If you are planning an MTB night ride, then you'll need to get a set of lights that are up to the job. Most lights designed for commuting use are not bright enough to light up a dark forest trail.
It's worth thinking about getting two front lights; one that sits on your handlebars and lights up where the bike is headed, and one on your helmet that illuminates where you are looking.
Most modern MTB lights are also designed with an integrated battery, which means lights are less heavy and bulky, and also usually cable free. Some do still come with a separate battery pack, giving you a longer battery life which is good for endurance rides.
These type of lights aren't cheap, and as a general rule the more you spend the brighter they'll be and often the longer the battery life. Expect to start in the region of £100, and go up from there, with some of the top of the range lights coming in at £400 or more.
Why use night lights?
- You'll be riding in places where there will be no other artificial light, and usually over rough terrain, so having a light bright enough to see where you are going and what obstacles are coming is critical.
- They often come with a variety of attachments so you can fix them to your bike or your helmet.
- They are super-bright with a beam that will clearly light up the trail a good distance ahead of you.
- They'll have an LED display that will tell you when the battery is getting low.
- Some come with a spare battery, so you can have a backup in case you are out for longer than intended and your light runs out of juice.
So if you are looking to invest in light nights, here are the most important things you need to consider.
Brightness can be measured in a number of ways, but the most common unit of brightness you'll encounter are lumens. Lumens represent the power of the light emitted.
As a general rule, as you go up in price you get more lumens output. Lumens aren't the most accurate measurement of brightness, as it doesn't take into account how wide or narrow the light beam is and therefore how that brightness is dispersed over an area. It also isn't standardised across brands, so use it as a guide. Lux is a better indication but used more rarely.
As a rough guide, around 300 lumens will light up the trail adequately, and a second light with about 150 lumens would work for your helmet light. The high-end lights are now putting out over 2,000 lumens, as a guide.
Some riders prefer to have the brighter light on their helmet, but this is a matter of personal preference. See what works better for you.
[part title="Variable Beam Settings"]
Most lights will have at least 3 settings; off, full brightness, and a lower level of brightness. Some also come with a flashing mode, which is handy if you are planning on using the light on the road.
As you'd expect, running the light on full brightness uses the battery run time quickest. Therefore, it's a good idea to pop the light onto a lower setting if you are climbing or on your way to and from the trail.
Some lights will also have the option to switch between different beam shapes, for example narrow, focused and bright, or a wide, dispersed beam. Narrow beams usually illuminate the trail further ahead, and wide beams are good for covering a wider area in front of you - this is useful if you are going through dense woodland.
The new, high-end lights coming through are even cleverer; some have a motion sensors that detects how quickly you are going, and changes the brightness of the beam accordingly.
[part title="Battery Run Time"]
The battery run time is essentially a measure of how long your battery will last for.
Most manufacturers will list a minimum run time, which is how long the battery will last with the light on its brightest setting, and a maximum run time, which is how long it will last on its most economical setting.
These lights will also have an indicator that will tell you when the light is fully charged, and also when the battery is running low. This is often a traffic-light LED light system.
[part title="Mounting Attachments"]
A lot of mountain bike lights available today can be mounted on either the handlebars or a helmet. Where they are designed for just one purpose, this is usually for handlebar mounting, and it will be listed in the manufacturers guide.
Handlebar mounts will fit around most thicknesses of handlebars, with a metal or plastic bracket that screws into place. The bracket can be left on the bike, and the light removed for charging or moving between bicycles.
Helmet mounted lights will come either with a mount that attaches through one of the vents on the top of the helmet, straps into place or occasionally using velcro patches that need to be fastened to the helmet. You'll need to check your helmet is compatible with the light mounting fixture.
It is usually possible to purchase additional or replacement brackets and fittings for the lights. Most mounts are quick release, and don't require tools to fix or remove them.
[part title="Battery Charging"]
The majority of high-powered lights will have an integrated battery. On some models, this can be removed, allowing the battery to be charged apart from the light. This is useful if you have spare batteries, as you can leave one charging while the other is in use.
Most lights will recharge using a mini or micro USB cable, which makes them useful for charging up at work or at home. This will come supplied, with a plug.
Some lights charge with a bespoke cable and socket that will again be supplied with the unit. The light may also have a separate cradle where you can place the light or battery for charging.
High powered lights also take longer to charge fully than commuter lights, and most manufacturers will list how long the lights take to charge with their product details.
Modern battery and LED technology means that lights today are considerably lighter and less bulky than their predecessors. However, you can still expect the high end lights to weigh in the region of 200g to 300g.
Lights with an external battery back that can be strapped to the frame of the bike generally weigh more than those with integrated lights, so there can be a trade off between longer battery life and greater weight.