By Ed Pavelka
My wife’s Chevy has always-on driving lights. You notice more and more motor vehicles, including motorcycles, with this safety feature. It works. The lights catch your eye from a long way off.
That’s why I was excited to hear about Reelight, an always-on bike light system with packaging that promises cyclists will “Be seen better. Be safer — day and night!” I imagined a small but intense beam that would make drivers take notice from hundreds of feet away.
In normal daylight, however, Reelights are inconsequential. They are not bright enough or high enough on the bike to be noticed at a distance great enough to make a difference. The company claims an intensity of 29 candela for the front light and 9 for the rear, but the brightness is effective only in dark or near-dark conditions. Even then, Reelights are not designed to produce enough light to see the road; they are safety lights only.
I installed a SL-100 set on my wife’s Trek so I could see them in action from the front and rear. Reelights mount easily under the bike’s left-side quick-releases or axle nuts. A set includes a silver front light and a red rear light. Each is about the size of a golf ball and contains two small LEDs about the diameter of a pencil eraser. They’re powered by two sets of magnets mounted to the spokes of each wheel. These are similar to some cyclecomputer magnets but considerably larger and heavier. A pair weighs 40 grams.
As soon as the bike starts rolling, the Reelight SL-100’s LEDs begin flashing. The rate increases with the bike’s speed. It’s about 200 flashes per minute at 20 kph (12.4 mph).
In the model SL-120, the rate is constant at 120 flashes per minute. This version, which sells for about $10 (7 euros) more, includes a capacitor in each light unit. It stores energy and allows flashing to continue for 3-4 minutes after the wheels stop turning. This is helpful in the dark, particularly if your main light source is generator powered and goes out when thebike isn’t rolling.
When the SL-120 set is installed its capacitors are empty. The bike needs to be ridden for 5 minutes to establish a charge. The packaging doesn’t explain this, so it’s normal to assume that something is wrong with the lights or installation when they don’t flash during setup. After the initial charge, the lights go on after 2 wheel revolutions. The capacitors hold a charge for up to 4 days.
Although Reelights are small, they are relatively heavy at 220 grams per set due to steel mounting brackets, the weight of the power-generating components and the wheel magnets. Being at hub level, the lights don’t add cockpit clutter and are mostly out of the cyclist’s sight — but not out of mind. The front Reelight on both models we tried buzzed constantly during rides, apparently due to road vibration and power generation. A spokesman for the company says this noise is normal.
Note that the Reelight magnets aren’t just weighty, they are very strong. They will mess up your cyclecomputer’s readings if its magnetic pickup is mounted anywhere close to the front or rear hub.
Reelights work better the darker it gets. At night the flashing is bright and eye-catching. A great advantage is that Reelights are always on, so during dawn, dusk, night and gloomy, rainy days you have an automatic safety aid. Just don’t expect them to make a difference in daylight.
Reelights would be a worthwhile addition to a commuter or transportation bike that’s ridden in various light conditions (if the buzzing doesn’t bother you). For your good road bike not ridden at night, I can’t see any advantage. Reelights add weight, noise and a certain amount of clutter that isn’t offset by greater safety in normal light.