Sometime over the past few years, almost imperceptibly and without fanfare, bicycle headlights and tail lights came down in price while improving in quality to the point where buying a lighting system for a commuter bicycle is now a no-brainer. This is a big deal to someone like myself who has been on the quest for the ultimate lighting system for decades.
Until recently, battery-powered systems that had sufficiently long run times and enough power to be safe on a nighttime commute were heavy, expensive, and unreliable. But now, lights that would have been considered high performance just a few years ago are compact, lightweight, reliable, and can be had for well under $100. We owe this revolution in lighting to the efficiency of tiny LED light emitters that are able to squeeze an incredible amount of light and good run times out of just a pair of AA or AAA batteries.
In years past, I was an advocate for dynamo-powered lighting systems; the convenience of having instant-on, always-available light on a bike used for transportation is a real plus. But now, as the “head mechanic” charged with maintaining a bevy of bikes for a family of five — most of which don’t have dynamos and probably never will — I’ve become a huge fan of tiny LED headlights and tail lights. I keep a pile of them around to hand out to whomever might need one in a pinch, and I have a bag of rechargeable AA and AAA batteries that I keep topped off with a nice 8-slot battery charger. Most of these bikes won’t be ridden after dark more than a half-dozen times a year, so having the option of swapping lights around is a real boon. And certainly, investing in a dedicated dynamo lighting system for every bike that comes through our stable is no longer necessary or reasonable.
At some point it would be fun to drill down and take a look at the subtle differences between the leading LED commuter headlights and tail lights on the market. Until then, I can safely say that any of the headlights in the $50-$100 price range from the majors will do a remarkable job. I’m particularly fond of the Planet Bike Blaze 2W, the Princeton Tec EOS Bike, and the Fenix L2D. This last one is actually a high performance flashlight that, when combined with a TwoFish Block, makes an excellent bike light. I particularly like the construction of its water-resistant, machined alloy casing. [Note: The L2D is an older model that has been replaced by the LD20]. As for tail lights, get yourself one or two Planet Bike Superflashes or Princeton-Tec Swerves and call it good.
The only downside to this golden age of bike lights is that for us light geeks, the quest is essentially over. With so many excellent, inexpensive lights to choose from, it’s not much of a challenge to come up with a headlight/tail light combo that is more than adequate for commuting. The good news is that these lights are now within financial reach of most people, so there’s no longer any excuse to ride a bike after dark without sufficient lighting.