Getting just the right bike lights for commuting is a tricky thing since some journeys need far better and more expensive lights than others, while certain conditions will also require different lights, with cost always a consideration, too. To answer this question, let’s jump in straight away.
How many lumens do you need for bike commuting lights? Anywhere from 200 to 600 lumens is recommended for bike commuting lights. Make sure you have a front light that is at least 400 lumens for urban riding, or 600 lumens plus for riding on unlit roads.
Now there are a few more considerations when choosing bike lights for cycling to work, which is what we’ll look at in the sections below to make sure you get just the right lights for you and your ride.
Front Bike Lights for Commuting
As mentioned above, front lights will need to be usually double the brightness, or ‘lumens’, of the rear lights on your bike.
With this increased brightness comes increased cost, but this is certainly worth it since it makes for a much safer, easier and more enjoyable ride to and from work.
Urban Bike Commuting
Front bike lights for urban bike commuting only really need to be about 400 lumens. This is because the street lighting and other light sources make urban areas that much brighter.
As the roads will already be mostly lit up for you, you don’t need to see as far with bike lights and can therefore get away with the lesser amount of lumens here.
The only real example of this kind of light that I can find online is from the video below between 2m38s and 2m57s.
Obviously, this is in the woods without any urban lighting so it shows how limited a 350-lumen light can be in extreme conditions, which is why you’ll want something far more substantial if you’re riding in more challenging conditions, as we will look at below.
Bike Commuting in Rural Areas or on Unlit Roads
Front bike lights for bike commuting in rural areas or on unlit roads will need at least 600 lumens of output, with 1200 lumens being the maximum range you would need for this kind of riding.
If even part of your bike commute journey is on roads without any street lighting whatsoever, then unfortunately you will need to spend the extra money to get these more powerful lights.
A point to note here is that, when riding in urban areas, you are mostly using a front bike light to be seen by other road users. However, when bike commuting is on unlit roads, you need to see as well as be seen!
The distinction here is because all kinds of things can cause you problems when riding in rural areas without any street lighting. You might find bits of trees, potholes, stones and other obstacles on your route that can easily be missed with a weaker or inferior bike light.
From my own experience of buying a bike light for my urban ride, then moving house and having a route that was in total darkness at points, I know that going cheap does not cut the mustard here!
I was constantly guessing what was coming, worried about staying in a straight line and totally unable to enjoy my ride because I simply could not see more than a few feet in front of me.
Rear Bike Lights for Commuting
You will be pleased to know that rear bike lights for commuting do not need to be anywhere near as powerful as front lights, with 200 lumens fine for most riders.
This also means a big difference in price, which is a welcome point for many.
Since rear bike lights only need to make you visible to other road users, you don’t need to have an incredibly powerful light as you will not be using it to see what is on the road.
I prefer to set my rear light to flashing mode as I feel that this offers maximum visibility without causing any problems for the person behind; if this sounds good to you, make sure you get bike lights with a flashing function as not all of them have one.
Types of Bike Lights for Commuters
So, apart from getting the right lumens for your lights, there are also a couple of other features that will help you to get a good set of bike lights for your ride to work.
The first design feature in said lights that I recommend to all bike commuters is to get ones that are USB rechargeable.
As you will no doubt be aware, this means that they can be charged just about anywhere, including on public transportation. You can also get yourself a USB power bank to along with these as a back-up power source if you somehow forget to charge your bike!
Easy to Move or Change
You will also want bike lights that are easy to move. Specifically, you will want to be able to dip, swivel and turn your lights.
Dipping can be done to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic, especially if your lights are over the 600-lumen mark. You can do this with most good lights that have a strap attachment, although many others also have this kind of feature.
Many good quality lights will also have a dip function in the different modes so remember to look for this in the product description when buying lights for bike commuting.
To go along with dipping them, swiveling and turning lights is also helpful. This might be for oncoming traffic or just for other cyclists if riding on a cycleway.
My current front light is the (discontinued) Cateye Nano which has a 600-lumen output and I often find that I need to turn it away from the eyes of oncoming cyclists on the cycleway I usually ride on on my way home from work.
A further tip for your bike lights is to get them with a wristwatch-like strap. These rubber straps make it incredibly easy to put a light on your bike’s handlebars, seat post, helmet or just about anywhere you like.
Currently, I have my rear bike light with a wrist watch-type strap fixed onto my rear seat post and it works great for me there.
Being quick and easy to take on and off makes them essentially ‘theft proof’ in that you won’t ever feel the need to leave them on your bike, as you might have with more cumbersome, old-school bike lights.
When it comes to runtime or battery life of bike lights, this has gotten much better in recent years. You can get several hours of use of extremely powerful lights on a single charge, meaning more than enough for most bike commuters.
Add to this the point about having USB charging options just about everywhere and you have a very practical bike commuting solution.
As mentioned earlier in this post, you might want to get a power bank as a back-up power supply if you did run out. You could run this while riding if you got an extra-large smartphone holder to go on the front handlebars of your bike, too.
You could also get yourself some less powerful back-up lights, too, as these will help you in a pinch. I actually have an integrated light on the rear of my current bike commuter jacket, while my wife has a helmet with an integrated light on the rear of her helmet, so you may also be able to find a practical back-up option that way, too.
What are the best lights for bikes? LED lights that are USB-chargeable and have a strap attachment are the brightest, most convenient and versatile bike lights currently available. These will not only make you safer but they are also easy to charge and have a good runtime.
How many lumens do you need on a bike light? This depends on the conditions you are riding in but, for riding in urban areas, get a front light of about 400 lumens and a rear light of about 200 lumens. If riding without street lighting, then go for 600 lumens+ for your front light.