WHS reviews: Bicycle lighting guide: Guide and summary to the reviews and analysis section on my site

Herrmans H-track handheld

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.


Updates on this page

Sources to get bicycle lighting: Bicycle lamp brands vs. torch brands

There are 2 sources from which you can obtain bicycle lights:
1. lights from brands that deal esp. with the bicycle industry,
2. lights from brands that aim their products in particular at pocket lamp/flashlight/torch enthusiasts.

How these differ:

Judging a light from specifications?

For cutoff beams you usually see specifications in lux as that is the main requirement for StVZO:

How far can you see with it? Well that depends on the light distribution. To be able to see far a high lux rating is needed, but also the proper light distribution and more total output for a wider or longer beam. With 'how far' I mean that the beam illuminates the road well enough so that on a dark road you can make out small objects lying on the road at that distance. This doesn't mean that the beam will stand out compared to street lighting, and that isn't needed either as street lights should illuminate the road well enough for bicycling at those spots. Some examples of how far you can see with a given light, on an unlit road:

Lights for different power sources: 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 and/or videos

1. Headlamps

You may assume that a beam shot or video tells you all you need to know, but that is not the case. Beam shots and videos do NOT show what you see yourself when riding with a lamp. This comes from 1) psychological factors, 2) physiological factors (the human vision system adapting to the amount of light for example), and 3) limitations in cameras and computer screens that you need to be aware of to judge lamps (and to judge reviewers, on whether or not they know how to analyse by whether or not they take these issues into consideration and tell you about it).

When I started analysing bicycle lighting I found various odd differences that I came across related to how some beam shapes could annoy me and how the beam shots did not show what I saw in reality. As I said at the very start of my website (2008), beam shots are not enough, and my experiences really showed this: 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:

2. The issues of a lamp when riding with it that stem from the human vision system and psychological factors, and which you can deduce from beam shots, allows you to identify problem areas in lights from examining their beam shots:

I will describe some of these points in a bit more detail with some examples below, but there is more, see the analysis section for far more details.

2. Tailamps

Pictures/video: There are 2 useful types of pictures/video, looking at the projection onto a wall or corner to show where the light goes (beam shot), and looking at the taillamp as if following it so see what you would experience riding behind it (trailing shot).

Overflow of the camera sensor in beam shots/trailing shots: For taillamps a particular issue is the overflow of camera sensors that show yellow where the light is in fact red but at a high intensity. Further from beam shots or a video you cannot properly see that a taillamp has a too high intensity in cd/m2 (i.e. an almost 'point source' of light), which is what can cause partial blinding (in which case you will see a black circle around the taillamp and in that area you don't see anything).

Flashing is recommended in various places, I disagree, it attracts attention in a way that makes the road as a whole less safe except possibly on roads with very few vehicles outside cities. It makes distance estimation and speed estimation impossible, it gives others the feeling of a bicycle being stationary instead of moving. It makes it impossible to see whether a bicycle is going left or right from subtle movement indications that show this clearly with a steady taillamp.

More detail on judging headlamps

On my site I discuss and review mainly cutoff lights, as these are not just required in Germany, but 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", further I focus on them because they are better than circular beams in most circumstances for the following reasons:

What to look for in headlamps, on beam shots, in videos and riding with it in reality:

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.

More detail on judging taillamps

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 already in my review of a fairly strong headlight of ca. 550 lm, the Magicshine, in 2010, 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 who didn't know anything about this topic.

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. Even then I would only use a flashing yellow light, not red, as that is generally used as a warning signal. 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...
Even worse, flashing will actually attract people who are not paying attention into exactly following you (because of following the same path as others, the light becomes like a beacon), rather than passing you to the side, which means there is a higher change they run into you.

Interpreting beam shots, head-on/trailing shots: It is difficult to see how well a taillamp works from beam shots (projections onto a wall) and head-on-shots. With head-on shots, which is where you see the taillamp as you would experience it with someone else using that on his bicycle, i.e. with the light coming directly towards you, not reflected off of another surface, you still don't really see what you see in reality.

What to look for in taillamps:

There are many good and cheap taillamps so price is not an issue.

Suggestions: Nean brake taillamp (on Amazon) is the current price/performance winner, then the Büchel Wing, Spanninga Elips, Spanninga Solo, Spanninga Lineo, Axa Blueline and more. 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.

What to look for in dynamos:

Suggestions: SP PV-8/PD-8, Shimano DH-S 501/DH-3N80, Renak Enparlite, Velogical rim dynamo. Have a look at my summary: The best 3W (StVZO) (hub) dynamos.

Much more information and depth on these topics: Analysis and reviews

For much more details see the bicycle lighting analysis section and the bicycle lighting reviews section

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