A Minimalist Lighting System

Planet Bike Blaze 2W
Blaze 2W

A common question is, “What is a simple, minimalist lighting set-up for commuting and utility riding that provides enough light to both see and be seen by, yet doesn’t cost an arm and a leg?”

In the past, the answer was not so clear cut because lights that were powerful enough to see and be seen by were neither simple nor inexpensive. Now, with the advent of highly efficient LED light emitters (aka “bulbs”), sufficiently powerful lights have become both simple and relatively inexpensive. Unless someone is participating in 24-hour mountain bike races or on-road ultra-endurance events, both of which require ultra-high-powered lighting and extremely long run times, a perfectly functional lighting system can be had for under $100.

There are a number of alternatives on the market, but my favorite minimalist system consists of a Planet Bike Blaze 2W headlight and a Planet Bike Superflash tail light.

The Blaze 2W Headlight

The Blaze 2W is a two-watt headlight powered by 2/AA batteries*. It has high and low beams plus a blinding “Superflash” strobe. Run times are excellent at 5 hours on high, 12 hours on low, and 18 hours on strobe. It has a tight, but surprisingly bright, round beam (I prefer a slightly wider beam, but that would also diminish the intensity of the beam, so it’s a fair trade-off). The casing is made of plastic with an alloy heat-sink and a rubber seal where it comes apart for changing batteries. It comes supplied with an adjustable, quick-release handlebar mount. The Blaze is a great little headlight that gets the job done with minimal fuss.

The Superflash Tail Light

The Superflash tail light strobe pattern is so bright and distinctive that it’s recognizable from a quarter of a mile away. And recognize it I do; it has become so ubiquitous among battery-powered tail lights that I see one nearly every day throughout the winter commuting season. The Superflash is popular for good reason: it’s tiny, incredibly bright, lightweight, reasonably priced, with great run times and that distinctive, eye-catching strobe pattern.

Planet Bike Superflash Stealth
Superflash Stealth

The Superflash comes supplied with a seat-post style clamp and a built-in clip. A bracket for mounting down low on a rear rack is also available (sold separately). Though it’s not necessary, I run two on my commuter; one on the seatpost and one on the rear rack. As you can imagine, motorists give me a wide berth.

The Blaze 2W / Superflash Stealth combo is a great value in a minimalist lighting set-up for commuting and utility riding. The Blaze provides enough light to both see and be seen by, and the Superflash is the class-leading tail light. Sure, it’s possible to spend a lot more and put together a high-powered battery or dynamo system, but if you’re looking for a simple and effective lighting system that’s easy to install and easy on your pocketbook, it’s hard to beat these little LEDs from Planet Bike.

Planet Bike

Disclosure: Planet Bike is a sponsor of this website. They’re also one of the most active supporters of bicycle advocacy groups in the industry. Read more about their programs here.

*Note: I highly recommend the use of rechargeable batteries. You can read my article on rechargeables here.

47 Responses to “A Minimalist Lighting System”

  • Kent Peterson says:

    Good advice, I pretty much tell people the same thing. I do prefer the Portland Design Works tail light over the Superflash, however. It’s even brighter and I prefer the switch and the built-in reflector. The PDW fellows share a similar commitment to cycling and advocacy as th Planet Bike people, which isn’t surprising since the company founders both worked at Planet Bike before moving to Portland to start their own venture.


    Both Planet Bike and PDW understand what it takes to make good stuff that works!

  • Roland Smith says:

    Those new LED headlights are quite something. The amount of light compared to the previous generation halogen lamps (let alone the old-fashioned lightbulbs) is a real eye-opener!

    But with regard to power supply, I prefer a hub generator, although there seem to be improved “bottle” style generators out there as well. I don’t like the hassle of having to charge batteries. My lights should just work.

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    How about this one:

    $99 dyno wheel (from Clever Cycles, elsewhere?)
    ~$50 B&M Lyt Senso Plus headlight
    ~35 B&M Toplight Line Plus taillight

    Fully dyno system for $185. Cheaper Look ma, no batteries!

  • Alan says:


    “My lights should just work.”

    I agree; always available, always on generator lights are super. The downside is that they’re more expensive per lumen, they’re a bit complex to install for beginners, and they can’t easily be moved from bike to bike. That last one is a real advantage for those on a budget who own more than one bike.


  • Alan says:


    Thanks for pointing out the PDW tail light.


  • voyage says:

    I am blessed/cursed with a menu of three bikes that I would consider riding in the dark. A couple years ago when I upgraded lighting, I went with Planet Bike lights because Planet Bike offers (online) brackets sold separately. That meant I only had to buy one set of lights and several brackets…I could move the lights around from bike to bike to bike and save money and time. Other companies did not seem so enlightened.

  • david p. says:

    for looks and functionality i’m very fond of these from cat eye:
    http://www.cateye.com/en/product_detail/343 – i have two up front and they work very well.

    i also have a cat eye rear that is one of my favorites. i like it’s width and look:

  • Alan says:


    I agree; having easy, online ordering access to brackets and other small parts is a big advantage. Like you, we have brackets on all of our bikes for easy light swapping – it works great.


  • Alan says:


    The Bicycle Business in Sacramento has also offered some nice,economy priced dyno wheels.



  • Nathan says:

    Hi, I second the recommendation for Portland Design Works tail light. It’s not way better, just has a couple more nice features for the same price. 1 W vs the PB Superflash .5 watt, and built in reflector. The mounting hardware is the same, as well. I really like mine. All my gear has worked great down to -10F so far this winter. I have both PB and PDW lights and the PDW is obviously brighter. I also have a Mars 4.0 that I enjoy as well. All work great!

  • Alan says:


    “All work great!”

    Yeah, isn’t it amazing how advancements in LED technology have revolutionized bike lights? I remember terribly heavy halogen systems that were expensive and prone to shorting out. Battery life was terrible and replacing the proprietary batteries was very expensive. These new lights, regardless of who makes them, are a huge step forward.


  • Andy says:

    I generally don’t recommend dynamos to people unless they are everyday commuters. It is quite a cost to get a decent system (Shimano 80, wheel, labor to spoke, and Cyo goes for about $300+ and I would not recommend using cheaper parts). I got sick of battery powered lights because it took 8 hours to charge my 10W halogen light, which left me too often using sub-par battery lights when I didn’t have enough time to charge lights in between rides. My night rides were also limited to 2.5 hours with that light. Even just a year ago, lights with replaceable batteries were still pretty lame. 2W LED is okay, but still nothing too special. I’d guess that in a year or two, dynamos will be less popular because higher-powered rechargeable AA friendly lights will be available.

  • Reuben @VeloTraffic says:

    I love planet bike’s blaze headlamps. My only gripe is that the mounting system requires a flat portion of handlebar perpendicular to the direction of travel in order to correctly aim the beam. If your handlebars are all curves (like my handlebars of choice – the nitto north roads) you’re a little out of luck. It can still sort of work for you, but it will always be a little crooked and not aimed exactly where you want it.

  • dukiebiddle says:

    voyage, I was able to do the same thing with my Cateye headlight. Although instead of ordering it online, which I could have done, I looked up the headlight mount product number online and had my LBS order 3 of them for me. It probably cost me a little under an extra buck in state sales tax, but I like to throw the local shop a little piece of the retail pie as long as the price difference isn’t exorbitant.

  • chuckAZ says:

    Hey all,

    I run the very 2W Blaze noted here, a Cateye Reflex on the rear rack and a Blackburn Mars 3.0 on the back of the helmet. Good combo for my early morning 0-dark-30 commute this time of year. The Blaze is plenty bright, running Duracell rechargeables, I usually run it in flash mode most of the way, then to steady for the last bit which is not streetlighted. Flash mode can make you a little bug-eyed but you learn to ignore it. The Reflex is kind of a gadget but it works fine (auto mode) and the Mars sits high up so drivers get a couple of chances to see me. When I first got the 2W Blaze I had a couple of spandex guys ask me on my commute, “What IS that??” Great site y’all!

  • sharper says:

    And here I was expecting the answer to the opening question to be “build your own!” Simple circuits to drive LEDs are easy to build after a few minutes’ tutorial on the web, and lights comparable to the above can be had for $20 or less, and with some ingenuity can even be built in such a way as to appear innocuous to the average thief.

  • Alan@TreeFort says:

    The Planet Bike Blaze 2 is a great, bright light at a pretty good price. It also uses batteries, which makes it really nice for extended loaded touring.

  • Roland Smith says:


    “they’re a bit complex to install for beginners”

    Isn’t that what bike shops are for? Why should people have to install stuff themselves? Sure, I don’t mind tinkering with and doing maintenance on my bike, but not everyone is so inclined. And I wouldn’t try to lace a dyno hub up in a rim, having neither the equipment nor more importantly the experience.

    “for those on a budget who own more than one bike.”

    If you are on a budget, why own multiple bikes? In my view it is better to have one commuting bike that is outfitted properly than three or four mediocre ones!

  • Alan says:


    My point was that a beginner can walk into any LBS, plop down $90 on these lights, then go home and have a fully operational lighting system mounted and running in 10 minutes. Unless a person has a good LBS that knows how to spec dynamo lighting systems (not at all common in my experience), the process will be much more involved and expensive.


  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    I have to say I agree with Roland. If you’re on a budget, then why have multiple bikes in the first place? The system I outlined will cost $100 more than the battery system… far cheaper than a second bike, and I don’t think dyno systems are all that daunting to install, just unfamiliar to NA customers. If you can wire up a stereo you can install a pair of dyno driven lights and a prebuilt wheel. I agree that they’ll never be as easy as battery lights, but I think the drawbacks are overstated.

  • Alan says:


    “If you’re on a budget, then why have multiple bikes in the first place?”

    I know plenty of people who have, for example, an old MTB, maybe a beach cruiser in the garage, and a perhaps a 70’s sport tourer for commuting. Not everyone who has multiple bikes has spent a fortune on them. For the many people in this situation, it may not make sense to try and outfit each bike with a dynamo lighting system, whereas a small LED set-up with multiple mounts would cover all of their bikes.


    PS – Don’t get me wrong, I do very much like dyno systems, I just think the idea of replacing an existing wheel (the value of which, to be fair, should be factored into the cost), speccing the new wheel, then wiring up the bike, may be enough of a deterrent to put quite a few people off (I’m talking beginners here, not enthusiasts). Again, if a person has an LBS that can do the work, that certainly makes it more palatable…

  • Steve C says:

    for me, minimalist means using AA nimh rechargeable cells in (mostly) Cateye lights

    most of my riding is commuting and I will often wait for darkness to fall for the winter ride home, being distrustful of visibility in the marginal light of twilight,

    urban riding means that mostly the road is well lit, so your \see\ light needs to cover unlit patches and to highlight debris on the road, for this purpose, I use an older cateye microhalogen, with a cateye LED flasher like this http://www.cateye.com/en/product_detail/342 for the \be seen\ light, this combo gives good ground light and the spread of the microhalogen complements the narrower field of vision of the LED

    for a tailight I use the five LED LD610 http://www.cateye.com/en/product_detail/468 augmented by a single LED light strapped to my Giro Xen helmet, the Xen has a good flat section at the back which hold the light level, I’ve had drivers comment on how far away they could see this light, as it’s up higher that the general clutter of car lights

    don’t, don’t, don’t attach your tailight to a backpack, they generally make the light point at the sky, which isn’t going to run into you, frame, seatpost or rack are the only places that will guarantee proper tailight alignment

    and I also find a reflective band on my wrist a good way to reinforce any hand signals for turns or lane changing, I’ve had headlights in my peripheral vision move back to allow a turn because the reflector makes my intentions so obvious

    sorry for the rave, good lighting is an issue close to my heart

  • Alan says:

    @Steve C

    Thanks for the great advice. The admonishment to avoid attaching tail lights to backpacks is particularly important.


    PS – I like that LD610 a lot. A friend has one and it provides a nice wide angle of view.

  • Dolan Halbrook says:


    Sure, not every bike has to be expensive, but the vast majority of the bike commuters I’ve encountered tend to use one bike for commuting, even if they own many. Therefore, stick the dyno system on the one, and swap a battery system for the rest.

    I’m not against battery systems, I just think dynos are a better choice for commuting. Either way, the important thing is that people are well lit.

    @Steve C

    Totally agree about the backpack mounted lights. That drives me nuts when I see it.

  • Alan says:


    “I’m not against battery systems, I just think dynos are a better choice for commuting. Either way, the important thing is that people are well lit.”



  • doug in seattle. says:

    My parents gave me a B&M Ixon IQ battery headlight for Christmas. It is a revelation of light. Like high-quality dynamo lamps, it is an indirect reflector LED light. The light is almost entirely directed towards the ground, where it’s needed, resulting in a large patch of well lit pavement extending about thirty feet in front of me. It is so, SO much better than the 1W Blaze or Catete Opticube. Both of those lights are very bright, but much of the light is wasted due to the circular beam pattern.

    The B&M is only available from Peter White cycles, and is a lot more expensive at over $100, but I am convinced that it’s the best battery powered light out there. Worth a look.

  • Steve C says:

    I can’t argue against dynamo powered lights for bikes on the move, but would make a couple of points

    first, we cyclists have over the last decade or so educated drivers to associate a flashing light in one form or another with a cyclist on the road, I would feel very vulnerable on a bike with only a steady light, front or rear

    second, unless supported by a capacitor in the system, dynamo lights go out when the bike is stationary at a stop or traffic signal, again a vulnerable (if slow speed, but cars, tucks and buses tend to be a bit unforgiving) situation

    so, I would tend to supplement dynamo (see) lights with LED strobe (be seen) lights, but I can’t really reconcile dynamo lighting with a mnimalist approach, the beauty of AA rechargeable cells is if they are going flat, you can either carry a spare set in your bag at little cost, or worst case, buy batteries from any convenience store or gas station to get yourself home!

    also and I think quite important, I think that the eye is strongly attracted to the human form, so making YOURSELF visible, light coloured clothing, reflective ankle bands and pedal reflectors, the previously mentioned reflective wrist bands etc all go to promote safety for cyclists in the dark (I even tried two single LED lights placed on my helmet to look like eyes, but the light source close to my face was a nuisance, so I ditched them)

  • Steve C says:

    the previous comment was made from historic knowledge of dynamo systems, if contemporary ones include strobes, I stand corrected

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    @Steve C

    I wouldn’t buy a dynolight without a standlight feature. That said, it’s quite common nowadays.

    Flashing lights are actually illegal in Germany, and I think for good reason. I find they tend to distract and hypnotize people, but that’s just anecdotal. In either case, I much prefer a steady-on light both for myself and other riders, and have never felt unsafe riding in very dark conditions using only my front and rear dyno light. Often I’m the brightest thing around on two wheels. My understanding of the reason so many battery lights flash is more for power savings than anything else. Just check the runtimes for flashing mode vs steady on.

    FWIW, the beauty of a dyno system is that you never need to carry spare AAs in the first place :)

  • Mark says:

    I use a Planet Bike Blaze 2W as the backup to my B&M Lumotec IQ Cyo R (dynohub-driven) main light. The Blaze has a pencil-type beam that’s very tight, and I wouldn’t want my only/main light to have such a tight beam. While a bit more expensive, the Ixon IQ (available at Peter White Cycles) would be a better choice, in my experience.

  • Bucky says:

    While a little over the “less than an arm & a leg” threshold of US $100, I’ve been very pleased with the NiteRider MiNewt. 250 Cordless. A really solid feeling all-in-one unit, built-in rechargeable batteries and can recharge from your computer’s USB port. And very bright. Since not every light manufacturer publishes lumens (and you can’t convert watts directly to lumens) it makes comparisons a little tricky. At 250 lumens this light is far brighter than any battery operated flashlight we’ve got around our office – I know from hiking around the sub-basement of a construction site the other day. Downside is cost at about $130 and battery life of two & a half hours. Works fine for me since only one of my daily rides is in the dark. Every week or so the red warning light comes one and I plug it in while at work. By lunch time it’s ready to go.

  • Alan says:


    That’s a great looking headlight. Thanks for the info!

    My only issue with some of the more powerful, self-contained headlights, is that the internal Li-ion batteries are sometimes proprietary and expensive to replace (I’m not saying it’s necessarily an issue with your particular light). I have two dead headlights in my closet that aren’t worth what it would cost to replace their factory-only batteries. After going through that a few times over the years, I’m a AA convert now… :-)


  • CedarWood says:

    +1 for both the Ixon IQ and the PDW Radbot1000. These in combination make a super-bright light set for around $160, and have separate mounts available for multi-bike use. I’ve been using these lights on my city bike for 8 months now on rural unlit roads, and they command respect.

  • dukiebiddle says:

    doug in seattle, being an urban rider with lots of ambient lighting over 99% of my routes, the Cateye Opticube’s light displacement is what attracted me to it. I wanted a light that flooded 180 degrees in front of me with the sight of me, while minimizing the light wasted on a direct beam. Of course, I’m using the term “wasted” relative to my particular lighting needs, which was for a bright and high visibility to-be-seen light that does not blink. If I had to deal with any night darkness I would definitely look into a brighter and more focused option. I disagree respectively with those who are fond of particularly the front blinkies. It can be difficult for a motorist to gauge distance and speed of a blinking light, plus it helps them identify us as cyclists, as opposed to scooterists, which I find help a minority of jerky motorists to disregard us a illegitimate road users, and might still cross left in front of us like we aren’t even there. I find that a solid bright light commands more respect from oncoming traffic, if for no better reason that they are unsure if we have a motor or not. [I’m going to sidestep the whole debate about whether they’re annoying or not – I actually find oncoming helmet headlights far more annoying: all of them, there are no exceptions. ;) ] For the rear I use a single bright solid and a single modest blinky: the solid so motorists can gauge my distance and speed better, the blinky to help grab their attention, and the combo so I know if the batteries go out on one that the other will get me home safely.

    Happy New Year, all.

  • velojoy says:

    Quick-release mounts that help prevent theft also are useful features of these PB lights. When I park on city streets I’m able to remove and pop the Blaze/Superflash lights into my pocket or bag within seconds. Especially when making lots of stops, the time-savings add up. With roadbeds narrowed by heavy snowstorms in our area, I’m also running 2 Superflash taillights right now for added nighttime visibility.

  • rdhd says:

    I have to say that I’m less than impressed with bike specific lighting. I use a 900 lumen-rated flashlight as my head light. It has a rechargeable battery. For the light, battery, bracket, and charger I spent like $50 max. To get that in a bike-specific light I’d have to spend many hundreds of dollars. Battery life is a little limited, but I have two batteries and the charger just isn’t that big–I carry it to work with me.

  • Steven says:

    Your post is my exact light set up for my commute here in Salt Lake. I recently added a second front light (my older 1W PB Headlight) just because. I also strap on red flashers to both ankles (Got them through RoadID) and I’ve got little flashers on my helmet facing forward and back. Probably overkill, but since it’s dark on my commute both coming and going this time of year, I figured, better safe than sorry…besides, I may look silly but if someone thinks I look silly, that’s fine with me – at least they see me.

  • pj mcnally says:

    I run a set of blinking “Reelights” on my everyday commuting bike. Not exactly dynamo lights, but always there and always on – they’re great get-you-home lights, in the street-lit bits of town.

    I also have almost the same light as your “Planet Bike” headlight. It’s only 1W, but exactly the same housing and bracket shape as yours. I upgraded from the 0.5W recently.

    In the UK, it’s sold as “Smart Bspoke” brand – but i imagine they’re from the same factory.

  • vik says:

    The Blaze [my GF has two 1W’s we are taking out of service] is poor headlight as both a be seen light and to see by. The tight light beam means that it does a poor job of lighting up the road. Even with two 1W Blazes my GF could barely illuminate a dark MUP well enough to ride at a modest pace. The tight beam also means that if you aim it far enough up the road to see an obstacle at a decent speed [say 20kph] the much of the light is aimed into the eyes of oncoming traffic blinding them.

    As a be seen light it has the same problem..the tight beam means you get all the light in one spot rather than what you need which is a much wider beam of lower intensity light.

    That’s on steady mode…on flashing mode the Blaze is far more irritating and dangerous for other MUP or road users. There is a reason bike lights in Germany are not legally allowed to flash.

    The only redeeming feature of the Blaze is the low cost. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could find a better low cost light with a more diffuse beam pattern. I haven’t looked because we are moving to focused B&M lights such as the Ixon IQ which provides a ton of light without blinding other road users. It costs five times what a Blaze does, but it’s about 10 times better so if you ride at night a lot do yourself a favour and buy one.

    The Superflash on strobe is a terribly irritating/blinding light. On solid it’s not bad. The Radbot offers a better slow flash mode which is less jarring on the eyes while be very visible. It’s also better on solid mode.

    I don’t get free stuff from B&M. I buy their stuff at full retail. I also bought Planet Bike Lights and Radbots at full retail so I have the ability to do back to back comparisons.

    Being highly visible and being a responsible/considerate cyclist are not mutually exclusive nor expensive. Swap bikes with a friend and ride behind your bike and at your light with its lights going on a dark road…..decide for yourself what impact your lights are having on other MUP/road users.


    safe riding,


  • Michael says:

    I flip my headlights around so that they’re under the bars and out of the way, instead of on top.

  • victim says:

    As someone who commutes with a 2w Blaze and as someone who drives more than cycles, I don’t get the impression that the Blaze or Superflash is blinding to motorists at all. Even with the Blaze’s too tight beam, remember that the diameter expands with distance and its strength diminishes with an inverse-square proportion. I sometimes momentarily aim the light at left-turning drivers just to get their attention (mostly when they’re busy texting) usually to no avail. The flash mode of the Superflash is irritating/convulsion-inducing mostly to other cyclists.

    Vehicle headlights keeping getting brighter and brighter. Typically, motorists respond negatively to new technology, then we become used to it. Added with the increase in high-riding vehicles like SUVs, the ante has been upped, and even the brightest LEDs are (relatively) barely visible.

  • beth h says:

    The PB combo above is the one I keep coming back to after trying other systems.

    I have yet to see the generator hub system that doesn’t have issues after a season spent in rainy Portland. In drier climates they may be just the thing; but the cost-effectiveness-versus-fussiness just doesn’t work out for me.

    I’ve had poor night vision since adolescence, and over the last two or three years it has grown rapidly and noticeably worse — meaning that I don’t ride as much after dark as I used to. The expense of a generator system doesn’t make sense in my particular case.

    I began using PB headlights several years ago, going through several more entry-level models before finally getting the 2-watt Blaze headlight two years ago. The difference in brightness and visibility is huge and so far the light is still going strong with no problems. I’ve used the Superflash rear since its inception and remain very happy with it. Best of all is that both lights take my rechargeable batteries, making for a simple, lightweight and user-friendly lighting system that works very well for most commuting situations.

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    @beth h

    This is my third year running a dyno system in PDX year round and I have yet to see a single issue with it. Same goes for the others folks I know running dyno setups. If anything, it’s been one of the least fussy parts of my bike in that it just works every time exactly as i expect it to. I’m curious, what kind of issues have you seen with them?

  • John says:

    Redline Nebo Flashlight 220 Lumans under $30 on Amazon. Beats the $150 DiNotte Headlight I have. Puts out a giant perfect circle of light. I strap it to my handlebars with rubberbands,my friend strapped it to her helmet. I have a drawer full of bike specific lights and they dont come close to this light. I am sure there are other good flashlights and most will beat any bike specific lights. Always good to have a light than can light a good path no matter where you ride.

  • Jack Vaughan says:

    Cateye Unos are fantastic and cheap. One AA, easy to take off and pocket if you like, 30 hours full / 60 hours blinking. I also use eBay tire stem lights to make me more visible from the side.

  • Alan says:


    I like flashlights too. I run a pair of Fenix L2D’s on my Surly. They’re a couple of years old, which is eons in LED technology, but they’re super. They’ve been replaced by the LD20, but at this point I don’t see any reason to upgrade.


  • Pete says:

    I’m way late to this party, but this PB pair of lights is exactly what I use, and it’s perfect for my needs. The Blaze is more than adequate for semi-/sub-/urban riding, and I like the fact that it has a flash mode for daytime. Both take normal sized rechargeable batteries – a huge plus.
    Another big deal for me is how easily they go on and off the bike. I need to take everything with me when i lock my bike a the train station all day, and the mounts for these lights make it a 5 second job.
    If I had secure parking, and money to spend, I’d certainly upgrade to a dyno hub and light, but for me, and a large percentage of other cyclists, these lights are spot-on.

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