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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The 4 Best Bike Taillights to Keep You Safe on The Road

The LEZYNE Zecto Drive Max mounted on a gravel bike next to a cornfield.
Ian Slack

To stay safe as a cyclist, you have to be seen. There are many ways you can do this, but a bright, blinking red light is one of the best. If you ride bikes, you need a good taillight.

What to Look for in a Bike Taillight

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, hundreds of cyclists are killed each year by cars, and thousands more are injured. Just about every cyclist who regularly rides on the road has a close-call horror story to tell you, and the reasons are many.

Like motorcycles, bicycles present a smaller visual profile to drivers, which makes cyclists harder to spot. There’s also the problem of distracted motorists looking at their phones, and drivers who don’t know how to pass bikes properly.

It’s important to do anything you can to keep yourself safe, including always wearing a helmet and colorful clothing. NHTSA statistics also show that more crashes happen in daylight than after dark. This means you need a bike taillight that’s also clearly visible in bright sunlight, so drivers can see you when you’re ahead of them.

The good news is advancing LED technology makes it possible for bike taillights to get brighter each year. For a minimal investment, you can get a lightweight lamp that easily attaches to your bike and is bright enough for drivers to notice in any lighting conditions.

Here are some key things to think about as you look for a new blinky:

  • Replaceable or rechargeable battery: Many budget taillights on the market feature replaceable batteries, but we think rechargeable is the better choice. It’s difficult to know how long replaceable batteries will last, and you don’t want your light to die in the middle of a ride. With rechargeables, the manufacturer provides an estimate of how long the light will burn in each setting. You can also verify that on your own, so you know when you need to recharge your light. Or, you can just recharge it after every ride. It’s a safer, more reliable strategy. It’s also better for the environment because you won’t have to throw batteries in the trash constantly.
  • The lumens rating: The brightness of regular light bulbs is generally measured in wattage. Most people understand the difference between a 100-watt bulb versus a 40-watt bulb. For the new, energy-efficient LED technology, though, watts aren’t an accurate indicator of power. These are measured in lumens—a more exact measurement of the amount of light a device projects. There’s usually a correlation between how much you spend and what you get when it comes to brightness. So, how many lumens do you need? There isn’t a specific answer, but around 100 lumens (or more) is necessary if you want to be easy to see in daylight.
  • Battery life: Another important point to think about when you shop for a bike taillight is battery life. You’ll need to consider the kind of riding you do. For example, an urban commuter might only need one hour of life at a light’s highest setting between charges. However, if you do training rides of four to five hours, long battery life will be at the top of your list.
  • Mounting options: You attach a lot of bike taillights to your seat post or bike frame with convenient rubber mounting straps. These wrap around the tube like a rubber band, so you can mount and remove them quickly. Others have brackets, and you slide the light on and off to recharge it. If you want to attach the light to your helmet, backpack, or clothes, make sure the one you choose includes an appropriate clip to do so. Many lights offer a variety of mounting options in the same package to give you maximum flexibility.
  • Water resistance: If you get caught in the rain, your bike’s taillight will be soaked. The rear wheel also throws up a considerable amount of spray when it’s damp outside—just wear a light-colored jersey and check out the spray pattern on the back when you get home. So, a taillight’s water-resistance rating is important, too. Check out the customer reviews of the light you’re interested in. Find out if the light is well-sealed and if the cover over the recharging port protects it from moisture.

Rather than picking one “best” bike taillight, we recommend a range of options based on price and different needs. If you’re a casual rider, you don’t need to spend a lot to get a good rechargeable light. At higher price levels, you get more options, longer burn times, and some really cool safety features.

Best Budget: Cygolite Hotshot 100 USB

The Cygolite Hotshot 100 USB.

For less than $20, the Cygolite Hotshot 100 USB is a great rechargeable bike taillight. You’ll get 2.5 hours of runtime from the built-in Li-ion battery at its highest, 100-lumen setting. Cygolite claims on lower settings, you can stretch that to a remarkable 270 hours. There are six setting options in total for day and night: Steady, Zoom, SteadyPulse®, Triple Flash, DayLightning®, and Random Flash. Cygolite says the DayLightning mode “emits lightning-like flashes to highlight your presence in the brightest of daytime hours.”

It’s small, water-resistant, and weighs only 59 grams. The package includes a seat post and seat stay mounts. There’s also a clip on the back of the light you can attach to a backpack or your clothes.

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