The Best Bike Lights For Night Riding And How To Choose The Right One

by | Nov 20, 2023 | Buyer's Guide, Bike, Featured, Sports

All you need to know when buying a bike light for night riding on the roads and trails + some of our top options available locally. 

The importance of seeing where you’re going tends to restrict our cycling activities to the daytime, which is all good and well but for the more time-poor among us, that can be quite limiting. Thankfully, with the help of a decent bike light, your time range for riding can be greatly extended before dawn and beyond dusk.

There are a couple of factors that you need to weigh up to make sure you end up with the right bike light on your helmet or handlebars and we’re going to walk you through those before sharing some of our top buys available on the South African market.

Cover Image Credit: Flo Maderebner / Pexels

Brightness ratings for bike lights

Lumens are the standard unit of measurement for light output. When choosing bike lights for cycling in South Africa, it is important to consider the type of riding you will be doing and the lighting conditions (knowing that our street lights are not the most reliable around).

For road cycling, a minimum of 400-600 lumens is recommended. This will provide enough light to see and be seen in low-light conditions. If you plan on riding in areas with limited or no street lighting, you may want to consider a brighter light, something around 800-1000 lumens.

For mountain biking, a minimum of 1600 lumens is recommended as mountain biking trails are more likely to be bathed in true darkness. Also, due to their technicality, you need to be able to see more clearly to avoid obstacles and hazards. If you’re a faster rider or prefer more technical trails, you may want to consider a brighter light of up to 2000 lumens or more. It is also a good idea to use a helmet-mounted light in addition to a handlebar-mounted light when mountain biking. This will allow you to look ahead through corners and see obstacles that may not be illuminated by your handlebar light.

Buyer'S Guide For The Best Bike Lights For Road And Trail Cycling
Different lighting and terrain conditions call for different brightness capabilities. (c) Trek

For gravel cycling, a bike light with a minimum of 800-1200 lumens is recommended. You’ll tend to need a little more light than road cycling due to the inconsistency of the gravel roads and lack of street lighting.

If in doubt, go for a brighter light (if it still falls within your budget) because most bike lights will have a few modes to select different brightnesses allowing you to get the illumination needed and preserve battery life.

Beam angles

Beam angles are measured in degrees. Wider beam angles are better for being seen by other road users, while narrower beam angles are better for faster riding and providing brighter illumination of the road ahead.

For mountain biking and gravel cycling, wider beam angles are generally recommended. Mountain biking trails are often twisty and narrow, and a wider beam angle will help you to see around corners (reducing that ‘heading into the abyss feeling’) and assess line options better. Gravel riding also tends to throw up more obstacles in the peripheral than tarmac cycling and will be more enjoyable with a wider beam angle.

Buyer'S Guide For The Best Bike Lights For Road And Trail Cycling
Wide beams can help you be more visible to others around you and allow for better peripheral vision. (c) Trek

Some bicycle lights offer the ability to toggle between different beam patterns. This can be useful if you need to switch between a wider beam for visibility and a narrower beam for higher speed or better illumination.

Battery life

When it comes to battery sizes, it is important to select a capacity that is suitable for your intended use. At a minimum your bike light should last for one hour in full brightness mode. If you plan on riding for longer periods of time, you may want to consider a battery pack option. Battery packs provide more power for a brighter light and longer run time, making them ideal for mountain biking where brightness is key. When in doubt, rather over cater because getting stuck out in the darkness is nobody’s idea of fun.

Here is a general guideline for choosing bicycle light battery sizes:

  • Road cycling: 1000mAh or higher
  • Mountain biking: 2000mAh or higher
  • Gravel cycling: 1500mAh or higher
Buyer'S Guide For The Best Bike Lights For Road And Trail Cycling
Being able to see you battery level clearly is a big win! (c) Trek

And some tips for extending the battery life of your bike lights:

  • Use lower power modes whenever possible.
  • Turn off your lights when you are not using them.
  • Be diligent about keeping your battery packs charged.
  • Avoid storing your battery packs in extreme temperatures.

Mounting options for bike lights

There are two main types of bicycle light mounting options: handlebar mounts and helmet mounts.

Handlebar mounts are the most common type of bicycle light mount. They are available in two varieties: bolt-on and rubber band mounts. Bolt-on mounts are more secure and less likely to come loose on bumpy rides. Rubber band mounts are easier to install and remove, but they are not as secure as bolt-on mounts.

Helmet mounts are a good option for mountain biking. They offer a number of advantages over handlebar mounts such as:

  • Better illumination: Helmet lights can be aimed in the direction you are looking, providing better illumination of the trail ahead.
  • Greater range of motion: Helmet lights turn with your head, allowing you to see around corners and obstacles more easily.

We would recommend a helmet light of at least 800 lumens used in conjunction with a handlebar light 1600+ Lumens) for the best MTB experience.

Nice to have features: 

These are some features that you may find when shopping around for a good bike light. They are not all crucial but are great value adds. Some may also be more useful to you than others so weigh up what is being offered with what you really need.

  • Safety system (long press button for on and off to avoid accidental power on or off)
  • Lateral adjustment in the mount for angled bars
  • Different brightness modes for conserving battery
  • Waterproofing
  • Shock ratings for crashes and rough riding
  • Remote control for easier adjustment of the modes and powering on/off.

Our best bike light buys available in South Africa 

With a plethora of options out there, we have sifted through the various options to suggest some of our favourite bike lights for road and mountain riding. Check them out below.

Extreme Lights Baviaans – For ultra-endurance and technical MTB

Lumens: 3100
Battery Life: 1.5 hours (5200 mAh battery)
Mounting Options: Handlebar – quick release
Features: Handlebar remote / battery level indicator
Price Range: R3 600 – R4 800 (battery dependant)

This is the Mnumzane, it is Extreme Lights’ brightest offering and it can boost up to a whopping 3600 Lumens! The beam angle is a wide hotspot fading into a 180-degree wide beam allowing for a supreme field of view in the dark. The handlebar remote makes changing modes a breeze, not to be overlooked.

The Baviaans bike light comes paired with either a 5200, 6800 or 10200 mAh high-capacity battery pack. You can get up to 7.5 hours on 1000 Lumens with the smallest battery size. The big batteries make it great for ultra-endurance events like sani2c Nonstop, the Munga and Trans Baviaans, and the wide field of view and high brightness are ideal for technical mountain bike trail riding. 

Buyer'S Guide For The Best Bike Lights For Road And Trail Cycling
Extreme Lights’ Baviaans (pictured with remote, battery not visible)

Ryder Max 1600 – Budget-friendly MTB light

Lumens: 1600
Battery Life: 3 Hours
Mounting Options: Handlebar – Screw-onFeatures: Water resistant IP64
Price Range: R1500 – R1600

Ryder Innovations delivers again on a sound budget friendly product. This 1600 lumen handlebar-mounted light could be your ticket to exploring the trails by night! The screw-on mount ensures you can secure the light well to your bars for rough riding and the light itself is compact for the amount of light and battery power that you’re getting. Two buttons allow you to toggle up and down between modes and 4 LEDs illuminate the path ahead with a generous beam angle to help awareness of peripherals.

Buyer'S Guide For The Best Bike Lights For Road And Trail Cycling
Ryder Max 1600

Trek Commuter Pro RT – Feature-rich bike light

Lumens: 1000
Battery Life: 1.5 hours
Mounting Options: Handlebar or helmet – various
Features: Connect to Garmin for battery percentage and control / Kindbeam / chargeback for phone or bike computer / dual battery level/water resistant
Price Range: R2400 – R2600

Trek’s Commuter Pro is a brilliantly designed piece of tech. Trek thought of everything with this bike light. Designed primarily for the road (check their Ion Pro RT for a few more lumens to take on some trail riding) it focuses the light below the eye level of other road users and includes peripheral beams to make you more easily seen.

The Commuter Pro can connect wirelessly to a compatible Trek tail light for one button to power up and will let you know the battery level of the other light as well. It can be mounted either via a GoPro-style mount for helmet-wearing or to handlebars with a variety of options. As a bonus, you can even charge your phone or bike computer through its USB-C port.

Buyer'S Guide For The Best Bike Lights For Road And Trail Cycling
Trek Commuter Pro RT

Giant Cast 1000 – a versatile compact light

Lumens: 1000
Battery Life: 1.5 hours
Mounting Options: Handlebar or helmet – Hook and loop
Features: Water resistant IPX5, wide beam angle
Price Range: R950 – R1100

The swivelling hook and loop mount of the Cast 1000 makes it easy to mount to either your handlebar or to your helmet as a primary light for road riding or an additional lamp for taking on the trails at night.

The Cast 1000 will run for an hour and a half in full power mode but you can cycle through a range of brightnesses by clicking the power button to get up to 6 hours on 200 L or 3.5 hours on 500 L. The compact design is easy to travel with and mount where needed on your bike or helmet.

Buyer'S Guide For The Best Bike Lights For Road And Trail Cycling
Giant Cast 1000

Specialized Flux 1250 – Versatile and rugged

Lumens: 1250
Battery Life: 1.5 hours
Mounting Options:
Features: IPX7 Waterproof / Variety of mounting options/safety lock for travelling 
Price Range: R2500 – R2700

The Flux bike light from Specialized is ready for any adventure. The range of mounting options means that you can strap or bolt it to your bars or attach it to a GoPro-style mount under your bike computer mount or even your helmet for the best visibility. It also has the best waterproofing of the group so you can take on any conditions with peace of mind that your gear will make it through.

What is smart is the lockout mode for travel that is activated by an extra long press and hold of the power button, making sure it won’t accidentally turn on while you’re on the road or in the sky.

Buyer'S Guide For The Best Bike Lights For Road And Trail Cycling
Specialised Flux 1250

Lezyne Hecto Drive 500XL – Easy helmet-mounted option

Lumens: 500
Battery Life: 1 Hour
Mounting Options: Helmet – strap on / Handlebar – hook and loop
Price Range: R650 – R800

The Lezyne Hecto Drive is great for light-duty (excuse the pun) riding. This bike light comes in at a reasonable price point and offers some decent performance for short rides in the city and areas with decent street lighting. 

Being helmet mounted, you’ll be more easily seen by other road users and you’ll be able to see surroundings better as you turn to look. The build quality is great, constructed from CNC-machined aluminium with built-in cooling fins providing optimal heat management and durability. You also get a Gopro-style mounting interface + a versatile hook and loop mounting strap for helmet or handlebar mounting options.

Buyer'S Guide For The Best Bike Lights For Road And Trail Cycling
Lezyne Hecto Drive 500XL

With any of these great bike light options, you will have a whole new world to explore, be it the quiet early morning roads or the dark trails that feel 1000 X faster when you’re cruising along in the light tunnel emanating from your helmet and handlebars!

For any other kit needs you may have, be sure to visit our other buyer’s guides for in-depth information and expert advice but most of all enjoy the ride!

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