Are a basic set of $20 front and back lights suitable for riding at night or do I not know the real deal until I have tried a $200 set. Do drives see you just as well from the back?
What about pricey front and cheap back?
What about more than one?
What about one of the bike and a blinky on the helmet?
I would say get a waterproof one. You don't need a super bright heavy duty kind of lights if you're not a serious 24 hours racer. I've been using cateye front and rear for years and they still working good.
Don't F*** with cheap lights. As a cyclist I've almost ran over dimly lit cyclists heaps of times and just the other night we had a close call while driving with someone running a flat batteried d-cell powered halogen. Buy the best lights you can afford because as soon as there are street lights, on coming cars and random neon signs a piss-poor LED or an antiquated halogen is just swallowed right up. Also the better your front light the faster you can go while still dodging the broken glass, rivets, random bits of metal, loose gravel and god-knows-what-else that litters the edge of the road.
Ideally every commuter should be issued a high powered constant (1 Watt LED minimum) front light accompanied by a bright (.5W or better) white LED flasher and a pair of 0.5W rear red flashers. In the real world a 5-Led flashing front and a 5 or 7 LED rear is passable, but not perfect. I guess the darker the area you ride in and the faster the traffic the more important it is to light things right up. Don't rely on too heavily reflective gear, it only works if the vehicle you want to see you is aiming straight for you, it doesn't help someone coming out of a side street.
(I'm part of the "industry" so I'll admit a slight bias. And if you don't know what a .5W flashing rear light looks like go to your LBS and check one out, 1-mile visiblity and 200hrs run time!)
I should have paid more time checking my lights and less to talking about them last night. Headed off with a half charged front light and almost hit a roo while charging along in 53-12, and then had to pick my way down Old Willunga Hill Rd relying on my flashing light in constant mode to illuminate the way.
After all this chat I read in this months 'Australian Cyclist' magazine that they recommend Basta Polaris 5 LED for the front and NiteRider TL 5.0 for the rear as judged by a panel including members on the police, VicRoads, Vic Rd Auth, RACV, designers and bike shops.
Regulations say cyclists require a flashing or steady front light and a read light on rear that is clearly visable for at least 200m.
Having now read that issue of 'Australian Cyclist' I'll give my cents. the 5-LED Polaris is a "be seen" light and is no good if you use a linear path or back country road with no street lights. The newer .5W and 1W Polaris lights do a much better job of being a "see with" light, but I think they failed the test as they cost a little more. I'd like to see the full report that 'Australian Cyclist' refers to as I suspect the authors of the report have given a bigger weight to the relative cost of different lights than I personally would (saving $15 on a tail-light that is only visible from half the distance isn't that much of a saving to me).
Lights are like tyres, what's best is totally dependent on what you do with it. The littlest light I would use for my commute would be a 1W Polaris or similar, and I actually use a Niterider "MiNewt Mini-USB". But I only have street lights for 5% of my regular commute, and less if I take a more interesting detour. And if I lived in the city I'd not run the Mi-Newt as I'd tend to opt for something that fits into a pocket easier and is a bit more 'expendable'. And even though the MiNewt is overkill for some city uses I can attest that it barely rates as an XC light, even on low power my Vicious Arc light totally swamped the beam of the MiNewt Mini.
When there is no such thing as too much light, when is a little light enough? If a driver isn't looking nothing will make him see....
I would say spend a little more; good (be seen) lights are around $45. Sam mentions brands, to which I would add Smart (the manufacturer of most of Basta's lights). But, especially for the most important rear light, please check the condition of your batteries at the end of your ride, not when you turn the light on (any led light will work for a few seconds on almost no power, but if your batteries are old, it will fade soon after you have commenced your journey). Also position it so that the tail of your coat, or that shoulder bag you have, or that foam box on your carrier (yuk) doesn't obscure it after you've taken off.
Sam mentions people flashing their lights for him - my story comes from regular use of War Memorial Drive. Quite often, cars approaching from in front will actually raise their lights to high beam when they see my front light - I suppose to see what I am (never mind the blinding effect) - keeping them high despite my wild gesticulations and tendency to wander towards the centre of the road - and to make things more ridiculous, when approaching from behind they will often dim their lights when they see me - I suppose not to blind me via my (non-existent) rear view mirror! Car-centric non-thinking "normal" citizens.