Bicycle lighting guide: Guide and summary to the reviews and analysis section on my site
Guide and summary to the lighting section on my site
The lighting section on my site contains a lot of material, from analysis to reviews. The analysis section but also the early reviews tell you why certain technical aspects of products are good or bad, from LED light colour, overexposure close to you, beam pattern, vibrations from dynamo hubs etc. So after a query I decided to make this overview/summary as a guide for those new to my site who want to quickly find out what their choices are and what they should look for in products.
Addition 2021-5-25: Addition of the importance of awareness on how to judge beam shots and reviews, and that beam shots are not enough to tell which light is the best.
See the section "Be aware of the problems beam shots not showing what you see, and of psychological issues, to judge lamps". This is not just needed to be able to interpret what beam shots show, but also in order to judge whether other reviewers actually understand the matter they are reviewing...
Addition 2021-4-7: Sources: Bicycle lamp brands vs. torch brands
There are 2 sources of bicycle lights:
1. lights from brands that deal esp. with the bicycle industry,
2. lights from brands that aim their products in particular at torch enthusiasts.
Comments about lights from these sectors:
- From the bicycle lighting sector you will get:
- Headlights almost always use cool white LEDs. Exceptions; Herrmans H-one S 2nd version, and the Roxim D6 [ and in the past the Philips Saferide 40, 60, 80 were made in neutral white versions ].
Some notes: I estimate that the H-one S' LED is in the 4000-4500K range, but I can't check as mine was on my stolen Cannondale Vintage and I didn't like the light's beam pattern enough to buy a new one.
The Roxim D6 has a LED light colour of probably around 5000K, pretty good, but could be improved. The real problem with this light is that is so hard to get hold of. I don't understand why Roxim doesn't put in more effort to get e.g. manufacturers to use it, it's better than most headlights that I tried as a combination of light colour, beam pattern and the lack of artefacts and hotspots in the main section of the beam.
- Dynamo lights. These come from this sector, not from the torch producers because they aim at battery power in their torches and thus the electronics and they use that in their bike lights too. Dynamo lights are invariably underpowered, not really changing much in output since the original Edelux in 2008 which produced 180 lm at 30 km/h. Why aren't current headlights producing much more? This should already happen from more efficient LEDs, and it is possible to work around the power requirements in StVZO for more power and say 400 lm neutral white output from a dynamo, but no company I contacted was interested in making such dynamo lights. Beam patterns are nowhere near optimal too...
- From the torch sector sector, and from brands that are relatively unknown who are selling items on, say, Aliexpress, you can find almost exclusively battery powered lighting, and more recently some of the Aliexpress sellers sell e-bike lighting.
- Many claim to be 'German compliant' but are not actually approved and don't have sharp cutoffs. Any light that has a flashing mode is NOT approved...
- Most of them use cool white light. This is even though in the torch industry there is more attention to using neutral white LEDs and even high CRI LEDs.
- You cannot usually buy such lights in a bicycle shop. You can buy them mostly online (amazon, ebay, banggood, etc., or even the manufacturers' own websites)
Power source: dynamo, battery, bike's battery
For a standard bicycle the choice in bike lighting is dynamo or battery powered lighting. I prefer dynamo lighting which is essentially an always full battery. With battery powered lighting I need to think about charging and I get into situations too often of a light cutting out on me.
For a pedelec or e-bike you could use battery powered lights but you may want to use e-bike lights which vary from standard power (similar to 2.4W dynamo headlamps) to high powered (10W or more), and from low priced to very expensive such as the Lupine SL (400 euros or more). What you can use on your pedelec depends on the system, old Bosch systems for example only support standard 2.4W+0.6W lighting. I dived into this related to a question from a manufacturer and figuring out which system supports what was quite a bit of work...
Be aware of the problems in reviews and in estimating the qualities of a light from beam shots as these do not show what you see, and be aware of psychological issues, to judge lamps (and to judge reviewers if they don't take these issues into consideration)
I analysed various odd differences that I came across, related to how some beam shapes can annoy me and how the beam shots do not show what I see in reality. As I said at the very start of my website (2008), beam shots are not enough, a description of a (competent) reviewer is essential to make you understand what you can actually expect from a light:
1. The issues with beam shots from cameras, monitors and other reasons:
- I figured out the reason of one of the biggest problems in beam shots not showing what you experience in reality, and that is what I call 'perspective over-accentuation of the near field': What is close to the camera takes up the largest space on the beam shot compared to the rest of the road further on, and thus if a light lights up brightly close to the bike, it will seem very bright (as an impression from that beam shot) because a large area on screen is brightly lit up, but that is not how you experience it in reality...
- Cameras and computer monitors have a limited dynamic range, you will see in reality a lit up area to the sides of beam that the camera shows, where the beam shot shows 'black'...
2. The issues shown in beam shots that you need to know about which are caused by psychological and physiological effects, knowledge of which allows you to identify problem areas in lights from examining their beam shots:
- Sharp edges attract your attention which is bad (attention grabbed in one area is attention lost from another area).
- Artefacts within the beam make it so that you can't judge whether the unevenness you see is from the road or from the light. [ this is why I don't recommend any B&M lights after the original Edelux, they are generally overexposed close to you (e.g. the Luxos is pretty bad in this respect, which you notice esp. with rain) and/or have a lot of artefacts in the main beam. ]
- I will describe some of these points below, but there is more, see the analysis section for details.
On my site I discuss and review mainly cutoff lights, as these are not just required in Germany, a cutoff beam for a headlamp is in case of strong headlights implicitly required in many countries even if not stated in the rules, by virtue of having a general rule "do not blind other traffic", but I also focus on them because they are better than circular beams in most circumstances for the following reasons:
- They are far more effective in lighting up the road, a factor of 3x-5x from my tests, which is caused by a combination of various factors, in particular:
- Not overexposing the near field (areas close to you), as an overexposure close to you means your eyes will adjust to that which makes the rest seem more dim...
[ An experiment that I did long ago and pointed out in one of my videos goes as follows: I put a bit of red tape on the rim of a black smartphone. I watched the red tape, then switched the phone's screen on while keeping my eyes locked onto the red tape, and what I saw was that the red tape became dimmer... ]
- A distribution of light in which most gets onto the road instead of almost half going upwards
- They don't annoy (sometimes it can even become: blinding) oncoming traffic from shining too much light into the eyes of other road users. Annoying people means taking away their attention from everything else which means making the road less safe. Note that the nature of cutoff lights, with a very high light density at the top of the beam, means that aiming them correctly is very important. When aimed too high they blind oncoming traffic more than most round beams.
What to look for in headlamps:
- Beam pattern: There are some issues with certain beam shapes and patterns:
- Beam shapes such as a long straight area with sudden drop to near dark can give the feeling of being trapped in a tunnel of light. This is a weird sensation that I had read about, and later experienced myself when using the Cyo R.
- This headlamp also has very sharp corners which attract your attention.
- Artefacts outside the main beam are not very distracting as I experienced with the Philips Saferide 80.
- Artefacts (patterns) in the main beam (i.e. what you see on the road) are often bad as these distract you from reading the surface, to see where there are bad sections of the road and to evade holes.
- Light colour of the LED: Neutral white is far better than cool white, but few headlamps use such LEDs (e.g. for dynamo the Roxim D6, but it's very hard to find). This is caused by people not being able to look beyond "It's bright" that manufacturers then cater to...
- The total light output and lux rating are only guides, but note that a low lux rating means that you can't see far with it as that needs a lot of light at the top of the beam as that section gets spread out over a large area. So I would suggest up to 40 lux is fine for cycling with lower speed cycling on roads lying beside roads for motorised vehicles (which blind you because of the asymmetric cut off in beam shapes for these vehicles, i.e. the light is not cut off at all on one side, which from the view of the vehicle is the right side in countries where you drive on the right hand side of the road). I would suggest looking for lights with a lux rating of 60 or more when riding a lot on roads outside of cities with no street lighting or where you ride a lot on bicycle paths besides roads for vehicles where you get this issue of seeing the asymmetric light from those vehicles.
- For headlamps there is no need at all for flashing under any circumstance. You just need to be seen (a to-be-seen light suffices in most cities, if that is allowed in your country) and outside cities or in cities with poor street lighting you will need a to-see light (which always is a to-be-seen light too due to the light going above the horizon) that properly illuminates the road. Further you will see oncoming traffic and can avoid it usually if something weird happens, and as you are already on the other side of the road, that you need to be seen beyond that which a steady light shows that oncoming traffic, is unlikely.
You may think that blinking is good to attract attention, however that only works in small numbers (which means it wouldn't work in NL nor Germany if it was allowed to use such lights there). I've given some arguments in my reviews and in the analysis section as to why this is bad, even in small numbers of cyclists using such lights. One is that grabbing attention means taking that attention away from all the rest that happens on the road thus making it less safe.
- Price, as good headlamps vary a lot in price, usually more expensive headlamps have a higher light output and higher lux rating.
Suggestions: Spanninga Axendo 40, Axendo 60, and for e-bike the Axendo 80, for battery all these options area available too. Have a look at the summary: The best dynamo headlamps.
The choice you have in good taillamps is fairly large these days. There are plenty of taillamps with a good light distribution, but poor taillamps with near point sources of light still abound and these are problematic in both other road users not being able to estimate distance/speed, but also in actually causing a certain amount of blindness coming from the effect of high brightness in a small spot in the eye, and everything around that area becoming dimmer due to automatic adjustment of the visual system. I mentioned that this can happen in my review of a fairly strong headlight of ca. 550 lm, the Magicshine, which caused total blindness at a certain distance, and with taillamps this is also possible. Usually it is a smaller circle of 'blackness' around that taillamp as I described in my rebuttal of the inane post by a moderator on candle power forums. Flashing is generally not good as I mentioned, there may be reasons to use them on e.g. long roads where cyclists are not expected (Australia, perhaps USA too), but I'd use them then only in fairly desolate areas, and only along with another steady taillamp. Note that the general argument that attracting attention is good is not convincing at best: It takes away attention from everything else which does not make the road as a whole safer, on the contrary, but also there are plenty of reasons why they don't help: The people who are likely to run into you are likely to run into you no matter what lighting you use. There are plenty of stories of people running into police cars and ambulances with their emergency lights on (and sirens) who then claimed that they didn't see (nor hear) these vehicles...
What to look for in taillamps:
- Large illuminated area (so that some distance estimation is possible with a single taillamp, and to not have a too high intensity (cd/m^2))
- For rear rack mounted taillamps: Is the taillamp available in 80mm or 50mm mounting width? This may matter depending on the rear rack if you mount it there. Spanninga make their taillamps with fixed-width mounting available only in 80mm since a few years (except for OEM sales for bike makers who may order a large number)...
- A good taillamp should not be flashing. From my own experiences of seeing (experiencing) a cyclist with a flashing taillamp as 'non-moving' I realised when analysing a report on an accident in which a cyclist was cut off and run down by a motorist going to the right, despite having many taillamps, that there is a problem with speed perception of such a motorist after overtaking a cyclist with a flashing taillamp (or multiple flashing taillamps), as the motorist has no sense of speed at all of any vehicle that uses a flashing light after overtaking it, and that means that in his perception, once he has passed such a cyclist, he has passed an object that has no speed and thus the cyclist is 'gone' in his perception (and that means that he thinks it is safe/ok to turn right even with the cyclist just behind him). This is a psychological effect that needs to be taken into account. There are more factors, see the analysis section.
There are many good and cheap taillamps so price is not an issue.
Suggestions: Spanninga Elips, Solo, Lineo, Axa Blueline. Have a look at the summary here: The best (dynamo) taillamps. There are e-bike and battery powered versions of these taillamps too.
Most dynamos these days are gearless hub dynamos. The disadvantages of these are flickering light at low speeds (below 7 km/h), and vibrations in the handlebar (depending esp. on the front fork and riding speed). The advantage is no noise. The Renak Enparlite 2 is the only geared dynamo hub and that gives no vibrations but has a fairly loud noise (I've discussed options and mr. Wangermann has looked into changing the dynamo, perhaps it will lead to improvements). This is similar in loudness to the noise of sidewall dynamos. The Pedalcell USB dynamo doesn't directly power lights, but has 2 USB outputs of which one can of course be used to power a light for long night time rides, if the light allows charging + using at the same time. It also has a low noise level compared to standard sidewall dynamos and compared to the whine of the Velogical rim dynamos.
What to look for in dynamos:
- Type: gearless dynamo hub, geared dynamo hub, rim dynamo, perhaps a dynamo with USB output otherwise you can use a converter with a standard dynamo/dynamo hub but that normally means a switch to select between output to USB or lights. I would normally not recommend a sidewall dynamo running on a tyre. The lighting you can use with dynamos having only a USB output is then of course only battery powered with USB input for charging.
- Neither weight nor efficiency are much of an issue in what speed loss you get, I would not let these factors influence a decision.
Suggestions: SP PV-8/PD-8, Shimano DH-S 501/DH-3N80, Renak Enparlite, Velogical rim dynamo. Have a look at summary: The best 3W (StVZO) (hub) dynamos.
Analysis and reviews
For more details see the bicycle lighting analysis section and the bicycle lighting reviews section
Last modified: 2018-9-14