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The Perfect Commuter Bike : Bike Lights

by Bike Shop Girl

Our group build is about half way through it’s original phases.  After many discussions about bicycle type, exact frame set, the type of shifting and finally the component type, we’ve determined the Long Haul Trucker with a stock build is the bike we are going with.

On to my favorite phase of this build, the lights.  I have a slight obsession with bike lights, mainly due to night riding is my favorite thrill of cycling.  Currently my personal favorite are Light & Motion up front and Cateye or Planet Bike in the back.  I’m also a mountain biker so really enjoy a multi-purpose light but also have been using the Vega 200 from Light & Motion a lot lately.

I’m listing various light brands, please add brands but keep comments below so not to clog up things too much.  I’m open to making this two post of “to see” and “be seen” types of lights.

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43 Responses to “The Perfect Commuter Bike : Bike Lights”

  1. Chris says:

    I love my Princeton Tec Corona Bike. It’s 8 LED bulbs, but you have the option of running 1, 3, 5, or 8 at once. You also have the option of flashing or continuous. You also have the option of high and low brightness. With all these options, you have everything you need to see and be seen in all conditions. Even in pitch black night, I can ride fast when I have on all 8 LEDs on high.

  2. gear says:

    Lupine front, Dinotte rear.

  3. BluesCat says:

    I have the Blackburn Voyager/Mars headlight/taillight combo on both of my commuting bikes. I had a fellow who was walking his dog — and was a rider himself — stop me one morning and ask me what kind of headlight I had because he wanted to get one. He had seen my blinking Voyager clearly when I turned and started heading his way … almost a mile away from him, and this was just after sunrise.

    That said, I’m a big fan of multiple headlights on bikes used for exploring unknown territory. I have a Planet Bike 1200 incandescent light on my MTB, to augment the Blackburn. I switch it on whenever I want a broad view of everything on either side of me.

  4. Miguel Marcos says:

    I’ve had Dinottes front & rear for a couple of years now. They are superb.

  5. Rob E. says:

    I don’t have enough experience with a variety of light options. I’ve used a cheap, CatEye AA front light, which worked best as a “be seen” light, and later a Nite Rider light with two headlights (halogen, I think) and a bottle-holder battery. The Nite Rider was great, but battery life has dropped off. It functioned fine as a “to see” light on the greenways, and when I turned it on when riding with my friends, they changed to a single-file pattern to let the car pass.
    But recently I switched to a generator light, and, for commuting, I think it’s great. I just picked up some cheap(ish) Sanninga lights from Velo Orange, and, while the headlight is definitely not as bright as my Nite Rider, it’s just so much better to never have to think about batteries. I still keep a Planet Bike blinky on the back, too, and carry my Nite Rider if I might be riding in some truly dark areas, but even then it’s a huge improvement knowing that I’m not about to plunged into darkness as my battery loses its charge.
    I went with a Shimano dynamo hub, and I really don’t notice it at all. Possibly if I ran a lighter bike, I’d be more sensitive to the supposed added drag, but so far I can’t even tell it’s there.

  6. akatsuki says:

    Dealextreme bike light. Because everything on this bike keeps getting more expensive and a commuter bike will be ripped off eventually.

  7. Logan says:

    I really like the durability and performance of light on lights made in Beaverton, OR recently reviewed on bikeportland.org: http://bikeportland.org/2009/12/02/product-review-the-light-on-dynolight-headlight/

    Also for “be-seen” lights I really like the magnetically driven blinky style Reel lights. They have the convenience of Dynamo lights (no batteries and permanent mounting) without the drag and expense.

  8. Rick says:

    I have been testing the new light systems this season and the one I wind up using the most is the Cygolite Trion 600. It is an all in one unit so you dont have wires hanging around and it has 600 lumens which is plenty for mountain bike riding and road use. The little brother to this light is the all new Cygolite Million 200. It cost a lot less and is USB re-chargegable.
    http://www.directbicycleparts.com

  9. Michael Brisson says:

    Love my Busch & Mueller IQ Cyo LED headlight powered by a Schmidt SON dynohub. Not a cheap option. Although:
    1. No more batteries.
    2. Estimated bulb life in the 100,000hr range.
    3. Wow, what a light!

    Given the estimated bulb and dynohub life, I let it run day or night, it enhances my visibility in the daytime as well.

  10. Matthew Cunningham says:

    Dynamo hubs are the only way to go! I have a Shimano hub running a B&M Lumotec IQ Fly LED lamp. I can’t say I really notice the additional drag at all when the lamp is on.

    Personal pet peeve: Blinking front lights. I ride home from work on a fairly dark trail, and I have an incredibly hard time tracking these strobe lights as they come towards me. “Being seen” is only part of the equation–your motion has to be predictable to oncoming traffic, and blinking front lights aren’t as predictable as lights that are always on.

  11. Greg H says:

    I agree with you Matthew – I keep my lights on in ‘continuous’ mode for my nighttime commute. My theory is that it helps drivers tell where I am better. It seems to me that the blinking – especially with all the other street lights, cars, etc. – would be harder to spatially locate.

    I’ve been trying to find more info about this. What mode is safest/best under what conditions? Anybody know?

  12. Kevin Love says:

    My Pashley came with front hub dynamo and rear taillights. Dynamo is the way to go. This is probably why superior brand names, like Batavus and Pashley, have dynamo lights as standard equipment on their commuter bikes.

    Here in Toronto we’re going into the dark time of year, so I also stick two extra cheap blinking lights on the front and two extra on the rear.

    Don’t know the brand name, but they are very bright, cheap and run on AAA batteries. Perhaps overkill, but why not?

  13. Miguel Marcos says:

    Interesting about the dynamo supporters. I had a Son on my Bike Friday NWT and ultimately became unsatisfied, especially compared to my Dinottes. By not going the dynamo route you essentially open up the options for whatever you want and switching when you want. With the dynamo you’re stuck to limited options unless you consider non-dynamos and then you have to think ‘why am I wheeling around a dynamo then?’

    Also, the dynamo-powered lamp typically shuts off when one has stopped. Perhaps some mfrs now are smart enough to put a light rechargeable in between so the light doesn’t go off while waiting for the streetlight to go green.

    Different strokes…

  14. Ben Teoh says:

    The Down Low Glow from Rock The Bike? Looks awesome – maybe not so practical for mountain biking.

    http://rockthebike.com/lights/downlowglow

  15. Rob E. says:

    My Spanninga headlight and tail light both have built in stand lights. Once you’ve pedaled a few minutes to charge them up, they stay lit for five minutes or so after you’ve stopped. I know some of the more expensive lights have similar options. You are correct that there are more options if you do not go the dynamo route, but I find that you really only need the one option that works best for you, and there seem to be enough variety in the dynamo category to suit most folks. Mine are at the medium low end, price-wise, and I hope to upgrade either by splurging on a new light or building one. Also I feel like one of the most expensive components of higher-end, non-dynamo lights ends up being the battery which, in many cases, is not transferable between lights and will become less functional over time, and will probably need to be replaced before the actual light if the light uses LEDs. I look at a dynamo hub as an investment in a battery that never quits. From here on out, all I have to worry about is the actual light. I can certainly see the appeal of battery lights: you can often get a brighter light for less money, you can easily swap lights between bikes, there’s no wiring to worry about. But for me, especially for commuting purposes, it’s hard to beat never worrying about dying batteries. Which is not to say that dynamo lights are infallible, but I’ve been known to run into battery issues once a month or so, more often as my battery weakens, and light failure with the dynamo system seems like it will be much more rare.

    That said, for BSG’s initial build, a generator hub means swapping out/rebuilding the front wheel, which can be a bit much to add on to the price of a new bike (it took me 9 months to get around to adding the dynamo), so if a dynamo was an unwelcome expense, it makes sense to consider other options. If a generator hub is your ultimate goal, then a bottle dynamo might get you similar results with less expense when upgrade time comes, as you can hopefully continue to use your existing lights after you upgrade. But if I were going to purchase a new battery light, I would probably focus on how easy it is to recharge and how “smart” it charges. My Nite Rider, while bright, has no protection against over charging and requires a special plug for charging, so if the plug is at home, and I am not, there’s no way to charge it. Some of the newer, USB-charging options seem ideal for when you might find yourself at the office and unsure if you have enough juice to get you home.

  16. Elaine says:

    I’m currently rolling with several cheapo lights, two headlights (cateye and something else) and one taillight.

    I’d love to have a combination of the B&M Ixon IQ, a Radbot taillight and the down low glow. (I’ve seen that last in action, bike photog Derek Pearson lives in my town. Gaudy, but delightfully so.)

  17. Miguel Marcos says:

    Rob E., your point about propietary batteries is spot on. One of the selling points for the Dinottes I have are the 4AA cell packs. I use my own rechargeables. But yes, some mfrs insist on this which is a huge PITA. I wonder what the ratio of prop vs. AA/AAA packs for LED lights is…

  18. Michael Brisson says:

    For an authoratative source of lighting, visit http://www.peterwhitecycles.com. Tons of great info on lights. Not all products, but a broad spectrum.

    And he offers an engaging read at times.

    That’s where I bought dyno/LED systems for both bikes.

  19. Paul in Minneapolis says:

    Hub generators for me! The SON and B&M lights baught back in 05 are still going strong. But I wanted to have two bikes as all around commuters so one is always ready. A couple of mounths ago I baught a new dynamo set. WOW, the newest lights are brighter… Both my lights have stand lights front and back. Other battery ligths that I also run are bright blinkies rear and a bright helmet light on flash… Then there is refectors and refective vest… Iced over windshields and people trying to pull cell phones out of ears are more reasons to MAKE them see you waaaay off… and to see glass and other flat stuff is nice…. : )
    Ride and ride safe! I love it when I look many years younger than other my age… No 46″ waste…

  20. Bill says:

    I’ve got an IQ Fly/Alfine dynamo. I just leave the light on all the time. Not enough difference in drag to notice on a commuter. That said, I think that the Ixon IQ and the Dinotte are good battery powered choices because they do not use proprietary batteries. I didn’t notice anyone raising the issue of the reflector/lens setup. The Cyo, Fly, Ixon, and edelux all have beams that are shaped for use in traffic, i.e., essentially none of the light goes up to blind oncoming motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians. Consequently, more light (for a given amount of electrical power) is directed at your path. This is great in town or on the highway. On narrow paths and off road I would prefer the common circular beam to illuminate, say, branches at eye level — but I think that the shaped beam is a better choice on the road. You can’t attain the same result just by aiming your light down, or placing a shield above the light. I think that this is becoming a more important issue as gains in efficiency have allowed us to get much brighter lights without increased drag or battery weight.

  21. electric says:

    I would say magicshine, but they don’t produce rear-lights… So I went with dionotte, which are expensive lights.

    In regards to blinking lights, I would argue they’re what gets you noticed first. Certainly drivers pay more attention to flashing lights – Probably why every emergency and road-side service vehicle is equipped with them. These are to-be-seen lights.

    A bright continuous light is a good secondary also, one needs to see where they’re traveling without feeling like they’re in a night-club. These are to-see lights.

  22. Tim says:

    Another vote for the cheapies from DealExtreme. But more than that, a vote for multiple redundant lights.

    I run with a pair of 3W LED torches (Cree? Luxeon? Can’t remember) on my bars, and a pair of 5-LED flashies on the back. About $18 each up front, about $3.50 each up back.

    The headlight torches run off a single AA battery, which does me for about a week of short commutes on a charge; the flashers take a pair of AAAs each with last months. All are powered by low self-discharge NiMH rechargeable batteries.

    If one goes bad (or just runs out of batteries), I’m not plunged into darkness.

    These are definitely “be seen” lights, but I can get a dazzling reflection off a street sign 3 blocks away!

  23. davidg says:

    Took the maiden voyage last night with the son dyno and lumotec/front seculite/rear without problem. I had taken my planet bike combo just in case and switched off the headlight after a few blocks as I couldn’t see it over the lumotec. Last night’s commute home (8 miles at midnight) was particularly nasty, -9 degrees f. Snow driving in side ways from the north. The set up performed flawlessly. I will leave a small planet bike blinky on the carradice, can’t be too well marked. Just a note on components: the stock drive train on the complete trucker performed flawlessly as well.

  24. John Hogan says:

    Does anyone have experience installing REELIGHT?
    I got one on pretty easily, but the second bracket is flat rather than the curved. Which goes on the front wheel and which goes on the back wheel.
    The directions supplied are of no help.

  25. Logan says:

    Hi John,

    They have great customer service in my experience. A fellow named Mads Egebjerg helped me out. Shoot them an email and include an installation picture and I bet they can help out. We had a defective rear light and they replaced it for us very quickly. Good luck! Their help email address is: info@reelight.com

    Cheers,
    L

    P.s. This blog also had an article on reelights awhile back and perhaps it can help: http://commutebybike.com/2007/10/04/reelight-bike-lights/

  26. Tinker says:

    I like the Planet Bike tail light as well as the Nite Rider Cherry Bomb, but unfortunately they don’t sell the 2 watt Planet bike head light with the tail light.

    The two tail lights are about equal for brightness, but the PLANET BIKE light is more versatile in the mount department. (The Cherry Bomb lacks the wide-opening grip-clip).

  27. Soulfull Commuter says:

    I just got a Magic Shine light from geoman.com. My setup is now the Magic Shine on full and a Planet Bike 1W on flash in the front and a Serfas seat stay rear light (actually on the rear rack). Works for my ride which includes winding trails.

  28. Jim says:

    In the “about to pull the trigger” on building a new commuter, I’m leaning away from the dynamo hubs, and towards the flexibility of a battery powered light. Probably the Blaze 2W.

  29. Owen says:

    I recently bought the L&M Vega 200, mainly off of this site’s recommendation. I have to say that the only thing holding it back from being a great commuter bike light is the terrible rubber strap mount. OK in principle, I guess it would work for a lighter device, but it just doesn’t work when riding over rough roads, potholes, etc. Just doesn’t work.

  30. Owen -

    Agree on the mounting system. In the next week I have a long term review for the lights. You’ll see that the mount is actually one of the few downfalls I find of the light itself.

    I’m going to try to use one of their old mounting systems that I have for a handlebar. Maybe it’s universal to the Vega’s, if so it will solve all my issues.

    http://www.beyondbikes.com/ItemDesc.asp?ic=34934&agent=Froogle&utm_source=Feeds&utm_medium=GoogleProduct&utm_campaign=Froogle

  31. I really believe in Re-lites.

  32. Mike C says:

    I run B&M IQ FLy on the front and a B&M Fly on the rear, powered by a Shimano generator hub–not Alfine, not the lower model. Love these lights. Drag due to the hub while lights are lit or not feels completely inconsequential on my 38 mi r/t commute.

    I’ve also tried an old NiteRider single halogen Head Trip headlight and tail light combo, but the five cel batt pack runs low before I’m even home on an hour 20 min commute. NiteRider MiNewt Dual are a fantastically small package with decent lighting, but again the runtime is too short for my particular commute. If I didn’t have the generator setup on my main commuter, I’d definitely investigate a NiteRider bottle battery for longer life at severe weight penalty.

    DiNotte, however, is a company local to me, so my patriotic and regional support hearts say go with them if a generator hub is not part of the equation. I really love the generator hub for sheer convenience–no batteries, no worries about recharging. OTOH, recharging the MiNewt Duals is not the hassle I thought it might be, I just keep the charger near where I de-gear after a ride anyway and make it part of that routine.

  33. ksteinhoff says:

    I’m a SON generator guy myself. You can see how I installed my Busch & Muller Lumotec IQ Cyo R N Plus on my Surly Long Haul Trucker here.

    http://www.palmbeachbiketours.com/iq-cyo-n-plus/

    In addition to my IQ, I run an inexpensive LED light in flashing be-seen mode, too. I really don’t need it, but I tried it out and so many people commented on it, I keep it going.

    I run my lights day and night. Both my generator headlight and taillight have standlights that keep them on when I’m stopped.

    You can see what I look like from behind here.

    http://www.palmbeachbiketours.com/glo-gloves-add-safety-to-night-riding/

  34. ac says:

    Here’s a vote for the Down Low Glow (http://rockthebike.com/lights/downlowglow). It’s not a complete lighting solution, but I don’t believe any single light is. What it does give you is an oval of colored light, about 3 feet across, on the pavement underneath your bike. It’s got a great “what-the-heck-is-that” factor that I think really wakes drivers up. Also, it looks cool!

  35. LeeH says:

    I run 2 minewt minis. One on the helmet and one on the handlebars. LED lithium ions. They work great for road or trail. Can’t outrun them at 25+ mph. Light and about $100 each. Got the second one after using the first with no problems for over a year. Planet Bike Super flash on the rear, they work great too.

  36. Erich says:

    The Light On! Dynolight and Taillight package. Worth every cent–durable (none of this plastic crap), compact, just the right amount of light throw. Placed on axle and run with SRAM i-Light hub, no issues reaching full brightness at slower speeds. Looking forward to many, many years of “always-on” use.

  37. Charles says:

    A Magic Shine and a NiteRider MiNewt Mini-USB on the front, a Planet Bike SuperFlash and a FlashBak on the rear (the latter attached to my backpack rather than the bike).

    On my other (electric assist) bike, the built-in dual 20W halogens (to be replaced with LEDs at the end of their service life) replace the MiNewt.

    The MagicShine is helmet-mounted in either configuration.

  38. ac says:

    What about the question of handlebar-mount vs. helmet-mount?

    I’m a little paranoid about safety – for example, I always wear a brightly-colored, reflective vest or jacket, and I always wear my helmet. I’m concerned about the effect of strapping a hard lump to my helmet, as it relates to helmet effectiveness.

    It seems like my helmeted head would be much better off striking a nice, flat surface than it would striking a sharpened spike. That means that if I’m lucky, my head will hit the flat pavement, rather than the edge of a curb, which is somewhere between perfectly flat and spike-shaped.

    Here’s my concern: When I strap a headlight to my helmet, it seems like I’m always carrying my own portable curb-edge to hit my head on.

    Any thoughts?

  39. BluesCat says:

    ac: Not to mention that any helmet light is going to be battery operated, which makes it heavy. Just my .¢.

  40. Bob Birmingham (MontclairBobbyB) says:

    I love night riding, and use many different types of lights, with a helmet-mounted LED/Li-Ion being my preference for mountain biking. For commuting, lately I’ve become a huge fan of Dynamo hubs. They are getting cheaper, they produce less drag, and they’re not ridiculously heavy. Unless you’re a weight-weenie, I’d say consider using BOTH. I have several dynamo hubs in use on bikes I’ve built: (Schmidt, Shimano, SRAM and Sturmey Archer…like them all), and for lights I use a home-built CREE-LED light setup that is super bright and interchangeable with each hub. I also recently picked up a Planet Bike Blaze dynamo light… so far I like it. It produces enough light for commuting (and off-road snow riding at slower speed), it’s inexpensive ($50-$60) and has a built-in stand light. For about $200 bucks (not necessarily chump change, but certainly better than 4 years ago), you can build up a nice wheel with a dynamo hub and a decent light… and you can ride ALL NIGHT without worry of battery life!!!

    I also use a Cateye battery-powered LED as a backup and/or stand light. I often run my dynamo light on full (for vision), while using the strobe of the Cateye as a “be seen” light.

    Many great options out there. Bring on the night!!!

  41. jdc says:

    I use a BLT LED headlight and a single LED microlight on the front…..and one or two BLT LED tailights on the seatpost and a single red microlight on the seatstay. A cateye rear reflector and cateye wheel reflectors as well. I’ll be using the Blackburn Fleas soon, since they take up no room on a drop bar and are ridiculously powerful for their size. My lighting needs are more as a placemarker since my route is well lit by streetlights.

  42. KnotWright says:

    I use two Li-ion CREE-LED flashlights with velcro and rubber handlebar mounts. Super bright, tons cheaper than anything made specifically for the bicycle market and they’re easy on and off so they come inside with me when I’m done with them.

  43. Jeff Frederick says:

    Dinotte 400R tail light is a must. I purchased one of these in February and it has made a huge difference in the respect I get from the traffic here in Charlotte. I’ve tried all the others and this is by far the best. It is the most expensive too, but you can’t place a price on safety. This is my first post and I’ve enjoyed the website. Great articles! I have a 35 mile round trip commute to uptown and need a sturdy bike to haul me (6’5” and 210 pds) and all my equipment. I current commuter is a hardtail mtb and will be in the market soon for a new bike and this build will greatly influence my buying decision. Ride safe!

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