The Perfect Bike Light: What a Cyclocrosser Should Look For

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It's more than just lumens and price when looking at lights for cyclocross. © Razor512 on flickr

It’s more than just lumens and price when looking at lights for cyclocross. © Razor512 on flickr

With Daylight Savings ending a week ago, cyclocrossers throughout the States (except Hawaii and most of Arizona) are lamenting the change as there’s now minimal daylight for training after work.

If you’ve got your eye on late-season races, a series title, or perhaps a run at a national championship title in Boulder come January, unless you’re Matt Kelly, you’re going to need to find a way to train outside. If you don’t have the luxury of morning or lunchtime rides, and if you commute to work, a good bike light is essential training equipment.

These next few days we’ll be looking at a few light systems in hopes of finding the perfect cyclocross light so that you can extend your training into the darker hours without needing night vision goggles or echolocation. So what’s the criteria?

Trying to find the perfect cyclocross light. © Cyclocross Magazine

Trying to find the perfect cyclocross light: A few of our test lights. © Cyclocross Magazine

Choosing the right bicycle light for your needs should involve more than looking at lumens or candlepower and price. Lumens measures total light emitted in all directions, and we all know the pattern of that beam matters. Just like tire widths, there’s also a difference between listed and measured lumens. (We won’t be measuring brightness of lights, since there’s so much more to lights than measuring the brightest spot, although our friends at MTBR.com do a great job of measuring the output of lights in lux units in their light shootout.)

We contend that a cyclocrosser’s light needs are a bit unique. They’re more specific and intense than a commuter’s, and certainly different than a mountain biker’s. While a cyclocrosser may also commute and go for long mountain bike rides at night, come cyclocross season, we think there are a few cyclocross-specific criteria that you should look for in lights if you need a light for cyclocross practice or training:

  1. Rechargeable. Most lights are rechargeable nowadays, but don’t be tempted by the cheaper, disposable battery-powered units. Sure, you can put in some rechargeable batteries, but these lights tend to be dim, and the inconvenience of taking batteries in and out isn’t worth it if you’re going to use your light regularly. 
  2. Self-Contained. We’ve dealt with cords and external battery packs, in both water-bottle and velcro-attached formats, and can’t count the number of times a cord pops loose during a barrier or shouldering run. Remounting is hard enough. Doing it in the dark is asking for trouble. And taping everything together is sticky and slow.
    There’s a growing category among bicycle headlights, and it’s the “Crossover” or “Hybrid” category of headlights that’s more than just a commuter “visibility” light but not quite designed for burn times or brightness demanded by the 24-hour mountain bike crowd. They’re typically self-contained lights with a built-in rechargeable battery, with burn times more than an hour and brightness to still ride off road. Sounds perfect for cyclocross, right? That’s the category we’ll be looking at primarily in our reviews.
  3. Bright enough. You probably won’t be bombing down technical terrain at 30mph at cyclocross practice, but you probably want to see your barriers, ruts and wet corners when training, and need enough light to be seen by cars when on the road. 200-300 lumens is probably the bare minimum if you hope to better see where you’re going, rather than just be seen. But lumens is really only half the equation, since beam pattern and focus matters. LEDs are the name of the game—halogen and “stadium” lights are all but dead now, but lights employ LEDs in different quantities and brightness to modify the beam pattern.
  4. Weatherproof-ness. We don’t need to tell you that cyclocross happens in rain, snow, ice or shine, and if you’re hard enough to train regardless of the weather, you want your light to perform as well.

Of course, it goes without saying, we all want fast, easy recharging, long battery life and great brightness in an affordable, durable package. What do you look for in a light for cyclocross training? Drop a comment below.

See our recent light reviews:

And stay tuned as we attempt to brighten your week and bring you more reviews of a handful of lights this week.

Need it in a flash? Check out past reviews of the Knog Blinder 4V and Serfas Thunderbolt. Also see this timeless classic: “Riding the Night Train – Tips and Tricks for Cyclocross Training at Night.”

 

 

Cyclocross Magazine, Issue 22, Print and digital subscriptionsHave you subscribed yet? You're missing out if not. Get all-original content and your cyclocross fix throughout the year with a subscription and Issue 23 back copy, with features on Lars van der Haar, Jonathan Page, Elle Anderson and more!
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5 comments
AKLoy
AKLoy

I look for Compact, Self Contained, good run times, USB/Wall rechargeable, very bright/versatile steady/flash/walk modes, good customer service, and a decent price. I've personally been happy with the Niterider Lumina lights which have all those characteristics. All while being made in the USA! 

Definitely agree with handlebar/helmet combo. If only one light go with the helmet. Lets you look where you're going while training, night racing, and on the way home lets you direct light at turning and approching vehicles to say hello! (Remember to wave and say thank you).




craigmacintyre
craigmacintyre

Lots of light!  I think that for a crosser you need to have the same as a mountain biker.  If you can only do one, put it on your helmet.  Two is ideal with the lower power on your bars or frame (forward) and the higher power on your helmet.  I generally run a 500 lumen on the bars and a 750 on my helmet.  Unless there is a strange reason, both get run about half power and it is plenty.

Remember, do not look your fellow riders in the eye without turning off the helmet light.  750 on full will seriously hurt... Also, do not forget a tailight - even off road.  I like the blinky ones.  Given how slow off road riding is, this is plenty and opens a whole new world up.

Neil Armstrong
Neil Armstrong

Good article and the tips article is a must read especially the part about multiple lights. Best tip I can give is to have more than one light, helmet mount and bike mounted. Helmet to see various terrain and around corners etc and bike mount for people to see you and general area in front. I just got a pair of Tacx Handlebar mounted lights for 29 bucks. The go into the ends of your handlebars and light the way forward and have red lights pointing back all on double A.

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