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:
The Best Bike Lights for the Trail: CygoLite Expilion 700
Of our four LED headlight picks, the one with the best combination of beam, weight, and price is the CygoLite Expilion 700. For $140, you get 700 lumens in a one-piece aluminum case that weighs a mere 4.9 ounces. CygoLite engineered the reflector to both cast wide and throw deep so you can see what’s coming while bombing hills. It charges in five hours for about 90 minutes on full intensity or twice that on medium.
The Best Bike Lights for the Trail: Cateye + HL-EL625RC Nano Shot
Cateye’s 5.6-ounce HL-EL625RC Nano Shot feels incredibly light when mounted on your helmet or handlebars, and casts a strong 600-lumen beam that extends way out in front of your mountain bike. This one-piece unit from Japan conveniently charges from any device with a USB plug. It’s not the brightest in the bunch, and takes longer to charge than the other selections (an eight-hour powerup), but its $120 price tag delivers the best value.
The Best Bike Lights for the Trail: SpokeGrenade SG-1000
For two or three times the price, you will not find a brighter headlight than the SpokeGrenade SG-1000. This 1,000-lumen lamp will spot roots and gnarly gravel patches at 50 feet while cruising at high speed on a moonless night. Hell, it can probably track enemy aircraft from the ground. Its sealed silicon housing resists water for truly swampy treks as well. However, it doesn’t charge via USB and weighs a whopping 13.8 ounces.
The Best Bike Lights for the Trail: NiteRider MiNewt Pro 750
NiteRider’s MiNewt Pro 750 is a well designed LED headlight that shines brighter than a klieg light far up the trail. Even on varied terrain at 25mph, you cannot out-ride its 750-lumen beam. NiteRider, the southern California bike light specialist, has impressed riders for years by engineering great trail illumination for both commuters and top competitors. Good optics differentiate this $250 unit, which mounts on a helmet or handlebars. On the downside, at 7.6 ounces, it weighs more than the CygoLite or Cateye and has a bulkier two-piece design.