October 2015 Lights Review

by Rustem Gode


The switch back to standard time is coming in a month, and if you're anything like me, you're probably ready to get an extra hour in bed in the morning, but you might not be ready for it to get darker even earlier than it already is. Depending on the weather - and we've had some real messy stuff already this fall, perhaps with even more on the way this coming week - it's getting dark enough for cyclists to need lights as early as 6 pm, and we're going to be losing even more light from now until January. For the typical commuter, from now until March, it's going to be evening or nighttime by the time you clock out of work, if not before.

With that in mind, we've set up a few possible combinations of front and rear lights. The great thing about the greater Boston area is that there are a lot of year-round cyclists, and if you're prepared to see and be seen, riding at night is as safe as riding during the day. You don't need to look like the guy in the newsletter, but as a general rule, more light is definitely better. Take a look at these combinations, and see which one works the best for you.

Combo #1: If you say "I've got to take mixed use roads (cars and bikes) most of the way from work to home, and it's dark while I'm riding." OR "I wanna go fast!", you need...

The Light & Motion Urban 800 casts a lot of light to the front and sides.

The Light & Motion Urban 800 casts a lot of light to the front and sides.

So does the Vis 180, so much so we couldn't take an unfiltered picture head-on.

So does the Vis 180, so much so we couldn't take an unfiltered picture head-on.

The Light & Motion Urban 800 Anchor Steam and Vis 180 (front, $149.99; rear, $99.99; total, $249.98 plus tax) are great together. The front light, at 800 lumens, would be bright enough to light any reasonable-sized room in your house, but on your bike, it provides enough light to see what's coming for several hundred feet; the rear light, meanwhile, produces 70 lumens with its main LED, which is bright enough to be spotted from over a mile away. Additionally, both come with side LEDs as pictured, making your bike quite visible to drivers perpendicular to you. Both lights are also USB rechargeable, making this lighting system quite affordable in the long run, but most importantly, you'll be visible from every angle. This is the safest combination available for any rider, but if you're riding a road bike at night at typical speed (~15 or more miles per hour), this is the bare minimum of light you need to be safe.

Combo #2: If you say "I'm mostly on the Minuteman Bikeway or another bicycle-only path" OR "I'm taking it pretty easy," you need...

The Light & Motion Urban 500 casts almost as much light as the 800.

The Light & Motion Urban 500 casts almost as much light as the 800.

The Serfas Thunderbolt Tail Light casts too much light to photograph head on at full blast.

The Serfas Thunderbolt Tail Light casts too much light to photograph head on at full blast.

The Light & Motion Urban 500 Blue Ribbon and Serfas Thunderbolt Tail Light (front, $79.99; rear, $39.99; total, $119.98 plus tax) are almost as bright as the first combo. 500 lumens in front is enough light to see at the pace of most commuter cyclists, and 35 lumens in back is enough light to be visible for up to a mile. The Urban 500, like the Urban 800, features side LEDs to make you visible from the sides as well, and both lights are USB rechargeable. If you've got a hybrid bike of any kind and are riding at night at a typical pace (10-12 miles per hour), you shouldn't leave work without these lights.

Combo #3: If you say "I'm only riding until sunset, and then I'm home," you need...

The Serfas Thunderbolt Head Light is bright enough to stand out during the early evening, but not at night.

The Serfas Thunderbolt Head Light is bright enough to stand out during the early evening, but not at night.

The Silicone Tail Light is bright enough to catch attention before sunset.

The Silicone Tail Light is bright enough to catch attention before sunset.

The Serfas Thunderbolt Front Light and Silicone Tail Light (front, $39.99; rear, $24.99; total, $64.98 plus tax) are only bright enough to be seen when conditions aren't too dark, but sometimes that's all you'll need. Like the higher-end lights above, they're USB rechargeable, and they'll keep you visible until the sun goes down, but when it gets dark, you simply won't stand out that clearly with these lights.

Combo #4: If you say "My kids want lights for their bikes, and they're still in elementary school," you need...

The Serfas Silicone Front Light is a good first light for kids.

The Serfas Silicone Front Light is a good first light for kids.

But even head on, the lights in this combination, including the Extended Use Tail Light, are relatively dim and can be hard to see when it gets dark on the roads.

But even head on, the lights in this combination, including the Extended Use Tail Light, are relatively dim and can be hard to see when it gets dark on the roads.

The Serfas Silicone Head Light and Extended Use Tail Light (front, $24.99; rear, $19.99; total, $44.98 plus tax) are good practice lights for teaching children to keep lights on their bike and to keep them working. The front light is USB rechargeable, but the rear light uses AAA batteries, and both lights are only truly bright enough to be sufficient to avoid a ticket for riding without lights when it starts getting dark.

All these lights are easy enough to install on any bike - or take off - without tools. Remember to always take lights off your bicycle when you leave it outside, and watch for warning LEDs on all rechargeable lights (except the Thunderbolts) when they get low on battery power.

Keep your lights on at night, and ride safe!