JUMP TO:

Hands on with the Revolights system

IMG_1236

It’s been approximately a year since I ordered Revolights off of Kickstarter.  They arrived a few weeks ago, but I’ve been mostly out of town since then.  So tonight I finally had a chance to sit down for a few hours and get them all installed and then go for a bit of a night ride out on the town.

The goal of Revolights is to increase visibility while you’re riding your bike.  The rim system has accelerometers built in so that it keeps the lights facing forward (on forward wheel) or rear (on rear wheel) at all times.  Sorta like ensuring that your car lights don’t end up inside the cabin of your car, these are always on the front/back dynamically.

First, let’s walk through getting the things all hooked up on the bike.

Installation:

IMG_1145

The kit comes relatively thin box that’s about the size of a bicycle rim.  You order your Revolights based on your wheel rim size.  So you’ll want to be sure that you order the correct set for you bike.  This means it may limit transferability between bikes.  In most cases, if you’re talking standard road bikes, you’ll have no issues.  But if you go from road bike to a vastly different type of bike (i.e. mountain bike), you may need to see what it would take to make them compatible.

In my case, I ordered the set applicable for my riding around town bike.  It seemed silly to try and put them on a triathlon time trial bike.

IMG_1148

Once you break out the boxed parts, you’ll find a pile of small parts (mostly clips and screws), as well as the battery packs, micro-USB charging cables, and zip ties.  And of course, you’ll find the Revolight rims themselves.

IMG_1153IMG_1172

The rims are actually four separate rim frames.  Two for the front, and two for the back.  Though, they aren’t identical.  Both front and back have two different rims – one that acts as a primary (battery hooks into it first in the chain), and one that acts as a secondary (battery power goes via the primary to the secondary).

IMG_1154

You can differentiate the two sets by the red and white stickers located on each set.  And then each Revolight rim in the front/rear sets have either one wire or three wires.  Three wires is effectively the primary and where the accelerometer is located within (under the sticker area).  The primary always hangs out on the left side (riders left).

With that, you’ll crack open the manual and begin installation.

IMG_1160

I read from a few folks online to budget about two hours to install the Revolights.  And in the end, that was pretty close to spot on.  You’ll spend about 35 minutes getting through the first few steps, then you’ll spent another 30 or so minutes finishing up the first wheel (total about 65 minutes).  The second wheel took me only about 15 minutes.  Then there was a bit of troubleshooting time, plus some time to re-do a portion of the front wheel since I had wired it wrong initially.  All in, 2 hours was a good block time.

First up is placing three little cardboard pieces onto your wheel which act as guides/spacers.  I spent a fair bit of time ensuring this was perfect.  In retrospect, I got more value out of keeping things semi-loose and just adjusting it later once I had all the pieces on the wheel.

IMG_1169IMG_1162

Once you’ve got the template on your wheel, and the first rim (of four) lined up, you’ll be ready to start attaching the Revolight rims to the spokes.  You do this via little spoke holders attached to spacers.  The spacers are the bigger (longer) of the two below.

IMG_1177

While they don’t mention this in the manual, for my spokes I needed a way to pry it open, so I just used a small flat blade screwdriver to open it open slightly and snap it on.

IMG_1175

Once you have the clips on, you’ll then attach a spacer to them.

IMG_1179

At this point, you’re really only spacing one Revolight rim against the spoke.  Once you attach the back side it’ll all start to make sense.

IMG_1181

In fact, we’ll fast forward to that point.  Essentially, in between the photo above, and the photo below, you simply repeat the above step five more times (six times in total) at specific spacing’s outlined in the manual (all working against the numbers in a clock – i.e. 9PM).

You can see below the two Revolight rims (in black with silver coming out of them), connected by the spacer, which connects in turn to the spoke.  Like I said earlier, once you get the hang of it you can move really fast.  Luckily, there’s nothing easily breakable here.  It’s all kinda mindless to install (in a good way).

IMG_1184

Once you’ve got the wheel rims complete, it’s time to hookup the battery pack.  You’ve got one rechargeable battery pack per wheel, both identical.

IMG_1188

You’ll use some supplied zip ties to get the battery mounting bracket mounted onto your hub.  In my case though, my hub was too wide/big – so I had to swap out the zip ties they provided with ones a touch bit bigger.  Thankfully that gigantic $6 container of zip ties I bought a while back had plenty in there.

IMG_1189

As part of the battery pack mounting you’ll be interlacing in the cabling from the rims into the zip ties.

IMG_1191

From there, it’s onto the battery pack itself:

IMG_1192

With the battery pack installed, you’ll hopefully have illumination.  In my case, my battery packs came with some change on them (not a lot though).

IMG_1193

However, it wasn’t until I started the rear wheel that I realized that I had the wiring inside out (you can see it coming out of the wheel above near the white sticker around the 11AM position in this photo).  The Revolight rim wire should have been on the inside, not outside.  No worries, it literally only took about 3 minutes to swap it and reverse it – quick and easy.

You can see the correct position below on the rear wheel (note the red).

IMG_1196IMG_1200

As the manual itself then notes – it’s rinse and repeat time.  Everything you did for the front wheel, you repeat on the back wheel.

Once that’s all set, you’ll have (hopefully) two illuminated wheels:

IMG_1204

Finally, last but not least is installing a small magnet onto your front fork and near the rear wheel (you have a few options here actually).  This magnet helps the accelerometer within the Revolight rims to keep track of rotation.

IMG_1205

I initially had some minor issues with the magnet not being correctly lined up.  Which meant that at higher rotation speeds the lights didn’t stay facing forward at all times on the front wheel.  I ended up phoning the Revolights hotline (they actually have a real human on the other end, no machines) – and they got me all fixed up in a few minutes.  With that, I was good to go:

IMG_1208

From here, it was time to head outside.  First, a few pretty pictures, and then some video.

Out and About:

The final product – in all its glory!

IMG_1236

It took all of about 3 minutes while taking a set of photos until someone stopped and asked about them.  Further, these guys actually knew about them.

IMG_1223

The lights are a bit brighter in the front than in the back.  And while they are definitely very (super) visible, I’m not sure they’d be quite bright enough on a pitch black street at speed to illuminate everything far enough ahead while riding quickly.  Close by, no problems – but longer projection is a bit tougher.  Here in the city, finding such a street is tough though – simply due to so much light.

IMG_1240IMG_1241

You can see what it looks like as you ride forward below, with the light projecting outwards a bit:

IMG_1254

And here’s what it looks like facing the light.  Note that I disabled the front light that’s otherwise on my bike for all of these photos.

IMG_1238

Here’s the bike in a fully dark space (inside courtyard) – illuminating the wall in front and behind:

IMG_1259

Some folks have asked about theft.  Honestly, I don’t think there’s much of an issue with theft of the Revolights system by itself.  Your far more likely to have the whole bike stolen, because quite frankly no person is going to sit there with a screwdriver for two hours and take apart the whole thing.  Your normal wheel locks would protect Revolights though, because they’d still be intertwined in the rim.

I will remove the battery packs and take them with me when I leave the bike alone.  Each one is roughly the size a deck of cards (a touch bit smaller actually).  They clip on and off the hub mounting bracket just by pressing a small release lever.  You can see the blue light of the battery back at the hub in most photos.

IMG_1264

In fact, you press the little button on the battery pack to turn the system on or off.  The LED light system is designed to get about 4 hours of illumination time per charge.  And the battery packs are simply charged using micro-USB, just like most cell phones these days.

Here’s one final pretty picture:

IMG_1246

Finally, here’s a quick video I shot from the bike, showing what it looks like riding around a bit.  Nothing super fancy, but gives you a feel for things.

Revolights Quick Demo Video

Summary:

Overall, I think Revolights provide for a pretty interesting and innovative product.  There’s no doubt that it makes you more visible, and even more likely as a result it reduces your risk of getting hit by a car.  But, like any other light system, you still have to ride safe and pay attention.

The system seemed to catch the eye of virtually every person on the streets as I rode past, which was both good and bad.  For me personally, that might be a bit too much attention (sometimes I just like to ride without any fanfare).  But overall, that’s really nothing to complain about.  The system does exactly what it’s claimed to do – increase visibility.

One area I’m interested in seeing long term is how it holds up to the weather.  In my case, the unit will actually have to stay out in the rain, because while I have a locked courtyard (seen above in a photo), it’s open to the sky above.  They say water resistant, which is good – but I’m still looking to see how long term they hold up.

I’ll check back in time and see how things fair, but for now – I’m fairly happy with them and have no complaints.

As always, if you have any questions – feel free to drop them below.  And thanks for reading!

43 Comments

  1. G.

    Looks very nice but is it still possible to replace a tire (with levers?).

    Reply
  2. Does it have any effect on performance? I would have thought that perhaps an asymmetrical weight on the hub would cause an issue?

    Reply
  3. MCWoody1

    Is it just me or does that look like an overly complex solution to a problem that's long since been solved far more simply with the wide variety of LED lights already available?

    Reply
  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    MCWoody1: Of course this is better, these lights rotate. :)

    Reply
  6. Driedees

    Cool review and thanks for sharing! I agree with McWoody: it is far too complex for such a simple thing as a bike light. If you ride your bike in an urban setting, the lights on your bike are used to improve your visibility to other traffic (especially cars), any simple bike light will do in that case. Street lights illuminate the road in that case. When riding outside the city you need a decent head light to illuminate the road, the Revolights don't seem to have a decent beam on them.

    Reply
  7. A little disappointed, from the promo videos it looked like this would fall in to the "see" category, but it looks like it's just an expensive, complicated "be seen" system. Brighter and more visible than most other solutions, but not to the point where it's worth the cost and complexity.

    Reply
  8. White socks with dress shoes? Come on now.

    Reply
  9. yucko@alum.mit.edu

    Looks like a fantastic product. Some folks need to remember that one of the key points of these lights is to be visible *from the side* (which is the way most bike accidents occur). A standard front and back light are only faintly visible from the side. Thus, a car driver has little warning of the bike he is about to encounter, if the bike is set up in the standard way. But the same driver should be able to see the Revolights much, much earlier...

    Wish these things came in 650c sizes...sigh. I guess I just have to wait and hope that enough 700s get sold so they can "afford" to sell to those few who have 650s.

    Thanks for the review.

    --yucko

    Reply
  10. I wonder if a better compromise would be a tire like Specialized's Nimbus Reflect or Infinity Reflect, which has a 360 degree reflective strip on both sides of the tire. My wife uses these on her commuting bike in conjunction with regular lights and they work really well.

    link to specialized.com

    Reply
  11. Hi G-
    RE: Tire Levers

    I don't think you'dhave any problems there as it sits a bit below the tire portion enough that I think you'd still be clear.

    Hi Rusteh-
    RE: Performance

    I would expect it to negatively impact performance (in many ways), though, I don't race buses too often while grocery shopping here in France.

    Hi MCWoody-
    RE: Visbility/Lighting

    I'd agree that it doesn't cover front/back visibility as well as other lights on the market, but I think it does do a much better job of drawing attention to you from side visbility. I think people sometimes have 'blinders' on when it comes to things they see routinely, so this is definitely not routine, and stands out. Like wearing a Christmas tree...for better or worse.

    RE: Complexity

    I would have agreed during the first 20 minutes of the install, but once I got it figured out, it's fairly simple and easy. It just looks more complex than it is.

    Hi Unknown-
    RE: Socks

    Yeah, my bad. Meant to wear a different pair of shoes, not sure why I grabbed those on the way out.

    Thanks all!

    Reply
  12. These look interesting. But it seems like a lot of effort and wires. I'm also interested to see how they hold up over time.

    Reply
  13. Nice! Shooting with a dslr and tripod while riding a bike with dress shoes!

    Reply
  14. MCWoody1

    BikeGlow from the SkyMall:

    link to skymall.com

    Half the price, less hassle to install, but still just as goofy looking as Revolights, plus SkyMall bonus miles on your frequent flyer program.

    Reply
  15. Wait, you actually read the Skymall magazine? ;)

    Reply
  16. Does the battery pack seem to affect the way that the wheel rotates? In other words, does the wheel feel like it speeds up when the battery pack is falling down, and get slower when the battery pack is moving up?

    Reply
  17. Anonymous

    Hello Rainmaker, Thanks for all, you seem to live in Paris, me too, how did you get Revolight?
    Thank You
    Charlie.

    Reply
  18. Alex

    Hi Ray,

    great review, as I'm in Paris too would it be possible to meet you to see the whole system ?

    Cheers,

    Alex

    Reply
  19. 60x85 washing machine

    2.5kg

    Hi Kyle-
    RE: Battery pack rotation

    Not noticably. It's rotating so fast that it's just not easily noticed. If I was on a time trial bike I might notice it (simple due to instability), but on a heavier bike not as much.

    Hi Charlie/Anon-
    RE: Buy in Paris

    I purchased them via Kickstarter a long while ago (a year ago). Kickstarter includes the capability to ship overseas. Now, Revolights just opened up US sales, but I believe they plan to get International shipping again here in the near future.

    Hi Alex
    RE: In Paris, look at them.

    Sure, no problem. Just shoot me an e-mail with some availability time and we can work something out (ray@dcrainmaker.com).

    Thanks!

    Reply
  20. Anonymous

    I think these are still better

    link to instructables.com

    Reply
  21. i think these are great. Living in a big city, biking in the streets gets dangerous particularly at night when visibility is bad. I often see cyclists with very dim like and it's just so dangerous. I think it's worth the investment as it ensures that you're seen by drivers on the road.

    Reply
  22. Eli

    How much do they stick out to the side? For example if you lock up your bike to a rack where your wheel would lean against the rack is the weight now being placed on the revolight?

    I'd have to agree with Greg, why isn't there more use of reflective stuff in this industry? Imagine how much more visable those revolights would make you from the side if instead of being black they were reflective. With most road rims being semi-aero there is a large amount of surface area to be able to cover, just need to use a flexible material like what they use in the Lightweights Power Reflectors products. (doesn't reflect as well as the thicker V82 style reflective tape but conforms to curves well)

    I do use the reflective sidewall Conti GP4000 tires so its not just commuter style tires that have that option.

    I'm not saying lights aren't needed as they are but making your bike reflective only adds a trivial amount of weight, doesn't get in the way, and always there even if your batteries wear out

    Reply
  23. Anonymous

    It looks cool but no one needs this. It's heavy. It's expensive. It's not compatible with a dynamo power supply. May be the visibility is good. But I can't imagine, that this system will illuminate a dark road outside a town enough to ride safe at a faster speed.

    Reply
  24. Really? "Heavy"...at 24 oz for the pair? You should also make sure to leave your water bottle at home. That thing weighs a ton too. My other sport is rock climbing and I'm always amused with how much people will spend to shave off a few oz. If you eat a particularly large sandwich you offset the 3 oz you saved by spending $100.

    The greatest advantage here is side visibility. Any additional front visibility is nice, but the side visibility is the key. I have giant 300+ lumen front and rear lights and cars still try and take left/right turns into my bike. Front/rear lights are not well visualized from the side.

    I guess you have a point with a dynamo power supply...but...I don't have a dynamo power supply...I thought you were concerned about cost?

    Reply
  25. I will write exactly what I commented on the products presenation on youtube.

    My 30$ light from dealxtreme throws the beam up to 80-100m ahead of my bike. What's the number for Revolights? 2 meters;

    What's the point of transforming your bike into a moving light source if you cannot project the light at a decent distance ahead of you so that you can be spotted at intersections and corners?

    At 0:51 the rider is almost right in front of the car and only then is the car's driver aware of him.
    link to youtube.com
    What's the point if you cannot be spotted way before the intersection?

    I really fail to understand the purpose of this product. Other than the "pimp my bike factor", a 2$ reflective vest and a 30$ light would be way more efficient.

    As for side visibility, drivers are either oblivious on zombie mode and will simply turn the wheel or you will be riding on their blind spot and they won't register your presence.

    In either situation, you would be better of getting a really loud horn rather than relying on optical stimulus.

    Reply
  26. Nice break down, wish i saw this before i frustrated myself. though, i am having the same issues with the magnets, what was that hotline?

    Reply
  27. 415-881-7386

    Reply
  28. Bruno

    What was the problem and the solution that you had to call the revolights team?

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      The lights would occasionally rotate all the way around, as opposed to staying front-facing. So, it would stay front facing for some speeds, but at others it would start 'looping'. They noted that this is typically caused by a poor magnet placement and/or slight variations in the wheel as it rotates around - either increasing or decreasing the distance between the magnets. After fiddling with it a bit (read: just waking the magnet thing closer), it solved the issue. :)

      Reply
  29. Rob

    Have you subjected the Revolights to rainy, wet conditions? If so, how are they holding up? I'm curious to see if they would survive winter riding in Portland, Oregon.

    Reply
  30. Oli

    I have just acquired some and I think they create a far better effect than any of those other alternatives linked above. To my taste, the pictures-on-spokes thing is too gaudy and the wrap-around-frame-light rope is just naff!

    Revolights, on the other hand, have an Apple-like simplicity in their effect - basic white and red arcs that match the geometry of a bike. The fact that they have such a neat logo which summarises the product in two lines says everything about the efficiency of the idea.

    (And yes, it is quite a complex business to get such a 'simple' effect. That's life - making something look easy is hard work! :-)

    One note of caution - they are heavier than I expected. So my lovely 9kg bike now feels a lot weightier. I don't feel as nimble as I did, which is a bit of a shame. This may or may not bother you, but it's worth mentioning. Future revisions might hopefully address this by reducing the materials needed to create a similarly robust lighting system.

    Other than that - top marks!

    Reply
  31. How have these held up over the winter months? My poor bike gets a real hammering in the horrible London weather. It lives in a garage at night but I go out in pretty much any conditions.

    Over the last few months the bike has been getting a regular soaking and, perhaps more damaging, gets well and truly caked in the salt and grime that colelcts on the London Streets. I hope to be fitting my set tonight. I just hope they are still workign next winter as well.

    Reply
  32. NHT

    Hello and thanks for the Review!! I'll be getting Revolights 2.0 for my Schwinn 700c Tourist Bike this spring!!

    I wanted to point out one thing about the issue with the lights not being visible from the front and back. I think the reason why you don't see them on your bike is because of your fenders which block the lights almost completely from view in the front and the back. Your rear fender is blocking just about the entire area where the rear Revolights would be.

    If you take a look at their pics on the Revolights site, they show that the lights are clearly visible from the back, front, and the sides: link to revolights.com

    NHT

    Reply
  33. Robin

    Hi all,
    I just wanted to comment that a majority of bike related fatalities occur in urban intersections due to very poor side visibility. Not enough lights on the market today are capable of projecting light to the left and right sections of the rider. This system makes up for the discrepancy by allowing you to observe a bright curve of light at the fore and aft of the bike, literally marking the beginning and the end of the vehicle. I was once hit by a car while biking, and when I asked the driver why he didn't stop, he said that he didn't notice me from the side. I then started using retroreflective strips to solve the problem. This passive system is only useful when I am in the intersection, and may not give enough advanced notice to avoid collisions. An active system does a much better job of getting drivers to notice. You will still need to use a forward facing light to illuminate the road, but the revolights system definitely allows you to increase the range of your beam.

    These are very useful for those who regularly bike in dark conditions. The more visible you are to traffic, the better it is for you.

    Reply
  34. Guillaume Boucher

    Nice product! I've search around for lights like this and 2 products caught my attention: Monkeylectric M323 ans Revolights. Im planning to buy a set of Aerospoke wheels for my touring/commuting bike. Anyone know if I can use the lights on these wheels?

    Thanks!

    Reply
  35. Nigel Oulton

    Do these survive weather - can they handle a couple of years of sun wind rain hail sleet and snow being thrown at them, as well as any other things flung at them by other road users.

    My initial reaction was wow this is interesting, followed by I've seen things like this before and then the thought 'well I've bought endless bike lights that were supposed to be impervious to anything the world can throw at them and all of the most costly have failed pretty miserably and stupidly one of the cheapest most bashed about and still keeps coming back for more is lighting up my rear yet again since another one of the costly options stopped working this morning so... so how long do these last seems a reasonable question.

    Reply
  36. marcia skinner

    I noticed you had not made a comment since Dec 2012. Are you still posting reviews on the Revolights? My questions is very similar to Nigel Oulton's from Oct 2013 about their long-term survival with inclement weather?

    Reply
  37. Spen T

    Please give us an update! Can they survive London weather for more than a year or can't they? Thanks!

    Reply
  38. Stanley T. Dobry

    I have not tried these.
    But the concern about dynamic weight in the wheels is not trivial. This is the weight you are spending effort to move round and round. Adversely effects both acceleration and stopping.
    The rule has always been that "an ounce in the wheel is worth a pound in the frame."

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      I suppose.

      But most people aren't putting them on a race bike. They're putting them on commuter bikes, where safety and visibility (and utility) tends to be more important than weight.

      Reply
    • Stanley T. Dobry replied

      I agree.
      But to see and experience the difference, compare the wheels on a Mountain Bike to a proper Road Bike. The performance difference is startling.
      Mainly, I was trying to offer perspective on those who mock the effort to shave ounces -- recognizing that many of us are a little too fat.
      All weight is not created equal in its effects.
      Unsprung weight in a car is different and affects performance much more than a couple of extra pounds in the cabin.

      Reply
  39. LG

    Hey there,

    I'm happy to see a balanced and honest assessment of the Revolight. I've had mine on my commuter bike for a year now and I'm happy about it. I do 20 km commute everyday on a busy road, and they are worth the additional cost. The weight is not so much an issue. Under the rain, there is no specific issues, neither under cold conditions. As I'm riding in Japan, I haven't experienced snow conditions though. It's true that the front light projection doesn't allow you to see in pitch dark roads, though my tiny LED torch is not that efficient either.
    I do think that it is still very expensive and that it would be nice to see commuter bikes with built in similar technologies. That said, when it comes to being visible, I take no risk, I have a reflective commuter bag, and reflective yellow gloves, even my helmet is bright yellow.

    Reply
  40. Rick

    Hi there, was wondering how they're holding up? There's a place handling them in the UK so am thinking of doing it for my 27 mile london daily commute. Cheers and do appreciate your reviews. Rick

    Reply

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
If you would like a profile picture, simply register at Gravatar, which works here on DCR and across the web.

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>