How To Pick The Right Light For Fall Cycling


This time of year, if you’re waiting for sunshine and good weather, you’re going to be waiting a while. Shoot, if you’re waiting for daylight, you may not have a lot of riding options! That’s why investing in a great set of lights makes a difference.

As we move deeper into fall and edge perilously close to winter, it’s getting tougher and tougher to get out the door to ride. The idyllic days of July, when we could breeze out the door with bare arms and hardly a glance at our weather apps, are in the rearview mirror. Even with good weather, we’re simply running out of daylight to squeeze in those end-of-the-season rides we’ll really miss once the snow flies.

First, you can do yourself a big favor by getting organized. Riders can essentially manufacture time by keeping their cycling gear ready-to-roll with smart, efficient storage systems. It isn’t just in the garage, or our stuff, though. Have a plan, and take time to do your laundry, check your food, take turns walking the dog, and squeezing out five, ten, even twenty minutes at a time to get on your bike sooner in the day or more quickly after work.

Second, in a sport where it’s easy to spend money, getting safe lights is some of the best money you can spend. Most cities have light laws that require a red blinking tail light and a white headlight in the hours before sunrise and after sunset.

When it comes to selecting lights, there are really two categories. The first is simply to be seen. These are often less expensive lights with fewer than 100 lumens that may do a lot to improve the visibility of the cyclist but may not offer enough power to actually help that cyclist see the road ahead of them or any possible hazards that may pose a risk. These lights are useful, especially for commuters who may be traveling on less busy roads or streets with plenty of artificial light.

The second category of lights offers the ability to see in addition to being seen. These lights are much more likely to be 100 lumens, 500 lumens, or even 1500 lumens and up. These lights may be one-piece with their battery, mount, and bulb all in one unit. As you go up the lumen count, many lights will have an external battery that straps to the bicycle frame and connect to the light itself with a cord.

For most commutes, 100-500 lumens is more than enough. Most of these lights will have multiple settings that allow them to be run at full power, three-quarters power, or half power, to allow for the light to run longer albeit at a lower setting. For longer training rides, a higher lumen won’t just give you more visibility at its highest setting, it can also allow you to ride for two, three, or even four hours safely.

One other thing to consider is temperature. As we get into winter months, remember that cold weather can zap the battery life of your light. Even at full charge, you can expect to see its run time decrease drastically, causing it to die much sooner, possibly even before you’re at your destination or back home. That’s one of the benefits of using a light with an external battery. This will allow you to put the battery in a frame back, where it’ll stay much warmer and be less affected by cold temperatures.

So, how much light and how many lumens do you need? Most lights will have a very easy-to-read guide that shows its various settings, expected run time at each setting, and information on the time it takes to go from dead to full charge. Look at your average commute or average training ride and pick a light that lets you ride that amount of time at full power or one notch down. Also, light prices per lumen have dropped precipitously over the past few years, if you’re on the fence, go up 100 lumens to account for cold weather, and those days you’ll just want to ride a bit further!