Here’s our test of the best lights on the market
Bombing around the woods in the dark may seem like a mad thing to do, but night riding is great. And you can’t do it without a proper beam – so here’s our pick of the best mountain bike lights.
There isn’t a huge amount to look forward to with winter mountain biking in the UK, but night riding must rate pretty highly on that diminutive list. Hitting the trails when everyone else is tucked up at home watching trashy telly, seeing the stars, startling the wildlife and getting your exercise in through the week is all part of the joy, but you will need some pretty serious hardware if you want to ride at anything like your normal pace.
Where to mount your mountain bike light?
A light on the bar is essential; running well below your eyeline it creates shadows in the trail ahead, generating texture to read and facilitate line choice. For fast riding you will need around 2000 lumens plus, less for more straightforward, less technical riding.
A helmet mount on its own is positively dangerous, beaming out virtually in line with the eye to flatten any shadows, rendering the view virtually two dimensional and impossible to judge.
The best setup has a bit of both – a powerful bar light for trail reading, backed up by a helmet light that allows tight corners to be negotiated, obstacles to be peered over and, of course, it lets you turn to see what the hell that rustling was in the bushes just off to your right a minute ago. Around 600-1000 lumens for a helmet mount will allow you to see far enough without overpowering those all important shadows created by your bar mount.
We have chosen bar and helmet mounted lights to test and, although just about all of them come with enough mounting hardware to do either job, they generally fall clearly into one category or another according to characteristics like power, beam pattern and weight.
The best bar-mount mountain bike lights
Alpkit Hadron mountain bike light
2,000 lumens. A very impressive performer for those looking for a bar-mounted light system on a budget that still performs admirably out on the trail.
Exposure Maxx-D mountain bike light
3,300 lumens. The Maxx-D is everything that Exposure know about mountain bike lighting. Which is a lot, in every sense. A joy to ride with and to live with.
Hope R4+ mountain bike light
1,500 lumens. Exquisitely made and sure to be a winner with the myriad Hope fanboys and fangirls out there. Rather expensive for the illumination though.
ITUO Wiz-XP3 mountain bike light
2,300 lumens. You may not have heard of this brand before but don’t go thinking this is a tinpot light. It’s impressivley well made and kicks out lots of light.
Light And Motion Seca 2500 Enduro mountain bike light
2,500 lumens. This is very nearly a perfect mountain bike light. It’s only the niggling issues with cable layout that stop it fromclaiming full marks.
Lumicycle Explorer Plus Enduro mountain bike light
3,000 lumens. Venerable UK light brand Lumicycle take their well-reviewed Explorer and tweak its output modes for improved power and burn times.Get the Explorer Plus Enduro direct from Lumicycle here
The best helmet-mount mountain bike lights
Blackburn Central 650 mountain bike light
650 lumens. This is a bargain helmet light even though we reckon you will almost certainly need to add the cost of a better helmet mount to the price tag.
Exposure Joystick Mk12 mountain bike light
1,000 lumens. Sure it’s mighty expensive looking if you compare to a plastic torch but this is very much, much more than a simple torch. Perfection really.
Gemini Duo 1500L mountain bike light
1,500 lumens. This is a very versatile light that we’ve found ourselves going for for various activities – even beyond the bike. Trail runners in particular should check this light out.
Moon Vortex Pro mountain bike light
900 lumens. Very close in performance to the Blackburn Central 650 reviewed in this test but with arguably a signifcantly better mounting system.
Niterider Lumina 1100 Boost mountain bike light
1,100 lumens. The killer blow to the Lumina is its price tag. It’s just far too expensive for what you get, both in the box and out of the lens.
Xeccon Zeta 1300R mountain bike light
1,300 lumens. Although the pool of light spat out by the Zeta was very even it was also rather disappointingly under-powered. It does last ages though.
What’s the best mountain bike light?
Every year we take the test lights out and positively marvel at how good they all are compared to the year before – every year. Things are moving on fast in the LED world and the manufacturers are utilising these breakthroughs at a dizzying pace. All the better for us, the riders, of course.
Of the bar lights, I think we were expecting just a little more from the Hope. It had all the other elements in place such as build quality and design, it just required a little more poke to justify the price tag. At £95 the Alpkit was a deserving value recommendation with almost as much grunt as the Hope at less than half the price, and while the beam pattern was distinctly centre heavy, it was still a superb light for the money and more than bright enough to open up night riding on a tight budget. The Ituo could have easily scooped the value tag too, with plenty power for just shy of £150. A bit more beam control and it would be right up there, no doubt, and maybe the new offer of diffusers as standard will do the trick. Also, ours only came with a 2 pin plug so we had to find an adapter which was a bit of a headache.
Lumicycle have grabbed the latest LED potential with both hands and crammed it into a tough and well made head unit. A great light, we just felt the beam pattern was slightly too centre-hot and didn’t have the trail filling, smooth power spread of the other contenders for top spot.
If the win had been purely down to trail illumination and beam pattern, it would have been a neck and neck between the superb Light and Motion and Exposure units. Looking at those beam spread shots speaks volumes – both are incredible lights that allow more or less daylight pace on any trail. But that is where the similarity ended – the Seca had feet of unnecessary cable and battery pack to faff with where the Maxx-D had neither; the Seca was nothing more than a basic – albeit superbly executed – light for £400, whereas the Maxx-D had spades of useful features like actual time remaining display, and handy USB charging. It was simply a very easy and convenient light to own and regularly use. And you save £25 into the bargain. A clear winner.
Of the helmet mounts we quickly discounted the Xeccon for its flood-like beam and fragile hardware, and the Niterider for a poorly designed helmet mount and price that didn’t really match up with performance. The Blackburn and Moon were virtually indistinguishable on the trail, power and beam wise, but we all felt the Blackburn was a better light for the money. At £50 for a USB chargeable, 2 hour burning, all-in-one helmet light it was the deserving value winner. 650 lumens is getting to the lower end of the power scale we would consider, but it is enough. The Gemini is a bit of a conundrum. As a helmet light it is overpowered and burdened with cables where a lot of the competition here have none. It doesn’t have USB charging or time countdown. But despite what it doesn’t have, we all liked it a lot. It is small, unobtrusive, yet powerful and adaptable to everything from headtorch to bar mount. We used it for all these and felt it did everything reasonably well – so if you are looking for one light that does it all, then it could be the one for you.
That leaves us with the Joystick. It is super light, super compact and comes with an innovative and highly effective helmet mount.
Yes, it only lasts for 1.5 hours, but nobody needs 1000 lumens for that length of time. Utilise the excellent range of programs and we regularly got 2-3 times more out of it.
Another Exposure winner. What can we say? They are a company that never seems to rest on their laurels, pushing ahead with innovative ideas and features year on year but never forgetting what these units are for in the first place – throwing the most effective light up a trail to let us all mountain bike at night. Fast.
Know your mountain bike lights
Power : The higher the lumen count, the brighter the light. Simple. But less scrupulous manufacturers have been known to inflate the numbers to boost the shelf appeal of their lights. Big brands can be trusted or if it has been certified to the ANSI FL1 standard, but beyond that the only way to be sure is to get an eyeball test.
Cable : Lengthy cables are a pain in the neck to keep under control, so the best options have short cables for bar mounting with optional extenders used to make the light helmet compatible. Better still look for a cable-free all in one option for the ultimate in convenience.
Beam Pattern : In bar mounted light, spreading the light evenly across and up the trail with no hard lines, shadows or hotspots to distract your eye is, if anything, more important than raw power. We have noticed during years of testing that as soon as you lose peripheral vision and add distractions like bright lines or dead spots, your ability to read the trail suffers and consequently speed does too.
For a helmet mount you want more of a focussed spot to throw the light further – it follows your line of sight after all, so no need for an all encompassing coverage. We have included beam pattern shots from each light to illustrate the differences.
Remote : Remotes are a superb way to encourage power management and extend your battery life. When the power switch is right at your thumb without needing to change or relinquish grip on the bars, it is easy to flick the power up and down according to trail conditions. Wireless remotes are especially useful for helmet mounted units.
Bar Mount : Rubber O-ring bands are our favoured way of attaching the light to the bar; easy to fit, adjust and remove they expand to fit most bar sizes easily and leave nothing behind for day rides. Heavier lights such as all in one units need something more secure, so bolted clamps are necessary to take the weight. Most, but not all, allow for oversized 35mm bars so double check if you need that size.
Helmet Mount : Usually a pair of velcro straps that pass through the vents, helmet mounts need to allow angle adjustment and rattle free fixture – and be easily removeable for daylight hours if possible. The lower you can fit it on the helmet the better, either at the front or side, as it will be less likely to catch overhead branches.
Fuel Gauge : A must for displaying your remaining power, allowing you to make decisions on power management. Most are simple green/amber/red lights, but more recently lights are filtering through with accurate time countdown displayed.
Charger : A very welcome development has been the increase in USB charging available. Not only does this mean you have one less dedicated charge adaptor cluttering your life, but it also makes charging in the car possible at 24 hour races or similar.
Some previous mountain bike lights reviews
Check out all our previosu favourite lights from 2016 and early 2017 below…
Moon X Power 2500 light review
An oldie but a goodie. This one has been on the market for a little while now – but it still packs a punch at 2,500 lumens. You can run it a notch below full power – 1,500 lumens – and ride for a couple of hours.
Cateye Volt 6000 RC mountain bike light
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 mountain bike light
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.
Hope R8+ mountain bike light
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 mountain bike light
The Betty R14 is not cheap, but it’s the most adjustable and easy to configure light on test.
Magicshine MJ-908 8000 mountain bike light
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. There’s also a Magicshine MJ-902 2000 if you want to save a little cash and want fewer lumens.
Xeccon Zeta 5000R mountain bike light
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 mountain bike light
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 mountain bike light
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 mountain bike light
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.
Hope R2 mountain bike light
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 mountain bike light
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 mountain bike light
We’ve tested NiteRider lights in the past, and they’ve been a little underpowered, but the Pro Race 1800 is really bright.
Light and Motion Imjin 800 mountain bike light
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 mountain bike light
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 mountain bike light
This is a new light from Magicshine with a claimed 2,000 lumens — in reality it only achieves half that on full power.
Top five tips for buying a mountain bike light
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.