Rechargeable taillights help visibility both night AND day

By Justin Steiner,

It’s force of habit; without thinking twice, I hop in my car, start the thing and immediately turn on the headlights. Middle of the night, middle of the day; doesn’t matter.

Why, you ask? The short answer is that I just feel safer being as visible as possible to other road users. Largely this desire to be seen is driven by two experiences. One, years ago, I was hit from behind in broad daylight by an old man who simply “didn’t see” me, despite the fact I was riding in the middle of the lane of travel wearing a BRIGHT yellow jacket. And two, my experience as a motorcyclist has taught me that being seen can be the difference between life and death. Not to get all serious on you, just pointing out the facts.

Anyway, back to the lights. I recently purchased a pair of rechargeable rear lights for my girlfriend and I, in an effort to fend off motorists this winter. Like many mornings on the way to work, it was dreary and overcast today. So, as usual in these conditions, I turned both my front and rear lights to flash mode, hoping to make myself as visible as possible. With rechargeable lights front and rear, I don’t feel guilty burning up batteries in daylight on the way to work. Of course having lights won’t necessarily protect me from having another roadway incident, but the peace of mind is well worth the investment in my opinion.

Over the years, we’ve tested quite a few rechargeable headlights, but comparatively few rechargeable taillights. Below are a few USB rechargeable, lithium ion or lithium polymer powered options that might be of interest.

Blackburn Super Flea – $45
The Super Flea powers three bright LEDs between 15 hours (steady) and 28 hours flashing.
Bontrager Ember USB – $30
Bontrager’s Ember puts the power down through one1/2-watt and one 5mm LED. Burn times range from 7 hours to 35+.
Cateye Rapid 1 – $35
Cateye’s Rapid 1 employs one “high-powered” SMD-LED to provide 2 to 10 hours of run time.
Cygolite Hotshot 2W USB – $40
Cygolite utilizes one two-watt LED in the Hotshot, providing 4:30 to 300+ hours of illumination.
Knog Boomer USB – $40
Knog’s one “super-bright” Boomer LED burns from 3:30 hours to 12 hours.
Light and Motion Vis 180 Micro – $49
The Vis 180 Micro powers three LEDs (one rearward facing red, one amber on each side) between 4 and 20 hours.
NiteRider Solas USB – $45 
The Solas powers one two-watt LED between 4:30 hours and 36 hours, depending on mode.
Serfas Thunderbolt (UTL-6) – $45
The Thunderbolt stands out from this group by using 30 micro-LEDs to pump out 1:45 to 9:30 hours of light.

Sure, these lights are more expensive than a regular AA- or AAA-powered taillight, but you also have to account for the cost of replacement batteries. On average, a AA- or AAA-powered blinkie of comparable light output retails for right around $30. Add in around $10 for rechargeable batteries, and you’re at a very similar price point to those listed above.

Of course, another viable alternative would be a dedicated hub dynamo setup with front and rear lights. This setup is highly viable if you’re riding the same bike all of the time. That said, it seems most folks who run dynamo lighting systems also supplement those lights with additional lighting.

And lastly, here’s a story about how LED lights work as well as an LED headlight group test from last year. For even more up-to-date reviews, check out Bicycle Times Issue #20

One way or the other, the moral is the same; be seen to be safe. Ride safely out there.

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