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TL;DR: I like the convenience and the ecology of using AA/AAA batteries in a rear light. Yet the rear lights using AA batteries I see on the market have puny power. Does anyone build somewhat powerful (30+ lumens, say) rear lights that use AA batteries? I am quite happy if they are drained by flashing (at 30-50 lumens) after just 2-3 hours. I can carry spares. In any case my usual ride is two hours long.

A bit of context: In my jurisdiction reflectors are mandatory, but lights are optional. Since I ride mainly soon after sunrise or in the two hours before sunset, during the summer only, and recreationally only, I intended to skip headlights and rearlights altogether. I avoid main roads and manage to ride on trails, with the occasional stretch on side roads. I miscalculated routes recently and needed to ride just 300m on a road with some level of traffic. A car screeched to a stop behind me, presumably because the driver was distracted by their phone. I'm now revisiting the decision to not have lights, since flashing front and rear lights may increase the safety of my riding, on both trails and side/main roads. I prefer to use replaceable batteries (see below), yet I'm wondering if the much more powerful lights in nonreplaceable lights, especially rear lights, would reduce the chance that a distracted driver would miss seeing me. (The aforementioned 300m stretch was uphill, and I was struggling to keep up with anywhere remotely close to the speed of the cars on that road, 50-60km/h, and so I counted more like an obstacle at the edge of the pavement.)

An ongoing fad is to switch all consumer devices to custom-sized, non-serviceable, permanently attached Lithium-ion batteries. Yet if removable, rechargeable AA batteries had appeared on the market as a new invention after consumers were accustomed to built-in batteries, the replaceable batteries would have likely been deemed a great progress forward.

  • One can have an unlimited supply of readily charged batteries to fit in any one of several devices.
  • One can travel with a handful of batteries and never need to pack a charger, or need to be in the proximity of electricity.

To cite a non-cycling example, the Apple Wireless Keyboard, in which a pair of 1000mAh rechargeable batteries last me eight weeks of ten hours daily use, is more versatile than the Magic Keyboard, for the reasons just mentioned.

Hence with bike (front and rear) lights, I suspect that it's an advantage to seek lights with replaceable, standard-size batteries.

The abundance of custom-sized, non-removable, non-serviceable, Lithium-ion batteries in front and rear lights puzzle me. Is it just more lumens? If I intend to ride only during (the plentiful in summer) daylight hours, what is the advantage of non-removable batteries in lights?

P.S.1: It's of course a huge waste to use discardable—alkaline, ..—batteries. We're comparing here rechargeable fixed with rechargeable replaceable.)

P.S.2: (At the risk of venturing into preaching,) the ecological cost of each one of us buying headphones, lawn mowers, leaf and snow blowers, wireless keyboards, drills, screwdrivers, and cycling lamps with nonremovable batteries is enormous. The volume or weight lost in cycling components is not nearly as bad as that in larger equipment. From the point of view of the manufacturers, there could be one of many advantages. There we can only speculate. Hence this question asks the consumers of one particular product. In case you have studied this question and found an answer, what is the advantage of non-removable batteries (that may or may not be properly recycled at the end of their life)?

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    Using non-replaceable batteries allows the manufacturer to more closely customize the characteristics of the charging circuitry to those of the batteries. And, important for bike stuff, the size and weight can be reduced somewhat. – Daniel R Hicks Jul 26 at 18:41
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    The basic reason is that replaceable batteries come with a number of drawbacks, so a light that has those is going to be worse in every other regard. I remember there was a previous question that was an exact duplicate, maybe even by same person. I wrote a detailed answer there but it seems to be gone now. – ojs Jul 26 at 19:02
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    There are lights that run on AA or AAA batteries, but most good-quality front lights run on 18650 LiFePo batteries, which have higher voltage (thanks to different battery chemistry) and more amperage. There is at least one company selling headlights with replaceable 18650s, but most consumers wouldn't have the hardware to recharge naked 18650s. Also, even "non-replaceable" batteries often are replaceable--just not as easily. – Adam Rice Jul 26 at 19:05
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    Non replaceable batteries could also enable better waterproofing of the lamp because there is no need for large opening and a seal. – Carel Jul 26 at 20:39
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    I’m voting to close this question because this is a rant in the form of a question. – Adam Rice Jul 26 at 22:15
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There are advantages of non-replaceable batteries (see other answers; I would point out to better weather sealing specifically), but you shouldn't care about them directly: you need to consider the ultimate usability.

For commuting, you shouldn't care about weight too much, and this eliminates one of the main differences. My experience is this:

  • In general, you don't want the brightest lights. Normal moderate lights are plenty bright for any (normal) commuting. Rear lights rarely have power adjustments, and bright ones get distractingly bright at night.
  • For the rear light, get anything decent on AAA batteries. In the flashing mode, they will last weeks (if not months). With my 15-min-a-day usage, mine lasts at least half a year, so that I don't even bother to use rechargeables. I just always carry a spare pair.
  • For the front light, you do need a Li-Pol (or similar) light. But again, don't hunt for the brightest one; something around 300 lm is more than enough for commuting. In this range, there are options with user-replaceable batteries.
    • Something with standard batteries like 18650 or 18350. I have a small Lezyne of this kind (don't remember the model). It's unlikely you'll have a specialised charger for it, so you'll be charging it in the light, but you can always have a charged spare and buy a replacement.
    • Custom but user-swappable batteries, like CatEye Volt. It makes sense to buy a set (Volt300 offers one, and it's cheaper than many higher-end lights alone) with two batteries and a separate charger dock. This way, you just swap the battery when the light tells you to, and charge it when convenient. Two batteries will probably outlast your bike (or at least the light).

Note that for roads, you mostly need the rear light, whereas for shared paths, mostly the front light (flashing in daytime).

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    In general, you don't want the brightest lights. If you ride in an urban environment with lots of other lights, you sure as !@&% do want the brightest lights. When you need to make yourself both visible and identifiable in a sea of other lights, a AAA-powered baby blinky is only going to help the EMTs find your crushed bike. Because a car going 50 mph/80 kph is going to take almost 200 feet or more than 50 meters to stop. Baby blinkies aren't even visible much less identifiable in way too many urban environments at that distance. – Andrew Henle Jul 27 at 14:51
  • @AndrewHenle Would you then go as far as to say that mounting the taillight on a seatpost is not nearly as effective as mounting it on the highest point you can—the helmet? There are way too many 4x4 cars running around, and a driver in a sedan behind one of those may not be aware that a cyclist is right in front of them (until it's too late). – Sam Jul 27 at 16:53
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    @Andrew, you don't really need to be 'identifiable'. A driver simply needs to see a light, like for anyone else. The brightest bike lights are brighter than cars', and it's rather annoying and selfish. If anything, flashing draws more attention (from a greater distance) than a bright continuous light. (Though, there are, apparently, jurisdictions where flashing lights are banned). – Zeus Jul 28 at 0:33
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    @Zeus you don't really need to be 'identifiable'. A driver simply needs to see a light, like for anyone else. That's wrong enough to be dangerous. How many times do you see something in your periphery vision that you don't respond to at all? Pay attention the next time you're in a car to all the movement in your periphery vision that your brain automatically ignores because it doesn't fit a pattern you have to respond to. If you want to ride in traffic at night, the pattern you present had better say "I am a bicycle" or you're likely to fall into the "ignore" pattern. – Andrew Henle Jul 28 at 9:26
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    A light that shows "this is a bicycle" is good. A light that goes to "I see this bright flashing light burning my retinas and nothing else" will probably attract someone to drive right into you. People drive into stopped trucks, trains, road blocks and everything just because they don't expect those and don't recognize them in time. – ojs Jul 28 at 13:01
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Most modern lights use rechargeable lithium ion batteries. Those come in three form factors: Pouch cells, cylindrical cells and coin cells.

Pouch cells come in a lot of different dimensions which gives manufacturers a lot of flexibility when designing the product. They also have cables directly attached and are quite fragile. Good for weight and size but bad for handling by a user.

Cylindrical cells like 18650 have a relatively robust metal shell. Sometimes they are user replaceable but somehow this never caught on. Most of the time they are directly soldered or combined into a battery pack (most older laptop batteries are just a plastic shell and some electronics around 18650 cells).

Coin cells are usually directly soldered to the circuit board. I guess you could make a coin cell holder but that just increases size and weight and introduces another point of failure.

So only the cylindrical cells could really be replaced by a normal end user.

Another factor is charging current and voltage. Lithium ion batteries differ slightly in charging cutoff voltage and charging current. Some can be charged up to 4.3V, others only up to 4.1V. Charging a 4.1V cell up to 4.3V can cause it to go up in flames. So if the device has a built-in charger you’d somehow have to make sure that a cell with the correct charging cutoff voltage is inserted or that the correct voltage is selected. I guess yet another factor is that a battery charge level indicator can be directly integrated into the device’s circuit board instead of being a separate circuit inside the battery. Charge level indicators either estimate the level via battery voltage (which again, varies slightly between LiIon batteries) or by measuring the energy going in and out of the battery (Coulomb counters)

Apart from that there are generally some advantages in not having a hatch and battery holder for user-replaceable batteries.

  • Less complexity (more robust, cheaper)
  • Easier to make dust and waterproof
  • Smaller
  • Lighter
  • More flexibility in the case design
  • Product only lasts about 5 to 10 years. Of course that’s only an advantage for the manufacturer because they can sell you a new one.

There is simply no easy way to make a tiny, water-resistant, 40g light like this with a 420mAh Li-Ion battery and have it user-replaceable: enter image description here

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You mention riding from dusk to dawn. That's a rare situation. Most buyers of lights do fairly short rides, at least the after dark bit of the ride, and may want daytime flashing. Being able to charge a light with a phone charger is more convenient in that case, and phone chargers are ubiquitous unlike NiMH chargers.

Then much of that niche overnight riding demand is satisfied by dynamo setups.

The closest to what you're after are probably USB-powered lights, that run off a big battery with USB outputs - and you can carry more than one battery.

Added after question clarified:

Runtimes of flashing rear lights can be quite long - you could ride all day on one charge. I have (and don't particularly recommend) an older version of this Lezyne Zecto with 9 or 14 hours of running in daytime flash. That's a pair of flashes about 0.2 seconds apart, once per second, and very visible. Other models do better still, and would allow you to run for a tour of several days off one charge; personally I'd use it only in higher-risk situations.

For commuting use, lights left on bikes tend to be stolen unless screwed to racks, so you're taking your lights into the office anyway, and being able to charge off your PC is very handy, only needing a cheap cable you've probably got anyway. My workplace is unusual in that not only could I lay my hands on a NiMH charger, I have been able to rig a charger to top up a 6x18650 pack,and I still like being able to plug in to my PC.

Specifically for the rear, there are AA- or AAA-powered lights, from good quality (AXA) to OK but cheap (Oxford). I've found that much cheaper than that and they fail due to water ingress at the switch.

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  • You nailed the spirit of the question (shopping for lights). About one detail: Sorry.. I got it backwards: I ride only during daylight hours. Fixed. Also added context, which really boils down to: what kind(s) of rearlights would reduce the chance that a distracted driver would slam me from behind. – Sam Jul 27 at 6:55
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    @Sam that's a totally different question, but I'm answering it here: the kind that you have, in working condition, when you need them. The battery type is irrelevant. – ojs Jul 27 at 7:01
  • @ojs You're probably right, but I'm wondering if there is anecdotal evidence that a (triple-expletive deleted) driver who looks at (gender, age-group, and ethnicity of driver elided) their phone while driving would be more likely to see me through their peripheral vision when they're still 50-100m behind me if I go gung-ho and get hundreds more lumens than I actually need on a rearlight. – Sam Jul 27 at 7:05
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    Daytime running lights are almost certainly most effective if they flash very brightly, but there's no need for that to be too frequent. There's a big difference compared to night lights: in the daytime you need to be noticed then drivers will see where you are and what you're doing but in the dark too-bright flashing acts as a strobe obscuring other cues. – Chris H Jul 27 at 7:36
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    @MaplePanda The point here is that taillights should be brighter during bright sun riding than during the night. Besides, the cyclist does not want to blind the motorist, even for an instant. One maker picked up on this and included a feature. The brightest tail flash only reaches its full intensity if the ambient light is also bright. – Sam Jul 27 at 20:49
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Energy density

A modern Lithium-something based rechargeable will be more energy-dense than the same mass or volume of 1.5V disposable batteries, which is also more energy-dense than a 1.5V rechargeable battery of similar size.

This allows a light to run for longer between charges, or to be smaller/lighter for the same runtime.

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    I believe the question is about non-removable batteries, not li-ion vs something else. – ojs Jul 27 at 5:19
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    @ojs,yes, but given Li-ion's roughly double energy density compared to NiMH, it becomes a question of what format Li-ion cells are easily available. And that's mostly pouch cells, which are lighter, lacking the steel can of 18650s – Chris H Jul 27 at 6:22
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    @ChrisH yes, and 18650s are easily available. So the question is, why they are not commonly used. – ojs Jul 27 at 6:55
  • @ojs I've tried to address that a bit in my answer, but may add some more – Chris H Jul 27 at 7:33
  • Not only easily available but also widely used in flashlights and headlights. At least the more rugged ones like caving or diving ones. – Vladimir F Jul 27 at 13:26

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