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How to Choose Bike Lights

Types of Bike Lights

A well-lit bike is equipped with front, side and rear lighting to ensure your visibility to motorists and pedestrians.

For commuting or riding after dark—especially on trail rides that are far from ambient light sources—your front light needs to be a high-output lighting system so you see well ahead of you.

High-output lighting systems: These usually are rechargeable light systems that offer maximum illumination. They are higher priced but much brighter than safety lights, and they help you see where you're going on the trail or road in nearly all conditions.

Front, side and rear safety lights: These help motorists see you in dim light conditions. The brightest ones also improve your visibility in the daytime. However, they're not bright enough to help you see where you're going for most night riding. The main differences between safety light models are in mounting options, the number of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and whether they use rechargeable or disposable batteries.

Comparing Light Performance

All lights offered by REI use durable housings sealed with weatherproof gaskets. Count on these lights to shine in any weather. What to consider:

LEDs: Energy efficiency and durability make LEDs the predominant light source used in bike lights. They come in a wide range of brightness levels.

Lumens: A lumen is a unit of measurement that quantifies the amount of light falling on the object you want illuminated. Measured at a uniform distance, a lumen describes the light intensity of each lighting unit. Most light manufacturers provide a lumen rating; this is shown on product pages.

Beam pattern: If you commute on streets with streetlights, you may want to choose a front light with a narrow-focus beam. On darker roads or trails, you'll want to go with a wide-focus beam for better peripheral vision. Beam patterns can be difficult for shoppers to compare; check online product descriptions or ask an REI sales specialist for help.

As a general rule, higher price equals higher light output.

Rechargeable Lighting Systems

Rechargeable systems feature lithium ion batteries. They can be charged hundreds of times, making them an inexpensive and environmentally sound alternative to disposable batteries.

Unlike alkalines that dim slowly over battery life, most rechargeables deliver consistent light until their power is exhausted. Therefore, most rechargeable lights have a "fuel gauge" or low-battery warning. All rechargeables have a power light to indicate that power is available.

Lithium ion batteries offer excellent power for their weight, and they are characterized by their long run times. They are easy to keep charged because they suffer no "memory" effects from being fully discharged.

Maintaining Your Battery System

Most rechargeable batteries are capable of more than 500 charge/discharge cycles. Self-contained units can be charged via a power cord or USB charger.

When charging batteries, be sure you fully charge them, especially before storage, but do not overcharge them. Most systems come with smart chargers that automatically stop when the batteries are fully charged to prevent overcharging. Because inactive batteries lose their charge over time, plug in and charge your system before every use.

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