Cycling as serious transport in a country without a commitment to it requires a lot of guts and a lot of great gear. Over the years, I've gone through a lot of money and strife finding that gear. What follows is a post that shares my experience with what works.

This entry is about visibility: seeing and being seen. Reflectors are essential but they can be drowned out by ambient light. Even at night, reflectors only work when they are shined upon. In turns, by the time lights hit your reflectors, it is too late. Bike lights increase your visibility anytime and anywhere. Consequently, this post is about lights.

Being Seen

My friend Johan, who broke his hip after being hit by a car, shows how important it is to be seen and what a challenge it is given the lack of safe bike ways and given how distracted drivers are with texting and such. Fortunately, a new wave of LED (light emitting diode) lights has revolutionized bike lights to help with this. Thanks to these new LEDs, you can now make your bike incredibly conspicuous day or night with lights that weigh ounces, cost few dollars, last hours, and run on the same batteries as a digital watch.


If you are cycling as serious transport, sooner or later you are going to be cycling at night or dusk. In that situation, you need a light that reaches far enough ahead to give you time to react. If you are moving at 15 MPH (aka 22 feet / second) you need more than one second to react tocoming turns. Otherwise, you find yourself slamming on the brakes a lot or going ridiculously slow.

For city biking at night, this can be less critical because of all the ambient light from cars, shops, and street lights. However, dedicated bike paths in the city or elsewhere tend to be woefully lacking for street lamps. Given this, night riding requires a light that fully illuminates at least 25 yards (aka 3 seconds) ahead of you and preferably much more.

Although LEDs have met the first visibility challenge (being seen), they've struggled to meet the second (seeing) without considering cost and weight. Neverheless, that is starting to change as well.

In this post, I will not bother citing most of the lights I have bought because most left a lot to be desired. Nor will I recount the features of each light. Let the reviewers do this. I'm simply listing the ones I've used that worked for me and why.

The Light for Being Seen

For being seen, the Planet Bike 1-watt LED has been a great light. When I bought it, it cost $ 40 which was double what some lights cost, but I wanted something light, powerful, and longlasting, and this seemed to deliver. However, bright as it is, I learned the hard way that it does insufficiently illuminate 25 yards (aka 3 seconds) ahead on a totally unlit road so I am only listing it as a light for being seen. Neverheless, it is decent for night biking on well-lit city streets. There is also a 2-watt version out now for $ 30. The added power will certainly help, but I'm betting you will still want more than this for seeing well ahead on unlit roads.

The Light for Seeing

The need to light your way puts you on a separate tier for lights. There are only a handy that can do it at anything close to a reasonable price. Amongst those, there is only one that is light and easy to use.


Ultimately, what matters for lights is not wattage but lumens. The more powerful lights list the number of lumens they produce. From my experience, you want no less than 200 lumens to light your way. Sadly, most lights that deliver that require heavy battery packs with clunky cables that must be strung all over your bike. These lights also cost about $ 1 / lumen and up. Happily, there is a light using yet another wave of new LEDs that resolves a lot of these drawbacks.

That light is the Exposure Diablo:

no battery pack
1hr. @ 700 lumens
3hrs. @ 200 lumens
All day in blink mode

Elegant / sturdy design

Quick-release clip: the best I've seen.

I have no incentive to rave about this light other than my own satisfaction in using it. This light diverses light for roughly $ 0.28 / lumen, far less than the competition. It does so in an elegant, extremely durable, and easy to use package.

At 700 lumens, you've got enough power to fully illuminate the next 50 yards (aka ~ 7 seconds) in front of you. With an hour at 700 lumens or 3 hours at 200 lumens, you've also got enough time to reach your destination.


The sealed aluminum hour glass body has ended drops at high speed and heavy rain without failing or really scratching that much. The battery is built-in so it works great as a regular flash light. It does not have a proprietary charger because of the built-in battery, but I already have a recharging routine for my phone. I simply charge this similar and the battery life has been sufficient to get me through a ride on days I forget to charge.

Tail Light

I recently added an accessory to the Exposure Diablo which is the red, 70 lumen, tail light. It requires no batteries since it plugs into the back of the Diablo. The Diablo powers both just fine for the few hours I commute. It is super light because it has no extra battery and, at 70 lumens, it is the bright tail light I've seen on the market. This is just a fabulous light. No other light comes close.

The only drawback to Exposure lights seems to be that they are tough to find, at least in North America. Bike shops, like many sports gear shops, are filled with a lot of high-margin garbage. It's tough to get the good stuff in general, but this light is especially tough to find, even online. It did not even show up in a lot of reviews I found on the internet. I stumbled across it in some bike forum. Regardless, it is worth finding. Six months in, I could not be happier.

As prices keep dropping and power keeps escalating with each new generation of LEDs, many of my points about power and price may soon become moot. What will not become moot is the 3 second rule for biking in the dark. Even if you have a lot of ambient light on your ride, that ambient light will not show a lot of potholes or cracks that can stop a road wheel dead in its tracks. Having a light that fully illuminated the next 3 seconds of your ride is a really useful thing.

Regardless, do not let the dark discourage you from riding. In my experience drivers actually see a cyclist with lights better at night than they see cyclists in the daytime. Realizing this has facilitated many of my reservations about riding at night. This, in turn, keeps me riding more often which keeps me realizing the benefits of cycling.


Source by Jody Brooks