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road.cc front bike lights Beam Test 2024 — our big Beam Comparison Engine is live to help you choose the best front light for your riding

Now that the clocks have gone back, we've added another 43 lights to the road.cc Beam Comparison Engine. Compare and 'contrast' the output, beam shape and strength to help you pick the right bike light for you

Here we go again! The clocks have gone back in the UK, it's dark before teatime and we’ve flipped the switch on the latest version of our famous(ish) road.cc front light Beam Comparison Engine to help you choose from the best bike lights (or more specifically the best front bike lights) for your riding.

The above video is from 2022, but all the info is still relevant

The big Beam Comparison Engine: an introduction

The beam test is now an annual tradition at road.cc Towers, which sees Dave and Oli head to a pitch black country lane with Manny the mannequin to get photographs of all the beams in the test, before Dave locks himself in the shed for a few hours to plot shapes and make some graphs.  

Our beam test comparison data contains beam shots and data for 43 lights this year, and also includes historical data going back to 2015. That's quite a lot of lights, so you can directly compare hundreds of lights with one another. After it, we'll take a brief look at the various options in lighting technology and explain how we collect and express the data.

If you're looking for more detailed recommendations, be sure check out our guides to the best front bike lights and best bike lights (front and rear) with more buying advice and links to reviews of all the products that have made it in. While our reviewers reference the beam test where possible and compare to similar lights when scoring, beam shape and brightness isn't the be-all and end-all, and it's important to consider other practicalities like run time, modes, size, mounting etc. Between this feature and our buyer's guides, hopefully there's plenty of info to help you make a more informed choice before choosing your ideal front light. 

...anyway, back to the beam testing. If you have a nice big screen you can click here for the widescreen version (1400x1000px)

This year's lights – what have we learned?

Although some manufacturers, Exposure for example, tend to update their lights every year, there are plenty of lights in this year's selection that are a few years old. Cateye and Ravemen both have lights that are still current and have been in the range for at least three years. There's nothing wrong with that, they're good lights. The Lezyne range, on the other hand, is all new, but now that they've been updated we'd expect them to stay as they are into 2025.

We've got some enormously powerful lights in this line-up, but really they're for off-road use and not designed for your road bike. At the top end of road (or all-purpose) lights, about 2,500 to 3,000 lumens is where we're at now, and that's more than you'd ever need for a road ride. I'm pegging the optimum high beam for a road light at no more than about 1,600 lumens, especially if the light features a lens that flattens off the beam so less of it is going into the sky and more on the road.

Every year there are some "German beam" SvTZO-compliant lights in the mix; this time it's the Trek/Bontrager lights, but we still can't buy SvTZO lights from the likes of Cateye and Lezyne, who make them for the European market but don't bring them into the UK. They're a bit more widely available in the UK now, but they're still not that common. More likely your bike light will either have a basic round beam, or it'll use some kind of refractive lens to shape the output a bit and maximise the illumination. Exposure, Ravemen, Gaciron and Moon all have lights with refractive lenses.

LED technology and battery technology continues to improve incrementally behind the scenes, and the improved efficiency means improved runtimes for the same output. These days it's not hard to find a small torch-style light that'll run all night, on a beam setting that'll allow you to ride at a decent pace. If you'd offered 25-year-old me that when I was getting about an hour of usable light out of my Lumicycle system with its chunky battery pack and bulb straight out of your bathroom ceiling, I'd have bitten your hand off. 

> Do you remember Ever Ready bike lights? 

As we've said for a few years in a row now, the trend is still heading towards brighter and brighter lights; or at least, the most powerful settings on a lot of our selections are super bright, and more than you'd ever need on a road ride. 

The move to USB-C from Micro-USB for charging is continuing to gain pace, with almost all the brighter lights now charging with USB-C. Shorter charge times, a double-sided design and more widely-spaced contacts arguably makes USB-C better than Micro-USB for charging bike lights, so this steady evolution is a welcome one. 

How we collect beam data

We've collected lots of beam data so you can compare and contrast the different lights. Light manufacturers use a number of different metrics to describe light output. We've used lux here, but measured at a number of points across the width of the beam. That gives an indication of the brightness of the beam at the centre, the amount of peripheral light and the throw of the beam. We think that's the most useful measurement to compare directly. Specifically, we measured the lux value of the beam at two metres distance, in 10cm increments from the centre of the beam to 1m from the centre, giving eleven readings.

We've also included data on the shape of the beam, by taking a picture of each beam with the camera in the same position. Wider beams should appear wider, and if a beam isn't round you should be able to see what's going on with the shape.

To get a good idea of what each beam looks like, we set up a bike on a rig so that we could photograph the beams of all the different lights in a comparable way. Each of the beam shots was taken using the same settings on the camera: 28mm (effective 45mm), shooting for 1s at f29 on ISO6400, if you fancy doing some of your own. They're as directly comparable as they can be. If one looks brighter than another, that's because it was. Manny the high-vis-wearing mannequin is at 10m (the cones are 2m apart) and the car is 20m away.

Although we use the same piece of road every year, it's very hard to make the beam shots directly comparable to other years. If the road was particularly wet in one year, for example, that means less reflected light from the surface compared to a drier year, making the lights appear darker. So the only directly comparable shots are the ones taken in the same year. 

A word about logs

The graph displaying the beam data uses a logarithmic scale to display the output of the lights. If you understand or care about such things, here's why:

First, light beams follow an inverse square law regarding the strength of the light at increasing distance, because they're illuminating a two-dimensional plane. So at twice the distance, the light beam is spread over four times the area. Consequently, a light that is measured as twice as bright at its centre won't let you see twice as far. The logarithmic scale produces a more realistic visual comparison because of this.

Second, the variations in the amount of peripheral light, though much smaller than the variations in the centre, make a big difference to how much peripheral vision you get. The logarithmic scale amplifies these differences relative to the centre of the beam, so it's easier to see which unit is putting out more light at the sides.

And finally…

As we've already mentioned, bear in mind that having a very bright beam isn’t the whole story when it comes to deciding how good a bike light actually is. There are loads of other factors to take into consideration when it comes to finding the best light for the cycling you do, such as runtime, durability, ease of recharging, weather sealing, how good the clamping mechanism is etc, etc. It is a start, though.

Any of these lights we haven't already reviewed in full will be getting sent off to road.cc reviewers very soon. Our road.cc light beam comparison engine is pinned to the top of our features section, and lives on the road.cc homepage throughout the winter. It's also linked in both our best bike lights and best front bike lights buyer's guides.

Arriving at road.cc in 2017 via 220 Triathlon Magazine, Jack dipped his toe in most jobs on the site and over at eBikeTips before being named the new editor of road.cc in 2020, much to his surprise. His cycling life began during his students days, when he cobbled together a few hundred quid off the back of a hard winter selling hats (long story) and bought his first road bike - a Trek 1.1 that was quickly relegated to winter steed, before it was sadly pinched a few years later. Creatively replacing it with a Trek 1.2, Jack mostly rides this bike around local cycle paths nowadays, but when he wants to get the racer out and be competitive his preferred events are time trials, sportives, triathlons and pogo sticking - the latter being another long story.  

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20 comments

Avatar
matthewn5 | 3 months ago
1 like

BTW it's StVZO for Straßenverkehrs-Zulassungs-Ordnung.

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Blinded by the ... | 3 months ago
1 like

I started cycling to work earlier this year as we were transferred to a site closer to home, subsequently I purchased a new bicycle and LED lights for the front and rear, I purposely got lights that weren't ridiculously bright as I know how the bright, strobing lights are not only a huge distraction to drivers but as all bicycle lights don't seem to have any sort of beam pattern other than a blob so it just blinds the car drivers and inevitably cyclists don't aim their lights down either, they just put them on and leave it wherever it sits on the handlebars. All bicycle lights should by law have to have a beam pattern like cars do so as to reduce glare, this will also make it safer for cyclists as the car drivers won't be blinded by stupidly bright lights. The light I have for the front is only a £30 Halfords light but does the job and the beam pattern seems to be fairly flat/wide oval, still not a flat top beam like cars have but hopefully not too distracting for drivers. Also lights that flash/strobe in a variety of sequences should be banned, slow flash only and you should have to have one light facing forward that is on permanently not flashing, I saw a cyclist the other day with a light on that was set to a flash setting but the light was off much more than it was on, he must have travelled 20 meters with the light off then a quick double flash and off again.

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froze | 3 months ago
2 likes

This is a fantastic site for comparing the most commonly found lights on the market.

I was looking for a newer light with a strobe function, for under $150, after seeing this site I bought the NiteRider Lumina Pro 1100, similar to the Pro 1000 tested, I ended up finding it on their refurbished tab for just $40!  So I snagged it.   

The great thing about NiteRider headlights is that you can send it back when the battery will no longer accept a charge, and for around $30 they'll put a new battery in it, test it out, and fix anything that might be wrong, and reseal it, and send it back to you.  

The headlight beam pattern is a round beam, not a cutoff beam, this is a good beam for my primary use as a strobing light.  When I ride at night though I prefer my 16-year-old Philips Saferide 80, that light has a cut-off beam, but even though it was rated at 240 lumens, side by side on the road the Philips casts a brighter beam by quite a bit onto the road surface.  I also like the NR Lumina Pro due to its very rugged build quality.

I'm 70 years old, they say as a person ages they can't see as well at night because things look darker, I believe that to be true, but, I ride at night with the combination of the Philips SafeRide and the NR Lumina Pro, both are usually on their dimmer settings and I can see just fine for road riding, my average speed is around 18 mph, and don't even come close to overriding my lights, nor wish I had brighter lights, so all this noise about needing 2,000 lumens for road use is rubbish.  If the average car's low beams are run at 700 lumens and that car can travel down a highway with those on, why do we need 2,000 lumens or more when we travel at a much slower speed than car does?

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LookAhead | 3 months ago
4 likes

As big lumens have become the norm, I'm getting blinded with alarming frequency, and I suspect the problem is due more to genuine cluelessness than anything else.

A suggestion, then, for future tests: Show what the light looks like from the perspective of the mannequin and the car. (Yes, one can sort of get the point already by paying attention to how brightly illuminated the mannequin's face is, but most people are likely to miss that point or even to get the logic totally backwards--Oh, look how well illuminated the mannequin's face is. The light is really doing its job well!)

After all, while a light needs to illuminate one's own path, it really ought to do so in a way that is not discourteous to others and doesn't introduce new dangers into the situation. 

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Secret_squirrel | 3 months ago
3 likes

Im gobsmacked by the miserable narrow minded moany bastards on this thread.

Afaik Im not aware of another comparison like this - its literally taken hundreds if not thousands of man hours, unsocialable night ones at that, to put this together - FOR FREE - and all you can do is moan.

If you dont like just because it doesnt have your favourite light or it has the temerity to contain non-StVZO lights I suggest you do one and create your own, you selfish ungrateful turds.

Here endeth the rant.

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HoldingOn replied to Secret_squirrel | 3 months ago
2 likes

AND - I've just found the "order by price" option. 

Really useful comparison.

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chrisonabike replied to Secret_squirrel | 3 months ago
2 likes

Minor correction:

its literally taken hundreds if not thousands of man hours, unsocialable night ones at that, to put this together - AS PART OF THEIR BUSINESS - and all you can do is moan.

It's useful to me and a nice thing and I'm happy to pay the subs (or look at some ads if i can't be bothered to log in) anyway.  I wouldn't mind it if they did also include some euro-style lights though...  I'm starting to notice the intensity of other cyclists' lights in the last couple of years.  (Most are attached to ebikes though so they're not going to be reading road.cc stuff and then picking the most suitable...)

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cyclisto | 3 months ago
2 likes

Everybody wants to complain for missing some lights (including me for not including the cheapest possible models >1000lumens) but I do really have to congratulate for the photos with the rolldown and comparison feature.

I am searching for a light, maybe not found in your list one for my budget (I am a big cheapo), but technically you did a very good job, because ok lumens are good, but with this you can actually see the differences! Really good presentation!

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Rian_constant | 3 months ago
2 likes

its almost 2024 and still not a single LUPINE or SUPERNOVA light is included in the test. Arguably some of the worlds most highquality manufacturers with, yes very expensive, but incredible good beam patterns, runtimes and build quality. meanwhile some plastic cased LEDs that shine into traffic get top-marks....i dont get this "test"

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Sriracha replied to Rian_constant | 3 months ago
4 likes

Indeed. This, after all, is road.cc, not off.road.cc, and yet so many of the high-scoring lights are designed without much thought for other road users (hence no thought for the responsible cyclist either). Most are really just expensive torches.

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Secret_squirrel replied to Sriracha | 3 months ago
0 likes

I dont see why thats relevant.  Germans have a mandatory legal road beam pattern.  UK doesnt.  End of story.

Seems pretty weird that you want to force an arbitrary categorisation on something that doest have one in UK law.

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Cugel replied to Secret_squirrel | 3 months ago
3 likes
Secret_squirrel wrote:

I dont see why thats relevant.  Germans have a mandatory legal road beam pattern.  UK doesnt.  End of story.

Seems pretty weird that you want to force an arbitrary categorisation on something that doest have one in UK law.

Why is it weird? Are you just following the "not invented here" principle? Perhaps you feel that adopting a sensible and practical standard concerning the design of lights, to improve their function and utility, is an interference with your Bwitish rights, if the notion arose in that Germany rather than somewhere in The Midlands?

The article is a very useful one, though - after one has filtered a bit to remove as much marketing stuff as possible.   1

Avatar
Secret_squirrel replied to Cugel | 3 months ago
0 likes
Cugel wrote:

Are you just following the "not invented here" principle? Perhaps you feel that adopting a sensible and practical standard concerning the design of lights, to improve their function and utility, is an interference with your Bwitish rights,

Not at all.  It probably makes a lot of sense - however moaning about the lack of one on a page dedicated helping people buy lights of all shapes and sizes is a pretty pointless exercise.

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Sriracha replied to Secret_squirrel | 3 months ago
3 likes
Secret_squirrel wrote:

I dont see why thats relevant.  Germans have a mandatory legal road beam pattern.  UK doesnt.  End of

It's relevant because any responsible road cyclist wants a light that lets them see the road without preventing others seeing the road. The one without the other is obnoxious at best. Just because the Germans have seen the light does not mean we shouldn't.

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Rian_constant replied to Sriracha | 3 months ago
2 likes

exactly this. Even thought the germans overdo it with their rules for bike lights, every road bike user should aim for a light with a cut off pattern that does not blind traffic. there is a reason why the new magicshine lights for road all have one: it produces better light for on road use and makes us cyclists a little bit less hated by cars.
I myself even prefer when someone has a proper cut/off pattern light and is coming towards me on the bike. 
Lupine and supernova also has some non cut off bean light patterns but arguable yes they are for offroad use and might not fit in here, point taken but then i wonder why the monster magicshine light is being featured as well...which is very much a MTB light

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Secret_squirrel replied to Rian_constant | 3 months ago
0 likes
Rian_constant wrote:

its almost 2024 and still not a single LUPINE or SUPERNOVA light is included in the test. Arguably some of the worlds most highquality manufacturers with, yes very expensive, but incredible good beam patterns, runtimes and build quality. meanwhile some plastic cased LEDs that shine into traffic get top-marks....i dont get this "test"

Feel free to make your own comparison engine.  We'll wait.

Avatar
lesterama | 3 months ago
6 likes

@road.cc, we need beam comparisons only for lights with dipped beams.

Now that we have more and more high-powered lights, can you please stop promoting any lights without dipped beams? Dazzling drivers and pedestrians isn't a good look. 

Avatar
Secret_squirrel replied to lesterama | 3 months ago
1 like
lesterama wrote:

@road.cc, we need beam comparisons only for lights with dipped beams.

We really dont.  Cylcing in the dark covers much more than your narrow use case.

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Rian_constant replied to Secret_squirrel | 3 months ago
2 likes

wow your a grumpy one, eh? haha seems like you enjoy blinding cars and trolling cyclists that like to push the industry in the right direction.

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Sriracha | 3 months ago
1 like

You managed to get the video advert thing to play on mobile; why can't you make your actual content work on mobile? The wiper/compare thing for the beam photographs, never has worked on mobile as far as I can tell.

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