Thursday, February 20, 2014

Let There Be Light?

You wouldn't know it from the 70+ temps and clear, clear, skies, but it's actually winter here in San Diego.  While this "season" is merely notional to most San Diegans, us bikeists (the ones with day-jobs anyway) have to contend with severely diminished sunlight.  For me, that means leaving for and from work in the dark every day.  As discussed in one of my previous posts, my NiteRider "MiNewt" helmet-mounted light makes my 23 mile ride home possible by, almost literally, turning night into day.

Given the lame, AA battery powered CatEye lights I squinted home with in the past, this San Diego-made product that charges via my USB port, represents the pinnacle of bike-light technology for me.  Very hard to imagine lights getting any better (I mean, come on, these are pretty much blinding as they are), but that doesn't mean that there aren't folks out there who will keep on trying.  And, thanks to my loyal readers, the Bikeist is up on two of the more recent attempts to re-invent the (bike) light-bulb.

First up is "Lumigrids," designed by a group of Chinese engineers (and brought to my attention by Stacy from Jersey and DC Dan):

As discussed HERE, this product is supposed to make night-biking "safer" by replacing a steady beam of light with an LED grid that's reveals imperfections in the pavement ahead.

I absolutely love the following "Flawsome" review that, pretty much, de-bunks this entire concept:

My favorite passage from the review:

"I’m pretty sure if I saw something with a shadow that’s in front of my bike path, whether that shadow is concave or convex, I would
  1. know what that object is, because light is shining on it, causing it to have a shadow, which means I can clearly see it
  2. make sure to avoid it.
How do I know that I would do this? Because  I HAVE A BRAIN. I don’t need a freakin’ grid of light that changes shape to tell me that there *might* be something in my bike path."


The author concludes by wondering if the designers ever even actually attempted to ride a bike in the dark.  My money is on not . . .

Next up is this product that "Portland Bob" alerted me to:

The "Blaze" doesn't try to replace the beam of light that has served motorized vehicles traveling at critical speeds through the darkness so well over the years (as it does contain an actual head-light), but it attempts to supplement it with technology that may have been suggested by Dr. Evil himself.  Yes, say it with me, the "Blaze" utilizes LAAASERS.  The image you see above is a laser projection of a bike-rider that will be visible on the pavement several yards ahead of the rider.  

Check out this video (set to inspirational music) that shows the "Blaze" in action:

I'm not quite sure what to make of the "Blaze."  I'm all for anything that makes things safer for us hard-working bikeists, but, besides the obvious problem posed by Portland Bob (having to dodge feral kitties who won't be able to resist a laser dancing around in the road) doesn't the projection pose a risk of luring the attention of drivers away from bike-riders themselves?  If I saw a magic image suddenly appear in the road in front of me, I'm looking at the image itself, not where it came from (although I may be wondering where it came from - further distracting me).  Further, isn't a strong beam of light an equally good way to let other vehicles know you're coming?  It works for cars and motorcycles, right?  Finally, and most importantly I think, the examples depicted in the video emphasized (for me) the most important element required for bike safety at night:  the exercise of caution by bike-riders themselves.  Bike riders need to avoid riding in the blind spots of cars -- especially as we approach intersections where they are bound to turn into us.  This is a good topic for an entire post, but the best way to approach an intersection is to take the lane and move with the flow of traffic between the cars.   Staying in their blind-spots to the far right is almost begging to be "T-boned."  Back to the video - why on earth would someone try to squeeze through the blindspot of a double-decker bus as depicted in the video?  Pure folly.  Also, how about the example of the car about to pull out in front of the bike?  Sure, the car might not see the approaching bike.  However, an attentive rider should easily be able to spot a car pulling out ahead and slow down and/or move out into the road until she or he is sure they can be seen.  It is easy, sometimes, to blame driveists for hazards we encounter on the road, but sometimes we are our own worst enemies. 

Hard to come to an ultimate conclusion on the Blaze at this point, but I CAN conclude that I'm not ready to shell out $200 for one.  Looking forward to seeing it in action, though, so let me know if you have one and maybe we can go for a night ride sometime!

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