Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Reelight SL-120 Electrodynamic Light Set

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.



21 comments:

gazer said...

Minor bonus: you can also eliminate your cycle computer magnet down there (if you use such things).

Or, just pretend you're going twice as fast!

Dan said...

I've got a set of the SL-100s, and I think they are a great idea. I forget that I have them installed until I happen to be riding in the dark, and they are always on when I need them (while I'm moving). The capacitor circuits are a neat improvement.

David said...

Just placed my order. They'll bake a great addition to my 1973 Raleigh Sports, SA-3speed Winter commuter. Thanks, Kent.

Cellarrat said...

another super cool Kent P. Product!

Jeff Kerkove said...

Hope your enjoying the Ergon hand nirvana.

:-)

Tommy Williams said...

Thanks for posting this, Kent.

I ordered a set of the 120s as well and got mail that they shipped today. Hiawatha Cyclery is going to wonder what's going on with those lights....

dph said...

Kent, would these work on a fixie with solid axles and standard 15mm bolts front and rear?

Kent Peterson said...

No problem with standard bolt-on wheels. In fact, the instructions for the lights show bolt-on wheels instead of quick-release wheels.

If your frame has some oddly-shaped dropouts you might have a problem. Disk brake rotors would also conflict with using these, the magnets and the lights basically are in the same spot as the disk and caliper. In that case you could maybe run the lights on the right side of the frame but it'd be weird.

For your basic bike with standard axles and rim brakes, however, the lights fit with no problems.

KM said...

I came in Friday to quite a few orders for the ReeLights. Thanks Kent for posting about them.

We have carried them since we opened in 2006 and have not had a set returned. One customer probably has 15000 miles on a set thru all kinds of weather with no problems.

We have not yet found a bike they wont work on but some frames do require a bit of "MacGyvering" to work.

Cheers
Kevin
Hiawatha Cyclery

Jim G said...

Kent, you wrote that you wouldn't/couldn't use these lights on brevets because they don't meet the requirements for non-flashing lights. I'm wondering if there's a way to hack the circuitry, bypassing the flashing circuit so the LEDs are driven straight from the capacitor, resulting in being steadily lit?

I'd guess that the original SL-100 model flashes because of the rotating magnets, but it sounds like the SL-120 uses some sort of flasher circuit since the lights keep blinking for several minutes after the bike stops. Capacitors only emit steady DC current, so in theory this should be possible...?

this verdant country said...

Thanks for the plug Kent. Our sales of these lights has been higher than normal this week.

We have sold quite a few sets of lights to people who express an interest in hacking them to achieve some desired result. I haven't received any feedback regarding the success or unsucess of these modifications.

I have heard that the Reelight people have a new light in the works that mounts higher on the bike. The pick-up coil and magnets would still be centered around the hub, but the light would mount up on the frame somewhere. They seem to be open to innovation, and perhaps they're also open to the idea of a non-blinking light.

bikercj said...

I got my Ree lights (SL-100's) last winter from Hiawatha, and I really like them. I used them on a 3 week tour this summer, and when we went through tunnels of trees it felt good to know that my blinkers were on. They don't seem bright until I get in true darkness, and then they are very visible. Maybe someday I'll trade up to the 120's.
cjh in Kansas City

Joel said...

Thanks for the review of these. I saw an article last week about them and have been debating ordering them as a stand-by until I can get the generator powered lights for my commuter.

Anonymous said...

I bought these last fall for mine and my wife's commuter bikes. After a year's commuting in Juneau I can attest that they hold up well to the worst of weather.

Greup said...

Actually i just read that they are gonna build a non blinkin version for the swedish market since blinkin lights are not legal on bikes here at present.

Mark said...

The Hiawatha site mentioned that they are somewhat difficult to mount on old English 3-speeds. Any idea what the hassle is & how to overcome it?

Teri said...

I am unimpressed by the capacity of the rear light to stay on. The front one does splendidly. My friend has taken the rear light on his bike now and said it still didn't stay on as long as the front one - even after several miles. How come the front one is so much better on two different bikes?? It's the rear light that matters most. My browser will not allow me onto the Reelight website either ... groan!!!

Anonymous said...

As per the reelight website, they now have SL150 light sets that stay on continuously while your bicycle is in motion. Further, all of the sets can be purchased in an extended version which allows for mounting around disc brakes, etc.
-Stan Nelson

Anonymous said...

There is a guy selling an extended/right hand mount version of the SL120 on Ebay but he's in Australia and it's expensive. It says they can fit around a derailleur but it looks like they would probably go around disk brakes as well...

Anonymous said...

I think one reason why the rear reelight 120 doesnt blink as long as the front one is that the distance from magnet to device is often larger on the rear wheel, causing less magnetic flux in the coil and therefore less electrons in the capacitor. Mounting with discs or on the rhs of bike is possible. Go to the reelight website for details (and better prices as well)
Guy

Anonymous said...

It's no "in theory" that they produce drag. They DO produce drag. That is how the lights work! They steal power from the cyclist. Plain and simple. The added weight is also way more noticeable on a road bike and will cause a very obvious unbalanced wheel.