The best front bike lights will not only enable you to see where you're cycling when daylight disappears, but they will also ensure you remain visible to the traffic around you at any time of day.
Of course, you should always run lights front and rear whatever the time of day, so to complete the set, take a look at our guide to the best rear lights for cycling. The northern hemisphere's summer is over and the days are noticeably shorter, but that doesn't mean you need to resort to the turbo trainer or Zwift. With the right lighting setup, you can keep pedalling for hours after the sun has set, and ride just as many miles as you did during the lighter months.
Like everything else in the bike industry, light technology is improving at a rate of knots with options available for all types of riders and terrain types.
Don't let the lack of daylight prevent you from taking your gravel bike to your favourite local loop or fitting mudguards to your road bike, throwing on your waterproof jacket and commuting through the darkness.
Scroll down for Cyclingnews' advice on what makes a good front bike light, and a roundup of our favourite, but if you're looking to head off the beaten path, Bike Perfect's guide to the best front mountain bike lights might be of interest.
What to look for in a front light
1. To see or to be seen
There are two distinct types of bike lights for cycling on the road, front lights that help you see and lights that help you be seen. All lights which are designed to help you see also aid with visibility, but not all lights designed for visibility are bright enough to light up the road in front of you.
Lights to help you see will often have larger lumen counts, have reflectors and a lens that throws a wide beam of light down the road, while lights for visibility will put out an unfocused beam in every direction.
If you’re commuting down a well-lit road or bike path, a simple flasher will probably suffice, but if you’re heading out for a nighttime training ride or your route is lit like the beginning of a horror movie, look for something brighter with a more road-specific beam pattern.
With advancements in LEDs and batteries, it's possible to buy bike lights that are several times more powerful than car headlights. Lights are rated in lumens, however, which is an imperfect measure because the calculation is based on the LED power and battery charge in ideal conditions. In the real world, lights deal with limitations created by circuitry, and thermal rollback (when a light automatically reduces its output to prevent from bursting into flames).
For riding on the road you don’t need a 5000-lumen light on your bars, something between 500 and 1500 lumens will do the trick.
Pretty much every light will use a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Some lights will be completely self-contained, while others will use a separate battery pack.
On the road, we tend to go more for self-contained lights which eliminate the awkward cables and cumbersome battery packs, the latter of which are usually bigger and considerably more substantial.
For lights that consist of the head and separate battery joined by a cable; you'll need to find somewhere to put the powerpack. As batteries degrade over time, external packs can be replaced or upgraded, and some brands even offer options with different capacities.
For riding on the road, a single light mounted to your handlebars would be more than enough to light the way - mountain bikers often use a helmet-mounted light to illuminate where they are looking, but for road riding these aren’t necessary.
Many front lights will come with a plastic/silicone handlebar mount, however, some of the more heavy-duty bike lights will have a dedicated mounting bracket, often made from aluminium for extra security. With the advent of out-in-front computer mounts, there are plenty of options which see a GoPro-style or brand-specific bracket on the underside; we like these as it cleans up your cockpit but still allows you to ride with a light.
If you’re commuting and you need to secure your bike outside with a bike lock, look for a light that can be quickly removed without tools.
5. Battery life
A light that won't last the entire duration of the ride is about as useful as mesh cycling shoes in the Arctic Circle. Take into account how long you're planning to ride for and budget a bit extra when looking at run time.
Also keep in mind that many batteries are affected by temperature, and the cold can have a severe effect on run time. If you live in an area where nighttime temps go below freezing, consider buying a bigger battery.
Knowing how much juice your light has left is also vitally important. Some bike lights have rudimentary green, orange and red battery indicator lights, while others will show you time or per cent remaining.
The best front bike lights you can buy today
Light up the way and record close passes and drivers behaving badly with a single unit
Lumens: 600 | Mounts: Go-Pro style | Price: £255 / $279 / AU$399
What started as a Kickstarter project spurred on by a time Kingsley Fiegert, Co-Founder of Cycliq, was hit with an object flung from a slingshot out of a passing car, has turned into full-coverage front- and rear-light camera combos. The Fly 12 is the front-facing piece of the puzzle and pairs 600 lumens to a full 1080p camera with built-in stabilisation, 60fps capability and a 135-degree field of view - something that no other light on the market can offer.
The light itself throws out a well-shaped beam for night time riding and features a home-safe mode where if the battery drops below five per cent the camera cuts out to extend run time.
The light also features Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity, an accompanying app, and a bike alarm, too.
Garmin Varia UT 800
Light at any speed
Lumens: 800 | Mounts: GoPro-style and Garmin quarter turn | Price: £149 / $100 / AU$249
There is nothing worse than outrunning the beam on your light on a ride after dark, and it can lead to some pretty scary moments on the bike. Garmin’s Varia UT 800 light aims to prevent just that by working with your Edge head unit to tailor the light to your speed.
The Varia light sends just the right amount of light down the road to match the speed you are riding. Unfortunately for the time being the ‘smart’ functions of the Varia are restricted to the Garmin Edge GPS computers.
Using a single CREE LED, Garmin says it offers 270-degrees of nighttime visibility and can be seen up to a mile (1.6km) away during the day. At full blast, the light will last a little over an hour and the light utilises a GoPro-style mount or can be paired with Garmin’s universal out-front mounts using the quarter-turn adaptor.
Knog PWR Road
Modular light that doubles as a powerbank
Lumens: 600 | Mounts: Quick release | Price: £85 / $90 / AU$120
Knog’s PWR lights are an innovative idea that pairs a light head to a battery pack, allowing you to customise the pieces depending on your riding situation. With a quick-release bar mount, the battery doubles as a power bank should you need you top up your phone or head unit — although you can't use the light at the same time.
The light gives you 600 lumens of brightness and throws a nice oval-shaped beam that you’re unlikely to outrun. Swapping between light modes is done by twisting the head, easily performed even with thick gloves, and the light modes themselves can be customised through the brand's ModeMaker app.
Even though the lights pull apart, they are fully sealed from dust and moisture.
Specialized Flux 900
4WD lights for your bike
Lumens: 900 | Battery: Internal | Mounts: Quick release | Price: £100 / $120 / AU$180
The Specialized Flux 900 headlight uses two separate LEDs with optics tuned similar to side-by-side 4WD driving lights - one shoots a narrowly focused beam well down the road while the other creates a wide flood, Specialized says this makes for 180-degree visibility.
Using a quick-release mount that is compatible with 22.2mm, 25.4mm, and 31.8mm handlebars, and can be flipped for use on either the left or the right of the stem, the Flux can be centred either above or below the stem with a long reach that won’t interfere with most computers or cables.
With four modes, the claimed runtime is three hours for a full charge. The light is self-preserving, and will continually decrease its brightness as battery life drops.
Exposure Strada MK10 SL
A dedicated road beam in a durable, well made unit
Lumens: 900 | Battery: Internal | Mounts: Bar and helmet | Price: £210 / $287 / AU$410
With a 900-lumen output, the Strada MK10 SL has Cree LEDs, is cable-free and features a road-specific beam which is optimised to light up the tarmac without blinding oncoming traffic.
The 3400mAH lithium-ion battery will give you two hours at full brightness and up to 36 hours on lower modes. The six-hour charge time isn't as fast as some of its contemporaries, but weighing in at 386g and at 100mm x 44mm in size, it's a compact front light that is built to last.
While we think the 900-Lumen MK10 SL is the best option, the Strada MK10 is available in three variations, topping out with the 1500-lumen MK10 SB (Super Bright).
Compatible with bars from 31.8mm to 35mm, it can be used on both your road and mountain bikes, but it's certainly designed for pounding the pavement.
The light features Exposure's OMS (Optimised Mode Selector) with a choice of 10 programs, so you shouldn't have any trouble finding the right brightness for your ride. Like all Exposure products, it's anything but cheap; however, in our experience, it's an investment that is well worth the cash.
Bongrater Ion 200 RT
Small but mighty, it's great for being seen
Lumens: 200 | Battery: Internal | Mounts: Silicone and Blendr **Price:** £45 / $60 / AU$80
Bontrager claims the Ion 200 RT is visible from up to 2km away in daylight. With only 200 lumens of power, the lens focuses the light into a retina-burning flash that makes it ideal for drawing attention.
Tipping the scales at a mere 40g the Ion uses a silicone mount or Trek’s Blendr mounting system, the light also has a built-in ambient light sensor to auto-adjust brightness for maximum 'be-seen' visibility. The beam pattern isn’t ideal for lighting up the road, so if you’re riding without streetlights after dark, we suggest looking at something with a higher lumen count and a more focussed beam pattern.
The Ion 200 RT is ANT+ and Bluetooth compatible and can be paired with your Garmin head unit to show battery status, change the light setting or toggle on/off.
NiteRider Lumina 1200
Long battery life and good beam pattern
Lumens: 1200 | Battery: Internal | Mounts: Bar and helmet **Price:** £100 / $110 / AU$150
The NiteRider Lumina front bike light has been around for a while in different guises, but the latest sees vast improvement for on-road users. There are numerous variations of the current Lumina, with lumen ratings going from 650 right up to 1800. The 1200-lumen model is our pick featuring a runtime of between one and 18 hours.
There are actually two versions of this 1200-lumen light; the more expensive of which comes with OLED screen to display which mode you're in and the remaining run time. In our experience, the OLED interface is clunky, and the version with a single button is cheaper and more user-friendly.
The included quick-release mount is secure but takes up a heap of bar real estate, however, K-edge makes a metal GoPro-style mount adaptor that solves the problem. Weighing 172g, the NiteRider Lumina has a crisp oval spotlight beam pattern and will burn for about two hours at full blast.
Lezyne Mini Drive 400 XL
Best brightness bang for buck
Lumens: 400 | Battery: Internal | Mounts: Silicone | Price: £30 / $29.99 / AU$N/A
Packing 400 lumens into an extremely compact unit, the Lezyne Mini Drive 400 features what it calls a MOR (Maximum Optical Reflection) lens to focus every lumen into the best possible beam pattern. Side reflectors help other road users see you when the light isn’t painting in their direction, and the CNC-machined casing does well to dissipate heat and resist the elements.
With seven modes (three solid, four flash modes, including a daytime flash) the light has built-in mode memory so the light returns to the mode it was in before being turned off. A simple silicone mount makes for a stable and faff-free install.
There is no need to rummage around for a charging cable as the Mini Drive 400 XL has a built-in USB stick that plugs directly into your computer or wall plug and a charge indicator lets you know how much battery the light has.