Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ridin' after dark - in style!

I've acquired the coolest bike-transportation visibility accessory I've seen in a long time - a set of Monkey Lights!

I chose the new M210 Mini Monkey Light, "lightweight, balanced, and has all new 8-bit graphics."

Why are they called Monkey Lights? Durned if I know! Maybe because monkeys like bright, shiny stuff? (Maybe some anthropologists can shed light on the topic.)

MonkeyLectric was founded by Dan Goldwater, a bay-area electrical engineer who expressed his artistic bent by building some neon-lit bicycles. Response was incredibly positive; he guessed there might be a market for bike lights that are both highly-visible and beautiful. The M210 is the idea in its current refined state.
It consists of 2 main pieces:
- a display assembly that's five multi-color LEDs on each side and some circuitry, all enclosed in clear waterproof plastic,
- a battery pack that holds 3 AA batteries (which supposedly will provide power for up to 40 hours of operation)
Both are connected to the bicycle wheel with zip-ties... the LED assembly out near the rim, and the battery pack directly on the hub. I'd guess the whole thing, including batteries, weighs 5 ounces or so. And - amazingly - it's MADE IN U.S.A.(!!), and has a 2-year warranty.

Price is about $50, plus a couple bucks for shipping. (Shipping was extremely prompt, but my timing was perfect... I ordered just as the new model became available. It looks like previous models were significantly bulkier.)

Three switches on the LED assembly provide power on/off and normal/extrabright, color selection, and "theme" selection. Themes vary - zig-zags, stripes, hearts, circles, lightning bolts, skulls (!), etc. By combining RGB (red/green/blue) colors, a wide variety of colors is also displayed... you can choose various combinations, or just go with the spectrum. (I'm still familiarizing myself with color and theme selections; I expect I'll be more of an authority on the subject in a month, than I am now.)

There are some some warnings:
- Don't exceed 40mph.
- Don't use in place of a headlight or taillight.
- Don't get distracted by the lights. (That's a tough one!)
- Be aware of local ordinances; some regions may not allow some colors of lights.

Below are a couple photos of the the whole shebang installed, the LED board and the battery pack. A wire runs between the two; it's all quite simple to install securely. So far everything seems good and weatherproof, but I haven't really given it a torture test. (Since the LED board is near the rim, it's very likely at some point it will be submerged in a puddle, so that's important.)




I also tried - without much success - to get some in-motion video. The official promo video is linked at the bottom... it's much better than my feeble results.

So far, I'm very enthusiastic! I'm confident that besides looking cool, they provide a meaningful enhancement to after-dark riding safety... they'd be almost impossible to miss!

I imagine if somebody does a lot of after-dark bicycle pageantry, he could install three sets on the front wheel and three more on the back... and could probably be seen from the next county over!

If the past is any indicator, over the 5 or 6 long-day months of the year, I do very little after-dark riding. And although these lights aren't difficult to install, it does take 15 or 20 minutes... not something you'd want to do before an hour-long night ride. I might leave them installed year-round... or I might take them off in April and put 'em back on in October. We'll see.

I hope to do a follow-up report on my MonkeyLights after a few months.

The "official" video...


Chris said...

Those look awesome. I'm going to look into whether these would fit on my folding bike - it's already something of a conversation starter, and with lights like these, it would be pretty unique.

Clancy Anderson said...

Are those programmable? Some are so you can have PACMan.

Bikeboy said...

Chris, I believe they'll fit 20-inch and up wheels; I bet your folder has at least 20-inch wheels, right? (And fairly conventional spokes...)

Clancy, There are 16 or so various "themes" you can choose from, plus different color combinations. They seem to have a motion sensor of some kind, so it displays those patterns correctly for the wheel rotation speed. (The company can also build a custom display that will shine your company logo, Bart Simpson, or whatever... might be a pretty cool advertising method in the Big City!)

Bob T said...

I look forward to hearing about your experiences with these lights!