Editor’s note: Inventory can be unpredictable this year with COVID-19, so some of the items in this list might be temporarily out of stock when you read this guide. We'll do our best to update it accordingly.
We’ve all been there: so wrapped up in the thrill of adventure that we’ve pushed the limits of daylight far beyond dusk. So be prepared next time that happens. Instead of navigating home by the glow of your phone or the feeble rays of streetlights, invest in a solid bike light to help see you home safely.
We tested the best bike lights available at REI to come up with our six favorite for road biking, trail riding and more.
Find our quick recommendations here or read on for more in-depth breakdowns of our best bike lights.
- Best All-Around Bike Light: Light & Motion Vis Pro 1000 Trail Headlight
- Best Bike Light for Value: NiteRider Lumina 1000
- Best Bike Light for Mountain Biking: Light & Motion Seca 2500
- Best Bike Light for Road Biking: Bontrager Ion Elite R and Bontrager Flare R City
Other Top Performers
Test Results: No matter how you crunch the data, Light & Motion Vis Pro 1000 Trail Headlight rises to the top for our all-around pick. The headlight is lightweight, bright enough to illuminate both trail or road and works intuitively—which is why it stayed mounted on our testers’ bikes around the clock, even on daytime rides. The Vis Pro 1000 earned that ultimate badge of respect from our testers after weathering several drenching summer rainstorms to test its waterproof claim, many nights on sketchy pavement to test its rubber mount and a 6-foot drop onto concrete.
With 1,000 lumens, this compact light lasts 1 1/2 hours on high and up to 6 on low, which should give you more than enough time to beat the dark home. Or, power the headlight with an external portable power bank (not included). The cone-shaped interior reflector beams light where you need it, whether the headlight is mounted on the handlebars or the (included) helmet mount.
Road-riding testers appreciated the red side lights that provide lateral visibility to drivers. Some, however, wished that the battery-indicator light was more visible while riding. (You have to rotate the light on your bars to see if it’s time to power down and conserve battery.) The bike light flashes to alert you of imminent shutoff when you’re critically low on juice.
A quick-release mount lets you keep the rubber mounting strap on your handlebars while charging, which makes things easier. But note that the rubber mounting strap is short. If you have handlebars that are wider than the standard 31.8 mm diameter, this light won’t fit out of the box. Nice touch: A lockout mode prevents the light from accidentally turning on in your bag or when not in use. Buy here.
Bottom Line: The Light & Motion Vis Pro 1000 Trail is bright enough to light up singletrack, has traffic-friendly flashers and a low profile for road riders, and enough battery life to keep most cyclists happy. It's the headlight that earned a near-permanent place on our handlebars.
- Distance biked: 650 miles
- Testing states: Vermont
- Best testing story: One tester didn’t anticipate doing much testing on a “casual road ride.” But it “turned into an all-out death march featuring rain, a flat tire and way more elevation than anticipated,” she says. “I hadn’t bothered to take the Vis Pro 1000 Trail light off, though, so when the going got tough, I wasn’t worried about making it home before dark.”
Test Results: If you want to test a light’s reliability, and hence its value, give it to a longtime cyclist who rides nearly every day of the week. In six weeks, our tester in Swampscott, Massachusetts, logged an impressive 1,300 miles and 100 hours with the NiteRider Lumina 1000, which stood up to the task. He credits the headlight’s robust waterproof seal, sturdy mounting system and the fiberglass reinforced nylon casing for dutifully lighting the way through downpours, road grit, thunderstorms, fog and wet, sloppy conditions. (Added bonus: A NiteRider lifetime warranty covers any defects in material and workmanship, mechanical components and LEDs.)
Another reason the light passed our value test? At $100 for 1,000 lumens, the cash-to-lumen ratio on the Lumina 1000 is excellent. The widespread, even beam produced via collimator optics (a collimator basically makes pointy light sources into a parallel beam). On the road, the Lumina 1000 generously illuminated both the sidewalk and edge of the road and helped our tester stay visible enough when cars were overtaking him. One downside? This light lacks side visibility lights, but we think that’s a fair compromise for the best value in our lineup.
In addition, our tester appreciated how easy it was to remove the light to charge, and that the standard mount is shaped to accommodate a wide range of handlebar widths and shapes.
Bottom Line: If you need a bright light that’s reliable and delivers an excellent cash-to-lumen ratio, pick the NiteRider Lumina 1000 Boost.
- Distance biked: 1,300 miles
- States tested: Massachusetts
- Best testing story: As a bike racer, our tester appreciated that he could lay down fast splits both day and night with help of the Lumina 1000. “The light is so bright and the coverage is so comprehensive that I don’t feel the need to slow down or hesitate.”
When you’re ripping down a mountain bike trail in low-light conditions, even a minor depth-perception derp is enough to send you winging off-trail—or worse, over the bars. So when it comes to dusky or tree-covered singletrack, only the biggest, best and brightest will do. Enter: the Light & Motion Seca 2500, a light saber of a torch with—you guessed it—a 2,500-lumen max output.
The Seca 2500 features four LED bulbs (three with cone-shaped reflectors above and one oval-shaped frosted bulb below) for a smooth and constant beam that can illuminate far and wide into the terrain. One tester proclaimed it, “the biggest, brightest and baddest light in this whole test.” He’s not wrong, though the Seca does come with a couple of caveats. For starters, it’s pricey. Second, it’s powered by a bulky battery pack that connects to the headlight via a 4-foot cord. Still, testers found the wide, heavy-duty hook-and-loop strap secure enough for anchoring the battery pack to the top tube. The design also makes the headlight itself lighter in weight—better for helmet mounting. (Prefer a cordless version that’s nearly as bright? Check out the NiteRider Lumina Dual Beam 1800.)
Testers also never complained about battery life. “I didn’t even realize that the button on top monitored battery life because I never needed to worry about running out,” says one tester, who admits he’s “terrible about remembering to charge things in general.” Small wonder he wasn’t battery-obsessed: The Seca ran for the claimed 2 1/2 hours at max brightness, five hours at medium, 10 hours on low power and a full 20 hours on flash mode
Our testers also praised the “race mode,” which lets you easily toggle between high and medium power with a single touch—a handy no-fumbling feature if you ride with the light mounted on your helmet.
Bottom Line: The Light & Motion Seca 2500 has the widest, deepest and longest-lasting beam of the bunch and a no-frills attachment system and helmet mount, making it a great choice for mountain bikers.
- Distance biked: 200 miles
- States tested: Vermont
- Best testing story: “I lit up a deer crossing the trail in front of me with this light and it literally froze, so I guess that deer couldn’t tell the difference between car headlights and this—it’s that bright,” says a tester of the Seca 2500.
Bontrager Ion Elite R / Flare R City Bike Light Set
Best Bike Light for Road Biking$150 from REI Co-op
- Score: 85
- Weight: 7.5 oz.
- Max brightness: 1,000 lumens
- Battery life: 1.5–6 hours
When it comes to road riding, being seen is just as important as seeing. That’s why our testers praised this affordable set from Bontrager, which includes both a headlight and tail light. The Ion Elite R—the headlight—pumps out 1,000 lumens and lasts up to six hours on low, plenty of time for road riders and commuters who will be able to charge between uses.
But while our testers enjoyed the dispersed beam of the Ion Elite R on rooty singletrack, where it really shone was on the car-clogged streets of San Francisco, with its trademark fog and drizzle. The Ion Elite R emits an attention-getting daytime visibility flash that Bontrager claims can be seen 1.24 miles away (we didn’t test this distance, but it doesn’t seem outrageous). The headlight comes paired with the Flare R City, a rear flashing light that amps up visibility without blinding other riders. On a foggy, predawn ride from San Francisco to Mountain View, our tester felt “confident that I could see the road, not distract the other riders and be clearly seen by cars.” And while he noted that the Ion R felt pretty big on his handlebars, he appreciated the security and how easy it was to remove. It uses a quick-connect mount that works on up to 35mm bars.
While some customer reviewers complain about it holding a charge, our San Francisco-based tester has had this light for two years and it is still charging like a champ and lighting up his rides. Buy here.
Bottom Line: The Bontrager Ion Elite R and Flare R City bike light set is perfect for commuters and road riders who need to see and be seen.
- Distanced biked: 75 miles
- Testing states: California
- Best testing story: One rider tested the Ion Elite R’s durability the hard way. “I crashed my mountain bike while testing the light,” he says. “I decided to get up early to ride before work on my favorite trail in the city and probably should have had some coffee first. Dinged up my knee pretty good, but the light was fine. Bike was OK, too. My ego was not.”
Other Top Performers
Looking for a helmet-mounted light? Take a flyer on the Light & Motion Vis Pro Helmet bike light, which helped our testers see around corners before the bike arrived there. The battery attaches to the back of your helmet via hook-and-loop, which keeps the headlight lightweight and flush to the front of your helmet via a rubber strap. The 600-lumen light has three brightness settings (plus a pulse mode). Amber side lights and a brightly flashing rear light integrated into the battery pack help keep you visible to traffic and other riders. Note: A helmet light like this is best paired with a true handlebar-mounted headlight on singletrack or very dark roads. Buy here.
If you’re ripping singletrack or competing in 24-hour races, we suggest a light that’s at least 1,000 lumens. But for the bike-path heroes and the “oops-it-got-dark-fast” riders and the “why are there so many streetlights out?” folks, a 600-lumen light like the Cygolite Dash Pro may be all you need to get you home safely. And while you might find yourself out-riding your beam if you’re zipping along at 20 mph in the dark, there’s a lot to be said for the daytime safety options built into this torch. Switch between steady, flash and a lightning-like setting; meanwhile, side lights help you get through intersections safely. Everything you need, and nothing you don’t. Buy here.
When buying a new bike light, consider key factors such as brightness, lighting modes, battery life and the mounting system. Learn more about about how to choose a light for you bike.
Brightness and lighting modes
Counting lumens is important when you’re shopping for a bike light. After all, lumens are the easiest way to measure the total quantity of light emitted by a light source. Higher lumens typically equal a brighter light. (You’ll often find the lumen count in the light’s name, or product specs.) We generally recommend at least 1,000 lumens if you’re going to put a light through its paces on singletrack or frequently riding the roads at night. For maximum brightness, the Light & Motion Seca 2500 Enduro Front Bike Light offers 2,500 lumens. Meanwhille, the Light & Motion Vis Pro 1000 Trail, Bontrager Ion Elite R and Flare R City Bike Light Set and NiteRider Lumina 1000 Boost Front Bike Light all hit the 1,000-lumen mark.
But while lumen output is important, it’s equally important to see as it is to be seen. Most cyclists will encounter other motorists or riders during a night ride, so it’s worth considering how visible you are from the back and sides. Most lights offer multiple settings that let you switch between flashing and steady modes, as well as low, medium or high modes. A flashing light emits an eye-catching pulse (either steady or random) that uses less battery power than a steady beam. All six lights we tested switch from illumination mode to daytime-flasher mode, which helps keep you safe and seen during the daylight hours. If you frequently encounter cross-traffic on your rides, look for a light that also has lateral visibility, like the Light & Motion Vis Pro 1000 Trail, the Bontrager Ion Elite R and Bontrager Flare R City or the Light & Motion Vis Pro.
A bright light is only as good as it lasts, though, so the other critical thing to consider is battery life. Battery life depends on the light’s battery type, the power of the system and the kind of LEDs in the light. Most bike lights, including our six picks, use rechargeable lithium ion batteries, which offer excellent power for their weight.
If you need brightness and battery life, you may need to consider a light that puts out fewer lumens but lasts longer. We found that the Light & Motion Vis Pro 1000 Trail was bright enough for most activities, but also had ample battery life for most nighttime rides. If, however, you need to really light up the night for longer periods of time, try the Light & Motion Seca 2500, which is our top pick for 24-hour races or people who need to run their light at full blast for as long as possible (about 2.5 hours on high, but up to 20 in lower modes). Check the product specs for the stated battery life in the light’s flashing, low or high settings.
Headlights mount onto your handlebar or your helmet. For nighttime trail riding, you should consider using both types. Beams of helmet-mounted lights can be directed by just the turn of your head, so if you’re riding twisty trails and using only one light, you'll find a helmet-mounted light to be the most versatile. The Bontrager Ion Elite R and Flare R City Bike Light Set offers a headlight and rear light as a set.
Another thing to consider is how the light affixes to your handlebars or helmet (and some do both). Check the specs on the mounting system to make sure it fits your handlebar or helmet. If you have handlebars that are wider than the standard 31.8 mm diameter, for example, Light & Motion Vis Pro 1000 Trail won’t fit out of the box. The best lights—including all of the lights featured here—attach firmly to your bars without damaging or scratching them, but are fairly easy to remove for charging.
Article written by Lindsay Warner. Lindsay is a freelance journalist based in Burlington, Vermont. She writes for publications including Backpacker, Dwell, National Geographic and Harper’s Bazaar, and is a professional pun-crafter for Ben & Jerry’s. Loves biking, hiking, skiing and fishing—and vows to never get giardia again. REI member since 2019.
Photography by Andrew Bydlon.