Tag Archive for bike lights

Guest Post: Testing to Destruction

It’s one of the most popular posts ever on this site. And I didn’t even write it. 

A review of ultra-bright bike taillights by Mark Goodley continues to draw readers on a daily basis, over two years after it was written.

The survivor of a near fatal collision, Mark has made it his mission in life to keep others from suffering the same fate. And has put his background as a product design engineer and a licensed pro racing mechanic to use to study how bike collisions happen, and how to prevent them.

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Common to physicists and engineers is the requirement to test a product and/or design to total destruction. First we test in computer simulations (via FEA, CFD, or Multi-physics) software, Second; by intentionally pushing well beyond the design limits in real world tests, to produce catastrophic failures.

This is how we learn and improve our designs, and develop an understanding between our theoretical software modeling, and it’s correlation to the physical entity/item/product.

How and why this process is highly relevant to understanding and preventing cycling fatalities follows below.

After countless examinations of police reports, interviews, and scouring though all available data, I started a couple plus years ago with a very simple theory.

IF you ride your bike on roads and streets, with (minimum standard/charged) Ultra Bright Lights, you won’t get hit or killed (from behind at least) by a vehicle. (The bio-psycho-physio-logical “whys and how’s” this works is found in separate articles.)

The theory has seemingly held for over 500,000 bicycle-car related accidents, injuries and deaths in the US over a ten year period. Until this past week, I haven’t been able to find a single verified instance (data collection is ongoing) where a cyclist was hit from behind, while flashing Ultra Bright lights. Half a Million Cycling Injuries and Fatalities (without lights) to 0 (ZERO, with lights). 500,000: 000000.

Even if these numbers could be off by one or two accidents, the long term trend is evident, striking, and alarming.

That statistic changed this past week. Two men were killed (reported by bikinginla.com) in unrelated “hit from behind” accidents in the Los Angeles area while likely/evidently riding with lights. Begging the question; what made these two different from all the others? What broke down? Is the theory disproved?

So let’s look at the preliminary facts in each of these two fatalities that “broke” the theory.

  1. Each man was riding his bike shortly before, and long after midnight, between roughly 12:00AM and 3:00 AM.
  2. Each man was riding on high speed streets (one on a freeway off-ramp, the other in twisting and turning Fairfax) streets with car sidewalk parking), both without bike lanes.
  3. Each man was Hispanic and over 45 years old.
  4. Each man may have had (only) one bicycle light on the rear when they were hit.
  5. One man was very possibly killed by a drunk/drugged driver.

This is what we’ll call/term Testing a Theory to Destruction.”

Look at what was necessary to “Break the Theory.” Do you see anything even remotely resembling your riding? NO, of course not. How many of us actually get on our bikes after midnight to take a ride?

You had to have a large number of beyond “Perfect Storm” scenarios in each case to kill these two men. An old pilot axiom is: It’s not the 1st or 2nd mistake that kills you, but the 5th or 6th will.

IF anything, these two (very sad) fatalities PROVE the point. To get hit or injured by a car while riding with Ultra Bright lights, a lot of things have to go wrong, all at the same time.

In Summary; what have we learned?

  1. Don’t ride late at night at all, especially after midnight when even the best of drivers are going to be tired, never mind when drunk-drugged up drivers are going to congregate… after the bars close.
  2. Don’t ride on very dangerous roads that are going to be a problem, even under the best of circumstances.   I personally have known the Fairfax area for many decades… and would never ride a bike on it; at least not willingly. IF you HAVE absolutely no option but to ride these streets, take extra precautions. Ride at safe(r) times, with EXTRA Ultra Bright Lights, Don’t ride in black/dark colors, and Still ride at least 5 feet away from parked cars (to prevent getting doored, which is equally life threatening).
  3. Take up the WHOLE lane if you MUST, until it is Safe to move back over to the right. There are some areas I still will only ride the sidewalk.
  4. Be attentive at all times; DON’T BE TOO PROUD to PULL OVER and STOP your bike and WAIT for traffic to pass before crossing dangerous, high speed areas. ESPECIALLY FREEWAY/Highway ON-OFF RAMPS.
  5. Ride with multiple rear lights, (3) three is preferable to “paint” a clear 3D picture in space for a(ny) driver’s mind to immediately identify your location, bearing, and speed. The best lights can be clearly seen and easily recognized from over 1/2 a mile away!!! (in broad DAYlight).   Distance is Time, Time is Early Warning, Early Warning is allowing a driver time to plan (rather than milliseconds to react) and hence accident avoidance, and That is Life.
  6. 500,000:000002 are still pretty good odds… Especially when Your life is on the line. Play the numbers.
  7. STAY ALIVE! ride ULTRA BRIGHT… DAY and night…

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Stay tuned. We’ll have another post from Mark next week.

 

 

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. 

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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.

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Best wishes for a very happy Hanukkah!

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