I've been feeling pretty green for the past week: I've been using bicycle lights that don't need batteries.
I've been riding with Reelights, which produce power from magnetic induction. Day and night, my front and rear lights are flashing away, making me (I hope) more visible to motor traffic. And I will never have to scramble to come up with a double-A battery again.
I was pretty much hooked on Reelights when I saw the demonstration desk at Velo-city Global 2010 in Copenhagen last month. Sara Fritzner, marketing and logistics co-ordinator for Reelight Denmark drew quite a crowd as her demo lights flashed away.
Long ago, I liked dynamo lights. But I have found over the years that dynamos did not always work well with my collection of bikes: some tires too small, some forks too crowded, fenders in the way, and there was always the drag produced as the dynamo hit the tire. So I switched to battery lights, and then there was the problem of battery life and replacement. Although I tried to have the necessary replacement batteries on hand (C-cells for one, double-As for another and triple-As for yet a third), this intention often fell short of realization. Especially annoying is when the bike light decides to die on the way home, at night.
Fritzner had the answer to my prayers. For 250 Danish kroner (about $50 Cdn), I had the minimalist SL100 Compact Flash. And within hours, I went back for the SL620 Power Back Up (hey, I have two bikes...these were my souvenirs from Denmark). When I got home, I mounted the magnets on my spokes, the lights on my frames and went riding.
I had bought them on the strength of the idea alone. Battery-free lights with no dynamo-drag made sense to me. I read later that Reelight had won a Gold Eurobike Award in 2008 and that daylight bicycle lights are credited with a 32 per cent reduction in cycling accidents (among those who use them). Pretty much the same logic that goes into daylight running lights for automobiles. You can read more about Reelights at their website.
There are downsides to Reelights. The entry level SL100 Compact Flash only blinks when you are moving. Great if you are doing a long haul, but not so good in the stop-and-go. You'll still need some backup, unless you get the SL120 Power Back Up. As well, the SL100 series mounts on the quick release or axle, and I wondered if it was too low for motorists to notice.
The Power Back Up series is just that: it has a limited storage capacity and will blink for a few minutes after the wheel stops spinning. It builds up to that storage capacity, so don't expect to have enough charge to keep flashing if you have to stop 50 metres into your ride. For the SL620, the generator is mounted on the forks and stays, but thanks to a retractable wire, the lights can be mounted on the forks, handlebars, seat post or rack.
The mounting system needs some rethinking: I had to jam some scrap rubber into the front bracket to keep the light pointed straight ahead.
But overall, I am very pleased. No more batteries. As bright a flashing light as anything I have ever tried. If you want to order a set, you can ask your bicycle store to contact Cycles Lambert in Levis, Que. at 1-800-463-4452 or check their web catalogue. Cycles Lambert does not list the lights as Reelights, but by their model number, so it helps knowing which model going in. Suggested retail price in Canada for the SL100 is $55. Or you can try Reelights online.