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Tag Archive: Lights

Book Review: Bicycle Design: An Illustrated History

Bicycle Design: An Illustrated History fills in the gaps on how the awesomeness that is the bicycle came to be.

Up-front confession: this book was not featured (so far as we know) at Interbike!

However, it DOES chronicle pretty much all the innovations throughout bicycling history, so rest assured that the predecessors to many of the “new” things there are mentioned in it!

Bicycle Design: An Illustrated History is by Tony Hadland and Hans-Erhard Lessing, and in the authors’ words seeks to fill the neglected gap addressing the technical aspects of the history of the bicycle. It starts out with… well, actually it starts out with ice skating and wheelbarrows… but it quickly moves on to velocipedes and draisines, the predecessors of the bicycle.

Another confession: I haven’t read the whole thing. I did read all the bits about velocipedes and high-wheel bikes and wire wheels and the development of the safety bicycle (aka a bike having 2 wheels of the same size), but after that concluded that this wasn’t really meant to be read straight through – and yeah, it took me a bit longer to figure that out than it might take most people, but what can I say… I’m a bit of a bike nerd!

 

Apparently we should call these draisines!

So after some deliberation, I’d consider this more of a reference book: the next time you wonder, “when WAS the first bamboo frame made?” rest assured that this is the place you can find that answer! (page 178: 1890’s, patented in 1896. Calfee wasn’t exactly the first!).

The first 5 chapters of the book detail the history up to the invention of the diamond-frame steel bicycle. After that point, it diverges into chapters on different aspects of bikes, such as transmission, braking, and lighting. It also – at the end – includes specific sections on “racing” bicycles and mountain bikes, folding bikes, and military bikes (an interesting chapter!).

Overall this is a very informative book, and I say kudos should go to the authors for assembling all of the information in a scholarly fashion, complete with TONS of references at the back (if anyone out there needs to write a term paper on anything about bicycles, this should be your starting point!).

My one minor (major?) complaint about it is that it reminds me of several of my history classes in high school. How so? No, not because I fell asleep… I like history, and this book is written pretty well, so I didn’t do that during either high school or while reading this! It’s because in high school I had several years of history classes where we spent a ton of time on something early in the semester… and then gradually less and less time per topic, until by the end we rushed through the 1960’s on in only a couple weeks (I don’t think I had a history class that ever made it to the decade we were in!). Bicycle Design reminds me of this: it spends a lot of time on early development, but we get to the end and there are a scant 10 pages on mountain bikes. Two paragraphs on disc brakes. Two pages on suspension. Etc. etc. Yes, these are relatively recent in the scheme of things – but they’re BIG things right now, they involve some pretty neat increases in bicycle capabilities, and they deserve to be included… not lumped together in a hash that includes everything from the 1970’s til now in a handful of paragraphs.

Gripes regarding recent history aside, this is something every serious bicyclist should at least flip through sooner or later. I highly doubt many people (apart from the authors) have a good grip on all of the developments mentioned in its pages, so you’re guaranteed to learn something (and probably something interesting!). At $20-something on Amazon (for a nice hardcover), it’s definitely worth picking up for the coffee table, or for the bike-themed coffee shop, or for the bike shop, or for a stocking stuffer, if Santa’s real nice and someone you know has a stocking that can accommodate a 564-page volume.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

 

Product Review: Serfas Thunderbolt lights

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Front and back views.

I’ve been running the Serfas Thunderbolt headlight and taillight for about 6 months now, and have used them on a variety of bikes and for a variety of applications.

These lights are USB-powered and use micro-LED strips rather than bulbs. Let me tell you – the LED strips are BRIGHT!! It hurts to look at them even obliquely. This is both a positive and a negative. It’s a positive because you get around 180 degrees of visibility from each light – way more than you typically get from either headlights or taillights, and it gives a degree of confidence that you can be seen from the side nearly as well as from the front or rear. The negative? Well, you can’t mount them quite everywhere you might want to without getting blinded! Despite the brightness, these are definitely more in the “be seen” than “see” category of lights – they don’t light up enough road/trail to function in that fashion, but that’s OK since it’s not what they were designed for. I liked using them in tandem with a brighter headlight, and mounting the Thunderbolt to my fork. However, I couldn’t do this with every bike, since on some of my bikes the structure of the fork meant that a decent bit of the light actually went back up into my eyes! Not really a fault of the light – but a note for those who might be thinking of using a light in that fashion!

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Mounted on a road bike fork

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Mounted on a seat stay

The lights are encased in a silicone rubber body with straps that allow quick attachment and detachment to/from just about any part of your bike. I initially thought they might not last very long, but so far the only thing that’s happened is that the (white) models I received are no longer white, and the little flap that covers the USB charge port is a little loose (not a big deal, since that bit sits pretty tightly against the bike frame/handlebar/etc). The flexibility of being able to put a light pretty much wherever I want is AWESOME. I don’t know why more light manufacturers don’t use this method. I’ve attached the lights to bars, forks, seat stays, racks, and a trailer. No problems with them staying anywhere! Once attached they stay put.

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On a suspension fork!

According to Serfas, “burn” time is “1.75 hours (high beam); 7 hours (low beam); 3 hours (high blink); 9.5 hours (low blink).” My experience would indicate that these numbers are a little on the high side, but I can’t say for sure as I often wasn’t running them totally in a single mode for a single use (I definitely never used them on low blink for 9.5 hours). I DO know that the front has run out in under 1.5 hours of total use (two 45-minute trips in the dark, separated by about 2 hours). Similarly, I think the other modes run out in a bit less time than advertised. The only one where I’d say this is a true negative is with the high beam for the front. Most of the time, that’s the mode I want it in – and since I do ride for longer periods at night, it’s possible for my ride to last longer than the battery. I’d also say that for anyone who is not commuting to a destination where a friendly USB charger awaits, this might be a little short for longer there-and-back-in-the-dark commuting. However, it probably will cover 90% of potential users just fine.

The on/off button also functions as a mode switch (short hold to switch modes, long hold to turn off). Pretty standard commuter light function, and I never had any issues. The only (slight) beef I had with the switch is that it’s a little tough to manage in winter gloves – on multiple occasions I had to remove a glove to turn a light on. Those of you in warmer climes (or who are only fair-weather riders) won’t be bothered by this.

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Mounted around/over the stem faceplate

TL;DR summary: the Serfas Thunderbolt lights are a solid set of be-seen lights that offer unparalleled side visibility and impressive brightness for their size. Run times may be on the shorter end, but the attach-anywhere flexibility brings the Thunderbolt solidly into the “good buy” category.

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Mounted on a seatpost

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

Review: ElectroStar Wireless Signal Pod Turn Signal

A while back, ElectroStar sent us their Wireless Signal Pod Turn Signal for review.  ElectroStar is an LED company by background – their parent company, Buztronics, manufactures LEDs for a very wide variety of uses (RL, you should get some scooter lights!) – so we were happy to test out the Signal Pod.  The Signal Pod retails for $49.95, a price ElectroStar justifies given its wireless capability (a wired version sells for $10 less), and comes with the Pod unit, a control unit, a seatpost-mount bracket, and pre-installed batteries. With the controls, you can signal a right turn, left turn, or turn your “hazard” lights on by having everything blink (though I’m not sure I want people to start thinking of me as a hazard as I go down the road!).

All lights blazing

Out of the box, things looked good – the LEDs were very bright, and the wireless signal works from well over the required distance (I tested it at up to 30 feet).  It mounted to my bike fairly easily as well, and the signal buttons were pretty intuitive.  I also liked that the turn signal was sequential – each chevron lights up in sequence, making it very clear which direction you’re turning! Unfortunately, that was where the good things ended (had I known this, I would have taken more pictures earlier on… sorry folks!).

Pod controls

One of the advertised features is that the Pod beeps when the turn signal is on.  While some sort of noise is definitely a good feature since you can’t see it, the beep is incredibly annoying.  It’s not bad if you’re taking a turn on the go, but sitting at a traffic light for a couple minutes is somewhat brutal.

The noise wasn’t the worst part though – the worst part was that it only has a seatpost mount, and when I got on my bike the backs of my legs hit the pod!  I’d like to say it’s because I’m just so muscular, but I’d be lying…  I’m sure it works for some bikes, but it didn’t work for my commuter… and I’d never thought it was an unusual design.

All set up... and in the way

Determined to get this thing through a more extended test, I jury-rigged a setup (using an old piece of PVC and an extra stem I had laying around) to attach the mount to the back of my Burley trailer.  I had trouble getting the signal mount off my handlebars though, and ended having to cut one of the bolts off.  Before I could get a replacement bolt in, my kids (ages 9 months and 3) bumped into the signal pod (still mounted on the back of the trailer) a couple times and broke that bracket.  SO… that was the end of the test for me – and somewhat of a deal-breaker, since if my 3-year-old can break something by walking by it, I know it’s not going to stand the test of staying on the trailer for a long time.

Signal Pod on the Burley

While I can’t give this a huge thumbs-up as is, I think there are 4 things that could make these some killer lights:

1. Different brackets.  Almost everything else I buy to put on my bike (lights, fenders, computer, etc) comes with multiple mounting options or at least a flexible fit system – I think this should too.  I’d especially like to see a rack-mount option – most commuters use rear racks, and what’s on the rack often blocks the view of a seatpost.

2. Durable construction.  I won’t say I never break stuff… but I don’t usually break stuff unless it’s on my mountain bike and I crash.  These lights are meant for commuting – they should be able to take a hit from another bike in a bike rack, for example.  Currently, the brackets just aren’t durable enough.

3. Incorporate some bar-end signals for forward and side visibility.  When sitting at a stop sign, I still had to use hand signals, since those coming from other directions couldn’t see the light.  I’d be excited to buy something with that capability – and ElectroStar already makes bar end lights.

4. Change the beeping noise!  Yes, it’s a minor complaint, but I was frankly relieved when I didn’t have to listen to it anymore.

Make It Reflective Workshop

Chicago bike commuters are gearing up for Bike Winter with a “Make It Reflective Workshop” this upcoming Monday, December 5.

As posted on the event listing:

Have Fun While Making You and Your Bike More Visible!

Join us for our annual Make It Reflective Workshop:
Learn about passive vs. active visibility, get tips on what to use and where to place it, update your favorite coat or bag with extra-sparkly visibility.

Who: Experienced cyclists who sew will help make both you and your bike the most obvious moving vehicle on the road.

What: Bring what you want modified (bikes, clothing, bags, outerwear, helmets, etc.)

Where: Active Transportation Alliance at 9 W. Hubbard St. (4th floor)

When: Dec. 5th from 5:00 pm until 9 pm (stay as long as you like, but plan on at least 15 minutes per item being modified).

Cost: $5 (donations are greatly appreciated to help defray the costs of materials).

For more information, contact Jane Healy at repto at aol dot com.

This workshop is the second one this season; I missed the first one held on November 6 – just in time for the time change and onset of more darkness.

And such an event is just one of many events already on the Bike Winter calendar.

bike winter sticker 2012

Product Review/Sneak Peek: Planet Bike Super Flash….TURBO!

(STAFF WRITER’S NOTE: Due to technical difficulties, this post was delayed…A WHILE)

I arrived home from work the other day to find a small brown box addressed to ‘lil ol’ me!

Oh! What could it ever be!?!?

Planet Bike

Mark from Planet Bike sent out a new product to try out that will be released this  Spring!

<INSERT DRUM ROLL HERE>
Introducing the NEW 2011 SuperFlash TURBO!

Planet Bike Super Flash Turbo

Here is an into from the ‘wordsmiths’ at Planet Bike:

In 2006, our introduction of the Superflash tail light ushered in a new era of innovation in bicycle lighting.  Building on our tradition, we are now proud to introduce the evolution of bicycle safety: the Superflash Turbo.  We paired our time-tested design with a powerful 1 watt LED, then added the new attention-grabbing Turbo flash pattern. It’ll give you peace of mind riding day or night.

Superflash Turbo tail light (#3070)

  • 1 Watt Power LED plus 2 red LEDs for visibility up to 1 mile
  • New attention-grabbing Turbo flash pattern
  • Soft-touch power switch accesses flashing or steady mode for up to 100 hours of run time on two AA batteries
  • Ultra compact vertical design is weatherproof, lightweight and durable
  • Includes bike mounts and clip mount for multiple mounting options

MSRP     $34.99

In my initial inspection of the light I couldn’t find any major differences. The Turbo is the exact size of the tried and true original Super Flash. The housing is identical, with the exception of the red “TURBO” printed on the clear face and the big RED Super Flash lense

Since I had just ridden home from work, my first chance to test this light out would be on my next trip to and from work.

The next day, I suited up and clipped the Super Flash Turbo onto my bike. It was a bit overcast, so ambient light was at minimal levels. I felt as if I was being followed by a group of glow-stick swinging club kids! The TURBO light pattern is definitely more eye catching…

(side by side comparison of the Turbo & Standard Super Flash light pattern)

I am excited to say I was one of the most visible people out on the wet streets of Portlandia!

Many more miles of commuting ahead of me… I’ll give you an update at a later date…gotta ride!