I recently bought a bike and I'm looking at getting some lights for riding at night. I live pretty well lit city so I would just want them to make me more visible to drivers. What kind of things should I look for when purchasing lights for my bike?
The main things to look for when purchasing new lights:
- How bright are the lights? Can you see them for a few feet, a block, half a mile, etc?
- What is the angle of visibility of the light? It does you no good if you can only see the light from one single point - you want to be sure your light can be seen from a wide range of angles, especially for your rear light.
- What features are included? - Do you get multiple levels of brightness (for your front light) or different flashing modes (for your rear)? It's nice to have different flashing modes on your rear because it catches people's attention at lot quicker than a steady light.
- How long do the lights' batteries last? You don't want to get caught out with a dead battery (trust me, it's not fun)
- To go along with the above - rechargeable set or normal batteries? The rechargeable is a lot nicer IMO, because you don't have to worry about getting AA/AAAs every few weeks/months. However, it's a lot harder to bring or find backups if you're going to be out for quite a long time. If you go with AA/AAA's you can also use rechargeable versions, which would cut down on the cost if you use your lights often.
- Price point - How much is your safety worth?
- Theft/secturity - How often do you need to worry locking your bike up in an area where people can take / mess with your equipment? If it is quite often, you'll want to look into something that has a quick release from the light to the frame or rubber O-rings (those are fairly easy to take on/off often) - thanks Colin Newell
The Bicycles Stack Exchange Blog now has the most comprehensive bike taillight review on the internet (to our knowledge):
In total I reviewed fifteen different tail lights. The Cygolite Hotshot performed best in the most categories, but there are several other lights which did quite well. If you're looking for a good rear light, check out this review.
Basically your variables (not independent) are cost, brightness, and battery life (if not using a generator). With regard to the battery you have rechargeable and disposable, which is perhaps another variable (definitely not independent of cost).
You need to decide first what sort of use you will give the lighting system, both in terms of brightness needs (is it just to be seen, or do you need light to see?) and in terms of frequency/duration of use. If you only use a headlight occasionally then a simple clamp-on disposable battery unit is apt to be fine. If you will use the light to commute morning and evening in the dark, and your total commute time is 90 minutes, you need something entirely different (ie, a good rechargeable system or a hub generator).
Unfortunately, I've not found a site that tests headlights for brightness and battery life, so you have to go by what the vendors say, which is often wishful thinking, or at least meaningless mumbo-jumbo.
But, for the OP, living in the city, probably most important is a flashing taillight, the brighter the better. The headlight can be a simple clamp-on model. I once had a flashing xenon strobe (intended for use on life jackets) similar to this and it was the cat's pajamas.
The main thing that you would consider is cost, lights can go from a few to hundreds of dollars. Over here (Netherlands), a lot of people use cheap LED lights, like these:
These work quite well, and are cheap enough you don't have to worry about losing them or theft.
One thing I would invest in are reflectors on your frame, and in your wheels, as they will greatly increase your visibility with almost zero cost and maintenance.