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.
What is a mountain bike light?
Although mountain bike lights these days are all essential ‘just’ high-power LED torches they do have various bike-specific fixtures and features, from handlebar and helmet clamps through to specifically designed lens array for optimum trail illumination.
Best mountain bike lights
Here our are current favourite best mountain bike lights. All of these have been rated at 8/10 or higher.
- Light and Motion Seca Race, £249 – winner
- Exposure Six Pack Mk10, £435
- Knog PWR Mountain, £179
- Raveman PR1600
- Exposure Diablo Mk11, £215 – winner
- Hope R4+ LED, £230
- Knog PWR Rider Duo, £79
- Light and Motion Taz 1200, £129
Top tips for buying a mountain bike light
With the approach of winter, it’s all to easy to let your riding fall into hibernation. Invest in a decent set of 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 crucial thing to consider when buying lights is to get sufficient brightness for the type of terrain you’re riding on. For flatter terrain you can make do with 1,000 to 1,500 lumens (this is the measure of light output), 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 lights; one on the bar 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 something smaller, cheaper and lighter weight.
Since there are so many light systems available, we’ve split this test into two groups — six high-powered front lights and six helmet lights. There’s some cross over, but one of each should be enough see you on the right path.
Know your mountain bike light
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.
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The best bar mounted mountain bike lights
Exposure Six Pack MK10
Exposure doesn’t make lights with tag-along battery packs, instead its light and battery and are contained in a single unit. This makes it hefty and it takes up the space of a drinks can on the bars, but on full output the Six Pack Mk10 bangs out a whopping 4,750 lumens over a two hour run time. Like all Exposure units you vary the output/burn time ratio by toggling between the 10 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 optimal 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.
Light quality is not as crisp as the Cateye Volt 1700 tested elsewhere, but there is more light than you’ll ever need for trail riding. It doesn’t quite have the smooth transition of the Light and Motion Seca, but the penetrating beam allows you to see a little bit further ahead.
This is a great product, but there are a couple things that stopped it getting top marks this time round – it’s a really bulky unit on the bar, the set-up is complicated, and the rubber shim on the bar clamp looks out of place on a light costing £450. That said, the construction is first class, it’s fully customisable and the Reflex mode means it’ll just run and run.
MBR rating 9
Knog PWR Mountain
Like the Exposure Sixpack Mk10, the Knog’s PWR Mountain is a self-contained bar light with the lamp and battery connected as a single unit. The difference is 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.
The arrangement of LEDS creates an elliptical-shaped beam, so we were aware of a slight halo directly in front of the bike when riding. It also has a yellow cast, so doesn’t look as crisp, but overall it’s a very even spread of light and has good depth for spotting obstacles down the trail.
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.
We really like the modular design of the PWR Mountain; there are load of options available and it’s refreshing that you don’t have to pay for them unless you really want them.
MBR rating 9
We tested the Ravemen PR1200 light for the first-time last year, and since then the company has upped the power by 30 per cent and revamped the internals. As the name suggests, this light is packing 1,600 lumens. There are two buttons on the top, the larger of the two is the on/off switch that also lets you access two modes – road and mountain bike. The former just means one lamp is working and, with the latter, you get two. The smaller button lets you toggle between the different light modes, which is 400, 800 and 1,600 lumens in MTB. A small display on the top of the light syncs the run time to the output, although we found the stated run time in the instructions different than the display.
The PR1600 charges with a Type-C USB cable, meaning you can even top up in the car on the way to a ride. There’s also a second USB port on the back of the light, and Raveman says you can add a hop-up fuel cell to extend the run time, but oddly it doesn’t actually offer this as an option.
The Ravemen’s beam pattern is smooth and incredibly even – there’s a diffuse lens for close-in work and spot beam to throw the light down the trail – but the light does have a slight orange tinge, so it’s not as crisp on the detail. The PR1600 offers a lot of lumens for your money, but it doesn’t last, which is why we think it’d be more effective as a helmet light, especially since it has a bar-mounted remote, which allows you to switch light modes quickly on-the-fly.
MBR rating 8
Light and Motion Seca Race
Light and Motion’s flagship Seca light has been a serial winner in the pages of MBR due to its simple design and excellent beam quality. This time round we’re looking at the slightly cheaper Seca Race, which has a smaller three-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, so if you crash, hopefully the light should survive. Light and Motion pumped a load of money in the custom engineered reflector and Cree LEDs on this light and it shows – not only is the light a crisp blue colour, there are no rings, shadows or dark spots. We could also see just as far down the trail with this light as we could with the Exposure Six Pack, which had double the lumen count.
The weakest part of the Seca Race is the illuminated power button on the head unit – it functions as on/off and low battery level indicator, but we’d much rather see some form of mini LED gauge, or a proper read out.
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. Hook this up with an Exposure Diablo Mk10 on your helmet and you’d have the ultimate set up.
MBR rating 10
The best helmet mounted mountain bike lights
Exposure Diablo Mk11
The test winner from last year but gets another update. The Mk11 Diablo gets an extra 250 lumens, but doesn’t cost any more, which is amazing. What’s even more amazing is the fact that it puts out nearly as much as the bar lights tested here, but it weighs 50 per cent less. Add in the Tap mode, which is where the unit reacts to a light tap on the body to change power settings – even with gloves — and you have one of the best helmet lights on the market.
Even the light output is superb – it 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 1,750 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 turn 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 and a proper charger – not just a USB cable.
Since Exposure makes different lights for every branch of cycling, it hasn’t had to compromise on the design of the Diablo – it hasn’t had to make a light that works on the bar, on the street – it has just focused on making the best helmet light for off-road use. And nothing comes close, this is the best on test.
MBR rating 10
Hope R4+ LED
We’ve configured the Hope R4+ LED as a helmet light, but it’s delivered with all the parts in the box to run it on the handlebar as well. In fact, with the twist-in bayonet fitting on the bottom of the head unit you could set up both mounts and just use them as and when required.
Running the light up top means you will need to store the lithium-ion ES battery in your pack and use the extra-long extension cable. To reduce flapping, we ran it through a helmet vent but it still gets tangled when you have to take off your helmet or pack.
Although the R4+ LED puts out an impressive 2,000 lumens on full power, the beam is a little diffused and spread out compared to the Exposure Diablo. If you’re only rocking a single light this is doesn’t matter, but if you’re looking for something to supplement an established bar light, we’d definitely look at a self-contained design with a more focused beam.
The R4+ LED has six light modes and runs off a four-cell battery. This features a push button fuel gauge, but you can’t see it if it’s in your pack.
Even though Hope claims the R4+ LED can work as a helmet light, it’s twice the weight of most, has an old-school hard-wired design and we feel the beam pattern is just not focused enough. That said, it’s a very good bar light, so that’s how we recommend you use it.
MBR rating 8
Knog PWR Rider Duo
We tested Knog’s sleek PWR Rider a year ago and this is a slightly updated version with the new red cap. This a 12-lumen mini red LED that clips into the back of the light and means you can use the PWR Rider for riding on the road to the trail head. Once there, you just un-plug the cap and fit a blanking plate over the twin USB ports. These ports are used for charging but you can also use the light as a power cell to charge your phone or add a third-party battery pack to extend the run time.
The PWR Rider Duo attaches to the helmet using an Exposure-style mount, which bolts together through one of the helmet vents. You can unclip the light easily, which we did quite often to check run time (there’s row of red LEDs on the lamp body).
With its focused spot beam, the PWR Rider Duo is perfect foil to Knog’s PWR Mountain tested elsewhere. It has yellowish tinge, which isn’t great for picking out detail, and the 450 lumens is a bit underpowered, but the beam pattern is pretty even, with no dark spots. Like the PWR Mountain, the Rider Duo is pre-programmed with six power modes and you can modify the options using Knog’s desktop-based Modemaker app.
We really like the Knog modular design, because you can pick and choose your own accessories and add-ons. One of those is the £13.99 helmet mount, which does bump up the cost, but this is still a lightweight helmet light that’s great value.
MBR rating 8
Light and Motion Taz 1200
Twelve months ago, we tested the Taz 2000 in the bar light category and it was a classy light for little money. The Taz 1200 is its little sibling, but this time we added a Light and Motion helmet kit and have been running it up top.
Like the Exposure, everything is self-contained in a single unit, but it does use the same double mount as the Lezyne Multi Drive and this adds complexity and height. The power button is easier to reach on the Taz 1200 though, but oddly Light and Motion adds a second button, which triggers the amber side light and it’s easy to get these two confused. To simplify things, we’d like to see a remote available as an upgrade, just so you don’t need to reach up, and it really needs a fuel gauge built in (the glowing button system is hard to see on this light).
What’s good about the Taz 1200 is the reflector, high quality LEDs and resulting light quality and output. Like the Seca, there’s a really smooth transition between the diffused, close-in light and the light pointing off down the trail. It’s crisp, clear and, on full beam, seems more powerful than its on-paper spec.
We’re not big fans of the security feature, that shuts it down and needs a four-second press to activate it, because it’s easy to confuse with the light being out of power. The beam pattern could also be a little more focused, but for the money it’s hard to fault the Taz 1200 – it’s a cracking little helmet light.
MBR rating 9
|Light & Motion Seca Race||£249||222g||2000, 1000, 500||9/10|
|Exposure Six Pack Mk10||£435||422g||5000 – 250||9/10|
|Knog PWR Mountain||£179||253g||2000, 1000, 500||9/10|
|Raveman PR1600||£129||243g||1600, 800, 400||8/10|
|Exposure Diablo Mk11||£215||129g||1750 – 60||10/10|
|Hope R4+ LED||£230||479g||2000, 1000, 510||8/10|
|Knog PWR Rider Duo||£79||130g||450, 200, 50||8/10|
|Light & Motion Taz 1200||£129||220g||1200, 600, 300||10/10|
The best mountain bike lights: the verdict
We’ve already mentioned that there is a minimum requirement for the amount of light power you need to ride off-road at night, but this can vary depending on the terrain and whether you’re riding solo or with a group of mates. If your route takes you on easier trails that are not twisting through the trees or strewn with obstacles, then you can get away with lower-powered lights with combined lumens of around 1,200. If the trail has lots of ups and down, or has some fast fire-road descents, then you’ll need to up the total power to 2,500 lumens. And for techy trails, we’d definitely recommend a head and bar light because you may want to peer over obstacles/around corners.
When riding with others you’ll benefit from their lights, especially if you’re further down the pecking order, so again you can drop the wattage.
The least powerful and cheapest bar and helmet combo here is the Light and Motion Taz and Knog PWR Rider Duo, but it’s the perfect starter set. The only issue we had, and that’s a common one with a lot of the smaller standalone lights, is the limited run time, but an hour and half thrash round the trails is still better that an even in front of the TV watching Strictly.
With more juice in the tank you can get out for longer, and the Knog PWR Mountain is an affordable bar light with a long run time. Buy the upgrade kit and it’ll even handle double-duty on a helmet.
If you want a light that can test your fitness and endurance, look no further than the Exposure Six Pack MK10. It’s easily the most sophisticated design here, and its Reflex technology manages output and run time, so you don’t have to. It is a big lump on the handlebar, and it’s a premium price, which is why we felt the Light and Motion Seca Race just had the edge in the bar light category. The Seca Race still uses a tethered power pack, but it’s lighter weight, lower profile and, when you factor in better light distribution and cost, it just takes the win.
In an ideal world, all the lights in the helmet category would be cable-free, but we didn’t include the likes of the Cateye Volt 1700 RC and Raveman PR1600 in this group, simply because the beam pattern, lamp design and features are not specific enough. For helmet use, we feel there are some prerequisites – a lid light has to have a focused spot beam for picking out features and obstacles, it also has to be low-profile, lightweight and the controls need to be easy to reach and glove friendly.
The Lezyne Mulit-Drive is great value but it scored poorly on several of these points. The Hope R4+ LED is double the price, but it’s lower profile and more stable. It’s a good helmet light but it needs a more focused beam pattern and a fuel gauge that isn’t hidden in your pack.
Without doubt the stand out light in the helmet category is the Exposure Diablo Mk11. No other light came close to matching its performance. Not only is it cable-free, it’s lightweight, low-profile, powerful and has the best beam pattern for use helmet use. The icing on the cake is the Tap mode, which means you don’t need to worry about finding the on/off switch in the dark and can just toggle through the settings with a flick of your wrist. This light does cost more than most but the quality is top notch and if you want the best on the market we definitely think it’s a price worth paying.