How much does a bike light cost?
I was chatting with another parent at the school bike racks last week, and he mentioned how his kid's been inspired to ride to school lately but was a little concerned about riding home in the evenings. School's over around 2:50pm, but often kids have after school programs and as such, many kids don't leave for home until maybe 5:30pm.
We chatted about types of bike lights that are available and how he just wanted to make sure his kid was visible on the road.
There's a wide spectrum of different bike lights available at different prices (I looked at a bunch of different ones in the bike lights for kids guide) and here is a summary of what one can expect.
Bike headlights: Great for being seen, lighting up the road, and possibly required by law.
Headlights provide light for the road ahead and also help you be seen by drivers and other people on bikes. Some areas require headlights by law - California is a state.
Laws related to bike lights in California:
- Headlight (visible from 300 feet)
- Rear reflector or light (visible from 500ft)
- Reflector on pedals, shoes or ankles (visible from 200ft)
Bicycle headlights can be mounted on your handlebars, helmet, or bike frame. There's a big price range. Nicer headlights are brighter, have a nicer beam, more brightness/blink options, better build quality, and longer battery life or a better form-factor. Most these days are rechargable via a USB cable. Some head lights connect to a dynamo generator on your wheel and are powered by your motion. Many newer e-bikes have integrated headlights that are powered from the main e-bike battery.
Bike tail lights: equally important for being seen
Tail lights help you be seen from behind. They're important when riding at night or in low-light conditions. Many crashes occur when a driver claims they did not see the person on the bike. Tail lights are usually mounted on the seat post, saddle, or seat stays. But they can also be attached to your helmet. There are some smarter tail lights that change their blink pattern when they detect headlights. Others have built in cameras or vehicle warnings.
Other lights - bicycle flag lights, wheel lights, frame lights
I build bicycle flag lights, so I have to mention these. I built them to make my child more visible at night. Kids' bikes are smaller and lower to the ground, and I wanted them to have something tall so that they'd be more visible on the street. There are also bicycle wheel lights, that can help add a little personality to your bike. Frame lights are less common, but add a nice glow effect.
How much do bike lights cost? What can one expect at different price levels?
Super cheap bike lights (~$5)
If you're on a budget, there are plenty of cheap bike lights available that sort of get the job done. But I don't recommend them, unless you have nothing else available. They're typically smaller, way less bright, and use those annoying button-cell batteries that don't last long and are hard to replace. They are not environmentally friendly. I recommend spending more to get a better light.
But one of these is better than nothing.
Moderately inexpensive bike lights ($5 to $10 to $20)
At a slightly higher price point, you'll find lights that are a bit more powerful and brighter than the super cheap models. These typically have a few more features, can be recharged, and last longer. They can be a great option for those who are looking for a good balance of value and performance. You can read more specifics in my children's bike light guide, but there are a lot of copies of the same light here and that's probably part of the reason you can get so much light for the money.
Nicer, more expensive bicycle lights ($20-$60)
If you're looking for a higher-quality light with more features, or if you know the light will be used regularly or for longer periods of time, you'll want to consider spending more money. These lights are typically brighter, built better, have longer battery life, and better features (such as multiple light modes).
I do like sticking with established companies that have been building lights for a while. CatEye, Planet Bike, PDW, Niterider, and Light and Motion generally make good lights in the $20-60 range (and higher)
Fancy specialty bike lights ($60+)
Some might argue that the threshold for a fancy bike light is more in the $100 range. But either way, these lights are typically the brightest and most powerful available, and they have features such as built-in cameras, super bright light output (1000+ lumens) or dynamo charging. Super bright lights are especially useful if you are biking off-road in the dark, or at a higher speed. You need to see farther in front of you when traveling at a higher speed. Riding down a hill at 25mph (a fairly easily attainable speed) probably requires at least a 500 lumen light to see far enough in front of you so you can react appropriately.
There are smart lights like See.Sense that adjust their blink pattern based on your surroundings. They blink more when they detect car headlights to improve your visibility, and connect to your phone so you can customize the settings.
Cycliq and Garmin (specifically the Varia series) make lights with built-in cameras to record your ride for fun or in case there is an incident. Outbound Lighting builds premium, ultrabright lights for mountain biking.
A fellow parent uses lights made by Exposure. They aren't cheap, but they are built very well, are compact, and are very bright.
Bike lights: in conclusion
There are a bunch of different types of bike lights to choose from and the price range can vary greatly. Consider your needs, your budget and conditions for riding. Thanks for reading!