Revolights: Hugga After Dark

It’s full-blown winter here in New York, and while that doesn’t preclude riding, it does make it a lot more likely that my rides will be in the dark. That usually means night rides with Glenn and his Monkey Lights but I find them too heavy and much more suitable for side-impact protection than being seen from behind or in the front.

That’s why I picked up a set of Revolights. They’re relatively light, super cool looking in a Tron-meets-road-warrior sort of way, and provide nice front and rear visibility.

If you haven’t heard of Revolights, here’s the elevator pitch: Bike lights mounted to the wheels that keep time with the speed of the cyclist casting a nice bright light at the bottom edge of the wheel and onto the road.

I’ve been looking to get a pair of these lights since they first made waves on Kickstarter by raising $215,000 after asking for $43,500. The initial prototype videos were cool, but I wasn’t really confident enough in the durability and functionality to kick in to the campaign.

The lights are now on sale in the US for $250 and I decided to make the plunge as our hemisphere was cast once again into the mind-numbing darkness that is winter. It’s either a nice new set of “please don’t hit me” lights, or more hours on the trainer. (As it turns out I’ll likely do a lot of both, since I can’t watch Walking Dead when I’m on the road.)

Installation is relatively straightforward, though cumbersome. Plan a few hours if you’re going to install them yourself, or bring your local mechanic a six-pack of microbrew when you drop these off. The lighting system sandwiches each side of a wheel’s brake track and connects with a series of “t” shaped clips. Additional spaces are provided that can be zip-tied together—a good idea as the plastic of the Revolights will rub on a fork leg if they’re not kept tight.

After the wheels are connected to the lights a battery pack (chargeable via USB) is inserted in a hub-mounted platform. A few magnets need to be zip-tied to the frame to let the Revolights know the speed of rotation and that’s it. (Do not skip the magnets. For my first ride I didn’t have time to complete the job and went out without the magnets in place. The wheels cycle through the lights rather spastically and you’ll end up just blinding yourself.)

On the road the lights are incredibly cool and while Glenn’s new programmable Monkey Lights are more interesting to watch, I don’t feel they cast as safe of a pattern ahead or behind the bike.

On the other hand, the LEDs on the Revolights are pointed only outward, there is no side illuminating LED. Since the emitter is above the plastic track of the Revolight frame there is a good amount of light cast to the sides, but anyone familiar with LED technology knows the limitation of off-angle viewing—light diminishes considerably off-angle to the diode. I’d love to see a follow up Revolight with LEDs mounted around the rim pointing in the same direction of the Monkey Lights (that is to say sideways) to further reduce the chance of slide-collision.

In any case, the Revolights seem pretty bulletproof. On many rides with Glenn’s Monkey Lights (or the set I owned for a while) there would be the need to stop and tighten the attachment screws lest the light slide down the spoke. This is not an issue with the Revolight.

My only issue is with the minimum size of the t-shaped connector that provides the main attachment, it would be great to have one just a tad narrower to help with the clearance on tight forks.

For $250 it’s a great addition to the arsenal of the night rider or commuter, and as long as you’re willing to put the time in to install them it’s an easy job.

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