As fall sets in, a lot of things start messing with your ability to get out for a ride. Work schedules tighten up, kids collect goofy extracurriculars to drive to, and daylight offers diminishing returns. In mid-latitude states, for instance, you lose almost an hour in September and then another hour in October. Five in the afternoon starts to feel like the middle of the night.
Of course, you can fight back with a nighttime trail ride and a blinding LED headlight. The newest bike lights are lithium-battery powered for longevity and armed with LED lamps brighter than your average car beams. Many charge using the USB connection from your computer at work, so you’re ready to head out at quitting time. Four of the best headlights we picked below use lightweight lithium-ion batteries, and all run for about 90 minutes on their listed brightness, or over twice that at a lower setting. Most offer the option of mounting on a helmet—when the beams are powerful but focused, a helmet-mount can send light where you need it most.
When shopping for a trail headlight, look for at least 600 lumens. Around 300 to 600 lumens is OK for street riding, but on a twisty single track, you’ll want to clearly see the contours of the ground rising up at 20 mph. And keep an eye out for weight; some affordable units cast a lot of light, but the bulky hardware can weigh you down.
The next few pages highlight our favorites: