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. Here’s our pick of the best mountain bike lights.
Let’s get straight into the details and general buying advice and then we’ll get to the reviews, because that’s what you’re here for after all.
Top tips for buying a mountain bike light
Mountain bike lights are improving at a dizzying pace, with technology meaning we have more light power and battery life packed into a smaller and smaller space. This is great news of course, meaning more and more of us are getting out there to keep our riding bubbling over despite the long dark months of a UK winter.
We include bar and helmet mounts on test as both are essential for any serious night riding set up. The bar light is your powerhouse, punching light far and wide down the trail at a level below your eye line. This is important as it creates shadows on the trail, highlighting dips, rocks and roots for fast and accurate line choice. The better the light, the faster you can ride, simple as that – for serious offroading at speed you are looking at upwards of 2000 lumens, but if you are prepared to compromise on speed 1000 gets you by.
Helmet lights come into their own over more technical and tight trails. They allow you to look over rises and round corners before the bar light has swung round to your changing direction. Following your eyeline it can afford to be more tightly focussed as it is always pointing where you are looking, which also means it doesn’t have to be chugging out the power of a bar mount – a small amount of light correctly placed does the trick. In fact you don’t want it overpowering the bar light as there is a danger of it flattening out those all important shadows, so matching it to the output of your bar light is important. Aim for around half the bar power and all should be well.
Know your mountain bike light
Lighting power is generally expressed in lumens, with a bar light looking to be at least 1000 to get any kind of trail riding done. More focussed helmet lights can suffice with 500 or less. The higher the better of course, but some less scrupulous manufacturers can be a little ‘ambitious’ with their claims so either choose one that has been tested to the ANSI FL1 standard, or just eyeball it before you buy. Keep in mind that beam pattern has a big part to play too – it isn’t all down to sheer grunt.
More and more lights are coming ‘cable free’ these days, having the light and battery in one integrated lamp unit. Of course this makes that single unit more bulky and heavy, requiring heftier bar mounts, but it becomes supremely tidy and removes the need for awkward frame mounted batteries and trailing cables.
While the shelf appeal of lights is often dictated by raw power output – everybody wants more power, right? – the beam pattern is easily as important when it comes to putting that light usably down onto the trail. The perfect beam will have a seamless flood to spot transition with no hotspots or dark patches, no harsh focus lines and soft edges. This reduces distracting shapes and movements and keeps you focussed on the trail itself.
Reaching for the light switch to change power modes is often impractical over technical or fast ground, so we tend to leave the lights in high mode as a default. If you need more time, however, you will be wanting to cycle through the power modes more often – and a remote makes this easier when on the move.
The number one priority of a bar mount is security – the light shouldn’t move. Heavier lights need heavier duty mounts with Allen key clamps. But if the head unit is light enough, rubber band mounts mean you can remove the light quickly and easily, leaving no parts to mar an otherwise tidy bar setup.
Helmet mounts should be secure yet easy to remove, or at the very least unobtrusive to leave in place – we don’t all want to have a large lump of plastic in place as we go about our daytime
Essential for knowing your battery power at any given point in the ride. Crude ones maybe only sport a green/amber/red system and you soon get to know what they mean in terms of time, but the more sophisticated units now give actual time remaining in the current burn mode – invaluable for planning ahead.
A big bonus over the last few years has been the move towards USB compatible charging. This utilises the regular USB point on your PC, mains phone charger or car charger and reduces the need for untidy or bulky charging units you need to find a home for, and means you can easily recharge in the car or campervan.
A few of the integrated cable-free design lights on test have a USB output port on the light, handy for giving your phone an emergency boost to make that all important “I’ll be home late” call, or charging an ailing GPS to find your way.
The best bar mounted mountain bike lights
Exposure Six Pack Mk9
Exposure’s Six-Pack is like canned sunlight. The all-in-one unit is as bright as a summer’s day and smart as they come. The rear display tells yo the all-important run time remaining and in Reflex + mode various sensors decide how much power you need depending on speed and gradient. The maximises battery life and ensures you’re never left in the gloom at the wrong moment.
Light And Motion Taz 2000
The 2000 lumen output only really struggles when placed side-by-side with the likes of the Six Pack and Lumicycle, but then compare the price, weight and bulk and the Taz looks pretty damn good.
Lumicycle Apogee Extender Kit
The cool yet slightly greeny colour temperature gives a very crisp feel to the light, and it all compliments the pokey 4000 lumen output perfectly to make a very impressive trail riding light. On the move we also appreciate the glove friendly toggle switch, easy to find in the dark and very positive in action – just flick it up for more power, down for less – easy.
Overall the Ravemen PR1200 is a great little unit for the money, and perfect for those on a budget not competing with riding mates toting higher power rigs.
The best helmet mounted mountain bike lights
Exposure Diablo Mk10
The Devil is in the details with Exposure’s compact and faff-free helmet light. It’s super-stable on the head, boasts a beam that’s been perfected over 10 iterations and clever tech sch as a mode that lets you change the power settings with just a tap on the body. Seeing is believing.
Infini Super Lava
Coming in at just short of £40 and with a on-paper output of 300 lumens the Infini Super Lava generally wouldn’t jump out as an offroad night riding contender, but it has turned into one of the great surprises of the test. It works, and is actually pretty effective.
Knog Pwr Rider
Still a great price for a top piece of engineering but we would have liked a more focussed beam pattern for that borderline 450 lumen output, rather than the more bar-oriented oval spread that lacks a bit of punch for helmet mounting.
Lezyne Macro Drive Duo 700
The Lezyne Macro Drive Duo 700 is everything a helmet light should be – it has compact and sleek proportions with a cable-free fully integrated battery.
The best mountain bike lights: the verdict
Bar mounted lights
The Ravemen PR1200 is cheap and cheerful yet they have paid attention in the beam pattern. With one LED pooling around the front wheel and the other punching up the trail it gives a much better quality of light for offroad riding. With a crude countdown timer and even a wired remote it is only really lacking in outright power for serious offroading, but with that compact size and sub-£100 pricetag you could get away with it as long as your riding buddies don’t overwhelm your light with more powerful rigs.
The Light and Motion Taz is a cracking little unit with cable free convenience and compact proportions combining with superb all-over trail coverage to make a great all-rounder. We couldn’t get over the size of it relative to the output, but the payoff is a slightly reduced battery endurance – 1.5 hours is a little tight for a main bar light in our opinion and we regularly exhausted it on rides if we weren’t regularly reducing output where possible. Definitely one to consider if you want a small, easily removed bar light though.
In a different league and price bracket were the Exposure Six Pack and brand new Lumicycle Apogee. Both have superb beam patterns and blistering outputs of around the 4000 lumen mark, so they were definitely considered as going head to head. In the end we felt the 6 Pack had a slightly softer beam with more coverage and long distance penetration, but there wasn’t much in it. Really it was the features that swayed the result. Where the Lumicycle is a fairly basic, no nonsense unit, the Exposure comes with a lot of useful tricks up its sleeve. A timer countdown readout, programmable power outputs and USB charging were all handy features but it was the fuss free integrated design that was flagged up the most when living with the light day to day. No manky, wet battery packs to charge on the kitchen worktop, just a neat and compact head unit that could be sprinkled under the tap after use before plugging into a handy USB socket. All this added up to push it through the finish line in first place. If you have the money, you couldn’t get a better bar light right now.
Helmet mounted lights
For the simple Infini Super Lava, one button does it all, punching out a surprisingly effective 300 lumen beam for far longer than the diminutive size would suggest was possible. Of course it would be completely drowned out by a more capable bar light, but if budget is tight and your bar light is sitting around the 1000 lumen mark, at £40 this cracking value little light would be a great addition to your kit.
The Knog Pwr Rider isn’t far off in the value stakes, coming in at £70 for the light and mount combination for what is a beautifully minimalist design. We loved the ability to easily program power outputs via the computer, meaning you could have anywhere between one and eight power levels to cycle through. The helmet mount was excellent too, but ultimately we felt the already slightly low 450 lumen power output was diluted even further by spreading it into a wide oval pattern. This is ultimately a move to improve performance as a bar light, but we felt it compromised the helmet mounting performance.
The Lezyne Macro Drive is a very capable, powerful and reasonably priced light, with ideal proportions and a very respectable burn time for 700 lumens. The only downside is that program cycle of nine levels that makes power cycling a headache. If you simply want to pop up to high power approaching a fast bit of trail you are fiddling for an eternity up there. Fix this and Lezyne could have taken the test with this little cracker, but instead we have awarded it the value tag as for way less than half the price of the Exposure it still does the job well.
Of course the Exposure Diablo is expensive but what can we say? Exposure have just got light design down to a fine art, with great build, light power, beam pattern, features and cable-free convenience rolled into one. The Diablo is our compact but highly effective go-to light for all sorts of jobs from helmet light to emergency bar light, perfect for extending rides into the dark. It genuinely sets the standard on all fronts. A healthy accessory range allows the addition of red tail lights, modular battery power, more mounts and even a diffuser dome to convert it into a table lamp for camping. Every time we considered a competitor we asked, would we pay the extra £X to get the Diablo? The answer was, without fail, yes. A worthy winner then, and well deserved clean sweep for Exposure yet again.