I believe that this post may qualify as my first product review*, but I’m not quite sure. The problem is that I don’t actually read my own blog, I just type it. As soon as a sentence has left my fingertips, I scroll down and never look at it again. I like to think of it as a way to keep things fresh and always moving forward so that my reader(s) can experience this blog in the same way I write it: sporadically.
Back in early September, Josh Zisson, bicycle lawyer of Boston, and proprietor of the excellent BikeSafeBoston.com announced a twitter hashtag contest. Josh challenged his followers thusly:
“To enter, you need only post a tweet that includes the following hashtag: #DearDrivers.
The idea is that you’re writing a letter to drivers, along the lines of #DearDrivers, please don’t forget about me when you’re making that right turn. Love, bikers.
Politeness and humor are encouraged, and the best tweet gets the lights.
And here is my winning entry:
Yes, beautiful in its simplicity, my tweet captures the smugness and snark you have come to expect from Car Free in PVD. But truly, I think that it conveys something else, something that Mr. Zisson described in his on-line announcement that I had won the contest:
It’s simple and to the point, and there’s a friendly cheerfulness to it that I quite enjoy.
I also like the hint of pride in his certainty. Cars may be able to get off the line a little quicker, but at the end of the day, a bike in traffic can usually get there just as fast as a car (and sometimes even faster).
The prize for this contest was a Light & Motion VIS 360 helmet lighting system, as seen here mounted on my helmet worn by a pillow shaped like popular public radio personality, The Head of Carl Kassel:
Here I am trying on the light while doing my best Scarlett Johansson impersonation:
And here it is in the package:
It has a USB rechargeable battery in the taillight, which is connected to the headlight by a springy, coiled cable. The headlight has three settings: high, low, & flashing. Along with the very bright headlight, there are two small yellow LEDs on the side of the headlight body to aid in visibility for vehicles approaching from the side. The taillight can only be set to flashing. Along with the three LEDs, the taillight also has reflective material to catch the headlights of the vehicle behind you.
I’ve been using the light for about a month now, so I have a few impressions to share.
My standard light system is a Planet Bike Blaze 2W headlight (mounted on my handlebars), and a Planet Bike Superflash tailight (mounted on my rack). The Blaze 2W is a great light, I wrote about it more after someone stole my first light. I usually use the headlight in flash mode where it blinks several times at low light, then once at super-high level. It seems to do a good job of getting motorists attention. Most of my night-time riding is well-lit by streetlights, so I need a lighting system that will allow me to be seen by others more than something that will light the way. I’ve been quite happy with my Planet Bike set-up.
The Light & Motion helmet set up is hella-bright. There are probably some numbers I could list about lumens and what not, but when I run both the Blaze and VIS 360 side by side, I can see that the VIS 360 is brighter. The cone of light it creates is also wider than the Blaze. Even when I point the concentrated beam of light down, I can see the “halo” portion of the light catch reflective street signs -another aid to motorist visibility. Along with being a brighter light, there are some inherent advantages to having a light on your head rather than on your handlebars. First, when you turn your head to look at something, it’s lit up! Sure it sounds simple, but it is kind of fun to use one’s head as a turret, scanning back and forth on the road, looking for potholes, debris etc. Although my flashing taillight does a good job of attracting the attention of motorists behind me, there’s nothing like turning one’s head to show motorists that there is a real human being ahead of them. One more thing I like: the helmet light makes for an effective defensive “weapon.” There have been a few times now where a motorist was about to pull out in front of me. Although I have the light pointed at the ground about 8 feet ahead of me, all I have to do is flick my head up a little bit and BAM! the offending motorist gets a quick flash of light. I probably have more fun doing this than I should.
The VIS 360 is not without problems.
Here’s a picture from the Light & Motion website. Everything looks solid: the taillight is mounted on the back, the headlight is mounted up front. Things are not working out as well with my helmet:
Here it is mounted on the middle beam at the back of my helmet. There’s a plastic tab on the inside of my helmet (part of the helmet’s strap system) that prevents me from mounting the taillight in the middle of the helmet. So I tried the lower beam:
Down here it just flops around. There are a couple of problem with the mounting system. First of all, the bracket is optimized for helmets that are mostly round on the back. Many helmets are like mine: they come to a point in the back to aid in
the appearance of aerodynamics. The bracket just won’t sit flush on this sort of point. But this isn’t the worst design problem. The big problem is that the velcro attachment strap is far too long.
The strap has both “hook” and “loop” sections of velcro on it and they are designed to overlap in order to secure the rear bracket. My helmet seems to be of a standard thickness, but I’ve tried many different ways of setting up the velcro and no matter what I do, it overlaps in a less-than-optimal way – that is, a loop section of the strap is overlapping with another loop section so that the velcro is not fully engaged. I don’t think that it is in danger of immediately falling off, but it doesn’t feel secure. The mounting kit came with a second velcro strap, but it was identical in design to the first. Since this kit fits so poorly on a very common Giro helmet, I think Light & Motion needs to refine their mounting kit a little bit, and at the very least provide two different velcro straps – one for thick helmets and one for thinner helmets like mine.
Here’s the taillight mounted to Spouse’s helmet, where the bracket mounts pretty flush, but the velcro straps are still too long:
You can also see the reflective properties of the light (and Spouse’s helmet)
One other thing, the price. My current light set-up retails for about $90 ($60 for the headlight, $30 for the taillight). The VIS 360 retails for $149. It’s a quality product, and I plan on using it regularly, but that $100 barrier is pretty hard for me to break for a lighting system. And since one could buy a complete “road bike” for $159 (but please, for the love of all that is holy, do not buy that bike), I can’t imagine that high-end lights like this are anything more than a niche product. But, maybe for a commuter with a much longer ride than mine, this sort of investment makes sense.
There are some other factors to consider before getting a helmet light that are just inherent to a helmet light. A great thing is that I can just throw on my one helmet and hop on whichever bike I want to ride. Currently, I have to move my lights around from bike to bike – not a huge hassle since I bought extra mounts for each bike. The flipside of that is the fact that I now have to take my helmet with me when I park my bike at a store. I used to just leave it on my bike (but I removed my Blaze headlight). Just a slight drawback to having a helmet light.
Also, it looks super dorky, but I’m pretty much beyond worrying about how dorky I look.
Final verdict for this review: I like the light, I plan on using it all the time. However, it needs significant improvements to the mounting system. For some people, the price point might be just right, it certainly performs better than my $90 system. For others, $150 is a lot to spend on a bike light.
*One could consider my early post “Spongy Wonderful” to be a product review, but that was a long time ago.