Here’s our test of the best mountain bike helmet lights and handlebar lights on the market for night riding
Here are the best mountain bike lights. Bombing around in the dark may seem like a mad thing to do, but night riding is great.
In the summer you can ride at the weekends and often twice during the week but once the clocks go back, ride frequency can plummet. Invest in a decent set of mountain bike lights though and you can easily knock out a couple of mid-week night rides, maintaining your fitness and skill level, and having fun in the process.
The number one thing to consider when buying mountain bike lights is to get sufficient brightness for the type of terrain you’re riding on. For flatter terrain you can make do with a 1000 to 1500 lumen (this is the measure of light output) light but for fast or technical riding you may need to double that.
How you distribute the light is also important and it’s a good idea to have two mountain bike lights, one on the handlebars and another on your helmet. The bar light does most of the donkey work and should be the most powerful and have a wide beam pattern, so you can see a lot of the trail in front of you. A helmet light should have a more focused beam, which lets you spot turns, look over obstacles and even down at your gears. Concentrating the beam also means a helmet light can be less powerful, allowing you to run a smaller, lighter weight and cheaper light.
Best mountain bike lights out there
1. Light and Motion Seca race
Serial test winner due to its simple design and excellent beam quality
Weight: 222g | Lumens: 2000
Pros: Beautiful beam clarity
Pros: Good value compared to rival lights
Cons: Not a lot really
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.
2. Exposure Diablo Mk11
Puts out nearly as much as bar light but it weighs 50% less
Weight: 129g | Lumens: 1,750
Pros: Design and engineering perfection
Pros: Intelligent tap-to-adjust power levels
Cons: A little on the expensive side
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 1750 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.
3. Light and Motion Taz 2000
Looks like a cheap and cheerful commuter, this light is pretty deceptive little box of tricks
Weight: 226g | Lumens: 2,000
Pros: An excellently designed lens
Pros: Well made (despite its cheap appearance)
Cons: Not the longest run time
As with all Light and Motion lights we have tried, the Taz really comes into its own when we hit the trail. They have always – quite rightly – placed great importance on beam pattern, and the result is a beautifully smooth transition between a diffused, close-in pool of light to punchy long range LEDs that extend up the trail. It gives a seamless, confidence inspiring coverage that definitely promotes faster riding.
The only downside to this small but powerful package is run time. With only 1:30 at our disposal we find the amber then red battery warnings are coming on virtually every ride, with more than a little power management needed to get through even short, sharp night blasts.
You just have to decide which level you want to buy in at – if burn time and output numbers suit, it really is an excellent little unit.
4. Lezyne Macro Drive Duo 700
Everything a helmet light should be
Weight: 134g | Lumens: 700
Pros: Easy to install and remove from helmet
Pros: Very good trail illumination
Cons: Too many power levels to cycle through
The excellent helmet mount easily straps though vents and cinched tight on every helmet model we have experimented with, while a ball and socket joint means the light can be pointed exactly where desired, quickly and easily. The light itself is held in with a simple semi-circular clip so it can be easily removed without affecting the mount itself. The convenience is extended into charging – screw the rear cap off and plug in a micro usb. Simple and effective.
Does anyone really need 4 different flash modes? Probably not. At most there should be 3 power levels and one flash, as changing power levels like this keeps your hand off the bar for far too long. A shame as the frustration slightly mars what is otherwise a terrific, great value little light.
5. Blackburn Central 650
We like this light a lot and every tester was surprised to hear the price
Weight: 162g | Lumens: 650
Pros: Truly a bargain
Pros: Great at lighting the trail, which is the main thing
Cons: Helmet mount isn’t the best
The Blackburn Central 650 comes with what they describe as a ‘universal mount,’ which is supposed to manage both bar and helmet mount duties.
It very nearly does, with a long rubber band underneath the swivelling light bracket allowing a lot of flexibility and fitting easily to most of our test team’s helmets.
Light quality is excellent, with the moderately-specced 650 lumens placed in a soft centre spot with just enough peripheral to keep you informed of your surroundings without it being too distracting.
The power button on helmet lights is very important – it has to be prominent enough to be found with thick gloves on, and the click has to be positive enough to let you know you have connected and are jabbing in the right place.
The Blackburn is both, with every tester pleased with the ease of adjustment on the fly.
6. Gemini Duo 1500L
Doubles up as a trail running light too
Weight: 368g | Lumens: 1,500
Pros: Great all-round performer on middle settings
Pros: Useful wireless remote control
Cons: Top-level power is OTT
At 1500 lumens it is a tad overkill for a helmet only light, and as such we have only ever run it at reduced power levels when head mounted on the trail.
Otherwise the centre heavy beam can swamp crucial bar light shadows that give definition to the lumps and bumps ahead. At the medium, 900 lumen output it is more than adequate.
It has excellent power, but the excellent wireless remote won us over from the first ride too, with one of the chunky, easily groped for buttons handling on/off and power levels while the other dramatically dims the light for chat stops or oncoming cars – a very smart idea indeed.
7. Exposure Six Pack MK10
Probably more light than you’ll ever need for trail riding
Weight: 422g | Lumens: 4,750
Pros: The pinnacle of mountain bike lights
Pros: Unique and useful features that aren’t gimmicks
Cons: Not exactly cheap
On full output the Six Pack Mk10 does bangs out a whopping 4,750 lumens over two hour run time. Like all Exposure units you vary the output/burn time ratio by toggling between modes using Exposure’s OMS programming.
The top three modes get Exposure’s unique Reflex+ feature, which uses a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope to deliver the correct amount of light for the terrain you’re riding. In other words – dim for those slow uphill climbs, bright for the downhills. The Six Pack also features an OLED fuel gauge readout on the rear screen with actual time remaining rather than just a flashing red blob.
It’s rather bulky unit on the bar but the construction is first class, it’s fully customisable and the Reflex mode means it’ll just run and run.
8. Knog PWR Mountain
We really like the modular design of the PWR Mountain
Weight: 355g | Lumens: 2,000
Pros: Modular system means you can tweak it to your desires
Pros: Customised power settings via phone app
Cons: Bar clamp is a bit flexy
The PWR Mountain is a modular design, which means you split it apart and run the battery on the down tube, add a helmet extension kit or attach different size battery packs or head units. The lithium-ion battery also features twin USB ports, so you use it as fuel cell to charge your iPhone or plug it into a range of Knog accessories, such as the PWR Lantern.
On full beam, the PWR Mountain puts out 2,000 lumens, but you can change the stock settings using the ModeMaker app, and if you’re a serious night time shredder you’ll want to eliminate the flashing and strobe options.
You twist the lamp unit to turn it on/off and it’s surprisingly quick to cycle through the modes. The plastic bar clamp is easy to install, but it feels flexy, and some testers also struggled getting the light to release.
What to for in mountain bike lights
The measure of light power is expressed in lumens, and the minimum requirement for riding quickly at night is at least 1,000 on the handlebar and 500 on the helmet. Adding lumens generally bumps up the cost and also the size and weight of the light unit. Most lights have several modes, allowing you to reduce/increase the output and extend/decrease run time.
Once attached, a helmet mount should be secure, but it also needs to be easily removable. To do this, most companies use some form of universal Velcro strap design, but some newer helmets come with Go Pro mounts, and that means you can often piggyback double up, eliminating the clamp and fussy Velcro. Ideally you want the mount to be as low as possible so that it’s less likely to catch on overhanging branches.
If the light comes with a button you can attach next to the grip it means you don’t have to reach across to toggle through the settings. Some are wired, but the best sync via Bluetooth. A remote is not that important with a bar-mounted light, but they’re strongly recommended for helmet lights as it makes switching the unit on and off, or changing settings, much easier.
When it comes to putting light onto the trail, the shape and size of the beam is one of the most important factors. Bar lights should have a flood beam, which spreads light out in front of you to create shadow and texture on the trail. Head-mounted lights should create a spot beam for picking out detail.
Essential for monitoring battery life during a ride. Some of the simplest are colour coded (green/amber/red) but a lot of modern lights actually have time remaining, often in minutes or represented as a percentage, in the current burn mode. The fuel gauge can be on the battery or head unit.
Most lights used to come with a dedicated charger, but over the last few years we’ve seen a switch to USB compatible charging, which means you can now use any compatible USB cable.