Celebrate the Festival of Lights with Mini Monkey Lights

This seems like an oddly appropriate topic for the first day of Hanukkah.

A couple of months ago, I got an offer from MonkeyLectric inviting me to try out their new Mini Monkey Light.

Their timing was perfect.

I’ve been doing a lot more after dark riding this year as I’ve tried reducing the number of wheels required to attend various meetings by half. Especially since I can ride Downtown from my Westside apartment as fast, if not faster, than I can drive there, with less aggravation and no expensive search for parking at the other end.

And a lot more fun along the way.

The problem was one of safety.

I’m a firm believer in being seen. If I’m going to ride at night, I want to be lit up like a Christmas tree. Or in keeping with today’s theme, a Hanukkah bush.

But finding the side wheel reflectors required under state law has proven virtually impossible. And anyone who actually relies on reflectors to capture the attention of the city’s huge population of texting drivers had better make sure their medical insurance is current.

I had no better luck finding lights to attach to my spokes, as the only one I came up with only managed to stay attached until I hit the first massive pothole. Which, given the state of L.A. streets, was about a half block from home.

Besides, anything named Mini Monkey Light had to be fun. Right?

So I quickly agreed, and sure enough, it arrived just in time for my next Downtown meeting. A meeting my riding partner and I were over half an hour late for, as I struggled to make sense of the cryptic instructions that seemed to be missing a step or two.

But after installing and uninstalling and reinstalling it more than once — okay, more thrice — I finally managed to get it hooked up and working. And soon found my office lit up with an ever-changing series of brightly colored lights.

Since those installation issues delayed our departure, that put us on the road well after dark, providing an immediate test of the Mini Monkey Light.

The first thing I noticed was that everyone else seemed to notice. Drivers gave me a wider than usual berth, perhaps unsure what kind of crazy cyclist would ride with a spinning kaleidoscope lights on his front wheel.

The 10 exceptionally bright LEDs formed an ever-changing pattern of spinning 8-bit graphics, providing a series of blocky patterns that rotated around the wheel if I rode slowly; a solid circular loop pattern if I rode faster. Although that seemed to happen at little higher speed than the company said, becoming a solid loop around 17 – 18 mph, as opposed to the promised 15 mph.

The result for my first 12.5 mile trip using the lights in rush hour traffic, not a single close call. Which is almost unheard of in L.A. traffic, day or night.

Same thing on the way back, as the design of the lights offered increased visibility from virtually any angle — even from the rear. In fact, I found myself choosing to ride caboose, allowing the brilliant cacophony of light to call attention to our petite peloton. Yet not feeling the slightest bit more vulnerable despite the more exposed position.

Not to mention, it was fun.

Okay, a blast.

As I rode, I saw pedestrians, drivers and other riders turn to look, many with just a touch of mirth apparent on their faes. And I found myself having more fun that I have in ages.

Something that seems to be repeated every time I use them.

Surprisingly, even with the heavy battery pack containing three standard AA batteries, it didn’t seem to affect my speed in the slightest. Mounting the battery pack to the wheel hub reduces the effect of the added weight; I found myself easily maintaining my usual cruising speed of 18 – 20 mph with the light installed, and able to sprint at much higher speeds.

And after roughly 20 hours of use, the light is still going strong; the company says the batteries should last up to 40 hours.

Which brings up a few minor complaints, aside from the cryptic instructions.

Mainly the way the light unit is connected.

It’s designed to be attached to the wheel using zip ties — like modern plastic handcuffs — which makes it difficult to remove for daytime riding.

The Mini Monkey Light is most practical for riders who will install it once and leave it there. As opposed to someone like me who mostly rides during the day, and doesn’t want to leave unnecessary lights on the bike when they’re not going to be used.

I found myself attaching the waterproof light and battery pack with the supplied zip ties, then cutting them off the next morning; a wasteful and inconvenient process that quickly went through the handful of zip ties that came with it.

The solution I found was to use twist ties, like you get in the produce department of your local grocery, to attach the light unit. I still haven’t found a viable alternative to zip ties for the battery pack, though, which has to be attached tightly so it will stay in place without slipping around the hub.

That allows me to attach and remove the light unit quickly, though I still have to go through the awkward process of slipping scissors through the spokes to snip the battery pack off the hub.

The other problem is hooking up the wire that connects the two units.

The wires connect via a simple polarized plug-in connection, which can only go in one way. Unfortunately, the connector itself is small and awkward; difficult to manage during the day, and almost impossible fumbling in the dark with cold fingers.

That’s one thing they really need to address before the product starts shipping in February. There’s got to be a more convenient way to hook the wires together. Or at least better indicate how they should connect together.

But other than those relatively minor problems, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone. In fact, I may consider getting another one for the back wheel.

It may be overkill in terms of safety.

But it works. And at just under $50, it’s affordable.

And more fun than a barrel full of…

Well, you know.

My apologies to MonkeyLectric — and you — for not getting to this sooner; the last few months have been remarkably hectic. Then again, it would help if drivers would just stop running us over so we could focus on happier subjects more often.

And this time of year especially, be sure to take lights with you during afternoon rides, even if you don’t intend to be out after dark. A simple flat or some other unexpected delay can easily keep you out after dark. 

……..

One quick legal note.

Dj Wheels reports that Christine Dahab, the allegedly drunk/distracted driver finally charged in the June late night Culver City collision that left a number of riders strewn about the roadway with various injuries — some serious — will be arraigned on Thursday.

The hearing will take place starting at 8:30 am in Department 144 of the Airport courthouse, 11701 La Cienega Blvd, 9th Floor, Case #SA079472.

……..

Best wishes for a very happy Hanukkah!

8 comments

  1. Opus the Poet says:

    If the lights don’t affect wheel balance, why not just remove the batteries for daylight, and leave them in your bag for re-installing when darkness approaches?

    • bikinginla says:

      I’d actually be more inclined to do the opposite. Since the battery pack is harder to remove and doesn’t seem to effect performance, I’d probably leave it and take off the light panel instead.

      Can’t help it, I’m vain when it comes to my bike’s appearance, and that black blob in the spokes doesn’t do much to beautify it.

  2. cycler says:

    Funny that you and LGRAB posted about these on the same day!
    My blogroll looks like it’s on repeat.

    These do seem like fun, and I sure wouldn’t notice the additional weight. At some point though I need to stop adding lights or I’m going to start feeling like the crazy bike lady :)

    • bikinginla says:

      I always try to coordinate with Dottie before I post.

      No actually, that’s pretty funny. Sounds like she’s had hers just as long as I did, and we both posted the same day. Although she missed the obvious Hanukkah connection.

  3. [...] Dahab Arraignment Today (Biking In L.A.) [...]

  4. Kim says:

    Being on the slightly more reserved side, I really like the new mini lights.

    I agree there does need to be an easier way to remove/attach them. With possibly $100 or more on your wheels, you want to avoid thieves.

    As for the huge battery compartment, it would be nice if the lights could run on a smaller lithium battery.

  5. Kim says:

    Oh…one more thing. Maybe a rubberized wrap around velcro band would be an easier attachment method for the battery holder. Rubberized on the inside of the band would help keep case from slipping around the hub. Overall they look great. I would love to get some once the few small issues are worked out. Thanks for the review!

  6. Alec says:

    Hi Everybody, I suggest using quick-release zipties if you want to strap stuff on and off your bike frequently; same as the regular zipties, but with a little tab that releases the lock. I have two M210 in the front with one battery pack, so it looks symmetric and more fun per mass ratio. I never remove these puppies, but if you are a gram-shaver then you probably have money, just buy another front wheel for day riding!

    PS @ Kim, the hub mount batt. pack comes with a little rubber foot that keeps it from sliding around even with fairly low clamp force. If you didn’t get one or lost it just contact the maker.

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