Category: Lights

A few weeks ago, Chris Cobb of BikeGlow sent us a sample of their bicycle safety lighting to test. I’ve had a chance to install it, play with it and ride several nights with it.

bike glow

Powered by two AA batteries, this light kit is comprised of a ten-foot length of EL wire and quick-disconnect battery pack. The light functions in both steady and flashing modes. Included in the kit is a full roll of electrical tape. No mounting brackets are included…the electrical tape is meant to both seal the battery pack and to mount the light tube and battery pack to the bicycle. At very first, I was a bit taken aback by this mounting method, but quickly realized that it makes the light incredibly versatile…no brackets and a full roll of tape means that I can swap the BikeGlow from bike to bike as the mood strikes me!

I had some concerns about water resistance of the kit (I have an uncanny knack for getting caught in the rain), and asked Chris for his input:

One of the beauties of the tape, besides the ease of use and flexibility, is that you can literally wrap the whole battery unit and connector wire in tape. It then becomes completely weather resistant. The light [tube] itself is waterproof.

I haven’t tested the waterproofness of the light yet, but at some point I KNOW it’ll get soaked. I’ll report back if I have any problems with it.

Mounting is simple — simply wind the light tube around the bicycle’s frame, affixing it at a couple points with a strip of tape. Pick a place for the battery pack (the pack comes with a belt clip, too), tape it into place and plug the light tube into the pack. Done!

The flashing mode is more of a pulsing effect — and it catches the eye with a mesmerizing glow. The beauty of EL wire is that it can be used to outline pretty much any part of the bike you want…you could even use the BikeGlow tube to accent your body, your backpack, your panniers or whatever your heart desires. It is incredibly flexible stuff.

The light itself isn’t particularly bright — it doesn’t need eye-searing capabilities like rear blinkies or a headlight. However, it is amply bright enough to help motorists distinguish you as a bicycle in those crucial side-vision encounters nighttime cyclists face, where blinkies and headlights don’t offer much in the way of side visibility.

in action

BikeGlow comes in eight colors: aqua, blue, green, pink, purple, red, white and yellow, giving the color-coordinating cyclists among us the perfect color to accent our bikes. And, for the price of $24.95 for the kit, that’s a pretty good deal for adding some visibility to your night rides. I have been unable to test the battery life beyond running the light for about 8 30-minute nighttime commutes, but BikeGlow estimates that a pair of AA batteries will last 120 hours. Not bad at all!

For more information or to order your very own BikeGlow lighting system, please visit the BikeGlow website.

We’ve got a slew of new products that we’re in the midst of testing. Here are a few I’m working on:

Pedro’s Tools
Pedro’s sent us a pair of tools to test…the Vice Whip and the Trixie. The Vice Whip is a clever device intended to replace the pesky and cumbersome chain whip used to remove cassettes and some freewheels. According to the packaging, this tool was designed by none other than legendary mechanic and VeloNews technical correspondent Lennard Zinn.

vice whip

The other tool is “Trixie” — a multitool aimed squarely at the fixed-gear/singlespeed rider. Combining a 15mm axle nut wrench, a lockring spanner, a 5mm hex key, a graduated slot for metric nuts and the mandatory bottle opener, this tool is really all one might need for some quick on-the-road repairs or a fast gear change.

trixie

Bike Glow
This lighting device has gotten some traffic on other cycling blogs, and we were lucky enough to score a sample for review. Based on electroluminescent (“EL”) wire, the Bike Glow kit adds much-needed side visibility to the bike (or rider) for nighttime commutes.

bike glow

IT Clips
These clever little devices from the folks at IT Clips let you put your old inner tubes (and who doesn’t have a pile of these laying around?) back into use by converting them into custom-length bungee cords OR tiedown straps. The versatile IT clip’s design serves as both and comes with steel hooks to facilitate this. Folks who ride cargo bikes or who routinely carry a load on their regular bicycles should find these incredibly useful for strapping down some goodies for the trip home.

IT clip
(sorry about the shaky photo…I drank too much coffee that morning!)

Stay tuned for reviews of these items (and a few more) within the next couple of weeks…

Back in July, the cool folks at Monkeylectric sent us a few of their M132 LED bike lights to try out. Moe wrote up an article about it then.

I got an M132 in the mail in August and slapped it onto my Xtracycle. After one hard rainstorm, I had a “freak failure” when one of the soldered switch legs corroded, causing a loss of contact. Granted, this was an unusual occurence, so I contacted Dan Goldwater, founder of Monkeylectric, to get his insight into things. Dan was quick to offer me the opportunity to test the revised M133 model and a prototype waterproof battery-holder cover. I must add that I sent the failed unit back to Dan and he got it to work again by lightly brushing the corrosion with a toothbrush, so there was no “catastrophic, unrecoverable failure” here.

What’s different about the M133? Well, it has beefier switches that are reportedly much more water-resistant than the older M132:
switches

It has a revised battery-holder with extra “lips” to help retain the batteries at higher wheel RPMs:
retainer lips

Also, a couple extra programmable patterns were incorporated into the memory of this device. Let me tell you this: the colors and patterns in this device are mesmerizing — I blew through a set of batteries just playing with this amazing light before I ever mounted it on my bike!

The prototype battery-holder cover is made of rubber and it is designed to seal most of the moisture away from the batteries and their contacts. Dan estimates them at around 90% waterproof, and I’d agree…I’ve been through a few medium-intensity rainstorms with the lights now and I haven’t seen any evidence of water or corrosion in the battery-holder. Dan also mentions that they’re working on incorporating a snap-on cover that mounts partially underneath the battery-holder during assembly and this new setup should be almost completely waterproof.

Mounting these lights is a breeze. Simply select an area on your wheel and ziptie the device in place with the included ties and rubber vibration-isolating pads. The whole process takes about two minutes.

Let's roll

The M133 has nine user-selectable patterns and sixteen colors to choose from. The user can select 1-4 patterns and 1-4 colors at a time or the device can be set to randomly cycle through all 16 colors and 9 patterns. There’s a lot to play with here. In addition, there are three separate “speed” menus; they allow the selection of the speed of pattern-changing, color-changing and overall “mood” (simple or complex patterns). Finally, there are two intensity settings: regular and extreme. In regular mode, a set of batteries should last 15-30 hours. In “extreme” mode (which is quite eye-searing), the batteries can be expected to last 4-6 hours. The regular or high-efficiency mode is plenty bright, though — and the lights will spread a bright patch 3-5 feet to each side of the wheel while it is in motion.

Here’s a couple still shots of the lights in action. First disclaimer: the colors are much more vibrant in real life and the patterns even more complex.

pattern 1

pattern 2

For even better photos, please visit our friend Derek Pearson at Bikerubbish.com. The guy is a professional photographer (rather than a point-n-shoot hack like me), and he was able to catch nearly the full intensity of these wonderful devices.

And, here is a Youtube video that gives you an idea of what these lights look like in action. I was dismayed to realize that the video didn’t accurately reflect what these lights are capable of, and Dan explained to me that, “the reason is that most consumer video cameras shoot at 30 frames per second, but your eye is closer to 10 frames per second. So your eye sees a tracer that is 3 times longer.” Basically, in real life the lights trigger a tracer effect that fills in any gaps in the pattern…it’s quite striking!

For reference, I have two lights mounted. They are both set to display all 16 colors and all 9 patterns randomly at medium-high speed.

The lights are packaged with an excellent instruction/programming and installation guide and all the necessary hardware needed to mount the lights. And, customer service from Monkeylectric is top-notch…they quickly answered any questions I had and handled my device failure with aplomb.

Do these lights work to help keep a bicyclist safer at night? Well, I’ve had a lot of amazing reactions…pedestrians hollering at me, motorists pulling up alongside me to ask about the lights (motorists, I appreciate the curiousity, but please don’t roll up next to me — it startles the hell out of me!). Visibility with these lights is quite astonishing, and the light is visible from the front and back as well as the sides.

We’ll see how these devices hold up under Florida’s grueling conditions…but for now, I’m hooked. These lights are fun, colorful and really make a bicyclist stand out in the dark — that’s a win-win in my book!

By now, most of you are familiar with the highly-acclaimed Superflash rear blinkie made by the great folks at Planet Bike. This blinkie is widely regarded as the best AAA-powered rear bike light on the market, hands-down.

There’s a new flavor being offered, though, for those folks out there who object to white bicycle components or who want something a little more on the D.L….the Superflash “Stealth”:

stealth

Same great light, with a 1/2 watt Blaze red LED and two smaller eXtreme red LEDs. The rubber gasket sealing the two halves of the light has been improved, too, after some rider feedback suggested that the original gasket allowed water into the case. The Superflash has a unique light pattern, and it is truly DAZZLING. Moe did a rear light comparison back in December, and his article included a video that demonstrates just how powerful this little light is. Check it out here.

superflash stealth

This light is going to look fabulous on my super-stealth weekend commuter…a flat olive-green and black Trek 460!

One thing I should mention about Planet Bike…besides their support for bicycling (donating 25% of their profits to bike advocacy), they are really nice people who care about their customers. I ordered some replacement seatpost and rack brackets so that I could fit my old and new Superflashes on my fleet of bicycles, and when I placed my order the rear rack brackets were out of stock. Not a problem…I’m patient. A day later, Chris Follmer, ordering and customer service guru for Planet Bike, sent me an email stating that he found a spare bracket floating around their warehouse, and he just threw it into my package free of charge. Last time I ordered something from them, they tossed in some free stickers, too. Awesome!

Check out Planet Bike’s complete line of products…from powerful headlights to amazing blinkies to fenders, racks and just about everything else a commuter could need!

A reader sent in the following question:

If you ride at night, what would you consider to be most important:

1. To be lit on the front
2. To be lit on the back
3. To be lit on the sides?

My gut feeling tells me that if I only had one light to choose from (let’s say a freak occurence disabled all other lighting choices or drained all but a couple batteries), I’d pick the light in the back as most important. My reasoning is that to a certain degree, we have more control over events that happen to the front and sides of us as we ride at night — we can see cars coming from the other direction and can (hopefully) watch out for vehicles turning, road hazards and other perils. That’s really not the case with cars coming up from behind us; a cyclist never knows just how close an overtaking car is until it’s pretty much right alongside!

It turns out, though, that crash statistics don’t bolster my “gut feeling”…overtaking collisions between motorists and bicyclists happen a lot less frequently than you might think (between 4% and 10%, depending on the study).

A couple of studies have suggested that the overwhelming majority of car/bicycle collisions (nearly 80%!!!) come when crossing or turning events occur. Here’s a diagram of two of the most common collisions in question:

bicyclesafe.com

I spoke to Julie Bond of the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida about this. Julie looks at crash statistics (among other things) for a living, so I thought I’d get her input on this question. Her response was:

“You probably know that in Florida [as in most other states], it is the law that you must have a front light and back light between sunset and sunrise. I wouldn’t want
to use crash statistics to try to justify one light over the other.

In my opinion, if you ride between sunset and sunrise both lights are
mandatory for safety and to abide by the law. I turn my lights on during
the day also. I think it makes me more visible on my ride to work.”

Good points, Julie…but where does that leave us? And how do we defend against turning or crossing collisions? We’ve got lights that point to the front and to the back…but there’s not a whole lot of choice or emphasis on side lighting, right?

There’s hope on the horizon! In addition to Hokey Spokes and RL’s favorite, the LED Spoke Light, Moe sent me a package of Nikko Starlights, an ingenious and inexpensive wheel light from Japan:

Nikko Starlight

The Starlight attaches to the spokes of your wheels and serves as both reflector and motion-activated light. Inside the plastic case is a tiny screw floating inside a magnet…as you roll down the street or bounce over rough spots, this tiny screw makes an electrical connection and fires up the light. I’ll try to shoot a video of it soon.

The light is surprisingly bright, and at cruising speed it creates a red “hoop” effect that’s pretty darn visible. This might just be the neatest solution to side lighting that I’ve seen in a while!

starlight mounted

So, in order to be prepared riding at night, I always preach redundancy: multiple lights both front and rear, spare batteries in your bag or repair kit, reflective tape or other reflectors everywhere you can squeeze some in…and now side lighting to help protect yourself against those turning or crossing collisions. You CANNOT be “too visible” out there!

We’d sure love to hear if any of our readers have other side lighting solutions or additional considerations for nighttime safety. Just leave your comments below!

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.