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Tag Archive: nighttime visibility

Review: LED by Lite – Version 1, kinda…

LED by Lite Bumblebee2

Don't mind my dirty handlebars - here comes the review for Version 1, sort of...

Alright, alright, alriiiiight dear readers if you love blinky lights like crack candy for your eyeballs and safety like I do, you must have been excited when we received a kit of LED by Lite’s System 36 Plus Version 1 to test back in April.  Back in the springtime, RL emailed out to the team and it went a little something like this:

RL: You guys recall that product from Interbike?
http://www.bikecommuters.com/2011/09/21/interbike-2011-led-by-lite/
Well they want to send us a test unit. Anyone want to test it and give it a good shake down? Please respond ASAP.

****10 seconds later to receive message from cyber space and respond INSTANTLY!****

Me: I want SO BAD!!!  TURN SIGNALS!!! please 🙂

I wiiiin.  Like a Chinese Olympic Gold Medalist, I was proud and honored…  But, before we platform dive a triple-and-a-half gainer into this review, let me share a not-so-surprising announcement that I gleaned from the LED by Lite website:

“We want to thank all of you for your support.  At this time we have suspended sales on version 1.  We’re developing version 2 and realigning our distribution chain.”

Booo!!!  Major disappointment that the release of the version 1 Signal kits had been postponed, I cried like any second-place U.S. Olympian taking home a silver paperweight.  However, I think it was for good reason considering the glitches I encountered while attempting to give this product a deserving review.  Anyway, I wanted to share my honest review with your readers – not as rose-colored as usual – in hopes of helping out President Brandon Smith of LED by Lite, since I am crossing fingers for a successful execution for their Version 2 in the future.

Let’s talk about SPECS, baby:

Product Description

System 36 Plus

The LED By LITE bike light Systems include up to 36 state of the art, High Intensity LEDs to provide a cyclist with the most radiant 360 degree “to be seen” visibility. The LEDbike lights are encased in  flexible polyurethane/silicone straps making them waterproof and extremely durable.

The LED bike lights are powered by our BlackBox, a 12 Volt single cell Lithium Ion Battery Pack, which produces intense lighting without sacrificing run time. The technology of the microchip circuitry includes “dimming pulsating” modes, not blinking on and off. The BlackBox can be recharged with the wall adapter or from a computer using a micro USB cord.

The Plus of this system is our innovative LBL Wireless Dashboard.TM A wireless controller mounted on the handler bar controls both pulsation mode and directional turn indicator system. Your bicycle becomes a more relevant vehicle for the road. The LBL System 36 Plus improves your safety as a cyclist by illuminating your turning intentions and helping you to see and be seen.

  • Total of 36 LEDs front and rear
  • Weighs in at 250 grams
  • 12 Volt single cell Lithium rechargeable batterypack

Full Mode 3 hrs, Front on Rear Pulsating 4.5 hrs, Front and Rear Pulsating 6 hrs

  • Easy to detach cables, for quick system setup and break down
  • Wireless Dashboard: Turn on and off Pulsation and turn indicators

When I received the semi-sweet chocolate kit, I assembled it according to the diagrams that came in the box.  Brandon Smith emailed me to tell me that it was the second calibrated set to be released from their home base in Utah, and the buttons may need a little “breaking in,” but other than that, it should be pre-programmed and ready to go!  Apparently, my skills of reading graphic instructions (just put this nubbin into the little clicky clacky over there, zip tie this doo-dad and stick it to the frame with some butterscotch) was sub-par to say the least.  Apparently, allen-keying together a ZORGLFJORD from Ikea is no indication of your skills for correctly assembling the LED by Lite 36 plus kit.  I emailed Brandon the following photos for a quick diagnosis:

LED by Lite Bumblebee8

LED by Lite Bumblebee5

LED by Lite Bumblebee4

Problem #1: I could only get the front lights to work and was having a terrible time charging the battery pack enough that it could be unplugged from the wall to light up even just the front.  Brandon checked out the photos and told me I had one of the connections backwards in the “Y” shaped cable.  They are working on better diagrams to provide with Version 2.  After all was good and righteous, I then discovered that the dashboard buttons I received weren’t syncde up with the battery pack, so I sent all the black boxes back in exchange for new ones.  Problem 1 solved – properly plugged in and rigged up with a synced up dashboard.

Olympic Qualifying Move:  Brandon was very helpful and promptly answered my emails and could even figure out the problem despite my craptastic photo skills.

Problem #2: As for the battery pack charging, I figured out that if I left it plugged in standing vertically, it charged overnight.  Although, one swift paw of a kitty cat could set me back for the whole night again, so I charged it in a hidden spot, inaccessible to kitties.  Problem 2 solved – or so I thought.

Problem #3: Excited to show off my new blinkers to all those between my house and a dinner party in Makiki, I took the lights out for a 9pm test ride, only to find that (apparently) Problem #2 had caused me to lose battery power after 15 minutes of my 25 minute ride – good thing I had my backup everyday lights and the charger in hand.  Crash landing avoided!  I patiently charged the LED by Lite set up at the house (eating left-handed and playing slow-motion charades to give the charger it’s best chance), waiting for a successful test ride home!  Problem 3 avoided with helpful advice from Michael Westin in Burn Notice.

Olympic Qualifying Move: These LEDs are BRIGHT and make you feel like a bike commuter in Tokyo Drift with Paul Walker and Vin Diesel.  SBS (straight baller status) for brightness!  See and be seen!

LED by Lite with Rear Rack

Image from LED by Lite website. Cables accommodate xtracycles and rear racks!

Problem #4: All charged up and ready to roll home, turn signals and all, I get hit with a sheet of late spring rain like a power washer at a Chevron drive-thru.  I’m talking Hawaii downpour, if ya gnome sayin’.  I couldn’t see anything in front of me, and the controls to press buttons on the dashboard were the least of my concerns, so I blinked without taking advantage of the turnsignals all the way home.  Since my bike is fenderless (I stampede in the rain and change clothes when I get home) and the LED by Lite battery pack was tucked right under my seat, the entire system was moist to put it lightly.  Also, Brandon mentioned that Version 2 will include waterproof connections along the cables.  The entire battery pack was done after the first night.  Damnit, and I just got the rear lights working again!  Brandon solved the issue by sending me yet another battery pack.  A week or so later, I finally got to do some “normal” test rides.

Highlights and Recap: All color commentary aside: I had high high hopes for the LED by Lite kit, with wireless remote dashboard and turn signal capabilities.  They weren’t lying when they said this thing is bright!  Running the lights in the daytime, I even heard pedestrians shout “Hey look, the bike has turn signals!” so people do get the picture.  If charged properly it lasts at least a full day (several 10-20 minute jaunts per day).  It is easy to dismount the lights (just rip em off the rubbery stays) but time-consuming to take all the cables down since the connections are not waterproof, and often I leave my bike in an uncovered parking spot.  When I was dismounting everything from the bike except the rubber holds for the LED strips, I would remind myself of how much time I would have to take to find a parking spot if I were in a car instead… Patience is a virtue!  Water is a big issue that they need to correct in version 2 that would help with battery pack failure as well as speed of dismounting the system, since the cables could stay attached to the bike.  The dashboard is odd – buttons are hard to push – making it inconvenient/distracting to light up the signal prior to turning.  Overall, it’s not of the quality one would expect for a $100+ light system.   Let’s hope Version 2 ends up taking home more golds then Michael Phelps instead of disappointing like Version 1.  You can do it Team LED by Lite!  Go for the gold!

Michael Phelps Gold Medals

LEDbyLite - go for the gold in Version 2 - we're counting on you!

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

Review: Monkeylectric’s M210 “Mini Monkey Light”

As many of you may know, we here at Bikecommuters.com are huge fans of the creative geniuses behind Monkeylectric. We’ve been lucky enough to test out their original M132/133 wheel lights, and we’ve visited with the Monkeylectric crew at Interbike over the past few years.

When they announced the new M210 “Mini Monkey”, we clamored for a chance to get a review sample. Lo and behold, about a month after Interbike 2011, one appeared on my doorstep. I’ve been running this thing ever since and am ready to share my thoughts and photos with you.

First off, a bit about the new M210:

– 10 Ultra-bright color LEDs
– Hub-mounted battery pack
– Stainless steel anti-theft strap
– Waterproof!
– Up to 40 hours runtime

DSC06296

The M210 comes in simple packaging — a bag for the light head and battery canister, a smaller bag for the hardware and a simple header card that unfolds to reveal complete instructions in a variety of languages. While the light head is smaller than the original M132/M133 (10 LEDs — 5 on each side — down from the 32 LEDs on the original model), it still packs a nighttime punch. This new model addresses most of the concerns some of us had over the original model — particularly waterproofing, balance, and theft prevention.

Here’s the light head — covered in a thick, rubbery waterproofing material that seals all those chips and circuits from the elements. The switches are beefy and easy to manipulate:

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Here’s the battery pack — a canister that straps to the hub with zipties and a soft rubber cradle. The battery canister holds a cartridge of 3 AA batteries (alkaline or rechargeable) and seals up tight:

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One cord travels from the light head to the dongle on the battery canister, and the connection between the two is waterproof. And this connection is TIGHT — it is quite difficult to separate the two parts once they’ve been connected.

Splitting the light head and battery compartment into two components over the original’s “all on one” approach has greatly helped with the overall balance of the light. With the original M133 installed, I was able to discern some faint high-speed wobble on lightweight wheels (that wobble was mitigated when I installed the unit on some heavy disc wheels on my Xtracycle. With the new unit, I didn’t notice any wobble, even at relatively high speeds. Score a win for the folks at Monkeylectric!

Another plus of the split configuration is this: back in Florida, I was forced to traverse some DEEP rain puddles from time to time. Old streets, heavy rains and a substandard drainage system meant that some of the roads on my commuting route were flooded. Some of those flooded areas were nearly hub-deep, and my old unit would get submerged. I had to be diligent about cleaning the battery contacts to keep them from rusting. I don’t have to worry about that anymore — the truly sensitive parts are encased in waterproof materials and the contacts are inside the sealed canister at the hub.

The light can be programmed to display up to 15 different 8-bit patterns (skulls, hearts, and many more) in a choice of colors, or you can do as I did and skip the button-pressing and let the light cycle itself through all the choices. As with the original M132/M133, the M210 has two intensity modes — regular and “turbo”. The “turbo” setting blows through batteries much more quickly and is eye-searing in brightness, but the regular setting is bright enough on its own to spill out a pool of light to either side of the wheel. I took some still shots so you can see just how intense and colorful the M210 is when spinning:

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And, as is my style, here is an unedited and rather crappy video of the Monkeylectric light in action — believe me, the “real life” effect is vastly more stunning. It doesn’t help that my neighborhood is lit up like an airstrip (streetlights every 50 feet or so):

Mounting the light head is a breeze — it sits between spokes and is held in place by rubber pads and zipties. Getting the battery canister mounted on the hub is somewhat more difficult…the more spokes one has, the more difficult it can be. Even with my long fingers, getting everything set and cinched up took a few tense moments. Once the canister is mounted, you will only have to worry about changing the batteries from time to time, and that isn’t as difficult…screw off the cap and replace the cells. Here’s the canister mounted to my front hub:

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I was happy to see the addition of the stainless steel “anti-theft” strap — basically a metal ziptie — in the package. While I’ve never had a Monkeylectric light stolen, I am sure others in more urban areas might have to worry about such things. The steel strap is surprisingly difficult to cut with wire cutters (I sacrificed mine in the name of science), so it really does provide a measure of theft deterrence.

As I mentioned earlier, the instruction sheet foldout is detailed and easy to follow. And, it comes in several languages:

DSC06299

As we’ve discussed over and over again here, there are not enough products on the market to help with that crucial “side visibility” — while many front and rear lights spill to the sides, additional safety for nighttime commuters is always a good thing. And this is where Monkeylectric’s products really shine (pun intended). The M210 provides an incredibly effective means to get you noticed out on the darkened streets where you live, all the while having fun with patterns and colors! The Monkeylectric M210 retails for around $50.00, and is worth the price of admission. Another hit from a great bunch of creative folks!

Now, if we can only get the crew to let us borrow one of their “PRO Series” models….

Visit Monkeylectric for more details, images and video of their lights in action.

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

Just Ask Jack — No More Car?

Rick sent in the following question:

I want to ride full time – no more car. I bought a Randonee touring bike and have done a few 40 milers so I know I can do it. I am concerned about sweating and night riding. I need to wear a dress shirt and tie at work and have thought about buying a pannier bag for that. I am also worried about riding at night – I live in Southern Calif in a busy part of town. Any suggestions. I guess I just wish the roads were more bike friendly.

I just can’t seem to pull the trigger and go all bike.

Rick, we’ve written extensively on dealing with the heat, especially since most of us here at Bikecommuters.com live in areas that experience brutal summer heat. Here’s another article that has tips for you.

As for nighttime safety, I wrote an article in 2008 that covers some of the highlights of riding safely at night. We’ve also done several reviews of lights and a DIY article or two that may be helpful — simply click here to be taken to our archive on those subjects. Basically, nighttime safety means being visible and predictable: you can never have too many lights and reflective items, and maintaining your place on the road (no weaving, no blowing through stop signs, etc.) means that most motorists will do what they have to in order to share roadspace with you.

Overkill for nighttime visibility? There’s no such thing!
lights

It can be daunting at first to ride at night, particularly on busy streets. I commuted late at night for the first three years of my current job and quickly realized that the street I took home was rather peaceful as compared to the gridlocked nightmare it was by day. You may also consider finding slightly more out-of-the-way routes if traffic is still heavy on your return trip home.

Really, going completely car-free is a growing process…some people can do it abruptly, but it is often better to “work up” to it. Do your commute and also try to incorporate as many errands as you can by bike. Before you know it, you’ll wonder why you ever owned a car!

Good luck, be safe and have FUN. If anyone else has tips for Rick, please leave them in the comments below.

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