Riding at night doesn’t just open up far more trail time opportunities, it’s also absolutely brilliant fun that breathes fresh life into boring trails and creates a whole new world of adventure. The best mountain bike lights are fantastic, too. LEDs can deliver daylight intensity in a far more reliable, robust and efficient way than bulbs ever could. Lithium-Ion batteries are lighter, more compact and easier to live with. Everything from mounts, to displays, to programming options and even charging has got far better recently too.
But which lights are genuinely brilliant for the riding you want to do?
Best lights for night riding
Knog’s modular PWR range is loaded with unique user-friendly features and this Mountain kit is the most powerful and comprehensive of the lot. The whole PWR family is based around different head units and batteries that click together, the Mountain uses an eight LED head and a 10,000mAh battery to create the most powerful combination. For an extra £20 over the basic light and centreline mount, the Mountain kit also includes a bolted centreline mount GoPro compatible bar, twin disc helmet and even road brake bolt mounts that sync with a head unit plug attached to a coiled lead to a battery pack connector. You can then attach the battery to the frame with a saddle mount. Male/female and mini USB cables are also included for programming and recharging the battery itself or other USB devices when used as a power pack.
At a fraction under 400g the metal-bodied Mountain is a chunky unit, but it’s balanced enough to stay stable and secure on the rowdiest terrain. The maximum light output is enough to push the pace in those same rowdy circumstances and the clean ovalized spread gives just enough width to get an idea of where the trail is turning next. Changing modes (and switching on and off) is done by twisting and releasing the light head which is far easier than trying to find a small, stiff button in fat winter gloves. There’s no remote though and the default mode set up drops dramatically from the 2000 lumen max to a 500 watt ‘mid’ that’s only enough for slow climbing or cruising. You also have to twist past several different flashing modes to get back to full power and while you can deselect modes with the ModeMaker PC app there’s no currently no way to change power outputs. The coiled connecting cable is too short to reach a battery in a back pocket or bum bag in helmet mount mode.
Reliability is good though and light performance, modular versatility and comprehensive kit mean it’s decent value too.
Exposure started the whole powerful self-contained light genre and it still leads in terms of an extensive range and cutting edge tech. The MaXx D isn’t the most powerful option (that’s the 5000 lumen Six Pack) and it doesn’t have the Bluetooth connectivity and control of the SYNC model (£50 more). However, it is a real sweet spot of power, useful tech, reasonable run time and size.
The four LED front end gives a well-balanced mix of width and reach with a claimed max output of 4000 Lumens in the Reflex++ mode. That’s a cunning ‘auto output’ feature controlled by 3D accelerometers that maxes out power when it senses increased speed or roughness on descents, then throttles back for smoother, slower sections or stops. As well as the three different Reflex++ options you get seven manual menus controlled by the metal button on the back. Either way run times and charge levels are displayed on a small OLED panel on the back. It’s a bit awkward to see though and the run time numbers often seem to be on the optimistic side, particularly in cold conditions. It’s also too heavy for helmet use but that’s where their Diablo and Joystick lights come in.
The minimalist metal bar clamps have a quick release shoe so you can leave them in situ and wireless remote control and adaptors to charge other USB driven accessories are available.
Being handmade in the UK makes them expensive in terms of simple power to price comparison but build quality is generally excellent and they provide on-site event back up at a lot of appropriate events in their home country.
While most lights we test are slightly disappointing compared to their claimed numbers the Lumina consistently had our reviewers asking “are you sure this is only 1200 Lumens?” A lot of that is due to the fact that the single LED beam is tightly focused so projects it’s light a long way down the trail, literally throwing serious shade on allegedly similar power lights during testing. Unsurprisingly that does mean more of a tunnel vision effect as the light drops off dramatically outside the main beam. That’s fine if you’re into speed on trails you know well and it makes a great helmet light if you buy the appropriate mount separately. However, if you’re wandering around on twisty tech stuff or wondering what just that made that noise in the bushes over there the limited spread might freak you out.
There are seven modes including flash for traffic to help eke out battery life. Wherever you are in the menu a double click of the button gets you straight back to ‘Boost’ too, which is a lifesaver if things suddenly get sketchy. There are no side windows but we’re always skeptical if they ever make a difference in terms of being seen in traffic anyway.
While run time info on this version is a basic traffic light color change, there’s an OLED version ($149.99) with a full screen on the back for mode and battery life data. While the small size and low weight will be a plus for some the smaller battery means run times are relatively short.
The thumbwheel bar clamp fits 31.8 or 35mm bars securely with a QR shoe for easy light removal. It recharges fully in 3 hours with a high-power USB socket and it’s got a safety catch ‘long press’ start sequence to stop it from being triggered accidentally in transit. We’ve got old samples of Lumina lights that are still going strong after years of regular use too, so while the price might be slightly high the 1200 Boost is a solid investment if you want focused power. If you want more output then 1500, 1800, 2000 and 2500 lumen Lumina models are imminent, too.
Lezyne has an extensive range of ‘Drive’ lights starting with the Hecto and Classic Drives at 500 lumens and going up to the Macro, Super and Mega Drives at 1300, 1500 and 1800 lumens respectively. The 1000 XL is a real sweet spot of price, weight and power for smoother trails and less frantic riding though and for an extra $10 it comes in a super fashionable ‘oil slick’ finish.
The beam is well-shaped and consistent with the 1000 lumen Overdrive mode giving plenty of power to hit technical trails pretty fast. It lasts a decent amount of time at full brightness, too, which is lucky as the second most powerful mode is only half the output and definitely seems dim. The other 250, 150 and 25-lumen options aren’t really any use off-road and then there are 3 flashing modes to scroll through before you get back to Overdrive. You can put the light into “Race” mode where it only offers Overdrive and Economy, but the 1000 to 150 lumen drop is still far from ideal. That makes the Super Drive and Mega Drive which have ‘Smart Connect’ phone app/PC tuning and Lezyne GPS computer syncing worth the extra money.
If you’re hitting rough trails the rubber strap mount can start bouncing and slipping too, so we’d definitely recommend getting the alloy bar mount, especially as it’s only $15. There’s currently no 35mm option available though. At just 160g it’ll also helmet mount okay and strap mounts are similarly reasonable. The basic price for power ratio is good too and excellent reliability boosts value even higher.
Cateye has been pushing bike light performance since it introduced the first Stadium Metal Halide lamp in the early 90s, but its latest light twin set is all about practicality.
After years of its Volt lights being the leading self-contained option from Cateye (they’re still in the range and well sorted in a focused way too) the AMPP range has rolled in as a more all-round option. While the casings are all new the big difference is that the side windows are much bigger and wrap around for a much broader beam and better side recognition. That turns the output from a spear of light on the Volts to something that’s a lot more informative about your surroundings (always useful to help guess what might happen next). Unsurprisingly maximum reach suffers so they’re not as good for flat-out riding but for more general riding off-road and on it’ll be a win for most people. They’re also lighter than the Volt equivalents, recharge in around half the time but still have healthy run times.
Communication of battery life is improved too, with a three-stage traffic light color change on the power button. You can double click straight to high power from anywhere in the five-mode menu and then single click back again which is great for surprise sketchy situations.
The FlexTight brackets have been slightly refined and the simple ‘worm drive’ strap system gives a secure mount on all bar sizes as long as you don’t lose the loose thumbwheel while it’s undone.
While you can buy each light separately ($99.95and $64.95) this combo comes with a (slightly tall but useable) helmet mount as well as a GoPro style shoe to create a relatively affordable do it all double act. While the AMPPs are new to us Cateye lights have always been super reliable in the past (well apart from those original Stadiums).
Bontrager has been evolving its Ion range for a while and the current Pro RT gives plenty of eye-friendly power in a compact format with bonus Bluetooth remote and Garmin syncing features.
By taking maximum power up to 1300 Lumens and still returning an hour and a half of run time at max power the Ion Pro RT definitely ranks as a useful off-road light now. While it doesn’t look as dazzlingly bright as more bluey/white colored beams the more yellowy/warmer color temperature of the Bontrager is easier on the eyes over time, particularly in wet, glaring or complex terrain situations. The well-shaped beam keeps light low and wide with reasonable reach but no upward/traffic blinding wastage.
While the run time information through the power button is basic you can Bluetooth or ANT+ sync it to a Garmin head unit to get full mode and battery life data. It can also be matched to Bontrager’s own ‘Transmitr’ remote bar switch for controlling rear lights and a helmet light, too. That’s an extra outlay but it also makes it easier to scroll through the four other modes to get back to high power in a hurry as there’s no double click shortcut like other lights.
The mount is secure on both 31.8mm and 35mm bars though and you can buy ‘Blendr’ helmet mounts and GoPro adaptors as accessories. If you’re not as impressed with its overall performance as we were it’s covered by a 30-day unconditional return guarantee, too.
If you’re looking for a super versatile, detailed yet very durable modular, separate battery and light family for serious mountain bike use then New Zealand brand Gloworm is awesome.
The XSV is the most powerful light in the range with three LEDs giving up to 3400 lumens (measured, not theoretical) output. Default optics are two spots and a diffused ‘honeycomb’ spread but spare spot, honeycomb and full flood lenses are included in the box.
It comes with two Trail and Commute (with extra flash) menus that’ll give you upwards of 1.5hrs of run time from the 6800 mAH hard case battery. You can custom tune them further with Gloworm’s IMT (Intelligent Mode Technology) and the super easy to set up wireless remote can control several Gloworm lights simultaneously if you’re running a twin LED Alpha or X2 on your head. There’s a multi-LED strip to keep track of battery life (though you have to squint to see it sometimes) and it recharges from flat in four hours.
As well as the lenses you get multiple mounts including offset bar clamps, GoPro mounts, helmet mounts, rubber shoe for quiet, paint-safe battery mounting and extender cable with more accessories as options. All the Gloworm lights we’ve used in the past few years have been totally bombproof and faultlessly reliable making them a seriously kick-ass Kiwi light.
Canopus is the latest big power light from Moon and it’s a heavily armored set up in terms of battery and head unit. too. That adds some bulk and potential frame mount issues but if you want Enduro power lighting with the toughness to match then it’s well worth a look.
The four LED body sits in the center of a large alloy heat sink case which reduces the risk of overheating (causing an automatic power drop) or burnt fingers when running at the 3600 lumen max. That’s overkill for most trail conditions though so we generally ran it in the 2500 and 1600 lumen modes. These give impressive three and four hour run times from the long alloy body battery pack. This gets twin straps and guide loops to keep it stable but the sheer length may cause fit issues on some curvy frames. It also adds a lot of weight to the system but it’s also very crash-proof. The connectors and leads are all heavy-duty too, as is the ‘out front’ style handlebar mount. It also comes with an extension cable and a helmet mount.
The fact it’s USB charged rather than needing a separate specific charger adds convenience and reduces cost. Having long run times to play with partially offsets the fact it only gives basic charge and run-time information, too, but we’d definitely prefer a more communicative setup. Unlike some other high-power/capacity systems there’s no facility to charge other accessories from the big battery either. The remote is a plug-in rather than wireless too so overall it feels competent rather than cutting edge.
Lumicycle has been the homegrown lighting heroes of the UK MTB scene since the 90s thanks to an evolving family of utterly bombproof and highly practical modular light systems. The Explorer 2 is the latest version of its mid-power range and it’s a brilliant long-term investment in 24/7 trail riding.
The alloy head unit has been recently redesigned for better cooling airflow around the three Cree LEDs. These give four continuous light levels up to 3000 lumens with a well spread but still punchy beam for rich and detailed vision. The warmer color temperature is great for increasing detail and reducing eye fatigue in tricky conditions too, although it does become less ‘clean’ when it just runs one LED in the lower output modes. However, if you hold the toggle switch up for a couple of seconds you get three minutes of 3500-lumen Boost before it throttles back to stop overheating. The old school toggle switch is super easy to use with the thickest gloves/coldest fingers and lets you scroll through the modes in both directions. The head unit can be mounted above or below 31.8 or 35mm bars and you can get a helmet mount too (although that is quite tall). While battery left info comes from a simple ‘traffic light’ LED you can order the light with either 3.4Ah ‘Enduro’ or 6.8Ah ‘Extender’ battery in either bag or carbon-fiber sleeve format with standard or a fast charger. Head units and batteries are all retrofit compatible with older systems and there’s a 4000/4500 lumens Apogee head unit if you want maximum power. Flood or spot optics are also available and there’s a remote switch which can control multiple lights if you’re going for a full rally set up.
The quality and reliability of Lumicycles we’ve tested has always been excellent, builder direct back up is brilliant and pricing is very competitive for such a small company.
Almost double the power of any other light listed here and almost three times the price, the new Alpha from German uber lamp specialists Lupine is unmatched for performance and price.
Six LEDs sit behind different lenses to give an illumination range of 840m (Lupine’s figure) with huge swathes of peripheral detail so even in the ‘lower’ 30W and 10W outputs (max is 70W) it’s nearly daylight everywhere you look. It makes the helmet mount almost redundant too, but as German law says it’s too powerful to be a bar light they have to class it as a helmet light anyway. You do get a very neat, slimline bar mount in the pack though along with a super smart charger, and a minimalist Bluetooth remote switch.
As you’d hope the battery is equally premium quality and the whole light can be custom-tuned in various ways through Lupine’s smartphone app. There’s a traffic light run time indicator along its spine as well as an LED strip mode display on the head unit too for accurate energy management. The length of the hard case can make it awkward to mount neatly on more curvy frames though. You’re also paying an insane amount of money for the privilege of ultra-premium performance and build quality and even the less powerful (but still brilliant) Betty and Wilma lights are serious wallet hurters.
How to pick the best lights for night riding
For this guide we’ve concentrated on lights with a maximum claimed output of at least 1000 lumens. That’s actually overkill for mild trails or slow climbs etc. but it means that the lower output modes are probably still useful for riding while extending run times. While having more power theoretically lets you see more, that depends on the beam layout and also the conditions. A long-reaching spot beam gives very little peripheral context, while a flood beam can’t see far. That’s why lights with both lenses - or a bar-mounted floodlight and a helmet-mounted spotlight are the best combination. Wet undergrowth, fog or spray can actually create so much glare less power is easier to see with. It always amazes us how much eyes can adjust and compensate for lower-powered lights too and fast riders will always go fast whatever lights they have and vice versa.
Be very cynical about a lot of claimed outputs too, as a lot of theoretical power can get lost in circuitry, lenses and beam patterns so read proper user review like ours, not just the packaging.
2. Battery size
The bigger the battery the heavier, bulkier and more expensive your light will be, but the longer you can run it at a higher output. Obviously, if you’re planning to ride all night long on technical trails then you’ll need some serious cells to keep you going. Just thrashing around the local woods for an hour with a quick limp home if the warning light comes on, then an hour at full gas might be enough. Remember that battery life reduces with age though and cold nights really kill run times so buy a bit more than minimum just to be safe. Again be cynical about claimed run times and read proper user reviews like ours, not just the packaging.
3. Self contained or separate battery
When Exposure introduced the first powerful bike lights which had the batteries in the same body they were revolutionary, but now most bike lights up to 2000 lumens are self-contained. Separate battery systems still have their place if you need lots of run time - or the option to switch to a second battery if the first one runs out. Separate head units are also more compact and lighter for helmet mounting or cleaning up crowded bars and modular systems let you mix and match to create your ideal set up, or just replace/upgrade bits as they wear out.
Whatever style of light you go for make sure it fits where you need it to. Super short stems, oversized or high rise bars and weird frame shapes can all make it awkward to mount lights and obviously if it’s going on your head you’ll need a helmet mount. Proper clamped mounts will ALWAYS be more stable than O-ring style mounts too, especially with heavier light units.
Multiple modes are great for extending run time but frustrating if they don’t appear to make much difference or you need to try and scroll past 3 flashing modes and a complete off to get to maximum power as you plummet into a descent. Remote control switches help a lot with that though. A consistently reliable battery life indicator will take the guesswork out of getting home safely and recharging indicators mean you won’t head out with a flat cell.
More powerful LEDs, bigger batteries, more complicated features, circuitry, chargers and the R&D time pioneering new ideas all add cost. That makes 1000 lumen+ lights straight off the internet for half the price of established brands really tempting. Some of them are fine too, but if they do go pop when you’re a long way from civilization or the charger catches fire things can get dangerous very quickly. Getting any issues fixed is a lot easier through your local shop and a proper distributor too and smaller local companies generally have a better reputation for customer back up.