Many people wonder whether to buy a dedicated bike light or a torch for night riding. In this post, I present the pros and cons of both routes.
The Advantages Of a Bike Light Over a Torch
Below you will find the features that make a bike light superior to a regular torch from the perspective of a cyclist:
Dedicated bike lights come with mounts clamping onto the handlebars.
Low-end models rely on a silicone loop attached to the body of the light whereas the more expensive ones have quick-release brackets allowing the user to remove the unit in seconds upon parking the bike.
A good bicycle light remains fairly stable on the handlebars even on off-road terrain. After a long ride, you may have to readjust it, but most of the time, the light should remain where you put it.
Dedicated bike lights have a slick, “aero” design. They are flatter than most flashlights and don’t protrude nearly as much.
The smaller dimensions make it possible to use the light in conjunction with a basket or a handlebar bag.
Torches, on the other hand, tend to be longer and may come in contact with the basket/bag or its attachment mechanism when positioned in the middle of the handlebars.
Bicycle lights are highly resistant to vibrations. The solder connections, seals, and switches remain intact even when the roads are bumpy.
Better Weight Distribution
The weight of bike lights is more evenly distributed along the body. In consequence, the light doesn’t bounce as much and doesn’t change its angle of illumination.
Since bike lights are more likely to be used for extended periods of time, they have heat sinks, usually made of aluminum, built into the body. The design helps with heat dissipation and ensures longer exploitation of the light.
Thermal Regulation (Throttling)
Some bike lights drop to a less intensive mode upon reaching a certain temperature. This process is called thermal regulation and has three main functions:
- To prevent the light from turning off due to heat;
- To avoid internal damage to the components;
- To ensure the longest possible illumination;
Easier Mode Switching
Bike lights have an easy-access button allowing you to go through the available modes with a single push. Some flashlights have that option too, but not all of them.
Many torches come with a button placed at the tail of the light because it is expected that the user will be holding the light and using their thumb to switch between modes.
The position of the button may be comfortable for regular use of the torch, but it’s not the most convenient when riding a bike.
Visible Battery Level Indicator
Bicycle lights have a battery level indicator that changes its color to inform the user about the energy reserves. This data reduces the possibility of suddenly finding yourself in the dark.
Some flashlights have an indicator too, but it’s not always placed at a location that you can see while riding.
One of the strongest advantages of bike lights is their endurance. A quality bike light will outlast a flashlight for the purposes of riding. This point alone is enough to justify the purchase of a dedicated bike light.
The purpose of bike lights is to illuminate the road ahead of you. Thus, the beam has a longer reach and is more evenly spread.
Some dedicated bike lights like Fenix BC30 V2.0 have a remote switch that you can use to control the flashlight. The main benefits of this feature are comfort and stability.
You can position the switch next to the brake and shifter and modulate the light with a burst motion.
Some bike lights designed for road use have a beam cut-off reducing the glare reaching the oncoming traffic.
The optics of such lights cut the upper part of the beam which is the least useful when cycling and the most likely to go into the vision of others.
Flashlights do not offer that option because it’s a specialized feature that regular users do not want due to the loss of illumination.
The Advantages of Using a Flashlight as a Bike Light
The main advantage of a regular flashlight over a bike light is that you get more lumens per dollar.
Why? Because multi-purpose flashlights have a greater market share than bike lights. This allows manufacturers to optimize their facilities for mass production and spread the expenses over a greater number of clients.
The larger scale and volume make it easier to receive discounts from all the companies involved in the design, construction, distribution, and delivery process.
Note: If you want to know why bike lights are as expensive as they’re consider reading this article.
Flashlights are easier to find than a dedicated bike light. Any hardware store would have one.
Great For Beater Bikes
A combination of two hose clamps and a cheap torch with a flashing function matches the idea behind a beater bike and liberates the user from the need to baby the light.
Of course, a USD 200 bike light will offer greater performance, but you also have to take it off every time you leave the bike.
The Disadvantages of Running a Flashlight as a Bike Light
Unstable Weight Distribution
Many flashlights are front-heavy. In consequence, they have a tendency to rattle a lot and get out of place when used as a bike light, especially during mountain biking.
Poor Shock Absorption
Flashlights don’t always have the capacity to handle the vibrations of a bike. They may unexpectedly turn off or transition to a different mode during aggressive riding.
The outcome of this malfunction could be dangerous. For example, if you are descending, and the flashlight suddenly goes off or into flashing, you will end up losing lots of vision unexpectedly.
Tip: To separate the torch from the bike’s vibrations, you can consider mounting it on your helmet.
Some flashlights are bulky, heavy, and long. The dimensions could be problematic during extreme riding because the body of the cyclist may come in contact with the light.
A Narrow, Tight Beam
Flashlights are designed mostly for searching and close distance orientation. Their function necessitates a short and intense beam.
This creates the following problems when using them as bike lights:
1. A lot of light is spilled near you – the place where you need it the least.
2. The eyes adapt to the bright spot near the flashlight. As a result, it becomes even harder to see further away.
Winner: Bike Lights
For riding purposes, bike lights are the clear winner. They offer greater performance in combination with useful features that regular torches do not have.
If you’re looking for optimal illumination during riding, nothing can replace a dedicated bike light. If you buy one of quality, it will serve you for years.
Having said that, torches are a good back-up option and work just fine for beater bikes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Are Bike Lights So Expensive?
In short, bike lights are expensive because the niche is small and so is the potential clientele. To learn more, consider reading this post.
How Can I Mount a Flashlight To My Handlebars For Cheap?
One of the cheapest ways to securely mount a flashlight to a bike light is to use two hose clamps as shown below.
If you intend to remove the torch upon locking your bike, consider using a butterfly hose clamp for holding the light.
Of course, you could also look for a dedicated flashlight mount. Some online offers are reasonable and work decently well.
Who Makes The Best Bicycle Lights?
Many companies have solid models. However, German brands tend to stand out because Germany has very strict regulations when it comes to bike lighting. A bike light has to cover a large number of criteria (e.g., efficiency, visibility levels, brightness, low distraction…etc.) to be certified.
The lights that match the requirements are of exceptional quality.
How Important Is It For a Bike Light To Have Lots of Lumens?
Lumens aren’t everything. The throw, beam, and battery life are more important.
Many flashlights have a great number of lumens, but the light spill is such that the extra illumination is actually harmful because there’s no intensity where it matters – on the road ahead.
The result is a degraded performance for three main reasons:
1. You aren’t receiving optimal vision ahead of you.
2. The light is blinding others.
3. The flashlight is consuming extra energy.
Ultimately, it’s better to buy a bike light with modest but real stats and legit construction than to spend money on “ultra-bright” models that promise the world but deliver mediocrity and instability.