Condensed answer: Bike lights tend to be more expensive than standard torches because they’re a specialist product in a small market. The low demand + high desirability effect boosts the prices even further.
The Factors Contributing to a Higher Price
Below you will find the major factors contributing to the higher prices of bike lights:
Specialist Equipment Is Always More Expensive
Bike specific gear costs more than its generic equivalent even when there isn’t a significant difference between both versions.
For example, a pair of gloves designed specifically for biking may end up being more expensive than another generic model of similar design and materials.
The bike gloves will probably have some reflective stripes on them and a bit of padding around the palms, but the “core” will be identical.
For that reason, more “enlightened” bikers often dissect a product and its features to determine whether the same functionality can be obtained by purchasing from another niche. (e.g., buying ski instead of bike gloves or a regular torch instead of a bike specific one).
Sometimes, however, there are major discrepancies between a standard product and its version designed for the bike market.
In both cases, the user ends up paying more because the product segment is small and prevents manufacturers from spreading the expenses over a greater number of clients.
Another peculiarity that further reduces the number of potential customers is the unpopularity and obsolescence of bike lights outside of the cycling segment – an average customer who isn’t into the sport has no reason to buy a bike light.
Low Demand + High Desirability = Higher Price
Many bike components clearly illustrate how a combination of low demand and high desirability boosts the final price of a product.
Here’s what happens: The number of clients who want a specialized item is small. After all, more people would buy a multi-purpose flashlight than a bike light.
However, the individuals who want a bike light showcase a great desire to acquire one because the features make riding more comfortable and aren’t available elsewhere.
This mechanism is enough to push people into making a purchase even if the price per lumen is higher in comparison to non-bike lights.
Cyclists Aren’t Torch Experts
A man familiar with different torch models may find a nice deal, but most cyclists aren’t super knowledgeable on the subject.
Thus, they don’t always have the necessary wisdom to know when they’re paying extra for a bike light.
A Product Costs As Much As People Are Willing To Pay For It
Production expenses matter, but at the end of the day, an item costs as much as the customers are willing to pay for it.
If there are enough people willing to buy a product for 1000s, producers will keep the price high even if the true value of the object is lower.
What Special Features Do Bike Lights Offer?
Bike lights have the following characteristics separating them from other lights on the market:
1. A Stable Attachment System
Bike lights come with mounts attaching to the handlebars – the place where the light resides most of the time.
Cheaper lights often rely on a silicone loop integrated into the body of the light. More expensive models have a bracket that clamps onto the handlebars. Sometimes the holder has an option for 360-degree rotation – a convenient feature allowing you to point the bike light at different objects easily.
If the attachment mechanism is of good quality, the bike light will remain stable even during off-road riding.
Another benefit of bike light mounts besides security is the ease of removal. After locking your bike, you can remove the light in seconds and take it away with you thanks to the quick-release mechanism.
There are inexpensive lights offering decent illumination (e.g., 500 lumens), but they can’t maintain the intensity for more than 10-15 minutes.
Quality bike lights, on the other hand, offer greater endurance making them a better choice for longer rides.
3. Convenient Shape and Better Weight Distribution
Standard torches tend to be front heavy. In consequence, they rattle a lot and get out of position when used as a bike light.
In different, dedicated bike lights provide the same or greater strength of illumination in a lighter, more compact, and balanced package.
The design reduces vibrations and makes storage easier.
4. Different Operational Modes
Most bike lights have 3-4 modes:
- SOS (blinking)
A basic flashlight may be missing one of those features, usually the SOS mode.
Flashing lights may be annoying, but they spare the battery and can run for a really long time.
5. Cut-off Line/Beam Cut-Off
Some bike lights designed for road use have a beam cut-off reducing the chances of blinding other cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians.
The effect is achieved through special optics that remove the beam’s upper portion.
Some lights have a mini visor contributing to the same goal and reducing the number of raindrops reaching the light’s lens.
Without a beam cut-off, the only way to lower the chances of blinding oncoming traffic would be to point the flashlight towards the ground. This method works but reduces your forward vision because a lot of the light is going into the ground.
If you want that functionality, you will have to invest in a dedicated bike light or make some sort of homemade reflector cutting off the top part of the beam.
Note: If the bike light isn’t adjusted properly, and it’s pointing too high, then it will still blind others.
There’s no incentive to have a cut-off line on a standard flashlight or one designed for off-road riding because you would be losing light for no good reason.
6. A Superior Beam Spread
Bike lights have a “long reach” and give you more vision down the road.
A normal flashlight can’t quite match that effect because its beam is very strong near the user but fades quickly and fails to illuminate the path as well as a dedicated bike light.
7. A Visible Battery Level Indicator
Most bike lights have an easy-to-see battery level indicator which changes its color. Of course, other lights have that function too, but the indicator may be at a place that you can’t see during riding.
This function is helpful as it allows you to strategically plan your light usage. If the battery is running low, you can switch it to a lower setting. (Some bike lights do that automatically.)
What Are The Benefits of Expensive Bike Lights?
Expensive lights have the following advantages:
Legit Lumens (Brighter Illumination)
You can easily find cheap lights with a surprising number of lumens (e.g., 1000) on the packaging, but more often than not, they fail to deliver the performance of quality lights offering half that.
Better Beam Shape and Focus
When I first began night commuting, I bought a generic light. I was unpleasantly surprised by the “distracted light” that it was offering. The beam was unfocused and had a broken shape.
Conversely, quality lights come with focused, long-throw beams allowing you to see more of the road ahead.
Quality lights use higher-grade materials (e.g, aluminum, thicker plastic) and have more reliable internal routing.
A well-engineered and built bike light should be able to sustain light crashes. The bracket may break, but the light shouldn’t.
Battery Endurance and Integrity
The performance of the battery differentiates a cheap light from a quality one.
Expensive lights come with reliable, tested, and safe to use batteries offering greater endurance.
The battery is also the component where knockoff brands tend to cut corners by using untested cells witch questionable reliability.
Expensive lights have rechargeable batteries. This option allows you to power the light via a power bank and keep it running for a very long time.
What Are The Downsides of Expensive Bike Lights?
The main downside of expensive bike lights is the price and the responsibility that comes with it. If you have a USD 100 bike light, you can’t just leave it on your bike. You have to take it everywhere you go and protect it. This is an example of luxury-induced freedom reduction.
Are Cheap Lights Any Good?
It depends on what you mean by cheap. Some companies offer very decent lights for USD 30-40 which isn’t a lot of money given that you will be using the light for a long time.
I bought Sigma Buster 300 for about USD 40 over two years ago. The light has performed decently well over that period of time.
My only complaint is that the battery is not the strongest when it’s cold outside. Also, the rubber sealing of the USB port had a poor fit and eventually fell off.
Other than that, I can’t say anything bad about the light. The lumens are legit. At the highest setting, it’s really bright.
However, if by cheap you mean USD 5-10 lights, you would have a hard time finding one offering decent performance.
Having said that, even the cheapest lights are better than nothing and have their purposes (e.g., to be used on beater bikes).
Affordable Bike Lights (Under USD 45)
In the table below, you will find a list of fairly affordable lights with decent stats:
|CATEYE HL-EL360G-RC GVolt25||USD 32|
|Sigma Buster 300||USD 35|
|Axa Compactline 35||USD 35|
|Sigma Aura 60 USB||USD 43|
|Blackburn LOCAL||USD 29|
|Busch + Müller IXON Front Light – 194||USD 29|
|Trelock LS 460 I-GO||USD 38|
|Cycle Torch Shark 500 USB||USD 30|
|AUOPLUS USB||USD 22|
|iKirkLiten 800||USD 20|
How To Avoid Buying a “Bad Light”
1. Stay away from lights promising too much for too little. Many offers come with heavily inflated values. It’s a marketing trick.
2. Stick to proven brands and always read the reviews. Focus on reviews giving an average score as they tend to be the most balanced.