Rear bike lights review

Whenever the night time visibility question comes up in my mind I think three things:

  1. Bike lights
  2. Maintaining a prominent road position even if it inevitably annoys some drivers
  3. Establishing eye contact with the car behind you every 3-4 seconds (keeps their mind on you)

Today, I’ll be dealing with the first. The other two have been dealt with before.

Which rear bike light is right for you?

This is a good question to ask yourself as a number of factors come into play:

  • Where does your evening commute take you? If it’s down dark country lanes you are going to want something very bright that lets drivers know what’s up ahead. If your commute is more through central London which is mostly covered with some street lighting then you can opt for a less powerful rear bike light.
  • Re-chargeable rear bike lights are becoming more common. Often via USB. Is this a convenience you’d appreciate having or would you rather stick with AA batteries that last longer?
  • Rear bike light mounting – do you want the mounting to detach quickly to fit on your other bikes?
  • Size – If your cycling bag is already looking overburdened then you may appreciate something a smaller light that doesn’t compromise on brightness.
  • The hub dynamo effect – Dynamo lights have a strong, devoted following and may suit you if your bike can be adapted to fit one.

(Looking for front bike lights? Checkout this post)

The best rear bike lights

Of course “the best rear bike lights” is always going to be subjective but I’ve tried to roundup rear bike lights here that have either been consistently mentioned by blog readers, have overwhelming positive reviews or I have a positive experience with.

Blackburn flea rear bike lightBlackburn Flea 2.0 USB rear

(£21.99, Chain Reaction Cycles)

This rear bike light ticks so many of the boxes, it was impossible it wouldn’t be the first one I mentioned. USB chargeable (no more expensive batteries!), bright despite it’s small size and can quickly be mounted and dismounted. It also features a battery life indicator meaning it won’t suddenly let you down. Waterproofing is excellent and so is the price on Chain Reaction Cycles. Only downside: As this light uses rechargeable batteries the life isn’t huge so you’ll have to charge often – however thanks to USB attachment it’s easy to do this when you get to work.

Exposure flare rear bike lightExposure Flare

(£35.99, Chain Reaction Cycles)

The Exposure Flare stands out for a number of reasons. To start with its a bright bike light but it also has an innovative mode that continuously glows and has a pulsating beam. This is great for attracting attention and making you visible. The light is turned on through a twisting motion which prevents it accidentally turning on in your bag. The mounting is also quick and easy. If you are looking for maximum visibility you may well opt for the Exposure Flare. Downside: the high price!

Knog Skink rear bike light

Knog Skink rear bike light(£13.99, Amazon)

I’m currently running the Knog Skink on the back of my bike. I find the amount of light it provides combined with the quick and easy mounting to suit me well. I’ve also been very impressed with the battery life – I’ve yet to replace the batteries since purchasing. Some people have reported water getting into the unit during heavy downpours although, personally, I’ve never had this happen. Perhaps the best part of the Knog Skink: Price. Just £13.99 on Amazon.

Your rear bike light?

If you are using a rear bike light you’d highly recommend then please leave a comment with the price, the brightness and what you like/dislike about it.

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25 Responses to Rear bike lights review

  1. Bikefan 13/04/2011 at 9:46 am #

    I am currently using three rear lights, all battery-run:

    >> In the usual place under the saddle: Cateye TL-LD1100 £31.49 at Evans (http://www.evanscycles.com/products/cateye/tl-ld1100-10-led-rear-light-ec007955)

    I’ve tried quite a few lights, and keep coming back to this one. It’s the 10 LED one, but what I like best is that it lets you set the two sets of LEDs on different flash modes. I leave one set flashing and have the other on steady, to give the best of both worlds. It also lights up at the side to give some side visibility.

    >> Attached to one seatstay: Planetbike Superflash, which is the US version of the Smart Lunar £14.99 (http://www.evanscycles.com/products/smart/lunar-4-1-2-watt-rear-light-ec020482)

    I had this as my main light for a while, but it has now returned to seatstay duty. It’s a very bright light for the price, and I’d certainly recommend it.

    >> Attached to the other seatstay: Fibreflare rear light £27.99 (http://www.evanscycles.com/products/fibreflare/rear-light-ec021737)

    A novelty buy, really. This is a long strip that lights up – difficult to describe, have a look at the link. Upside is that it probbaly gets some attention just for being unusual. In theory, you can also attach it to different places (back of backback, back of jersey, etc), although I couldn’t find anywhere else for it in my particular set-up, and it’s ended up on the seatstay. I’m not sure I would recommend this as much more than a fun toy.

    I’m keen to try the ones you recommend – esp the USB one! But I’m not sure I can justify buying what would be my 9th rear light…

  2. John 13/04/2011 at 9:48 am #

    Only a month ago on this blog NicoleP was recommending the Cateye rear light.

    She wrote:
    “I have a Cat-Eye front and rear light set that I bought about 17 years ago. The rear Cateye light is amazing. I use it everyday and to my knowledge I’ve only had to change the battery once. I don’t know how that can be but it just is.”
    (see http://www.londoncyclist.co.uk/cycling-accessories/my-night-time-set-up/ )

    But you leave it out completely!

  3. botogol 13/04/2011 at 10:20 am #

    would you really look behind you and establish eye contact with the car behind you every 3-4 seconds????????

    that’s a lot of time not looking where you are going!

    • Filippo Negroni 13/04/2011 at 10:28 am #

      Indeed. I do establish a sort of eye contact with drivers and even pedestrians at times, and certainly other cyclists, but it is nowhere in the range of 3-4 seconds!

    • Ashleigh 13/04/2011 at 12:01 pm #

      I guess how often you’re looking behind you really depends on where you’re riding. Riding down a multi-lane road or in the central city during rush hour, I’d definitely be looking around every 3-4 seconds. There’s so much going on you have to be almost hyper-aware of what’s happening on all sides. But on a quieter road I only look around when I’m coming to a stop or turning, etc. – doing anything unpredictable…

  4. Jon in GM 13/04/2011 at 10:29 am #

    I use the Cateye TL-LD1000 as my main rear light. It’s an older model replaced now by the ’1100 (which is clearly more… more… something or other… Actually, I think it’s much the same; it doesn’t seem any brighter in the shop).
    http://www.wiggle.co.uk/cateye-tl-ld1100-led-rear-light/#more

    It seems that Cateye is a little out of fashion at times, but I’ve been mostly happy. What I like about this lamp is: all round visibility (side LEDs); bright enough for most situations; easily removed when parking or re-energising it; no problems in the wet…

    It’s also not just multi-mode but multi-lamp. By that, I mean you can have 2 different rows doing different things. So, looking at NicoleP’s comments in the article linked by John at 9:48, having some steady and some flashing can be done all in the one lamp.

    It can get through rechargeables fairly quickly, but then I have a 3-hour round trip for my commute. So I also have backups – spare batteries and I usually run with some additional lamps:
    - a small Cateye mounted on the back of my helmet
    - ditto on my Camelbak
    - sometimes more dittos on my panniers

    I’ve also got a battery-operated (2xAA) set of Christmas tree lights that I thread through the straps and loops on the Camelbak. I do get some comments. Good – it shows people have noticed me!

    Still… I think I might need to look at the Flare. I don’t think drivers have had enough shiny things from me yet!

  5. matt_fantastic 13/04/2011 at 10:33 am #

    I too have a Cateye TL-LD1000 (great side visibility as stated above), but after cycling behind a chap with a Exposure Flare just HAD to get one of these too. It’s very bright, and the pulse really catches the attention…

  6. Gaz 13/04/2011 at 10:46 am #

    I use 2x fibre flares, 1x blackburn mars 4.0 and a magicshine MJ-818.
    The blackburn is a bright light, and has good side visiblity.
    The fibre flares are unique in shape and offer 360degree visibility!
    The magicshine is a super bright light, rated 80lumens (brighter than nearly every front light that cateye make) and is on par to vehicle brake lights.

    Why? Well in a city like London you are surrounded by lights. So you need to really stand out. I see far to many cyclists with a small, not very powerful light *cough*Knog lights*cough* and you just blend in with every other light on the road. Essentially making you invisible and putting your self in danger.

    We are contending with; street lights, shop lights, vehicle lights and other lights on the road (traffic lights, signs etc..). The importance of bright, unique and multipal lights is something that is often overlooked and not many cyclists have a set up which is what i would class as good.

  7. Phil Velo 13/04/2011 at 10:47 am #

    I use 2 planet bike superflash for my 4-5am commutes. Up until a year ago they were the brightest that I had seen on the market. Battery life is very good and the AAA batteries are easy to find here.

    Portland Design Works has some very impressive and bright lights coming out. The Dangerzone is plain silly.

  8. K 13/04/2011 at 11:13 am #

    For me, it’s the incredibly bright (but not blinding unless you’re tailgating for ages) NiteRider Cherry Bomb, with a cheap & decent one from Decathlon as a backup. I use it on constant at night and flashing in fog/twilight conditions. The flashing mode is like a police siren.

    No problem being seen, I even use it during the daytime and it still stands out.

  9. Iain 13/04/2011 at 11:29 am #

    In my (limited) experience, Knog lights in general and the Blackburn Flea rear light are both susceptible to moisture penetration which leads to them shorting out. The Exposure lights however are brilliant – really bright, rechargable and also robust.

    • Filippo Negroni 13/04/2011 at 11:55 am #

      Can you mount the exposure flare on anything else other than the seat post?

  10. Chris 13/04/2011 at 12:31 pm #

    I too use a Nite Rider Cherry Bomb and love it for its brightness and slightly irregulat flashing mode that really makes it stand out. Currently £22.49 on Wiggle http://www.wiggle.co.uk/niterider-cherry-bomb-rear-light/

  11. s 13/04/2011 at 2:31 pm #

    I’ve been using the Knog Skink since it came out, and I can confirm that I haven’t yet had a problem with water getting into the unit after many rides in heavy rain.
    It’s also worth noting that Knog makes a very bright white LED Skink that fits perfectly around most headtubes.

  12. Henry 13/04/2011 at 3:26 pm #

    I think you missed the ReeLights http://www.reelight.com/ better than any of these.

  13. Anthony 13/04/2011 at 7:55 pm #

    I use the Topeak redlite here – : http://www.topeak.com/products/Lights/RedLite

    It’s very small and light but very, very visible with pulse and constant modes and wide angle lens. Had it two years and not changed the batteries yet.

    Best of all….a shade under 6 quid from All Terrain Cycles online.

  14. r the b 14/04/2011 at 1:10 am #

    I have the Cateye TL-LD1100 and it’s very good.. Super-bright and the side-visibility thing is extremely impressive.

    I agree with Gaz on the proliferation of the people who:

    Have p*ss-poor lights
    Run their lights on weak batteries
    Have their light pointing in the wrong direction

    You even see some jokers with a white light on the *back*!

    The thing about the Knogs (some if not all) is that because they wrap around the seatpost, which on many bikes isn’t totally vertical, they’re not optimally focused, with a lot of the lumens aimed at the ground, not at the vehicles behind. Lights with lenses and/or reflectors allow for a wider ‘viewing’ angle.

    The lack of visibility of other cyclists not only puts them in danger but also others. Cars swerve to avoid a cyclists with poor/no lights, then collide straight in to me! It very nearly happened to me cause some lazy hipster wouldn’t spend £12.99 on some lights!

    I’m of the thinking that if I’m hit by a car, the last thing I’d want to go with my broken arm/leg/head is the police saying it was my fault because I was over the limit/no lights/reckless, and therefore liable for the dent in the BMW that ‘hit’ me!

    Oh, and worth reiterating how much can be saved by price matching Evans and Cycle Surgery with Wiggle, Chain Reaction etc. Often the high street prices can seem pretty prohibitive, but a quick look online saves a fortune, whether you buy from them or price match it.

  15. Andrew Priest 14/04/2011 at 2:52 pm #

    I run two Radbot 1000 (1watt) each on the rear. I had to get them from the US via eBay. I don’t believe the likes of Wiggle etc stock them yet. They are seriously bright (so I mount them low on the rear stays) and seem to be okay so far in the rain.

  16. thereverent 14/04/2011 at 5:15 pm #

    I use a Cateye TL-LD560 as a main rear as it is a reflector as well as a decent light and has a useful pulse mode. Having a dual use (reflector and light) means its a very efficent use of seatpost space.
    There is also a slightly better version available (TL-LD560).

    I use a Knog Skink (on strobe) as a backup but I wouldn’t want to use it as a main rear light.

    • thereverent 18/04/2011 at 11:52 am #

      Oh and check your batteries regually on your lights.
      I see a good number of people with very good lights that are faint as the battery has run down.
      If in doubt try some new ones and if the difference is big you need to use the new ones.

  17. Simon Vincett 15/04/2011 at 5:46 am #

    Hey Andreas, that’s an interesting selection of lights and I like the reasons you chose them. Lights are primarily for visibility but they do need to suit your purpose and be convenient to use.
    I’ve just run a test of 50 bike lights for Ride On magazine, with on-street testing of visibility by a judging panel and durability and water resistance testing by an industrial design team. We’ve just published the top-performing lights.http://rideons.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/lights-test-2011/
    My criteria of what makes a good bike light are:
    • Highly visible output, both head-on and angled, so that people can see you
    • Excellent water resistance
    • Durability for regular use and the occasional tumble
    • Ease of operation and not too many modes to scroll through
    • Ease of mounting and removing
    • Convenience in charging or changing the batteries
    • Secure attachment or compactness if you take it with you when you’re parked on the street.
    Keep the great advice coming!

  18. Dennis Goycoolea 17/04/2011 at 9:06 pm #

    I’m of the School of Gaz on this one, I would rather lean towards overkill. At night I use a Magicshine MJ-818 as my main rear light on its ‘solid on’ setting plus a Blackburn Mars 3.0 on its flashing setting.

    The theory is that you have one flashing light to draw attention and one solid to allow others to judge their relative distance from you. The Mars 3.0 is decent by itself with fresh batteries – I use NiMH rechargables and swap for a freshly charged set weekly. Based on comparison photos online the Magicshine seems to be about equal to a scooter or motorbike rear light – bright enough that I can run it during daylight to be seen.

    The only thing that’s stopped my buying Fibre Flares are concerns about how waterproof they are.

    • Gaz 17/04/2011 at 10:40 pm #

      I’ve not had a problem with my fibre flares.
      A colleague of mine has had problems with water getting in though.

      I keep the switch unit at the top to try and prevent water from getting in, not sure if this actual helps of if my colleague was unlucky.

  19. Simon E 19/04/2011 at 2:19 pm #

    I have used a Cateye TL-LD600 regularly for 3 years and found it to be very bright and reliable. The rechargeable AAA batteries and they last well over a week of commuting (40mins each way) in the winter. The LD610 is an upgraded model, though in side-by-side comparison not a great deal brighter.

    The bracket Cateye supply with the light is a bit poor so I replaced it with their SP-6 bracket which fits securely around the seat post. I have one on each of my bikes so can swap it over easily.

    I now carry a Electron Backupz set (USB-rechargeable version) too. These are small and weigh next to nothing but are surprisingly bright.

  20. Andy 08/05/2011 at 8:55 pm #

    SHUT-UP (said in a Vicky Pollard voice)

    Clearly the best light on the market is the Smart Lunar R2 – LED Rear Bike Light – 2 x 1/2 WATT.

    I’ve got loads of rear lights (it’s a fetish) and this has the edge ….. and it’s cheap, multi-function , multi-position loveliness .

    Buy it .

    http://www.highonbikes.com/accessories-spares/lights-rear/smart-lunar-r2-led-rear-bike-light-2-x-1-2-watt.html

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