Here's our rundown of the best mountain bike lights as rated by our expert panel of testers. Bombing around in the dark may seem like a mad thing to do but night riding is great!
Technology has developed to the point where the best mountain bike lights are now as bright as most car headlights nowadays. Which means more speed, more control and more confidence when riding off-road at night. We’ve picked handlebar lights, best mountain bike helmet lights and e-bike specific in various price categories. When the clocks go back the lights come out – and with the best featured here, the gloomiest trails will glow this winter.
How we tested the best mountain bike lights
To put the lights through their paces we mapped out a 20-minute test loop with a long technical climb and long descent with some tech at the top and fast bridleway at the bottom and did repeat loops on a Whyte G-170. This mixed terrain allowed us to play around with the light’s built-in modes, toggling down to dimmer settings when riding slowly and up to full power for the descent and that final sprint. Managing output in this way extends battery life, but we haven’t printed run times because they don’t always discharge at a constant rate. They’re also affected by things like temperature (and age) – on a cold night, your battery just won’t last as long.
We used the e-bike lights on a Bosch-equipped Whyte E-180 e-bike. For purposes of convenience we routed the lights externally, even though the optimum is to place the cable inside the frame.
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Best mountain bike lights: helmet mount
Puts out nearly as much as bar light but it weighs 50% less
Weight: 109g | Lumens: 1,850, 1,000, 500 | Run time: 1, 1.5, 3hrs | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Incredibly bright. Lightweight. Clever helmet mount. Cons: Nothing.
The light output is superb – it’s produces an incredibly bright white light that really picks up detail and it never got overpowered, not matter what bar light we used it with. On full power, you get 1,850 lumens, but there seven different programmable modes using the high, medium and low settings, so you can really vary the output and run time. Turning off the Tap Mode is an option too, which we did a couple of times when riding through dense undergrowth because that can catch the light and tap it off. Exposure makes a neat and lightweight vent mount for the Diablo that’s fully adjustable and low profile. Also included in the box is a bar mount box and a proper charger, not just a USB cable.
Perfect partner to bar light
Weight: 148g | Max lumens: 700 | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Great value and good lens light Cons: Modest battery life
It may ‘only’ have 700 lumens which can seem way underpowered in the modern era of 1,000s of lumens but… 700 lumens works just fine as a helmet light and is way brighter than the lights we used to make do with back-in-the-day. You can also use this light little guy on your handlebars but one of the best things (for once) is the helmet mount of the Buster 700. The beam pool is suitably tight focus for a helmet light. The main niggle is the modest run time. You can’t really turn it on and leave it for the duration of 90mins+ rides. So a bit of thought, planning and button pressing is required. Which is a price well worth paying when you’re not… er, paying very much money.
Best mountain bike lights: handlebar mount
Turns night into day
Weight: 383g | Lumens: 3,200 | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Portable sunshine. Customisable. Versatile mounting. Excellent quality. Cons: You pay a premium.
On paper the 3,200 Lumen Wilma R7 isn’t the absolute most powerful out there, but it doesn’t look like it – it literally turns night into day. We could see the furthest with this light (and ride the fastest), but still see everything close in. Superb attention to detail, a ton of really useable features, full customisable, a remote and any mount you like, combined with excellent quality makes the Wilma R7 easily the best light on test. And while it’s the most expensive light here, we think the price is justified if you really want the ultimate system. Attention to detail, build quality and programmability really set the Wilma R7 apart.
Serial test winner due to its simple design and excellent beam quality
Weight: 222g | Lumens: 2,500 | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Punchy, crisp beam. Lightweight. Cons: Cable needs to be shorter or coiled
The Seca Race has a dinky 3-cell lithium ion battery. This is housed in a rubberised case and mounts to a frame tube using a heavy-duty Velcro strap. The head unit attaches to the handlebar with a bigger rubber leash and features a handy breakaway bolt. Light and Motion pumped a load of money in the custom engineered reflector and Cree LEDs les on this light and it shows – not only is the light a crisp blue colour, there are no rings, shadows or dark spots. We also could see just as far down the trail with this light as we could with lights that had double the lumen count. Even though the Seca Race has a little bit less burn time than we’re used to, it’s still a superb light with the best beam pattern on test, the lowest weight and it’s also amazing value for money.
No cables or external batteries, just a single unit to click on and off
Weight: 342g | Lumens: 4,000 | Rating: 9/10
Pros: All-in-one convenience and simplicity Cons: Bulky and expensive
In a world where external battery packs and endless cabling constitute the norm, Exposure Maxx-D all in one approach is a breath of fresh air. Like all Exposure lights, the Maxx D MK13 is self-contained with the LEDs and Li-Ion battery all housed in the machined aluminium body. The good thing is you can easily remove this for charging or when you’re not using it, but it is about the same size (and weight) of a drinks can, so it’s quite prominent on the bar and you can feel this weight when dropping the bike into a turn.
The Monteer is a monster!
Weight: 605g | Max lumens: 8,000 | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Bright AF Cons: Not quite as polished as other premium lights
First off we do need to point out that the 8,000 lumens claim of this light is rather… optimistic. But it is still really, really flipping bright. Even if the real-world lumens is more light 4,000, that’s still significantly more than its rivals. Mounting the lamp is easy enough and will be familiar to any Garmin twist-lock user out there. In fact, during the day you can leave the bracket on for holding your Garmin or whatever, which some will find very useful. The pool of light is massively broad as well bright. The only niggle we had was the lack of programmability into the switch; you have to cycle through all the modes one by one, which can be tedious when you only ever really use low and high.
Packs a mighty punch
Weight: 238g | Max lumens: 3,200 | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Well made unit that gives out clean light pool Cons: Bar clamp a tad fiddly to install/adjust
The Audi Q-series of the mountain bike light world. The Toro being the dinkiest of Exposure’s multi-LED self-contained designs. As with the MaXx D and Six Pack from Exposure, we find the bar clamp a bit fiddly to install/remove but there’s no arguing with its solidity once in place. The programmability on offer is comprehensive and – brilliantly – all the info is etched on the housing itself and the rear display also makes it clear what you’re doing.
Best mountain bike lights: e-bike specific
Fantastic value and illumination
Weight: 121g | Max lumens: 4,500 | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Unbeatable performance for the money Cons: Construction is a bit plasticky
Firstly, you need to know that the price doesn’t include the cable for your type of e-bike. That said, the cables are only £11 so it’s still impressive value for money. You can even get a cable that you can wangle on to an external Li-ion battery, so you can run it on a regular bike too. As with other Magicshine stuff, the construction is a bit plasticky and just-enough solid but the illumination on offer is excellent. We wouldn’t say there are genuine 4,500 lumens pooled out of this light but it’s certainly way brighter than 3,000 lumen units.
Beautifully made and compact
Weight: 100g | Max lumens: 3,200 | Rating: 8/10
Pros: Fantastically well made product Cons: Expensive
Exposure lights have a lot of fans. It’s not hard to see why. Their stuff is exceptionally well made with a design that is matched by a level of fabrication that very few other light brands get anywhere close to. The Flex MTB is pretty much the front end of an Exposure Diablo with a cable coming out of the back that leads to your bike’s battery (as with most e-bike lights, the £12.50 cable is an additional purchase). The illumination quality is great albeit nothing to write about considering the £300+ price tag.
Much brighter than the numbers suggest
Weight: 170g | Max lumens: 1,800 | Rating: 8/10
Pros: Car-like illumination Cons: Bracket doesn’t clear chunky face-plate stems, expensive
NB: not compatible with Yamaha e-bike systems. The main thing about this light is the… er, light. Which sounds like a really dumb thing to say but when so many people quickly pass through the vital stats of lights (comparing price tag to lumens offered), the Lupine is bound to be skipped over by a lot of people. Which is a shame because the illumination spat out by the SL X is beautifully clean, smooth and detailed. A fly in the ointment is that the bracket doesn’t sit proud enough forward to clear some chunky face-plate MTB stems. Oh yes, and the price tag is quite bananas.
What to look out for in the best mountain bike lights:
As the evenings draw in it might seam like opportunities for a mid-week blast are fading with the light, but night riding is not only a great way to extend your riding season; it’s brilliant fun too. Blasting around the woods at night brings new life to familiar trails, sharpens your skills and hones your fitness. And it’s a good excuse to get warmed up with a pint in the local pub afterwards.
To get the best experience possible, a good set of lights is essential. Fortunately there’s a vast array of options on the market at a range of price points to suit most budgets. Once you’ve decided how much you’re going to spend, the next decision to make is whether to run one big powerful light or spread your output between a helmet light and a bar light. The latter are going to be more versatile, but it’s important to match the brightness and run times of the two lights, and a lot depends on the type of terrain you’re riding – for example, you can easily use a single bar-mounted light with about 1,500 lumens if you’re riding big wide gravel roads. If you’re ducking off into the trees and riding harder and faster on technical singletrack, we’d advise doubling the output or adding that secondary helmet-mounted light.
Splitting the light between your bar and helmet is always a good idea because the low-mounted bar light creates shadows and texture, allowing you to read the trail, while the high helmet light allows you to scan for obstacles, illuminate around turns and see what you’re doing off the bike.
How the lights are packaged is also important – there are two basic set-ups. Integrated systems, where the battery and lamp are contained in a single unit, and two- piece systems, where you have a lamp unit and a separate battery, connected via a cable. Either type can be mounted on the bar or helmet but obviously using a two-piece system up top does mean you’ll have a cable running down the back of your helmet.
Lumen is a measurement of light output – the higher the number the brighter the light. Some manufacturers quote measured lumens, which is a truer reflection of the actual light output. Most lights also have several settings (high, low, medium beam), but also a secondary mode with lower or different options – these are often accessed when you turn the light on. Some lights are also programmable using an app or via sequencing built into the On switch.
Some bar lights can be attached to a helmet mount, which is usually plastic and held in place with two Velcro straps that loop through the vents. There are also dedicated helmet lights using a similar system, and some manufacturers, like Exposure and Knog, employ a clamp that bolts through a single vent.
An O-ring is the easiest attachment because it can be removed quickly, expands to accommodate different diameter bars, 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 more secure. Most are 35mm with optional shims for 31.8mm bars, although some are size specific.
A fuel gauge is essential for showing remaining power. The simplest are just flashing LEDs (green for good, red for bad) but some of the best use a read-out or percentage countdown displayed on the back of the light.
With the controls at your fingertips, you don’t have to reach up to toggle the light on or off and you’re also more likely to use the different power levels and preserve battery life.
The most versatile option is to have a short cable to which you can add an extension. Use the short cable when the light is on the bar and battery is on top tube, and then plug in a longer extension when running the light on a helmet/backpack.
We’ve included pictures of all the beam patterns to show what the light looks like on the trail. Ideally you want soft transitions and edges and a pool around the front wheel for picking your way through technical terrain. If there are hot spots, or hard edges to the beam, these can be distracting, making it more difficult to use peripheral vision when riding.
E-bike specific lights
If you just ride an e-bike, it makes a lot of sense to buy a dedicated light, because the battery in your e-bike is typically 10 times more powerful than the one used to power a bike light. Also, most motors have a built-in port or extra connector, where you can plug a light straight in. You may need to activate the software, so the bike recognises the light, but an approved dealer can do that for you in about five minutes.
However, there are a couple of things to bear in mind before taking the plunge. Some lights are not compatible with older e-bikes, and this is because they run on a different voltage. And if they do work, they’re likely to run at a reduced output.
The other thing to be aware of when running a light is that it will reduce the run time of your bike, anywhere between 4% and 10%. This is because e-bike lights are covered by an EU directive that requires the bike to have a certain amount of residual charge for emergencies. Obviously, we’re not in the EU anymore, but e-bikes may come into the UK configured this way and it may also come with the light functionality turned off. That’s something a manufacturer may choose to do when it’s building the bike, although we’ve been told it can be reactivated for certain brands. Also, if an electrical product is modified beyond a certain level it no longer complies to EMC testing, which has implications for your warranty. Our advice is to always check with the bike manufacturer before purchasing an e-bike light to see if it’s compatible, and if there are any issues regarding your warranty. We’d also check light compatibility – most light manufacturers have a chart on their website.