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Testing Mountain Bike Lights Under $100

Mountain bike lights have come a long way over the years. Sure, there haven’t been any dramatic changes from year to year; after all, we’re talking about light bulbs and batteries, both of which have been around for more than a hundred years. But just 10 years ago it would have been hard to imagine how bright and compact today’s all-in-one mountain bike lights have become.

When it comes to finding a light that is bright enough for biking at night, we think 800 lumens is a good starting point. Although riders will often be able to see just fine with less light, it’s nice to have a light that can go up to 800 lumens for particularly technical or high-speed sections. While bike lights are marketed based on their maximum light output, it’s important to note that few riders will actually use full brightness for sustained periods. Most–if not all–lights have multiple output settings, from low to high, which can be toggled during the ride.

We chose 7 all-in-one mountain bike lights, each priced less than $100, to test and compare. Here’s what we learned about each one.

Blackburn Central 800

The Blackburn Central 800 gets the best claimed battery life out of all the lights in our test: 2 hours on high. The actual battery life was not nearly as high, with a total run time of 1:28 on high.

The Central 800 has one of the largest bodies in the test, but don’t confuse its size for heft: at 173g (including the handlebar mount), the Blackburn Central 800 is only the third heaviest in our test. It turns out a decent amount of space inside the light body is open because the battery is swappable. That’s right, a simple turn of the rear hatch reveals a swappable, single 2800 mAh lithium-ion battery. For long night rides, 24-hour races, and multi-day bikepacking trips, a swappable battery is a great option to have. Plus, it means buyers won’t have to trash the whole light once the battery finally stops holding a charge. Replacement/extra batteries are available through the Blackburn website for just $14.99.

Overall, the Blackburn Central 800 has a beam pattern that is fairly diffuse, thanks to the oversized reflector and a frosted ring around the lens. The light offers four brightness modes (low, medium, high, and flash) and features translucent ports on either side of the lens for side visibility at night.

The Blackburn Central 800 offers one of the most elaborate mounts of all the lights in our test. Not only does the mount allow the light to be rotated up and down, but it can also be rotated side-to-side and locked into place fairly securely. This is incredibly helpful when the light is mounted on a swept handlebar, allowing the user to turn the light so it faces straight on, rather than at an angle to the trail. The mount attaches to the handlebars via a stretchy, rubber-like band, and no tools are required for installation.

Like all of the lights in our test, the Blackburn Central 800 is USB rechargeable and includes a USB cable, but it does not include a power plug in the box. A USB connection does limit the amount of power that the charger can draw while charging. We found it took about 5 hours to fully charge the Blackburn Central 800.

The Blackburn Central 800 is tied for the least expensive light in our test, with a suggested retail price of $74.99 USD.

Buy Blackburn Central 300 on REI.com

Bontrager Ion 800 R

Bontrager is part of the Trek brand, and riders will find the Bontrager label on everything from tires to dropper posts to helmets and jerseys. Bontrager also happens to market a popular line of bike lights, and among mountain bikers, the Ion 800 R is the company’s most popular model.

The Bontrager Ion 800 R (discontinued as of 2018) offers up to 800 lumens of brightness on the trail, with a claimed battery life of 1.5 hours. We found the Ion 800 R performed nearly spot on, lasting 1 hour, 32 minutes on high. Not only that, the light automatically provided another 30 minutes of illumination on a much lower output setting. The Ion 800 R is one of three lights in this test to offer this feature.

At just 150g, the Bontrager Ion 800 R is tied for the second lightest light in our test. The light has an extremely compact form factor and feels more dense than all the others.

The included handlebar mount is one of the more cumbersome in our test, with a screw-type tightening mechanism. The upshot is the mount tension is infinitely adjustable and can be made extremely tight. The downside is the mount takes longer to attach/detach than all but one of the others in the test. Also, unlike most of the lights in our test, it’s impossible to swivel the light on the mount.

Bontrager features a set of orange sidelights for improved visibility and packages the light in a unique white body. The Ion 800 R retails for $99.99 USD.

Buy Bontrager Lights on Trekbikes.com

Lezyne Macro Drive 1100XL

The Lezyne Macro Drive 1100XL easily offers the best value of any of the lights in this test. Not only is the $74.99 USD light tied for second brightest all-in-one light under $100, it’s also the only light in our test that includes a helmet mount in the box. In fact, Lezyne packages mounts and adapters for just about any situation, all within a convenient storage case.

The Macro Drive 1100XL is tied for the second lightest light in the test, but that light weight comes at the expense of battery size, and therefore battery life, claiming just 1 hour and 20 minutes of runtime on high. In reality, we found the battery didn’t last that long–just 1 hour, 10 minutes on high–but we got another 48 minutes of runtime when the light switched itself to a lower output setting.

Charging the battery is a slow process, and Lezyne says to expect 5-8.5 hours to get the Macro Drive 1100XL fully charged. If the cable is plugged into a High Efficiency USB port or wall charging unit, the charge time decreases to 4-6 hours, but that’s still a long time to wait for a light to charge. Unfortunately, power capacity is a common constraint among USB chargers.

The upshot to USB recharging is that consumers will never have to worry about losing a proprietary charger or cable. Each light in our test utilizes a mini-USB connection, which is a welcome injection of standardization into the world of mountain biking.

The Lezyne Macro Drive 1100XL can be set to normal or “race” mode. In race mode, the easy-to-find button toggles between just two light settings: Overdrive (1100 lumens) and Economy (150 lumens). This is a helpful configuration not just for actual races, but really for any ride that features long, slow climbs and short, fast descents. In normal mode, the light offers two flash modes and steady modes ranging from just 15 lumens all the way up to 650 lumens.

Like many of the other lights in this test, the Lezyne Macro Drive 1100XL features built-in thermal protection which lowers the light output if the light gets too hot.

Buy Lezyne Macro Drive 1100XL at JensonUSA

Light and Motion Urban 900

Light and Motion is a well-known name in bike lights, and the Urban series has been popular with road and mountain bikers for a few years now. As the name implies, the Urban 900 (discontinued as of 2018) offers 900 lumens of brightness, which is generally more than enough for most trail rides.

Light and Motion claims 1 hour and 30 minutes of battery life on high, and our test confirmed this to be true. The Urban 900 offers three brightness modes and one flash mode that produces more of pleasant “pulse” than a jarring “flash.”

The Urban 900 is notable for being the lightest light by far in our test (116g), and also one of the lowest-profile lights tested. The integrated mount is simple, yet includes a swivel feature, and utilizes a stretchy band to secure the light to the handlebars.

The bright yellow side lights are among the brightest in our test, with excellent visibility for cars and other riders alike. The Light and Motion Urban 900 is priced at $99.99 USD.

Buy Light & Motion Urban 900 at JensonUSA

Magicshine Monteer 1400

The Magicshine Monteer 1400 is new for 2018 and is the brightest all-in-one light the company has marketed to date. At 1400 lumens, the Monteer 1400 has the brightest claimed light output of any light in our test. It’s also one of only two lights in this test with two bulbs.

In our first runtime test, the Monteer 1400 blew past its claimed 1 hour and 30 minute runtime on high, remaining illuminated for more than 3.5 hours!

I reached out to Magicshine to find out what was going on. During my desk test, the light didn’t appear to be shining as bright as the others, despite the Magicshine boasting a much higher theoretical output. It turns out the light is designed to avoid overheating by limiting light output. So, the light was not actually shining at full brightness, which resulted in extended battery life. In fact, the runtimes we observed line up pretty closely with the advertised runtime on the medium (750-lumen) setting.

With this in mind, we conducted a full second round of testing, this time placing a fan in front of the lights to prevent them from overheating. In this test, the Monteer 1400 still bested its claimed battery life, lasting 2 hours, 6 minutes on high.

This brings up an important feature to note: according to Magicshine, the Monteer is equipped with “over voltage, over current, overcharge, over discharge, and over-temperature” protection circuits for safety. Lights being sold by less-reputable brands may overlook these important safety features to the potential detriment of consumers.

The Magicshine Monteer 1400 is one of just two lights in this test with a removable battery pack. In fact, the Monteer utilizes two 2600 mAh batteries, and extras/replacements can be purchased from Magicshine for $9.99 each. Perhaps due to the inclusion of two batteries (and two bulbs), the Monteer is the heaviest light in this test, weighing 215g.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the Monteer mounting system, which is a carry-over from other lights in the Magicshine line. The mount requires a tool to get it tight, and there is no way to swivel the light side-to-side. That being said, because the mount utilizes a bolt to attach to the handlebars, it is possible to get it far tighter than any of the others in our test. So, depending on what a rider values–convenience or stability–this mount design could be considered good or bad.

MSRP: $99

Buy Magicshine Monteer 1400 at Amazon.com

Niterider Lumina 1100 Boost

Niterider is another well-known name in the mountain bike light game, marketing everything from blinky lights and commuter headlights to pro-level mountain bike race lights. The Lumina series is popular due to the lights’ compact form factor and brightness-to-value ratio. The Lumina 1100 Boost is the company’s brightest Lumina light, and luckily for us, it’s just $100. (Ok, technically this list is for lights under $100, and the Lumina 1100 Boost costs exactly $100. For those on a very strict budget, the Lumina 900 Boost offers fairly similar performance for $79.99.)

The Lumina 1100 Boost is so named because it pumps out up to 1100 lumens in “Boost” mode. This is an extra light mode that’s accessed via a double tap of a button. It’s tempting to think of this as “high” mode, but really it’s not meant to be used except in situations where the rider really needs an extra boost of light. So by default, the light cycles through low (225 lumens), medium (450 lumens), and high (900 lumens) settings.

If one were to run the light in boost mode continuously, the Lumina 1100 Boost only offers 1 hour of run time–the lowest in our test group. However, in our burn test, we actually got 1 hour, 10 minutes in boost mode, and then another 28 minutes on a lower brightness setting before the light turned off completely. The moral of the story: reserve boost mode for special circumstances. There is a secondary set of light modes, accessible by holding the power button for five seconds, that includes two flash modes and a “walk” mode that produces 45 lumens for a claimed 18 hours!

The Niterider Lumina 1100 Boost is the second heaviest light in our test (179g), due in large part to the overly bulky and complicated handlebar mount. The mount sits higher on the bars than any other in our test, making it a poor choice for helmet mounting. Not only that, the wide, stretchy strap has to be routed up and through a notch before being secured in place. This makes it slow to install and remove, despite utilizing a tool-free design. The mount does not allow the light to swivel at all, and I found it difficult to get the strap tight enough to keep the light from eventually slipping.

The Lumina 1100 Boost offers one of the most pleasant and well-considered beam patterns of all the lights in the test. Niterider has clearly done their homework over the years, dialing in just the right beam shape and intensity for mountain biking at night.

Buy Niterider Lumina 1100 at Amazon.com

Serfas USL-900 E-Lume 900

The Serfas E-Lume series features lights ranging from just 250 lumens all the way up to 1600 lumens. The USL-900 E-Lume 900 is the brightest single-bulb light in the series, capable of producing up to 900 lumens of brightness for a claimed 1 hour and 30 minutes of runtime. In our tests, the battery life was almost spot-on, at 1 hour and 31 minutes.

At 153g for the light plus mount, the Serfas USL-900 E-Lume 900 is middle-of-the-pack for our test group. The light is longer and wider than most in the test, but shorter, which makes it a good candidate for mounting to a helmet. (Sadly, the Serfas USL-900 E-Lume 900 does not include a helmet mount in the box.)

The USL-900 E-Lume 900 features 4 brightness modes and 2 flash modes. The single power button includes a multi-color battery life indicator that doubles as a charging indicator.

The included handlebar mount swivels and is adjustable to fit nearly any bar diameter. A rubber strap is paired with a locking thumb lever to create an extra tight fit without too much effort.

At $80 MSRP, the Serfas USL-900 E-Lume 900 is one of the least expensive all-in-one lights in our test.

Buy Serfas E-Lume 900 at Amazon.com

Superlatives

If this were a senior yearbook for all-in-one mountain bike lights under $100, class of 2018, I would give out the following superlatives.

  • Best value: Lezyne Macro Drive 1100 XL
  • Brightest / longest battery life: Magicshine Monteer 1400
  • Most versatile: Niterider Lumina 1100 Boost
  • Best bikepacking / long ride light: Blackburn Central 800
  • Most balanced: Serfas USL-900 E-Lume 900
  • Lightest / most compact: Light and Motion Urban 900
  • Best looking: Bontrager Ion 800 R

All of the lights in this test were provided by the respective brands. No additional compensation was received by Singletracks for inclusion.

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# Comments

  • sissypants

    I’d also recommend the Chinese lights under $20 on AliExpress and eBay (Solar Storm in particular) that are brighter and longer-lasting than many of these lights. I have three different models and they are absolutely impressive!

  • Jeff Barber

    Thanks for the note sissypants.

    We actually tested that light a couple years ago; be sure to read the review (and the notes) if you haven’t already:

    https://www.singletracks.com/blog/mtb-gear/review-image-5000-lumen-bike-light-sub-25/

    The tl;dr version is the Chinese lights are risky because they have been known to start fires and not only that, the specs (brightness in particular) are grossly overstated.

    With this current crop of sub-$100 lights, the price gap between the inexpensive eBay lights and lights from reputable manufacturers is getting much narrower. For those on a budget, I highly recommend the $75 Lezyne Macro Drive 1100XL because it comes with more accessories than the Solar Storm and offers much higher quality.

  • Brad Beadles

    the Lezyne was the only one shown with a helmet mount but i’m sure others on the list can be adapted for a left-to-right helmet strap. which of these lights have mounting options for the helmet?

    • Jeff Barber

      Only the Lezyne and Light & Motion lights ship with a mount for a vented helmet, like the one shown in the Lezyne photo. The Magicshine, Serfas, and Blackburn lights could be used with this type of helmet mount if you happen to have one already, though they tend to sit a bit higher than the Lezyne and L&M lights. The Bontrager and Niterider lights might work, but their mounts are a little bulkier.

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