL100 (no longer made but still available) the front and a akslen TL605 for the rear. Prices were quite good ~ 50 UK Pounds for the pair.

A year later they are still working fine, the front is quite good for lighting up the darkness, but as it points straight forward I intend to buy an Akslen Headlight this year as well.

I also have a pair of cheap lights (£1 each from poundland) which I use as a backup.

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Can you give us some idea of your budget? –  Adam Rice Aug 29 '11 at 21:35
    
Editing the title to differentiate this from the following two questions: Headlight recommendation, Suggestion for a light to illuminate the road. –  Neil Fein Aug 29 '11 at 23:09
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You might want to specify the necessary operating time of the light between charges. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 30 '11 at 2:15
    
With an LED headlight, 50 minutes/day is fairly easily achieved. You could even go with a standard LED flashlight and use NiMH batteries in it, charging each night. However, it's the unfortunate truth that there's no good way to compare the brightness of different lights -- few web sites state their brightness in realistic terms using common measuring techniques. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 30 '11 at 19:28
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Note that you should generally have two lights, since you never know when one is going to die. The second can be a cheap alkaline-cell unit, however. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 30 '11 at 19:30
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7 Answers 7

up vote 5 down vote accepted

This ultimately comes down to money, however there are plenty of other factors:

  1. Form factor - a bike light with a battery held onto the frame with velcro is a PITA to take off the bike and put back on, not what you want to be spending five minutes on whilst you pop into Tesco's for a pint (568ml) of milk.
  2. Beam focus - LED lights have came a long way but you do not get beam focus with them. Older bulb technologies don't have the output per watt but have a better light quality.
  3. Weight - older lights with a couple of D-cells or older off-road lights with bulky lead or NiMh can weigh a lot. Not a problem on the bike but not good in your bag.
  4. Durability. Most lights are fairly throwaway. They break. The contacts go. Switches fail. This is better with LED lights than older bulb technologies.
  5. Brackets. These need to be replaceable, with spares readily available.
  6. Peripheral illumination. Some models give quite a glare that is distracting in the dark. Ideally you want a light that does not leak light out upwards into your eyes. However, you do want left-right illumination for when at roundabouts etc.
  7. Switches. You don't want your light going off in your bag and you don't need to cycle through ten flashing modes to get full beam.
  8. Batteries. You don't want expensive button cells with zero capacity. You also don't want to take the light apart to recharge it. However, there is a lot to be said for using a gaggle of AA cells that can be easily charged without getting a special charger or being locked into a given brand for replacements. All battery technologies are fairly duff so you don't want to be buying a light that has no strategy for replacing the batteries.
  9. Brightness. Too bright and you will annoy other canal towpath users. Too dim and you will not be able to see.

You actually need two lights front and rear as lights do fail, you do forget to charge the batteries and two sources help other road users gauge your distance. You can swap out your reflector bracket for a Cateye unit that is a reflector + basic flasher. This can stay on the bike when you are parked up and even if you forget your lights then you will have something on there.

So, what are the recommended best compromises for the main beam, if shopping in the UK?

  • You can hand over your money and buy a USE Exposure/Hope Vision or some other expensive effort. Lupine, Light and Motion and several other brands occupy this space and it all comes down to spending more money than you would for car headlamps. Be warned that these are the highest warranty returned parts sold in a bike shop and no brand seems better than another as far as warranty returns are concerned. Go with what your LBS stocks as they will be doing the warranty return for you...! Expect to hand over a three figure sum.
  • Buy some expensive Cateye's. These will not be uber-bright and the beam will not be as focused as the £££ models, however, they are good enough for the typical British tow path. The 610 is particularly desirable, the 320 is rubbish, as is the 220 and 530, the 520 is a bit of a design classic and IMHO barely passable for tow path use if you cannot afford the 610.
  • Go dynamo. This depends on whether you are willing to get a new front wheel with one of those cool Shimano dynamo hubs, a B+M headlamp or some 'cheap and nasty' 'Basta' tyre-side dynamo. If you are up to speed then these give out plenty of light and you don't have to take them on/off the bike. With a backup Cateye you get light when you need it and an 'auto-dim' feature for when you pass someone on the footpath and need to slow up for them. I currently don't run a dynamo but wish I did, they are great. Shopping for one might be easier in the Netherlands where most bikes have one.
  • Go DiY. You have seen those torches that cost next to nothing in Screwfix? They are designed for real men, people wearing hard hats and boots and are not namby-pamby like bike lights. Get one of these and permanently tape it to the handlebars and you will have all the light you need for the season. Leave it on there and let someone nick it if they want to.

Think long and hard about mounting lights to a helmet. Would you Blu-tak a knife to your helmet? Having a light on a helmet is not going to make the helmet perform any better when you crash. You really do not need a light embedded in your skull and a light isn't going to just move out the way when you go flying over the bars. Putting a light on a helmet is true Darwin Award stuff and makes you wonder about these people that are massively zealous on the whole telling-people-to-be-good-little-cyclists-and-to-wear-a-lid.

Due to the ever-changing availability of lights and sales, etc. I have tried not to be overly specific here, however, on balance, for bang-per-buck, in the UK, with 'warranty' issues considered, I would try to get the Cateye 610 with some extra basic flasher on the reflector bracket.

Hope that helps!

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Helmet-mount lights are popular with trail riders who go in complete darkness. I've never heard of an actual incident where helmet-mounted lights have caused problem in a crash. It seems to me the light would merely crush or break off (assuming the helmet impacted on top of head-- very unlikely) Are you thinking of a particular kind of accident? –  Angelo Aug 30 '11 at 12:09
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Good answer, but the thinly disguised anti-helmet rant isn't the best. I wear a helmet and have a light on it. Having light wherever I look means I can see better at night. I think this easily balances out any perceived dangers of the helmet being embedded in my skull. –  Neil Fein Aug 30 '11 at 18:08
    
I can't imagine a light system that takes 5 minutes to mount or remove from handlebars. Mine takes maybe 3 seconds to remove and 15 to fit. Certainly not an issue to me. –  Mac Aug 30 '11 at 21:20
    
...tell me one helmet manufacturer that thinks it is okay to bolt a light to a helmet? Or one helmet and light combo that has been tested as per any of the tests for helmets? You cannot even put a sticker on some helmets lest the outer shell be weakened. Safety gear is not to be messed with in an amateur way, even if other people do it. Is your helmet a 'light holder' or a 'safety device'? You cannot have both. Simple common sense. –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Aug 31 '11 at 0:43
    
@Mac I was referring to those lights that have a pouch on the top-tube held on with velcro straps to hold the battery. –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Aug 31 '11 at 0:45
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Ay Up lights

I have two sets of these lights, one on my handlebars and one on my helmet. They are:

  • Amazingly bright, I've never seen a brighter light
  • Very light - even with the light and battery on my helmet it's not uncomfortably heavy
  • Long lasting - The battery lasts 3-6 hours on a charge!!
  • Incredibly rugged - There is a lifetime guarantee on the lights

Also, the company has brilliant customer service. They respond to questions really quickly and often have upgrade programs running where you can send in your lights and get the optics upgraded to the new models at a greatly reduced price.

They're a few $$$ but I am so satisfied with them I've recommended them to everyone I know and everyone else who has bought them has been just as happy.

http://www.ayup-lights.com/

enter image description here

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Yes, if you're riding in total darkness it is a good idea to use a light mounted on your bike as well as one on your helmet. That way you can illuminate whatever you happen to be looking at and you don't need an insanely powerful wide-angle light on the bike to see everything. –  Angelo Aug 29 '11 at 21:47
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i went with cheap chinese flashlight. just get some mount hardware.

read a few reviews here http://www.candlepowerforums.com/vb/forum.php

with the $200 you need for the kit Mac recommends, you can get a couple decent lanterns and rechargeable batteries.

They will be much cheaper. but there are some really good models in there.

Even cheaper is getting them directly from china, i use this site: dealextreme.com beware! it's filled with crap product. read the reviews and buy the good ones. they are very few! they have like 500 models, and only 3 are worth anything.

They also have the mounting hardware to attach the lights to the handle bar or helmet.

buying from that site will be cheaper than anything, but expect one month delivery.

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I too got a headlight from DealExtreme. The big plus I found over lights sold in my LBS is the rechargeable Li-ion batteries they use. Look for one that uses 18650 cells and get a charger and a couple extra batteries. Most (all) lights in my LBS use AAA or AA which can be expensive if you don't use rechargeable, and don't last that long if you do use rechargable. They also sell the ones with proprietary Li-ion batteries where the lights are extremely expensive, as are extra/replacement batteries. –  Kibbee Sep 11 '12 at 12:32
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I recently had a 10 mile ride in a rural area down country lanes. I am broke, so used a £20 torch from Maplin (LED CREE technology), and made my own gaffer tape plus Velcro mount. Result. It was raining and very dark, and I could see perfectly adequately. I also used a headlight to map read.

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Magicshine products are perfectly match your requirements. I've got MagicShine MJ-808 and find it very good. Not ideal, but very good. I think you should definitely have a look.

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The issue with bike lights, as with most consumer electronics and everything else, you get what you pay for. While £50 is a decent budget, you will be making some sacrifices along the way.

In a front light that illuminates, rather than just allows you to be seen, it will require more power, which means either buying lots of AA/AAA cells or using rechargables - so you'll need to factor these consumables into your equation.

From the top-end options, e.g. Exposure, Hope, Lupine et al, where you'll be spending well into three figures, as you come down in price, you will need to decide what's important. Cheaper models won't stand up to punishment - your canal tow path, is it bumpy? How good a mounting bracket does your light have - will it fall off easily and disappear into the water?

How long will it last? Modern LED models generally have great lifespan, but the cheaper the unit, the cheaper the components. They might last you this winter, but next and the one after? Do you want to spend £50 every year or spend a bit more and replacement less often?

Of course there's the other option of changing your route to avoid the unlit section - that's free and doesn't need special equipment!

For what it's worth, I have an Exposure Toro front light which was expensive but is now almost two years old and the light and batteries are as good as the day I bought it - still absolutely great when in on an unlit trail. Worth every penny.

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The towpath itself is not bumpy but the access to and from is quite 'off-road'. I changed my route to the canal towpath because I was bored of cars trying to knock me off on the road! –  Matt Wilko Aug 30 '11 at 9:55
    
How much is the perceived safety of the darker route worth? Personally, I don't see lights as something worth skimping on, although 200 quid for a light is going to make most people (my wife included) gulp in surprise. –  Unsliced Aug 30 '11 at 11:12
    
No need to spend $200 for 2* 1/2 hour of light - 90% of the cost is the batteries, followed closely by the brand stickers. Helmet mount lights don't notice the bumps. –  mattnz Sep 17 '12 at 3:38
    
@mattnz 90% of the cost might be the batteries, but it is a vital component. If you can get better lights that last longer for less, then go right ahead. Helmet mounted lights have their downsides too. The old adage of getting what you pay for is as true for lights as anything else. My Toro is now over 3 years old and is still as bright as it was when new and will shine for over 24 hours on a single charge. It was a lot to spend, but amortised over 3 years (and still going) it is looking less and less. –  Unsliced Sep 17 '12 at 7:52
    
My point is that if you only need lights to last 1 hour between charges, then batteries that last 24 hours between charges are a complete waste of money. –  mattnz Sep 18 '12 at 4:01
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I suggest visiting the following link at Peter White Cycles. They have comparisons concerning the different types of lights. Hope this may help.

http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/index.html

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