How to Choose the Best Lights for Your Mountain Bike
If you enjoy riding at night, then you will need to invest in a good set of lights. Riding in the dark without lights, whether that is on the roads or on the trails, is a dangerous proposition. Here’s a quick look at how to find the best mountain bike lights that will help you to stay riding as the nights get darker.
Finding the Right Brightness
The world of lighting technology has its own jargon which can make it hard to figure out what you should be buying. There are lots of lights to choose from, but the specifications are hard to interpret. Your priority should be picking a light that is “bright enough” but that will also last long enough for you to get through the typical ride that you like to do.
It can be tempting to buy the brightest light that you can find, and there’s certainly a lot of value in having good lighting for the more difficult parts of your ride. If you’re someone who rides on rather mixed trails, instead of powering up a hill then descending at high speed, then you’re going to need a good light for the whole ride.
The problem is that bike lights are battery powered, so you have to think about the battery life. If you’re only able to run your affordable bike light at 50 percent power most of the time, then the maximum specification of the light is not really all that useful to you. It might be better to have a ‘weaker’ light that you can run at full power after all. Consider the example of a 1,500 lumen light – running that at 750 lumens will be noticeably dimmer than having a 1,000 lumen light that is putting out its full power. Battery life tends to deteriorate over time, so having a stronger battery will give you longer life and extend the useful period for that battery too.
In addition, remember that you won’t always want a blindingly bright light. If you cycle in foggy or wet conditions, then the light might be reflected creating glare, and a too-bright light might make it hard to see. Riders that use overly bright lights may have more trouble seeing. It’s rare that you’ll decide that your light “isn’t bright enough” if you purchased a good quality standard lamp.
Finding The Right Fit
The first thing that you need to consider is whether the light that you’re interested in is going to fit on your bike at all. If you have a set of 35mm handlebars or a carbon fiber frame, then you might find that some of the basic lamps won’t fit as well as they should. No matter how good a lamp is, if it twists or shakes loose and points the wrong way then it is going to cause a lot of problems for you. A badly positioned light can be worse than having no light at all. Make sure that the lights will fit securely, and that they will work well with the curve of your handlebars.
The next thing you need to consider is the lumen output of the light. Note that these ratings are based on optimum conditions, with no heat issues, a fully charged battery, and no circuitry issues. The real-world output of the light could be as much as 30 percent lower.
Even if the power of the light is high enough, if the light is directed in the wrong direction then it’s no use for you. Consider the type of environment that you usually ride in. If you’re doing a lot of riding in straight lines at high speed, then a narrow beam is a good choice. If you tend to do slower, technical terrain then you might want a wider beam. There are some lights that offer a balanced beam, which gives the best of both worlds, but these are more expensive. An alternative might be to get a cheap bar light and a head light, to give you enough illumination for a technical ride.
Look for a battery that will give you enough running time for the average ride that you do, with some time to spare. That extra battery life is for two purposes – firstly, for if your ride runs longer than you expect, and secondly to give you leeway in cold temperatures or when the battery gets old. It is not uncommon for battery life to shorten when the battery is older, and if you’re going to be pushing the limits of the battery from the day you buy it then you’re likely to need to replace it fairly quickly.
Some lamps have a battery indicator, which can be useful for letting you know if you need to ration the battery’s power. An indicator is a much better option than an emergency low battery alert, because these tend to trigger too late to make much of a difference. You want to know well in advance if you’re going to ration the use of your lights. Ideally, you want to have a battery strong enough that you will have time to stop to fix mechanical issues without issue, and that will let you run the light on full power for high-speed descents. Note that sub-zero temperatures will massively diminish your battery’s lifespan, so over-buy in terms of battery power if you will be doing long winter rides.
Ease of Use
There are some added extras that are becoming popular in the world of mountain bikes – Outbound Lighting. Things like remote switches and the ability to tune power output. It is up to you whether you would want to pay for those extra features. Many people do find that they make using the light far easier, so if you do a lot of long-distance riding then they are worth considering. Priorities getting something that is robust and reliable, though, and that will fit your bike perfectly. Those added extras are just a luxury by comparison. For the 12 of the best mountain bikes under $300 click here.