Monday, November 10, 2014

Light Up the Night: Wheel Lights from MonkeyLectric

With daylight growing shorter here in the northern hemisphere, I am always trying to think of ways to be more visible when riding in the dark. I have occasion at least twice a week during which I ride in the dark. Several weeks ago, I noticed that my headlight had been flickering on and off as I was riding, and while I don't use it really to see what is in front of me (I'm generally riding on fairly well-lit streets), I do use it as a means for oncoming motorized traffic to see me in the dark a little easier.

I'm still fiddling with the headlight to try and determine what has caused it to suddenly short out (the batteries have only been used a handful of times for short distances, so I don't think that's the issue), but during the interim time I was sent a package from MonkeyLectric that included their M204 wheel light.  Perfect timing, I thought. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect with this lighting system. As you can see from the photo below, it looks pretty simple, but I wasn't sure how much illumination to expect with the set up, nor how difficult it would be to install (I'm not the handiest of people, as we all know).
Package contents for the wheel light
I will freely admit that I did not install the light on my bike, but that was simply because Sam offered to do it, and I'd rather not have the frustration. BUT, it really is easy to install, just as the diagram illustrates in the instructions. The switch piece (with the on/off button) attaches to the spokes and the other piece connects to the hub with zip ties (included in the package) and then they are connected together with a small plug. The only other step is to put batteries in (before its mounted makes life much easier), which also is not overly challenging - even for me. As an FYI, batteries aren't included in the package and requires 3 AA batteries.
*Image from MonkeyLectric
Here are the details specifically for this model from MonkeyLectric:
40 Lumen Brightness
4 Full color LEDs
Great visibility at all speeds
Waterproof for use in all weather
2 year warranty
For bikes and electric bikes
Fits 16″ and larger bicycle wheels (16, 18, 20, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, 700c)
Durable solid rubber construction
Stainless steel anti-theft strap
Hub mounted battery keeps wheel balanced
Wide angle visibility
5 themes included
Straps to spokes with vibration proof mount
Up to 60 hours runtime
3 AA battery holder works with all standard and rechargeables

Right off the bat I was truly surprised by the brightness of these lights! Plus, I love that I can change the color and the brightness level as well (coordinating lights with the holidays is always fun - particularly this time of year).

As I took off on my first night ride, I realized just how visible I was. The very first intersection I reach often has traffic turning right in front of me as I head straight through the intersection, and there just so happened to be a car approaching as I was headed through that spot. The driver definitely caught sight of me before anything even remotely scary could happen (which is not always the case).

After several rounds of rides with these lights, Sam has pointed out that they are ridiculously bright (in a good way) and a headlight may not even be necessary (I had the lights on the brightest setting, so it is possible to dim them down a bit). Perhaps I could get away without a headlight, but I prefer to have one to allow me to see at least a small distance in front of me in the darkest portions of travel.
Power /color change switch
The power switch is pretty simple. The red button above indicates the on/off portion of the lights, and the black button labeled "color" allows easy changes to the color combinations possible.

I do have two small frustrations with this particular portion of the light system. The first is that my night rides take me to a dimly lit area to park my bike and it is often a little challenging to find the button in the semi-dark. Sometimes, I hit the color button by mistake instead of the power, but it has been a minor inconvenience. If a rider always parks in bright areas, I'm sure it wouldn't be an issue.

The second (again minor) issue is that it feels slightly inconvenient to have to bend down to the hub/spoke area of the wheel to turn the system on and off. Perhaps this feels like more of an issue than it really is to me because of the not-so-well-lit area I must park my bike. I think changing the location of the buttons would require more plugs, wires, etc, and I prefer to deal with bending or stooping than having more plugs to deal with. It is something to consider though for a rider looking to purchase these lights.

I really appreciate that the power button isn't a simple push-off, but instead requires the user to hold for a few seconds and then press again. I think this makes it easier to keep from accidentally turning off while riding.

My attempts to get a decent photo riding in the dark have gone undocumented to date, but I will come back and add one at a later time if I manage to figure out how to make that happen and not look like a strange alien blur streaking across the roads in the night.
I'm interested to see how long I can ride with the same set of batteries having the light on the brightest setting. Since my night rides are kept fairly short distance, but happen frequently, generally I can make it through an entire year before needing to replace batteries for bike lights. I don't think these will last quite that long, but boy, they really are so much fun to see (and to be seen). The chart above gives a rough idea of how long the battery should last, so if it's accurate, I should be able to make it through several months without issue.

Overall, I really enjoy these lights and have used them for every night ride since they've been installed. Beyond enjoying them as a colorful addition to my bike, I appreciate that they are making me very visible - particularly to motorized traffic. I'm definitely looking forward to them this time of year, as I enjoy normally lighting up my bike for the holiday season. There are other models available, and if you reside in the U.S., you can find them here on Amazon. For those in other parts of the world, you can find links to purchase by clicking here. Perhaps this could even make a great gift for the cyclist in your life, or just maybe Santa will bring you your very own with a few subtle (or not so subtle) hints.


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