Last year I wrote a review of bike taillights that turned out to be quite popular. I’ve been asked when I’m going to do a similar review for headlights, and I'm pleased to announce that the results are now in! Over the past few months I’ve been testing about a dozen different headlights. So far I’ve mostly been using them in my daily biking travels, getting a sense for their real-world pros and cons. In addition to my personal impressions, I've compiled information about battery life, brightness, and other features. Later on I'll be adding in more quantitative brightness measurements and taking beam comparison pictures. In case you missed it, I've also been trying out some new taillights, which you can read all about in the 2013 Taillights Review.
Table of contents:
- Data table
- The Headlights (For direct links to each light's full review, click the light name in the summary table)
- Beamshot photos
- What's next
I covered a large number of taillights last year, but some new products have come out since then, so I've been taking them out for some rides to get a sense for how they stack up. Almost all of the new lights in the past year have been rechargeable - AA(A) powered lights are declining in popularity, and for good reason. It's easy to spend $15-20 per year on batteries (if not more), so paying a little bit more for a rechargeable makes sense.
The winner of the 2012 tail light review was the Cygolite Hotshot. At the time, it stood out for its brightness, versatility, and for being the only reasonably priced rechargeable on the market. Cygolite hasn't released a new taillight in the past year, but there's a lot more competition in this category now - bright, rechargeable lights in the $30-50 range.
Why choose a rechargeable light over a standard light + a set of standard NiMH rechargeable batteries? (If you do go this route, get Sanyo Eneloops - everybody says they're the best rechargeable AAAs for lights.) First of all, energy density: Li-Ion batteries can hold about 3x more energy in the same space, and also retain their energy capacity over more discharge cycles. Additionally, most rechargeable lights have a built-in voltage regulator to prevent the brightness from dropping off as the battery drains. Most AA(A) lights do not have this, and start dimming almost immediately once you begin to use them. Rechargeable NiMH batteries also start at only 1.2V (vs 1.5V for a standard alkaline AAA battery), which means your light will be dimmer from the get-go. And finally, with so many affordable choices now for rechargeable lights, it's not even any cheaper to go with rechargeable AAAs, since a charger + batteries will cost more than it would cost to go for a more expensive but rechargeable light.
With that in mind, let's dive into the review and see what new lights are available:
Table of Contents:
- Data Overview
- Individual Reviews
- Additional Suggestions (lights to consider that were not reviewed)
- Recommended Setups
- Conclusions and what's next (headlight review now posted!)
UPDATE: This review is a couple years out of date! For frequently updated bike light recommendations and reviews, visit The Bike Light Database.
Whether you bike to work every day regardless of how dark it is outside, or only let dusk catch you on the occasional evening ride, every cyclist should have lights. They're required after dark by law in almost all regions, and are a crucial piece of safety equipment even where they're optional.
Remember that although spending $30-50 on good lights may seem like a lot of money, the medical costs from a single accident would far surpass that initial investment. If you bike at night (or even bike on busy roads during the day - several of these lights are daytime visible), a bright light is a must-have!
Choosing a light can be a difficult task though - there are countless options to choose from ranging from cheap $3 flashers to blindingly bright $200 powerhouses. The internet already has some good comparisons of bike headlights, but there's a surprising lack of comprehensive taillight comparisons, so I decided to make one. For science.
In total, I reviewed 16 different taillights from 8 of the top light manufacturers. I chose which lights to review based on a survey I conducted on the parent site for this blog - Bicycles Stack Exchange, a Q&A site for everything about bicycles, and also asked on Reddit's /r/bicycling. The incumbent in this race is the Planet Bike Blinky Superflash. Everyone has this light (myself included). Not only is it the light most people own, it's also the most-loved - 20% of respondents said it was their favorite. In terms of what people wish they had or are considering buying, the Planet Bike Superflash Turbo, Portland Design Works' Radbot 1000 and Danger Zone, and the Niterider Cherrybomb were all high on the list. Many people expressed an interest in DiNotte's lights, but unfortunately we were unable to acquire one for this review and the company declined to loan a light for the review.
I'm sure you're all dying to know which light is the best, but first, let's take a look at the contenders.