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I am just curious, I use Handlebar Mounted lights, and upon having multiple bikes to switch, its really uneasy changing the light from one to another. So, I am thinking of switching to Helmet Mounted lights.

Give me your point of view. Why or Why not? Which is better suitable for which riding type?

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Please do not tell me to write down the my ride type, my bike. Most of the question I ask becomes too localized at the end to me and not so community friendly. –  Starx Apr 1 '12 at 10:43
A lot of people have both. But I have a handlebar light and I find it reasonably satisfactory for commuting in rural/suburban areas on reasonably decent roads with light/moderate traffic. In those conditions (and with a fairly strong light with good spread) I do not need to take advantage of the ability to point the light. My main problem, with a 2 hour morning commute, is finding a light both bright enough and long-lasting enough (without spending my pension). –  Daniel R Hicks Apr 1 '12 at 12:57
If you have a light that clips into a mounting bracket that attaches to your handlebar, you may be able to buy extra mounting brackets to equip all your bikes. –  Alex Jones Dec 5 '13 at 21:59

7 Answers 7

up vote 20 down vote accepted

The answer, as others have said, is "both." However, if you are only going to use one light, there is a disadvantage to that one light being helmet-mounted. When the light is mounted close to the eye, everything that is illuminated is "flattened" since, from the eye's perspective, there are no shadows to provide information about depth. In particular, it's harder to see potholes or other road imperfections. That's why randonneurs often mount a light on the front fork near the hub -- the distance between the light source and the eye helps highlight the road surface. A second issue arises in fog or rain: in that case, with a helmet light you'll get reflections directly back into your eye. That's why you don't use "high" beams when driving your car in foggy conditions, and why fog lights are mounted low.

Given these reasons, a helmet-mounted light can be an excellent supplement but shouldn't be used as one's only light unless you are riding only in urban areas where you can rely on additional street lights to keep the road surface well-illuminated.

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Excellent points! –  Daniel R Hicks Apr 2 '12 at 18:32
+1, Excellent points. Mainly these points was something I have never cared to think –  Starx Apr 3 '12 at 3:37
There are other disadvantages of just a helmet light - if your local laws require a light on the bike, a helmet light won't count. There is also the issue discussed at bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/14821/… which apply to some whether a helmet light is your only, main, or supplementary light, but are likely to be less of a problem if your helmet light is small and light, which makes it less suitable as a main light. –  armb Mar 20 '13 at 13:55
Whilst you make some good points, I disagree in part. I find that a helmet mounted light is preferable to a bar mounted light for night MTB riding. You are able to turn your head to point the light source where your going, rather than where the wheel is turned. It also keeps the light steady. –  Mark W Dec 2 '13 at 12:15

There's no single answer to this other than "do what works for you". While the optimal answer to this question is to have both a helmet light and one mounted on the bike, not all cyclists have the money to do that.

That said, there are a few things that can help you decide, Mac or PC helmet- or handlebar-mounted light:

  • Will you be using more than one bike? In this case, the answer's clearly "yes". If you bring the light with you, you can get one great light setup as opposed to several less-expensive lights. (You can do this with rear blinkies as well as headlights, but a blinky on your helmet is best as one that's supplementing a properly aimed blinky mounted on the bike.)

  • Do you commonly need to direct light in places other than right in front of you? If you ride on a lot of twisty roads or paths, often need to read street signs, need to watch closely for potholes, etc., then a helmet-mounted headlight would be a handy thing. If you usually ride roads you know well in good repair, you may find a helmet light less useful than one mounted on the bike.

  • Is the weight on your head a problem? This is something you can really only decide by trying it out, or by attaching the equivalent weight to your helmet and riding for a bit. Are you prone to neck problems? Does the weight make your helmet chafe? (It does with mine.) This problem will be more noticeable if you often ride offroad or on bumpy roads.

In the end, you'll have to try this both ways and see what works for you. You can give a helmet mount a test-ride by attaching the light to your helmet with a nest of zip ties, duct tape, and velcro. If you like having the light on your head, you can look for a more elegant solution.

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Yeah, one thing to think about is that the inertia of a large light on the helmet will tend to cause the helmet to slide around as you hit bumps, etc. –  Daniel R Hicks Apr 1 '12 at 22:29
@DanielRHicks - This is all too true, I'm gonna add that to the answer. –  Neil Fein Apr 2 '12 at 0:41

In an ideal world, use both. A wide beam light on the handlebar keeps the light on the road in front of you, even when your viewpoint changes, which can save you if an obstacle comes up in front of you in a hurry.

However, if the trail curves sharply, and your light is fixed to the handlebar, then the light can be pointed in the wrong direction, which can have the opposite effect. Adding a helmet mounted light ensures that you have light where you are looking, i.e. down the trail.

This can be expensive, but it is the best choice.

Barring that option, use a bar mounted light with a bright, wide beam. It is more important to keep light on the ground in front of the bike, that off the trail where your viewpoint might be focused, and a helmet mounted light can be more annoying to other riders.

Just my 2 cents.

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You haven't said what country you're riding in or whether it's on or off-road, and this makes a big legal difference. In the UK at least, if you're riding on the road you must have a white front light on your bike. In addition, the light must be on the centre-line on your bike, or to the off-side of that (i.e. towards the centre of the road). It must not be on the near-side (the half nearer the kerb) because that might give other road users a false idea of your position.

In this country, only lights attached to your bike count: any lights or reflectives on your person (clothes, helmet, or anything else) are irrelevant. If you're riding with only helmet light(s), you are not legally lit. At first glance, this might not seem to matter, as it's unlikely the police would stop you, even when they're specifically targeting unlit bikes, but in the event of an accident, being legally unlit would make it much harder for you to make a claim against the other party, even if the accident is their fault.

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I'm in the UK and like lots of light, up front I have a wide 900lumen handlebar light and a narrow beam 150lumen headtorch. Both used on 50% power on most lit roads. My offside white light is a token position marking LED on the forks - for one very good reason - on the unlit bike routes, doing 15-20mph, the handlebar light needs to point quite a long way ahead, even with the headtorch to look further ahead. That means I need to dip it for oncoming bikes (dazzling people doesn't help anyone). Mounting it so I can change the angle with my left hand keeps my right free for the main brake. –  Chris H Dec 2 '13 at 10:54
I'm not familiar with the terms "off-side" and "near-side." What do you mean by those words? –  Carey Gregory Dec 2 '13 at 19:30
@CareyGregory I've updated my answer to explain those terms. –  Dan Hulme Dec 2 '13 at 23:27
The light must also be no more than 1.5m from the ground. CTC have an article which collates the laws applicable to cycles from the various Road Vehicle Lighting Regulations: ctc.org.uk/cyclists-library/regulations/lighting-regulations –  Emyr Feb 26 '14 at 15:25

Here are some (subjective) Pros of helmet mounted light:

  • Shines where you are looking at. This is an excellent feature, refer to zenbike's anwer as to why.
  • The angle of the light is such that you can easily estimate the depth of road or trail pits. With handlebar mounted lights all holes look bottomless!
  • It goes with the helmet. You can never forget it, never mind how sleepy you are before mounting that commuter bike Monday morning. Never mind the "I'm going straight home from work tonight, I ain't needing no damn light." It goes with the helmet.
  • Don't have to worry if it will be stolen.
  • When there are other riders coming against you, you can look a little sideways, thus not blinding them. But a properly mounted handlebar light should be pointed in the ground 5 meters in front, so it also should be no problem. Never blind your buddies!

But really, the first point is all that matters to me. Not sure why all other answers in this thread condemn it. I have owned powerful handlebar light. I have owned a weak helmet mounted light. The latter is much more comfortable for mild trail downhill.

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I will too answer that the best is to have both lights.

It's more failsafe but also give you a broader light spread. Different answers point out that lightsources being close to eye level make things look flat and reflection from mist, fog and suspended particles are more an issue, but also, handlebar mounted lights can cause long shadows behind objects not so tall, making it appear like a false hole. Some answer mentions it makes potholes looking bottomless.A low placed light is also more easily blocked by other riders if you ride in a group. Having both lights gives you the advantage of both and one is likely to overcome the disadvantages of the other at the expense of a few extra grams and an extra battery.

The helmet light is extremely handy if yo need to make roadside repairs, because you don't need an extra hand just to aim the light. For mountain biking I prefer the helmet mounted, because it is more stable (less shaky) than the handlebar. I've even had complaints from fellow riders that the shaky light is distracting. For night city riding the handlebar light is almost enough, but I like having also the helmet one to make me more visible to other road users, particularly when crossing streets, as you naturally look to the sides, you temporarily shine the light into drivers and pedestrians, which will draw their attention. Proper bike lights shine only a portion of their light to the sides, so they are less visible.

To help with eye level reflection, I recommend installing the light as high as possible on the helmet, this helps noticeably.

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Great point about road-side repair. The second best option (if one has only a handlebar torch) is to grab the torch with shoulder and neck - similarly to how one talks on a phone without hands. –  Vorac Dec 4 '13 at 8:55
Let's suppose for a minute that you have the handlebar torch and you have some sort of ankle strap for tucking your pant leg and keep it off the chain. You can use it to temporarily fit the torch to your helmet. Yet another option: some bike lights have flexible rubber mounts to fit the handlebar. Those can also be fitted to helmets of certain shapes. –  Jahaziel Dec 5 '13 at 23:37
+1 "visible to other road users" –  andy256 Feb 26 '14 at 6:03

I'll just some points no-one's mentioned yet: if you're riding in urban areas your lights are mostly not for seeing with but to be seen by cars and other traffic. So a light that makes you visible is what you need. Generally you want this light to be pointed straight out, parallel to the ground so that it can be seen for as far as possible.

  • Advantages of a helmet light in this situation: you can point it at the dodgy looking driver who looks like they might pull across in front of you, or down on the ground when there's rough stuff on the road, or away from oncoming bikes on the bike path.
  • Disadvantage: if you're not looking forward - say you're shoulder checking - then you have no front light.

Another disadvantage of helmet mounted lights generally is that they can get snagged on stuff. Many of them are connected quite strongly to the helmet, and if you hit a low branch they're going to jerk your head back, which puts you at risk of neck injuries at least. In an urban setting they increase the risk of injury if you come off, not only because they get caught on things, but because they could also end up being mashed into the helmet and your head. I've had helmet lights before that I've made myself, and they all were mounted on with velcro, which is enough to keep them in place, but will separate with minimal force.

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Some good points there. Certainly a hands-free signalling lamp is useful - not just for the wing mirrors of buses (round here they have a habit of pulling out while still signalling in, with no sign of looking), it also makes shoulder checks more obvious to drivers. It's considerably less bright than being flashed by a car's headlights, so shouldn't be the dazzle hazard of the horizontally-mounted strobes some people seem to like. Mine's a head torch held on to my helmet with elastic straps - not a snag hazard but won't fall off either. If I come off, I want to be visible not just the bike, –  Chris H Mar 4 '14 at 14:31

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