LED Lights for Classic and Vintage Bicycles?

When it comes to bicycle lighting, our primary objective is to be extremely visible. On bicycles without a dynamo, this means LED lighting. One downside to LED lights, is that most of what's currently on the market looks very modern and "techy".We try to find LED lights that are both the brightest and the least in conflict with the classic looks of our bikes. A good example of that is the set-up on my vintage Raleigh DL-1 (above). I have received some emails asking how those lights are attached, and so I will describe it here.

Like all of our LED lights, the lights on this bicycle are by Cateye - a company whose products seem to be consistently good. The headlight is the Opticube HL-EL530, mounted on the right fork blade. Mounting it in this manner requires 2 supplementary gadgets: the FlexTight mounting bracket, which comes packaged with the headlight, and the Minoura Besso fork mount, which must be purchased additionally.

The Opticube headlight is sold with a FlexTight mounting bracket included. This bracket is designed to be wrapped around a handlebar or around a long lug nut on the front wheel, like the one that comes standard on the Pashley and is pictured here. However, most bicycles - including my DL-1 - do not have sufficiently long lug nuts for this, and so you will need either a lug nut extender or a special mount that attaches to the fork blade like a branch, around which the FlexTight bracket can be wrapped. The mount we like to use for this is the Minoura Besso, priced in the $5-10 range.

Here is another view of this setup. You can see how the Minoura Besso mount is attached to the fork blade, and the Opticube headlight is then attached to it with the FlexTight bracket.

Yet another view from the back. I should note that some are against attaching a headlight to the fork blade, based on the idea that it can slip down and fall into the spokes. Personally, I think that this really depends on your attachment method. If you use a proper mount and attach it tightly, it seems extremely stable and not in the least prone to slippage. If you've had a bad experience with this method, please let me know; so far I have not heard of any.

This is what the headlight looks like in motion, "in the wild". From a short distance it actually resembles a vintage light, and it certainly comes across that way in pictures like these. Of course, up close you can tell that it is modern, but the design is nonetheless one of the most elegant ones available, as far as modern bike lights go.

For tail lights, we use two Cateye TL-LD610 lights, attaching one to each rear stay in the same way as on our Pashleys.

The diameter of the rear stays is usually not large enough to fit these lights, but they are sold with plastic liners to expand the stay diameter.

Using these two light strips on the rear stays is the nicest tail light setup we can think of. Not only does it make the bicycle highly visible in traffic, but it also gives the cars a good feel for its width - which can be very important in the dark.

And as far as aesthetics go, attaching the lights along the stays creates a very natural, unobtrusive look that does not conflict with any part of the bicycle's design.

My descriptions make it seem like the lights - especially the headlight - are a pain to attach, and I have to admit they kind of are. But you only need to do it once, and in the end it is worth it: Top of the line illumination, maximum safety, and classic looks will be your rewards.


  1. i think your choice of lights and placement works well for your vintage roadster-- relatively innocuous and unobtrusive.

    since i have a half-dozen bikes and don't feel like buying quality lamps for each of them (and also having to deal with monitoring the battery status of all those lights), i've adopted a different strategy: i keep a very bright LED headlamp and taillamp mounted on my helmet. the taillight is self-leveling so it's always aimed correctly. this way, i know i have at least basic lighting no matter what bike i happen to hop on. i also usually keep secondary LEDs on some of my bikes (and definitely on my daily rider). but there is another reason i like having helmet-mounted LEDs: visibility to others. research with motor vehicles has shown that high-mounted lights result in fewer accidents because of enhanced visibility, and this is why the "third, center, high-mounted" brake light has been required on all cars in the US since 1986 (http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/regrev/evaluate/808696.html). while i haven't been able to find research on lighting height as it pertains to cyclists, it makes sense, and so i follow the lead set by the auto industry. soon after adopting this method, i realized how much i *love* being able to use my head to "point" my headlight at drivers for whom i have a sense that they might not see me or anticipate me approaching.

    granted, this method only works for people who wear helmets... if i weren't to wear one, i would probably just stock up on multiple LEDs for my bikes as you describe. however, i think i would mount mine as high as practically possible.

  2. Conveniently, my "see" headlight is the 530 also. I will look into the fork mount, though a disdvantage of that location is that it is a PIA to turn on and off there. It IS a nice light while the batteries are fresh. It also
    seems to jiggle in the OEM mount which is mildly irritating. Maybe your experience is different. One nice feature of Cateye is all their lights use the same mount which is handy for those with more than one bike ridden at night.

  3. Steve, we have 4 or more of these Cateye front lights and none of them jiggle or are loose in the mount. Maybe a silicone bead inside the mount or tighten that screw, or both? If that fails, get a new bracket, it's only $5.

  4. Needless to say, that setup looks terrific. Do you ever worry about cars coming at you from the wrong angle not seeing the headlight?

    BTW, I see some rust on your front rim. (I loooove a little rust.) Is the chrome damaged, or have you just opted not to clean? On my Raleigh Sports, the chrome on the front rim is slightly damaged and I was wondering about how to protect it and prevent further damange. I am thinking about trying car wax. Do you have any advice on slowing corrosion?

  5. I am struggling with this issue as well as I'm not quite ready to invest in a dynamo hub for Minerva. During one of the times I was at Home depot this weekend, I saw 1 watt headlamps for $5.
    Incredible! So I bought one, and have been messing around with taking it apart and trying to fit it into a retro lamp housing I have from a defunct B&M light. I might go get another one while they're so cheap. It's incredible how much brightness you can get for so little.

    One of the things that low mounted lights avoid is clothing or bags obscuring the lights. I thought I wouldn't like my light on Robert below the basket, but it's turned out to be really convenient because I can pile my front basket high without obscuring it.

  6. Well now I know exactly what lights to put on my own DL-1. Thanks for the review.

  7. cycler, i don't know if you wear a helmet or not, but that's another thing i like about helmet-mounted lights-- there's *nothing* that can obscure the light path.

    filigree, my only concern with mounting lamps so low on the forks and stays is your visibility to drivers who are more than one car behind or ahead of you-- any vehicles immediately in front of or behind you will block the light path. having the headlight at handlebar height (and taillight clipped to the back of a saddlebag) would at least place them closer to drivers' eye height.

    for my daily rider (whose appearance i don't care about), i keep the headlight mounted in front of the front basket, and the taillight mounted on the seatpost, just beneath the saddle. the headlight never gets obscured, but the rear light does if i have my child seat mounted. when i do have it on my bike, i just unclip the taillight from the seatpost and re-clip it to the child seat. like cateye LEDs, planet bike also uses a standard mount for most of their LEDs.

  8. Giffen - The headlight seems to be visible from all angles in the spot where I placed it, so it doesn't seem to be a problem.

    Yah the bike is rusty in some areas. I think it's kind of sexy and opted not to clean. I have not yet done any projects to do with cleaning or slowing corrosion. But have a look at the Classic & Vintage subforum on bikeforums.net; tons of threads about that.

  9. "The bike is rusty in some areas. I think it's kind of sexy."

    I do too. Don't clean it -- it's almost too pretty as is! I think that the only thing better than sexy is effortlessly sexy rust is an important part of that. :)

  10. somervillain - At night and in inclement weather I mostly ride my Pashely. The headlight and tail light are mounted higher there, supplemented with some lower-placed lights.

    However, I don't necessarily agree that the lights need to be positioned as high as possible. Based on the feedback I've gotten from drivers when out after dark on the DL-1, I am highly visible, especially from the back. Drivers tend to think I am a motorcycle or scooter.

    I am also not so sure that helmet light as only light is a great idea. When driving in a car at night (it does happen), we've noticed that helmet lights look confusing for two reasons: First, the cyclist does not keep their head still; often they bend it forward or turn it in a way that the light disappears. Second, the light being so heigh goes against the driver's natural expectation of where to look for a vehicle light, and it also distorts the perception of how far away that light is. Just saying.

  11. Thank you for this post -- super helpful and timely as I am trying to figure out more lights this week. It is getting so dark here in later afternoon.

  12. We try to make a point of having three rear lights - one on the helmet, one on the seatpost, and one lower down (rack, stays, whatever) on the city bikes, just so there's no ambiguity as to what those lights *mean*.

    I'm hoping Santa brings me a rear ree-light.

  13. Did I hear rust removal? You should read my DIY for this very thing Hope it helps!

  14. I love the way you placed your lights on your roadster. Does it allow you to see the road surface? To me, that would be an advantage of a good, low-mounted headlight: making potholes and other road hazards visible.

    Years ago, I had a detachable headlight that looked a bit like one of the carbide bike lanterns that was used by cyclists in the 1890's and early 1900's. It actually wasn't a very good light, as it took (if I recall correctly) four C batteries, which only provided a few hours of rather dim light. But I always loved the style of that light. If I could find something like it with LEDs that takes modern AAA batteries, that would be great!

  15. This LED light vintage enough? http://www.azor.nl/WEBSITE_2010/index_6.htm (the last photo; click to enlarge).
    Made especially for granny bikes and such, by Axa-Basta. Can be hooked up to hub or tire dynamos. Cost 35 euros (= a certain pair of green gloves).

  16. RidingPretty:

    Nooo! Don't post that -- you might just turn people against by beloved, rust. ;) Fortunately, your link doesn't work. :p

    (I'm actually reading your tips with great interest. But shhh.)

  17. Giffen...
    Drats. Oh, well here goes again - the DIY

  18. charlotte, i agree that having LEDs at multiple heights is probably best. on my daily rider, i have a set at driver's eye level, and then i have my helmet LEDs. i'd be reluctant to have more than two front and two rear LEDs at any given time without having one set dyno-powered, simply for the problem of having to keep track of all those batteries!!!

    the ree-light is a compelling idea-- no need for batteries and no drag like a dyno. i know someone with the new version of the ree-light, which has a built-in capacitor for the standlight function. it would be the perfect addition to my daily rider.

    Frits, do you know of any US distributors for the axa/basta LED teardrop lamp? velo-orange sold a cheap retro chromed teardrop LED headlamp for awhile, but they no longer offer it.

  19. Filigree - I found the LED teardrop lamp in Azor's new catalog. They fit it exclusively to their Oma and Cross frame bikes, and as these are sold in the USA by Workcycles dealers I suppose they might be able to supply them. I'll ask Azor for the correct description (may not be their regular Basta Pilot lamp after all - the photography is not up to your standards).

  20. A friend of mine who rides a lot of brevets uses two of those same cateye lights mounted on the fork. They work well and light up the road surface nicely.

    At the moment, I'm using a nightrider HID because I can switch it from bike to bike easily. I use a single-LED blinky on my helmet to point at drivers. It's purely supplimental, I don't fret if I don't have it. I agree the primary light is better fixed on the bike for the reasons Filigree stated.

  21. Frits - We can get classic dynamo lights like that in the US as well; I have a nice one on my Pashley. It's the LED battery operated headlights that seem to be available in Ugly or Very Ugly models! LED teardrop lamp? I would love to see that; is there an image available online anywhere?

  22. Somervillain & Filigree - Sorry for answering to the wrong person, tripped up on Somerville. Anyway, the LED teardrop lamp I mentioned is a dynamo-fed type used by Azor on their Oma and Cross frame models ("nostalgic" as they call it). It's shown here: http://www.azor.nl/WEBSITE_2010/index_6.htm (last photo, click to enlarge)
    A very powerful light; my newspaper girl has one on her bike and blinded me yesterday. Azor gives no manufacturer and told me that "parts can be ordered from our distributors". Since Workcycles has a few distributors in the States I suppose they might be able to oblige.

    Busch + Müller offer a similar (halogen) headlight: http://www.bumm.de/index-e.html, then Lumotec Retro
    Chromed housing. B&M should be widely available in the US.

    As for battery driven LED lights, U or VU indeed. But Batavus offers a very similar headlight to the Azor one on their Favoriet:
    (click to enlarge)
    which runs off a battery. Batavus describes this as "classic headlight" but a local dealer confirms that it has a LED light. Batavus has various outlets in the States.

    For both headlights: when not available on your side of the Atlantic, I only have to cross a road ...

  23. Here's my 2 cents...

  24. Came to post the about the Lumotec Retro, good call. Also try the Schmidt E6; I think the simple design is reminicint of older styles.

  25. Superb - I've just linked to this.

    I woudl suggest you check out the battery and friction free Reelights if mounting lights down at wheel level - I posted about mine here www.galwaybikes.com/?=p150. Thiswill allow you to move up the EL530 the cross bar

    irish cycle chic

  26. Well now I know exactly what lights to put on my own DL-1.

    Thanks 4 the reviews

  27. Hello,

    also check how I retro fitted my bike light:


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