Here’s our test of the best lights on the market
Night riding will brighten your winter if you take the right lights — here are loads of lights ridden and rated.
When it’s winter darkness will be falling at 4pm. Which leaves you with the choice of either bunking off work, or going night riding to get that midweek mtb fix. Providing you want to keep your job, chances are you’ll have to embrace the darkness, and for that you will need to invest in a proper set of off-road lights.
Beyond the bewildering array of options and price points, the most important consideration when buying a new set of lights is to match the brightness — measured in lumens — to the type of trails you’re riding. For flatter or rolling terrain you’ll need a light with at least 1,000 to 1,500 lumens, but for fast or technical riding you may need to double that.
If you ride with a group of mates, you can buy lower powered lights and save a bit of money. This is because you can follow the rider in front and use their light as a guide. On the flip side, if you ride solo, or race at night (say, in 24hr events) you will need to raise the lumens and increase your budget.
It’s also crucial to distribute your light correctly. For trail riding it’s a good idea to run two lights, one on the bar and another on your helmet. The bar light creates shadows and texture, so you can read the trail, while the helmet light allows you to spot turns, look over obstacles and even down at your gears.
We’ve included pictures of all the beam patterns to show how the light falls on the trail. Hot spots and hard focused lines at the edges of the beam are distracting and make it more difficult to use peripheral vision when riding. You want soft transitions and edges, and a pool around the front wheel for picking your way through technical terrain.
The lumen is a measure of light output — the higher the number, the brighter the light. Some manufacturers quote measured lumens, but obviously they’ve done all the measuring themselves. We’ve printed quoted lumens, but we have measured all the lights, and if there’s a big discrepancy between the two figures, we’ve said so in the test.
A fuel gauge is essential for showing remaining power. Various systems are in use, from simple flashing LEDs, to a percentage countdown on the back of the light.
For helmet lights these are worth their weight in gold, because you don’t have to reach up behind you to toggle the light on or off. You are also more likely to use the lower power levels when the controls are at your fingertips, and that means the battery will last longer.
The best option is to have a short cable with an extension system. Use the short cable when the light is on the bar and plug in a longer extension when running the light on a helmet.
An O-ring makes a lot of sense because it can be removed easily, expands to accommodate different diameter handlebars, including 35mm, and the lamp can be angled up or down easily. Clamp-on mounts (aluminium or plastic) are better for heavy lights because they’re rattle-free and more secure. However, often only a 31.8mm is included, so if you’re running 35mm bars you may need to buy an additional clamp.
An all-in-one design is where the battery and lamp are contained in a single unit (see left). There are fewer parts in the box, you don’t have any flapping cables, and the system is lighter, with less battery mounting issues. The whole thing can be removed quickly for charging and storage as well.
Usually helmet clamps are plastic and held in place with twin Velcro straps that loop through the helmet vents, although Exposure employs a clamp that bolts through a single vent. It needs to pivot, so you can adjust the angle, and be secure, so the light doesn’t fall out if you catch it on a low branch.
Cateye Volt 6000 RC
The Cateye Volt 6000 RC is a truly insane light. It puts out an absolutely incredible 6,624 lumens on full beam, which is 10 per cent more than claimed!
Exposure Six Pack MK7
Like all Exposure lights, the Six Pack is an all-in-one design, which means the lamp and battery are contained in a single barrel-shaped body.
It’s great value but the lamp is a little weighty and the battery could do with a better mounting solution and slightly longer cable.
Lupine Betty R14
The Betty R14 is not cheap, but it’s the most adjustable and easy to configure light on test.
Magicshine MJ-908 8000
As the name suggests, the Magicshine MJ-908 8000 has a claimed 8,000 lumens, but when we ran it through our test sphere, it only recorded 3,758.
Xeccon Zeta 5000R
On paper Xeccon’s new Zeta 5000R has a claimed 5,000 lumens, but we measured it well short at 1,656 lumens.
BBB Scope 1500
BBB is a newbie when it comes to producing off-road lights, but as a first attempt the Scope 1500 is impressive.
Cateye Volt 1600 EL1010 RC
In theory, Cateye’s new Volt 1600 is a road light that is bright enough for off-road use, especially when paired with a 1,000 lumen helmet light.
Gloworm X2 Adventure
The X2 Adventure is a lighter version of the X2 we tested two years ago. It gets a machined head unit with twin lamps, but uses a lighter twin-cell Lithium Ion battery rather than the old four-cell unit.
This is a new light from Hope. It gets a compact head unit with twin Cree LEDs and a two-cell battery with the new ES (Energy Status) fuel gauge — simply press the ‘test’ button and it tells you how much juice is remaining.
Lezyne Deca Drive 1500 XL
The Deca Drive 1500 XL is 30 per cent more expensive than the company’s Power Drive 1100 XL, but you get a third LED and a third more light output.
NiteRider Pro 1800 Race
We’ve tested NiteRider lights in the past, and they’ve been a little underpowered, but the Pro Race 1800 is really bright.
Blackburn Central 700 RC
It comes standard with a stretchy rubber bar mount, but the light has a GoPro fitting, so you can bolt it directly to any helmet with this fitment, or share it with one you’ve already stuck in place for a head cam.
Exposure Joystick Mk11
At less than 100g, the Exposure Joystick is the lightest helmet light on test, and that also includes the mount.
Light and Motion Imjin 800
It’s one of the few lights to get anywhere near the claimed output, recording 796 lumens when we measured it in the sphere.
Lupine Piko 4
With a separate lamp and battery, the weight of the Piko 4 is spread evenly from front to back on a helmet.
Magicshine MJ-902 2000
This is a new light from Magicshine with a claimed 2,000 lumens — in reality it only achieves half that on full power.
One of the easiest lights to use is the dazzling Cateye Volt 6000 — light it up and ride. Unfortunately, it will be a short ride on high beam, and we have concerns over the quality and finishing of such an expensive bit of kit.
If you want to save a chunk of cash, but get comparable brightness, then we’d recommend Magicshine’s MJ-908 8000. It doesn’t put out the claimed 8,000 lumens, but it’s still bright.
Top of the tree in the bar light category, though, is the Lupine Betty R14. It is the most expensive light on test, but there are Betty models with smaller batteries for significantly less. What makes it our test winner is the fact that it’s so easy to use, and you can configure it any way you want using the excellent Light Control App. We actually think the App has made a lot of the features on the light redundant — if your phone can tell you (literally) the remaining run time, then you don’t need a row of LEDs on the battery doing the same (providing your phone has battery life left!). The Betty R14 is cutting-edge technology; the light output, quality and excellent attention to detail is a bonus.
The winning light, however, functions just as well doing both and that’s what we were looking for. BBB’s Scope 1500 gets more than its claimed lumens, simple functionality and sorted mounts. The price isn’t too shabby either.
There was a marked difference in the weight of the six helmet lights, from the featherweight Exposure Joystick to the meaty Magicshine MJ-902 2000. This is important, because with an average mountain bike helmet, and one of the heavier lights, you can end up with over 750g (1.6lb) sat on your bonce.
How the battery and lamp connect is also crucial because it has to be low profile to avoid overhanging branches at night while being stable and rattle-free. The other issue with helmet lights is the beam. You need a tight focus to cut through the glare of your main light to spot obstacles or turns, and also point off down the trail when you’re going fast.
We discounted several helmet lights for being too tall, complicated or missing mounts, but two stood out — the excellent Lupine Piko 4 and the Exposure Joystick Mk11. The Piko 4 is an awesome product, but the Joystick just shades it because it’s lighter, lower-profile and crucially, better value.
How we test
Testing lights is a solitary business, because having other riders around interferes with the beam pattern and output. For accuracy, we mapped out an 18-minute test loop and conducted dozens of solo runs with all the lights.
To make it as fair as possible we tested all the powerful lights on their own, the helmet lights with a Hope R2 bar light fitted, and the mid-range lights with an Exposure Joystick up top.
To measure the light output, we also plugged all of the test lights into an integrating sphere, which is a scientific instrument that measures lumens.
Top five tips
1. If you have a really bright light, do your mates a favour and toggle it down when they ride in front. A blazing light can create a black shadow in front of them, which can be super-distracting.
2. Tape your cables out of the way to eliminate distracting shadows in your field of vision.
3. Two lights are better than one. A big bar light is great but you’ll need a helmet light to look down at your gears, spot turns and see what’s over a lip or log.
4. If you buy the same brand of light you’ll be able to share the battery packs or buy a spare for emergencies. It’s also a good idea to balance the run times to avoid one of the lights failing halfway round a massive moorland loop.
5. Save full beam for the faster descents and dim down your light for the climbs. It’s also a good idea to turn off the helmet light completely as you’ll make out more surface texture with just the bar light running.