Earlier this year my friend John Duggan wrote a very persuasive article called AN OUNCE (OR TWO) OF PREVENTION COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE. In the article John points out the usefulness of a front facing white LED strobe light. I've used LED lights for several years and John's article prompted me to use my LED light more. And even though LEDs don't draw much power, I did have to remember to turn the lights on and keep them loaded with charged up batteries. This wasn't a big hassle but it was enough to get me thinking about other alternatives. I remembered seeing some LED strobes that are powered by magnets that attach to your bike wheels on the Hiawatha Cyclery website, so I decided to check those out.
I wound up ordering a set of Reelight SL-120 lights from Hiawatha. These lights are a bit pricier than the original Reelight SL-100 model but they have a capacitor circuit that keeps the lights blinking even when the bike wheels aren't moving. Jim at Hiawatha shipped my lights right out and I got them a couple of days ago.
The first thing I noticed was how solid these things are. They seem to be very well-made but if you are a super weight-weenie these might not be your thing. The lights feel substantial and they attach to the wheel skewers with big, beefy black steel brackets. There are no switches at all on the lights, they look to be pretty much completely weather-proof. The wheel magnets (2 per wheel) are encased in plastic and they are really powerful. When I unpacked the lights and magnets, the magnets stuck to themselves and the lights with a satisfying THUNK.
I managed to pry the magnets apart and followed the simple instructions for installing the lights, The only tools I needed were the knife blade of my Swiss Army knife to open the ubiquitous plastic packaging and the Phillips blade to install the magnets and adjust the lights location relative to the wheel. It was literally a five-minute install.
At first I thought I'd done something wrong because the lights didn't spring to life when I spun the wheel. But when I hopped on the bike and started rolling, the lights started flashing before I was fifty yards from home. It just takes a little bit of time for that capacitor circuit to charge up. Jim tells me that the cheaper SL-100 lights come on right away and are actually a bit brighter than the SL-120 lights.
The Reelights are definitely more of a light you have so folks see you, rather than being a light to see by. They are plenty bright and attention grabbing in that capacity and the stand light feature of the SL-120 lights really does work. After just a couple of minutes of riding, the lights will stay flashing through the length of a stop-light cycle and after my 18 mile commute, the lights stay flashing for at least five minutes. If you get the SL-120 lights, you may have to put up with helpful friends and co-workers telling you you've left your lights on, but that's a small price to pay for having lights that you pretty much don't have to think about.
My friend Brad commented that "every kids bike should come equipped with these" and my buddy Mark expressed the stronger opinion that "every bike should come with these."
If I try hard I can maybe come up with a few downsides of these lights. In theory, the magnets add a tiny bit of drag to my wheels. In theory, the added weight is also slowing me down a bit. In practice, I don't care about the little bit of weight and drag. Since the lights only flash, I can't use them on some brevets but I figure for brevets I'll be using other lights and I'll leave the Reelights at home. And finally, if I bought into the moth effect theory, I wouldn't use these. But I bought these lights instead and I'm happy with my purchase.