Bike lights won’t bankrupt you, but they aren’t cheap. You can get them for around $15, but you can also spend $50 or even more on high-quality lights.
The demand for bike lights is relatively inflexible. While the number of bike riders is not huge (though probably growing), that group faces a legal mandate for installing bike lighting. So long as bike light makers pay attention to the demand cycles of bike lighting, they can profit from price increases from time to time. The market does not need or want as many bike lights as it might want—for example, car headlights.
Manufacturers will themselves have motives for the pricing of bike lights. They will want to maximize their profits but also secure a high or at least stable market share. Achieving this goal while limiting the effects of competition can significantly impact price, particularly with a product whose purchase is required. Various economic factors such as the return on investment, cash flow, and the sheer survival of the company also impact how flexible a manufacturer is willing to be with the pricing of a government-mandated product.
Of course, makers of bike lights are also tied to the cost of materials in setting their prices. Especially in our current high inflation environment, the interrupted supply chain and overall inflation have left manufacturers scrambling to raise prices enough to cover costs without losing too much market share.
Let’s look more closely at why bike lights are so expensive.
Not a Lot of Demand
The primary reason bike lights are so expensive is that they are a relatively small market with limited demand. Manufacturers use economies of scale when there is high demand for a particular product. In other words, your cost per item generally decreases if you produce a lot of something. Since there is a smaller demand for bike lights, there is a higher cost per item produced.
Some cyclists prefer to use multi-purpose flashlights rather than bike lights designed for that purpose. Those riders are often unfamiliar with the importance of using properly designed and mounted bike lights. They are also vulnerable to state laws that may not consider flashlights to meet legal requirements for low-light bike lights.
On the other hand, there is a relatively unflexible demand for bike lights. Since most bike riders have to have them by law, their demand remains significant even though they are a smaller group. Demand and, therefore, the price can increase significantly for a light that is effective for its purposes and thus very popular. This, too, contributes to a relatively high price.
Bike riders want a product that will not have to be replaced frequently. Building this durability into the bike lights increases their cost as well. They must be made of metal or strong plastics, allowing them to endure anything your bike encounters. However, those quality materials contribute materially to the higher light cost.
Not everyone rides a bike; thus, not everyone needs these lights. Because of the limited market, the price remains higher.
Shape and Weight
Bike lights must tolerate the movement and stresses of riding and fit well and comfortably on a bike. Their weight needs to be limited and well-balanced to withstand the stress. This need for a quality build increases the price of the light.
Bike lights need to be mountable on your bike. They also need to be easily removable so that you can protect them from theft. Finally, you may also need to be able to aim your lights. Also, these mounting features, requiring mounting equipment, and the flexibility needed for aiming add to the cost of your lights.
In addition to allowing for removal, your light mountings need to be secure. You’ll want to ensure they stay in place and maintain their aim.
Various Light Beams
Bike lights offer several adjustments to their beams, often in the same light. Your light may be steady or flashing, and it may have adjustable strength from as low as 50 lumens up to 500 or more. Some also offer an emergency light function that will allow those seeing it to know you are in trouble. This beam variability increases the cost by increasing the complexity.
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These variable beams available, both in the strength of the beam (lumens) and the mode of the light (flashing or steady), take extra technology and therefore involve extra expense.
Some lights also feature a beam cut-off that avoids dazzling oncoming traffic. A “smart” feature like this adds significantly to the cost of your light because of the technology involved.
If buyers, driven at least partly by legal mandates, continue to buy bike lights at acceptable levels at current prices, the price will not decline. A manufacturer who knows they can sell their entire output of widgets at a special high price will not reduce that price. In fact, the sell-out may, in fact, create pressure to increase the price. In other words, a low but highly inelastic demand level will support higher prices since those buyers who want the item want it badly enough to pay a premium for it.
Bikes will desire a light that maintains a particular standard and serves a specific purpose. So long as a given light achieves those objectives and is otherwise desirable, buyer response to price increases will not be high.
Failure to Maintain
Like everything else on your bike, your lights should be well maintained. Off-road cycling will put dust everywhere on and in your light. Using a damp cloth removes that dust from the light to protect it. Also, check for small pebbles in the mounts or other parts of the light. Removing them will extend your light’s life. Also, consider taking it with you when you go inside. Preventing theft is highly valuable maintenance.