A rear taillight has one very critical job when mounted to the back of your steed and that’s to get you seen by drivers, keeping you safe on the road. Depending on where and when you are riding your priorities will likely vary, which is why we’ve created this list to give you some great options to keep you safe on the road.
Although laws and regulations are rather vague in the U.S. and vary greatly state by state, equipping your bike with a proper light is not only a safety benefit for you as a cyclist but also a courtesy to drivers and could likely save your life.
LED bulb and battery technology continue to improve to create more efficient and effective lighting options for all applications and bicycle taillights are no exception. We are presented with a wide array of lighting options from simple cost-effective tail lights to über technical, GPS tracking tail lights with turn signals. Giving you, the rider, the most options we’ve ever seen in this category and allowing you to choose based on your personal needs and budget.
What kind of riding are you doing?
If you’re mostly wandering less trafficked roads or on slower speed roads around town then something basic and inexpensive will probably do the job. Simple flashers that use button cells or AAA batteries are cheap and effective these days, and they last ages before the batteries need replacing.
If you commute via busier roads, or you are planning to be out after dark, you’ll want something brighter. With recent development in LED and battery technology, there’s a wide assortment of USB-rechargeable and brighter AAA-powered rear lights that will catch a driver’s attention from further afield. Many riders who spend a lot of time on the road after dark fit more than one rear light to increase their chances of being seen.
Flashing or not?
In terms of the law, it’s up to you. The law requires flashing modes to be between 1Hz and 4Hz (one to four flashes per second); as you’ll see from the beam comparison engine below, actual modes vary considerably and some fall well outside that. Pulsing constant modes are a grey area.
There’s not a lot of scientific research to hang your choice on. Most people who run two lights will have one of them flashing. One thing to bear in mind is that if you’re riding in a close group – be that a club run, sportive, Audax or anything else – having a bright light flashing in your eyes at close range is pretty annoying. Many lights have low-power steady modes for group riding.
Most rear lights are nice and bright if you’re standing directly behind them. But in many urban riding situations, traffic may be approaching from other directions, so it’s important to consider how visible your light choice is from different angles. Some models, like the higher-end Garmin model highlighted below, take this into consideration.
Most rear lights will offer plenty of battery power for the longest ride you’ll likely put them through, but what we’ve found is that not all USB-rechargeable lights can be trusted to last a full night, especially on steady beam. If you’re planning some big night rides –or you regularly forget to charge your lights– find something with a long runtime and from our experience, this is usually the AAA-powered lights.
Many brands are offering many smart light options with a variety of features light cameras, motion sensors, and speed detectors. Though some of these features have merit and will greatly improve your safety, these features greatly increase the price of the light. For this best list we sought to strike a balance with price and technology to give you the most bang for your buck. If you are more of a techno-nerd, there are other offerings from the highlighted brands as well as others that may appeal to those looking for the most technologically advanced options.
Best Tail Lights
BONTRAGER FLARE RT
Offering a nice mix of highly technical features while still being budget-friendly, the Flare RT is designed to be your daily taillight. Providing a full 12 hours of runtime with all-day flash mode and battery save mode provides 30 minutes of additional runtime when battery life reaches 5%.
Who’s it for? Riders looking for something that pairs some of the latest technology with a simple, easy to use and still budget-friendly light option.
- Highly visible from 2km away, even in bright sunlight
- Great for day or night riding
- ANT+ and Bluetooth smart
- 5 visibility modes: 3 daytime, 2 nighttime
- Fits BlendR rear magnetic mount on Bontrager Circuit MIPS helmet
- IPX7 waterproof rating and updated easy open/close USB port
- Long-lasting USB-rechargeable battery
- Connects with Bontrager Transmitr and select Garmin computers
GARMIN VARIA RADAR REAR
The Varia RTL510 is much more than just a tail light and it’s cost certainly reflects that. But you’re paying for much more technology than just a simple blinky LED. This thing packs a lot into a really small package and will keep your mind at ease with its 220-degrees of visibility, visible and audio alerts of approaching cars, and ability to sync to your Garmin bar-mounted device.
Who’s it for? If you’re a tech nerd and geek out with the latest in gadgets or safety is worth every dollar you can throw at it, then the RTL510 is the perfect addition to your riding gear.
- RTL 510 features an improved tail light that increases daylight perception up to one mile away, so oncoming traffic sees you long before your radar detects them
- A sleek design ensures easier mounting to racing, touring and commuter-style road bikes
- Get visible and audible alerts of approaching cars from up to 153 yards behind you
- Real-life is never 180 degrees straight. Using 3 built-in lights, RTL 510 offers 220 degrees of visibility for vehicles approaching from other directions
- Opt for the bundle and get a compatible radar that now includes audio alert capability in addition to visual lights
- Sync to your compatible Garmin device, such as the new Edge 130 or 520 Plus, replacing the need for a radar
- Use up to 15 hours in flash mode or 6 hours in night flash mode before needing a charge
LEZYNE STRIP DRIVE PRO 300L
Lezyne offers a mix of well designed accessories for cyclists of all types from tools and pumps to bells and bags, they also have a great mix of electronics to help make your ride better. Their line of well designed light options make them a top competitor in the light genre as well and the Strip Drive Pro tail light is one of our favorites. Optimized with a new Wide Angle Optics lens that offers 270° of visibility and a maximum run time of up to 53 hours. It features a bright, 300-lumen Daytime Flash mode, in addition to 10 other output options from five LEDs. Equipped with a micro-USB port, charging is simple and efficient and is completed in about 2 hours.
Who’s it for? Riders looking for a simple yet highly effective tail light to keep them safe at all hours of the day thanks to a high maximum run time.
- Light and durable co-molded lens/body construction.
- Waterproof. Unique aero and round post compatible design.
- Five market leading, ultrahigh-output LEDs delivering up to 300 lumens.
- Mode Memory function returns to selected mode after turning off. Nine combined lumen and flash modes, including the extremely visible 300-lumen Daytime Flash mode.
- Enhanced lens with built-in side visibility.
- Integrated cable-free recharging USB stick.
- 69g (without strap mount)
Max lumens: 300, Max runtime: 53 hours, Recharge time: 2 hours
KNOG Mid Cobber Rear
Offering an impressive 330º of visibility, the Knog Mid Cobber is positioned in the middle of the Cobber light series with a smaller and larger option also available. We chose the Mid size as it offers a nice balance in size, price, and features though for maximum visibility the Big Cobber rear offers 270 lumens of lighting. The Cobber series not only features rear lights, but also safety-focused front lights as well and all are available individually or as twinpacks (front and rear). We really like the clean aesthetic and eye for design from Knog and their extensive range of lighting offers something for every type of rider.
Who’s it for? Riders looking for a stylish taillight with the largest range of visibility and if you live in a wet region where 100% waterproof lighting is an important feature.
- Light modes: Max, Mid, Steady Pulse, Flash, Rolling Flash, Side Flash, Disco Flash, Eco Flash come pre-programmed
- Integrated USB Plug : No charging cable required, plugs directly into USB ports & is designed to be exposed to the elements
- 4 hour charge time (LED will turn off when fully charged)
- Tool-less removable silicone straps for bars/seat posts 22 – 32mm+ diameter with magnetic mount. Aero Mount also included
- Efficient Chip on Board (COB) LEDs designed to provide maximum brightness level for up to 90% of the battery burn time for each mode.
- The Cobber is 100% waterproof against all elements
- USB Rechargeable Lithium Polymer battery
- Included accessories: Standard Mount, Aero Mount, 3x interchangeable straps for bars/seat posts 22-27mm / 28-32mm+, and USB extension.
- Dimensions: H:62mm x W:33mm, Weight: 44 grams
Cateye X3 Taillight
As one of the oldest players in the cycling light game, Cateye knows a thing or two about keeping riders safe on the roads, one of their latest tail light offerings, the Rapid X3, blends a sleek design with simple safety features. Designed around a vertical design, the Rapid X3 secures snugly to your frame or seatpost using a versatile rubber band style mount for simple and secure mounting on all types of bikes. at 150 lumens, it’s not the brightest option but the well placed LEDs and 6 lighting modes offer a nice mix of visibility options.
Who’s it for? Riders looking for a quality, no frills rear taillight that is easily swappable between many different bikes.
- COB LED (150 lm)
- Mounts securely to seatpost or seatstay with the rubber band (Ø12-32mm)
- Lithium-ion rechargeable battery
- USB rechargeable (Micro USB cable included)
- Low battery indicator
- 6 modes for each LED * Charging time: 3h
- Mode memory function
- Battery Auto Save (The mode automatically changes to flashing when the battery power gets low.)
- Attaches to the existing CatEye bracket by using the optional Spacer X
- Dimension: 74.0 x 31.0 x 39.0 mm, Weight: 46g (with batteries)
What lights do you recommend?
With so many lighting options on the market now, there are lots of great ways to keep you visible on the roads. Although these are some of our favorites, we’ve surely missed a few. What are some of your favorite tail lights and why? What are some key features you seek out when purchasing a tail light? We’d love to hear from you.