Bike Light Setups for Different Types of Riding

Everyone tends to think a single bike light will work for everything, but you wouldn’t use your downhill bike to commute on the road to work, and you for sure wouldn’t take your road bike out for a few laps at Whistler. Each bicycle type is optimized for the task at hand. Additionally, everyone enjoys biking in different way unique to themselves, making further unique equipment choices important dialing in each person’s ideal setup. Horses for courses.

Since we’ve spent years optimizing products for specific uses in the lighting industry, we’re going to go through a few of the most common night riding types and talk about what bike lights for helmet and handlebar are best for each and give some recommendations, both from us and from competitors. (Rear lights are also very important, but we'll dive into that in another blog post...)

Bike Lights for Road Biking

Dedicated road rides usually involve long stretches at high speed which means you need to be able to see far enough ahead to not be surprised by potholes or road debris, so higher power lights are generally recommended here.

However, when you're covering that much ground, your likelihood of crossing traffic is also much more frequently and blinding drivers with high powered bike lights is not safe for either party. Thus, one of the best things you can do if you're riding road regularly, is get a bike light with a horizontal cutoff beam pattern.

Road bike handlebar beam pattern cutoff

 
 
Example of the cutoff beam pattern from our Road Edition handlebar light

Our Road Edition light has a custom-designed reflector with an automotive-qualified LED specifically to create this cutoff beam, which serves two purposes: prevent blinding oncoming traffic and puts all of the light where you can actually use it, on the road. That means no light is being wasted up into the sky so the pavement is better illuminated than with a typical flashlight-style bike light.

Unfortunately there just are not any other US-based options for road lights in this class, so for an alternative we have to look to Germany at options like the Busch & Müller Ixon Space, which is a self-contained light with a cutoff beam and road manners, in a self-contained package that could be appealing to many users.

Bike Lights for commuting

Going to and from work by bike can often involve both day and night time trips, both of which benefit greatly from having a good front bike light both to see and be seen. Even if the trek involves plenty of street lights, the last thing you want is to be caught in a dark spot and miss that pothole right in front of you, and there's often more cars around during the day so making sure you're highly visible to them is key to avoid unwanted up-close-and-personal interactions.

 

While having a cutoff beam is equally valuable here, it's less critical as typically city streets are better lit to start, so lower-power lights can get the job done, especially with lower average speeds with traffic and intersections to navigate. Our Hangover helmet bike light actually makes for a good option here on the handlebars using any standard Action Camera style mount, as the beam is wide enough to ensure good "be seen" visibility up to 180° and the throw is good for a sprint to make the next light. 

One of the most popular commuter bike light over the past decade has been the Light & Motion Vis Pro 1000 (previously called the Urban in some variations) because of its competitive price point, ease of mounting on different size handlebars, and Micro USB recharging, so you can recharge at work easily when needed. The amber side indicators also aren't blinding, but they do assist with side visibility as a bonus.

Bike Lights for Gravel Riding

This is one segment of riding that is surprisingly broad and can be many different things to different riders. Long and the short of it is, if you're gravel grinding after dark, you've probably got some adventures planned. The search for nature and getting off the beaten path motivates many to pack up some gear and get out there for hours, possibly days of riding and escaping daily life.

Since gravel is typically fairly flat (meaning the road doesn't undulate up and down like singletrack can, not that there's no climbing involved...) the benefit of depth you get from a handlebar mounted bike light is less critical to read the terrain, so a solo helmet light can work great. Our Hangover helmet light is ideal here as it punches far enough in the distance for high speed descents, while giving good peripheral coverage so you can see if that's a moose just off the road or not. Plus, with pass-thru charging through the USB-C port you can extend runtime significantly for longer outings or recharge wherever you setup basecamp for the next outing.

If you're looking for the ultimate do-it-all adventure bike light, it's hard to argue with the Lupine Blika. Pricey, sure, but it's packed with features to make it useful for everything from riding 35mph down a steep grade to reading a map in a tent. It has selectable outputs for red and green diffused lighting for reading and a multitude of different headstrap mounts with quick change interfaces to us it on and off the helmet with ease. This does require the use of an external battery pack at all times, but that means you can also bring extras for longer adventures.

Lighting for XC Trails

XC riding typically involves a lot of pedaling and constant motion, rolling terrain with few stops or slow climbs, which means you'll typically want your lights to be set-and-forget. With fewer big technical features to conquer, multiple lights and crazy high power is less of a necessity, so lighter-weight setups can be effective too.

 XC race enduro bike light daytime

Outbound Co-Owner Tom Place racing in Olympia, WA where the tree canopy made for very dark stages even in daytime

External battery packs with long wires to wrangle and svelte XC race bikes generally don't mix. The Trail Evo offers a totally self-contained and rigidly mounted bike light option that doesn't flop and wiggle on the trail, along with a superbly wide and even beam pattern to make any pesky switchbacks a lot easier to manage with just a handlebar light, something other lights on the market simply don't offer. Additionally, the Adaptive operating mode is perfect for XC riding to maximize runtime at high output.

When it comes to other rigidly-mounted, self-contained, high-quality bike lights out there, the Exposure Toro jumps out as a solid option from across the pond in the UK. While the beam pattern is still a bit of a narrow circle for the bars, the falloff is noticeably less-harsh than much of the competition.

Moreover, it has multiple programming modes to choose from based on the runtime required and a nifty readout on the back to tell you how long you've got before it goes dark. Meticulously machined, these are well-built and lightweight options for the refined XC racer.

Lights for Enduro / Downhill Trails

When descending is prioritized above all else, gear choice gets a lot more critical, and having a solid helmet and handlebar bike light working together is key to ripping your favorite DH. A good handlebar light will give depth in the chunky rock gardens so the trail doesn't look flat while you're trying to pick your line, while a good helmet light will let you see over the next big drop to spot your landing, all of which can be happening at breakneck speeds.

Being able to read the terrain properly is essential. Most rides here involve dropping lights to Low on the climbs and punching up to High for the descents.

downhill enduro DH rider bike night

Enter the Evo Downhill Package, a combination of our Evo on the bars and Hangover on the helmet with beam patterns designed to cover your entire field of view from the handlebars forward without distracting hot spots or dead zones.

The Trail Evo bike light does the heavy lifting, filling in the foreground and peripheral while the Hangover lets you spot up down trail at speed and through sharp, technical switchbacks. It's not all about max power here, it's about how that power is used, and here it's all about maximizing your ability to read the terrain accurately. Plus, the High output mode is truly 100% output, no matter how low the battery is, unlike many common bike lights that taper output as the battery dies, with Outbound you can be sure you're getting max output for that last descent at the end of the ride.

For the power-hungry that are looking for longer rides as well, check out our friends down in New Zealand with the Gloworm XSV + X2. These lights boast impressive output and solid runtimes thanks to external battery packs, with the ability to switch the handlebar and helmet bike light for for the odd case of terrain where more power on the helmet may make more sense. With interchangeable optics, you can also make the handlebar light beam broader and helmet beam narrower to get more out of the package.

Fatbiking

Snow biking has a couple very unique circumstances, the primary being lower average speeds and tons of highly reflective snow all around. What that means is you can get away with a lot lower output because you're not spotting up 50 yards down the trail, plus the snow reflects the light from the bike light so well that everything feels much brighter despite less light being used. Of course, cold weather impacts runtime of all Li-Ion powered lights similarly, which is worth considering in your selection based on how long your rides are.

Amazon Bike Light riding in the snow

For most fatbiking, the Trail Evo is a compelling option because it can be run at lower output and cover the terrain so wide that switchbacks are easy to navigate with a light on the bike, which gives the rider the option to run a big hood over their helmet without blocking a light, if extra warmth is needed. Furthermore, the Evo design puts the battery pack in direct contact with the heatsink such that waste heat from the LEDs during operation serves to keep the pack slightly warmer, which helps improve runtime in such extreme cold.