Choosing bike lights

This article was published in 2012, in Newsletter 104.

 Image as described adjacent

As the nights draw in – the clocks go back on 28 October, when sunset will be at 4.36pm – cyclists need to ensure they have adequate bike lights. Lights are a legal requirement – see our cycle lighting poster for the details (on the website at and enclosed with print copies of this newsletter). Phil Lee’s article in Newsletter 92 provides lots of detail about the legislation and about different sorts of bike light. Like all our Newsletters, this is available on our website.

Why do you need your lights?

You want to meet the legal requirements and you want, we hope, to set a good example, so that cyclists are not tarred with the ‘all lawbreakers; cannot even be bothered to use lights’ brush. But there are differences between lights to enable you to be seen and those to light your way.

If the main purpose is to be seen they do not need to be particularly powerful. Ones that scatter the light may be better than a narrow focused beam. A flashing light may be more noticeable but may also be distracting and make it harder to judge distance. Light-coloured clothing and extra reflectors add to your visibility, but are no substitute for proper lights.

If you are cycling on unlit roads and cycle tracks you need a front light that enables you to see. You want to be able to see your route, and you want to be able to see obstructions and hazards. The light has to illuminate your route so you need quite a bright steady beam. But beware of very bright lights which may dazzle other cyclists and pedestrians unless pointed down or dimmed. If they are dazzled they may not see you!

There is an enormous range of bike lights available, from pocket-sized ones for a few pounds, which may not meet British or European Standards, to very expensive powerful ones. So think about your needs – and your budget, remembering that many Cambridge bike shops will give you a discount (see next article) – and talk to your friendly local bike shop.

Monica Frisch