Bicycle lights and reflectors are essential safety equipment for any ride but particularly when commuting after dark or in an urban setting.
People who don’t typically ride with bike lights suggest that reflectors are sufficient to be seen on a nighttime ride. While reflectors help, their effectiveness is dependent on many variables. A car’s headlights must strike the reflector at the proper angle for the driver to see the reflection. The reflector must also be positioned properly for the light to reflect back toward the driver, and, of course, they don’t work well at dusk or in heavy fog. Many states (New York, California and Oregon a) require a front light when riding after dark.
If you’re going to ride at night, lights are your best bet. A front and a rear light are usually sufficient, but some cyclists choose to use auxiliary lights on their pedals and/or wheels.
When choosing a front light you must choose between a light which will illuminate the road versus one that only helps you be seen by other road users. If riding in a well-lit area lights intended to increase your visibility are sufficient. When riding in dark areas or roads without streetlights a more expensive, powerful light will help you see the road ahead while still providing a visibility advantage. Your local bike shop will have both options, just be clear on which ones you are looking for! Lights exclusively for visibility will likely run about $35-50 while more powerful lights can cost up to $200, but will last longer and are more versatile.
Backroads Pro Tip
When comparing brightness between lights, look at the lumen rating. Most manufacturers will clearly list this specification, and it can be a big factor in choosing the best bike lights for your ride.
When choosing a light, one significant factor to consider is the blinking pattern options available with each light. When using rear lights, it is usually best to set them to blink. This is more noticeable to a driver than a solid light floating down the highway, and you will not be mistaken for a faster moving motorcycle
Whichever system you ultimately choose, remember that even a lightweight single LED is much better than a reflector when it comes to being seen. This can be purchased for less than $20, and it adds less than 20 grams to the weight of your bike. This is a small price to pay for safety!