Cycling can be a dangerous sport. It isn't just that there are negligent drivers out there terrorizing other road users, there is also the problem that bicycles are basically hard to see at times against the backdrop of traffic and randomity that is your typical urban landscape.
To remain safe and visible it is a good idea to get good lights, especially for rearward visibility, as it is from behind that most unavoidable accidents happen.
Why Spend More?
Tail lights can generally appear to be the same on the outside - but the difference in quality lies within the light itself. You might argue that you could easily purchase a tail light from a major retailer for only $10, thinking it would be senseless to pay any more for something which does exactly the same job.
Admittedly, a cheap tail light is always better than simply using reflectors, but too cheap and you're wasting your time and money. We believe that a good tail light should at least have a decent half-watt LED bulb, or alternatively an array of LEDs with attention grabbing strobing or flashing, to really stand out. They are often also waterproof and rechargeable, although efficient LED bulbs usually have a decently long runtime anyway.
Leading the charge in rechargeable light technology, Lezyne have created this tiny marvel to keep you safe in the dark. The Zecto Drive 20L features three super bright LEDs, offering 180 degree visibility of your light. Along with a quick connect attachment system, this 52g light is easy to remove and charge, but hard to miss on the road. The USB recharge feature means you can charge your light at work before riding home, which in turn will offer almost 7 hours of burn time depending on which mode you use.
One name well associated with cycling lights - Topeak. In this instance, the Topeak Redlite caught our attention for its quality and price. Visible from up to 1 mile away (1.6km), the Redlite uses 5 LEDs to offer a 280 degree visibility pattern - useable in five different modes. The Redlite tail light also has a mounting clip to attach to other products in the Topeak range, along with a normal seatpost attachment. The water resistant unit runs off AAA batteries, however, you could ensure these are rechargeable of your own accord. Burn time maxes out at 50 hours on the lowest mode, which is about... 745 miles of riding (1200km) as a rough guess.
The Cateye brand name says it all, and the TL-LD610 product has been around long enough to earn a substantial following - Cateye make some seriously good products, especially lights! This little unit attaches via a flexfit strap, adjustable and very secure on any seatpost size. The light itself has 5 LEDs burning for over 55 hours on low mode, all running off AAA batteries. The light is substantially longer than others, providing you with quite a tall or wide column of lighting, depending on what you're after. Visible from all angles, this is another good option if you're on a budget!
Knog are known for their funky designs and easy usability. The Blinder series incorporates many levels of front and rear lights, the Blinder 1 one being the basic rear "be seen" light. It features a single bright LED bulb that throws out a decent amount of light, has multiple flash settings, is waterproof, and runs on a lithium battery that is rechargeable via the inbuilt USB connector. All this fits into what is an incredibly small unit and comes in an array of bright colors. Highly recommended.
Check out the Comparison
4 budget bike tail lights from Lezyne, Topeak, Cateye, Knog
As you can see, there's plenty on offer as far as a decent tail light is concerned and without you needing to spend big.
If you're mounting your new tail light to your seatpost, be sure to make the light as visible as possible for following road users. Ensure the light is not obstructed by any pannier racks, a saddlebag, or by loose clothing hanging down from your body. Some lights can be mounted, sometimes with a bit of ingenuity, to your helmet. You could even run one on your bike and one on your helmet to give a great coverage of light, easily seen by anyone behind you.
Also give your light a wipe with a wet cloth to clean road grime off the lense which could reduce LED output. Lastly, remove your light if you plan on leaving your bike locked up at work. It's not only an inconvenience if the tail light disappears, but it's also a major safety concern for your ride home.