Staying visible while on the bike is crucial, both for your safety and that of other road users. That's why bike lights are an essential piece of kit and a legal requirement when riding at night. Here's our guide to using lights to ride safely and legally.
What to look for
Mountain Bike Night Riding
Failing to meet legal requirements when riding your bike can have serious consequences. Police officers and PCSOs can issue on-the-spot fines to cyclists riding at night without correct bikes lights. If you are involved in a road traffic accident, incorrect lighting can be used as evidence of negligence. This can prevent insurance payouts for damage to you and your bike and you may even be found culpable for damage to other road users. Here's the nitty-gritty so you can stay on the right side of the law:
Both a front and rear light must be used on bike between sunset and sunrise. They must be clean and working properly. This means that batteries must be fresh or well-charged.
Any lights used must conform to the relevant British safety standards and be marked as such. Front lights must conform to BS6102/3 and rear lights must comfort to BS3648 or BS6102/3. Any equivalent European Commission (EC) standards are also allowed.
Only front lights may point forwards and only red lights backwards.
Flashing lights are allowed as long as they flash between 60 and 240 times per minute (1 – 4Hz) and emit at least 4 candela (a unit of brightness roughly equal to the light emitted by one candle).
The rules outlined above are the bare minimum for legal cycling at night, but there are plenty of extra precautions you can take to ensure your safety:
Multiple lights: Using more than one front and one rear light is an easy way to add extra visibility. Many cyclists like to combine both flashing and steady lights for total peace of mind.
Placement: As standard, front lights mount to the handlebars and rear lights mount to the seat post. Mounting extra lights to your helmet, rucksack, jacket or elsewhere on the bike helps visibility by spreading light sources out over a larger area. Look out for different mounting options when choosing your lights.
Not just at night: The law may only require bike lights at night, but it's often a good idea to use them during the day as well. Heavy rain, mist and fog all make you harder see for other road users and using lights could prevent an accident in these conditions. Some cyclists even opt to use lights every time they ride for extra safety whatever the weather.
Higher power: All lights that meet safety standards are legal to use, but you can still improve safety by using lights that exceed these standards. Stronger lights might cost a bit more, but they will help you be seen from further away.
Lighting the way: The legal requirements are mostly concerned with ensuring that you are seen by other road users. But you need to see where you are going at night as well! Choose a strong front light with a wide beam to make sure that you don't get any nasty surprises as you are riding along.
What to look for in a cycle light
Bike lights have come on greatly in recent years and they now boast a wealth of features that improve performance and make them easier to use. Here's a quick run-down of the key :
Brightness: Brightness on bike lights is generally measured in Lumens, making it easy to compare one light to another: the higher the number, the brighter the light.
Run Time: The amount of time a light will run on a single charge or a single load of batteries.
Modes: Many lights have different modes to choose from, including different flashing options and different intensity settings. These let you adapt your lights to the conditions, providing extra visibility when needed and letting you conserve battery power when appropriate. Lower intensity and flashing settings have longer run times.
LED Bulbs: LED bulbs are the energy-efficient option so they stay brighter for longer on a single battery charge. Multiple LEDs in one light means extra brightness. Not all LEDs are made equal, however, and more expensive lights will feature brighter, more efficient LEDs.
USB Rechargeable lights: These lights cut out replaceable batteries, saving you money and hassle. Simply plug the light into a computer's USB port or a USB plug adapter and they'll be back to full power within a few hours. High quality internal batteries often provide longer run time while in use as well.
Mounts: Different lights come with different solutions for mounting the light to you or your bike. Many lights lock onto a clasp that is fitted to the seatpost or handlebars. Smaller lights often simply use an integrated rubber band that grips on to the bike. Other lights will have clips for attaching the light to bags or clothing. Some will include a helmet mount, or be designed specifically for helmet use. Look out for quick-release mechanisms that speed up installation and removal - ideal for when you're quickly locking you bike up in public.
Beam: High-quality lights have precision lens that alter light emission by focusing and dispersing light. Focusing the beam into a single spot helps it be seen from further away while dispersing the light across a wider angle makes it more visible to people at your sides. The best lights focus the very centre of the beam while dispersing the edges so you get the best of both worlds.
Riding a mountain bike at night
Without street lights and often shaded from moonlight as well, mountain bike trails get seriously dark at night. That's not ideal when you need a clear view to prepare for the terrain ahead. So if you want to ride at night, you need some serious lighting. Extra-bright bike lights are made for this very purpose. Pumping out thousands of lumens of light, they come with external USB-rechargeable battery packs to provide enough power.
Night riding is incredible fun as you shoot through total darkness with only the trail ahead of you illuminated. It's a particularly good way to get out on the bike after work during the dark winter months. Get kitted up and experience it yourself!