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I've recently seen this:
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/revolights/revolights-join-the-revolution?ref=spotlight

Basically it's leds on the wheel + a timing mechanism + persistence of vision effect. The video on the web page shows it in action.

It seems to me that this immensely enhances riders visibility (it's really hard not to see what basically looks like a Tron Light Cycle), but I can't really judge how good is the lighting provided in terms of seeing in the dark, or if the design brings serious reliability concerns.

In conclusion, would these lights make safer than a “normal” light, or is just a costly gimmick?

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+1 for the link. I'd never seen this before. Looks really interesting! That said, I'm not sure it would be "better" than a standard light setup, without any empirical evidence, or having seem it from the point of view of the rider and a car at distance. –  rally25rs Sep 11 '11 at 13:52
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'Our solution, Revolights, is a double threat.' Nice, who are they threatening exactly? :D –  jv42 Sep 12 '11 at 8:07
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Want. If for no other reason than I can scream "Greetings, program!" as I pass the local cops. maybe a little EL wire to complete the look. –  lawndartcatcher Sep 12 '11 at 14:19
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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I don't believe these are "better" or "worse" than other lights, rather they are a supplement to other lighting systems. I think the inventors' claims about forward and rear illumination are somewhat questionable as it won't compare to a real head/taillight of similar cost.

However, I think they would provide some improvements in side and off-angle visibility. They are "eye catching" because they are distinct which is a very important factor to being noticed by other road users. There are actual lights which also provides superior visibility to any reflector-based solution available on the market today. Based on what they claim (and what is visible in the videos), these will provide nearly 360 degree visibility.

Mathew's answer makes some excellent points about weight and relative brightness. However, I disagree with his point about using a reflective materials as a potentially better solution. I have used many types of reflective materials ranging from reflectors to polished metals to 3M SOLAS-grade reflective tape. When you are within the "optimal" range of angles, they provide an incredibly bright surface for a long distance. However, when viewed from an off-angle or when the light is not directly shining on the reflective surface, their illumination characteristics are relatively poor--even when using a the high beams on a car.

There are many situations where a car's headlights are not illuminating the area the driver is looking (i.e. the driver is looking left or right) and the amount of light striking the reflective surface is minimal. Products like the revolights and the down-low glow tube are attempting to solve that type of problem--i.e. anywhere that reflective materials may not be reliable and your "normal" headlights won't provide adequate visibility.

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Yes, with easy to spot 'caveats'...

On 'Critical Mass' bike rides there are all kinds of imaginative lighting setups that give individual riders individuality. We like creativity in cycling and how everyone is different. Undoubtedly these lights are cool and would be fab on a Critical Mass ride. Therefore, for that reason 'yes'.

Caveats...

LED lights are not a focused light source unless you have some well designed reflectors to work with them. That is why halogen lights still exist on the marketplace for bike lighting - they may not have the battery life or the bulb life but the light quality is better.

The 3M company worked with Vrederstein tyres in the 1980's to create reflective tyre walls. These reflect the light of car headlamps straight back at the driver, and car headlamps are brighter than a bunch of LEDs. Therefore, to solve the problem of illuminating bike wheels, the 3M/Vrederstein solution is better.

Now for forward lighting. There used to be brackets for putting a light low down on the fork blade, many bikes used to come with a boss exactly for this purpose. However we have moved to placing the light higher up on the handlebars, not even pausing half-way to use the reflector bracket. Low-mounted lights are not visible to the car in front in the way that handlebar mounted lights are. Most riding is in cities where cars are the problem and street lighting exists, that said, the low-mounted light is better for riding trails etc. where you do need to see what is immediately in front of you. However, modern lights frequently have a lens/reflector design to put the light where it is needed from the higher handlebar position, so you can get the light where it is best suited without having a light that is mounted low down.

Clearly there is a weight penalty, a rotating mass problem, an electrical reliability problem and a 'keeping the bike clean' problem to go with the revolights, not to mention a small matter of expense.

In summary, the lights are undoubtedly eye-catchingly cool, however they are a solution in search of a problem.

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