I am just curious, I use handlebar mounted lights, and since I have multiple bikes to switch, it's a lot of trouble 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, 2012 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). Apr 1, 2012 at 12:57
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    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 D
    Dec 5, 2013 at 21:59

10 Answers 10


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.

  • +1, Excellent points. Mainly these points was something I have never cared to think
    – Starx
    Apr 3, 2012 at 3:37
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    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, 2013 at 13:55
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    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, 2013 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. Apr 1, 2012 at 22:29
  • @DanielRHicks - This is all too true, I'm gonna add that to the answer. Apr 2, 2012 at 0:41

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, 2013 at 10:54
  • I'm not familiar with the terms "off-side" and "near-side." What do you mean by those words? Dec 2, 2013 at 19:30
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    @CareyGregory I've updated my answer to explain those terms.
    – Dan Hulme
    Dec 2, 2013 at 23:27
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    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, 2014 at 15:25

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.


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.

  • 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, 2013 at 8:55
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    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, 2013 at 23:37

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.


I'll just add 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.

  • 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, 2014 at 14:31
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    I know this is old news, but remember when Michel Schumacher had his skiing accident in about 2013? One of the contributing factors was his action-camera which was mounted on the helmet and the mounting worked like a nailpunch, to focus the impact onto his head. Of course that's the oppposite to what a helmet does. nypost.com/2014/10/13/…
    – Criggie
    Aug 25, 2015 at 0:27
  • @chrisH I'm not sure about where you live, but in Australia buses always have the right of way when pulling out from a bus stop. When you see them indicating you're supposed to stop and let them out into the lane.
    – stib
    Dec 14, 2015 at 0:36
  • @Stib here in the UK they also have the right of way. What that don't have is the right to pull out straight at someone who is already alongside - even an emergency stop would be no help. And note my "pulling out while still signaling in" i.e. lying about their intentions.
    – Chris H
    Dec 14, 2015 at 6:51

As a 6-days/week day/night commuter for more than 10 years, I have tried several combinations of lighting described here. My trip is 25% city, 25% bush and 50% 4-lane national road. The dangerous part is the 4-lane where I have been side-swept and rear-bumped. I am now using only a helmet-mounted "quality" front white and rear red light. I have found that being able to aim my front light at whomever I suspect is not paying attention to me, be it human or animal, extremely valuable. On the 4-lane, when I hear or see the casted lights of a vehicle coming from behind, I shake my head from side to side to "sweep" the road behind me with my red light to make me even more noticeable. I have developped this strategy over time and after a couple of accidents and a few close calls. My most efficient safety device that is part of the overall "safety package" is not a light but a 1-m flag pole extending from my handlebar that I tilt from a vertical to a horizontal position. I use it on the 4-lane and have reduced the number of close calls to about 1 a year instead of 10 before. I am thinking of a way to light up this pole either through leds or indirectly from narrow beamed lights attached to the bike frame. I was once thrown violently to the ground and my helmet light got simply unclamped from its mount. When I cross with other cyclists or pedestrians, after ensuring that they have noticed me, I simply lower my head beam to a position a few meters in front of my front wheel so as not to blind them. Even though it is not allowed (in France), I mostly use the forward-looking flashing mode, simply as a power management strategy - I do not want to risk running out of light on the portion of road I have to share with speedy drivers. I do have to suffer reflection in rare foggy situations but overall, I think I have found the "compromise" that suits me best.

I am extremely aware of the importance of being seen and I wear all sorts of reflective materials and other lights. My major accident (side swept by a vehicle coming from behind) took place in full daylight and at the time, on top of all the equipment already described, I was wearing a flashing harness making me look like a Christmas tree... The driver said he had not seen me - his mobile phone still switched on in his hand.

My light is an 6 year old Exposure Joystick with a Red Eye Just wanted to share my experience.


  • Gidday and welcome to SE Bicycles. That's a fantastic answer with plenty of depth and detail. Keep it up, and I look forward to your future answers.
    – Criggie
    Dec 13, 2015 at 1:40
  • I do this as well. The only possible problem can be that your head light is angled too high (its now a high beam) intentionally dazzling other road users. Depending on your location this may be illegal (but it wouldn't stop me doing exactly the same)
    – Criggie
    Dec 13, 2015 at 1:41

In addition to my bike-mounted dynamo-powered light, I have this helmet mounted headlight:

enter image description here

The reason I got it (and that I haven't seen mentioned in other responses) is that I also really wanted the helmet mounted REAR LIGHT. I'm just as afraid of being rear-ended on my commute home (especially in the winter) as I am of being side-swiped. The rear helmet light (set of three LEDs on the battery module) makes sure that there's one more set of warning lights from the rear -- and the distance between my head rear lights and the taillight also helps drivers gauge distance.

I keep the front helmet mounted light on low (in conjunction with my bike-mounted light). Putting the helmet-mount on high is usually too powerful (makes pothole shadows disappear, which is a bad thing) and also blinds and annoys drivers too much. Low is just right on this model. I can point my head at cars approaching from side streets and make sure they won't side swipe me.

Note that if I'm biking with a friend in the evening, I have to turn the helmet light off as it's extremely to aggressively annoying.

tl;dr: Get both, and a helmet mounted light that has a rear safety light.


Do not use a bright helmet light on paths with oncoming other cyclists or pedestrians, as you will easily dazzle them. As we naturally tend to look at other peoples' faces, you will very often shine your light right into their eyes. This can actually be more dangerous (I once almost collided with a cyclist who blinded me so that I lost control). On the other hand, a helmet light is useful when you are on a lonely dark path because you may want to look to the side when you e.g. hear something. So please switch a helmet light off or reduce the brightness when there is a chance you can blind others.

On a road with motor traffic, the main issue is to be seen (not so much the light helps you see). I would have at least one light fixed on the bike, as the moving light on the helmet can make it difficult for drivers to judge your speed, directions and intentions.

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