Written by Eoghan Barry
One of the biggest threats to cyclists is lack of visibility. In rough weather conditions or during the hours of darkness cyclists can be all but invisible to larger, faster-moving road users. Most serious and experienced cyclists will deck themselves out with a full armoury of lights and reflective, high visibility clothing for night riding. But the cyclist’s reliance on hand signals to indicate turns always provokes a worry: has that driver really seen my gloved hand? Is it safe to move across lanes of traffic?
Enter Blinkers with their innovative pair of front and rear lights. Designed by a Spanish team and built by Velohub in Switzerland, each light features an array of 18 orange LEDs in a flattened V-shape for indicating turns. Two larger central white (front) or red (rear) LEDs act as running lights, switchable between steady beam and two flashing modes. The lights are activated from a handlebar-mounted four-button remote control. The rear light also acts as a brake light, illuminating when it detects sharp deceleration. The more expensive laser version of Blinkers can project a green laser semi-circle on the ground around the bicycle for additional visibility. Finally bicycles can be equipped with signal lights on a par with other road vehicles.
Understandably wary of different legal requirements across Europe, the Blinkers team are at pains to remind you that their light system should only be used as a supplement to the usual hand signals. In practice, I think that hand signals will be a poor second-best to the lights. The rolling flash of the orange LEDs should leave no doubt in drivers’ minds as to your intentions. Drivers might be slower to grasp the idea of a bike with brake lights but at the lower speeds that cyclists travel, particularly in cities, this is less of an issue. The remote control can be operated without taking your hands off the bars, making it easier to signal on rough, potholed roads where you need to keep both hands on the bars to avoid a spill. A single press of the button will activate the turn signal for 12 seconds; a longer press of the button will keep the signal on until you press it again to turn it off, ideal for situations where you’re stopped at a long light.
The lights feel solid, well built, and well sealed against the elements. The USB port used for charging the lights, often a point of vulnerability for water ingress, is recessed and protected by a tightly-fitting rubber cover. Blinkers use a magnetic connection to hold the lights in place in the mounts. I had some doubts whether this would hold the (quite heavy) lights securely, but in practice they stayed put with nary a rattle even when charging full-pelt across the roughest cobblestones Dublin has to offer.
The lights turn on automatically when inserted in the mounts; when you get where you’re going, slide them back out and stick them in your bag. Battery life is estimated at 20 hours per charge with the running lights on steady beam and laser switched on, up to 35 hours on flash mode with the laser off. Even allowing for some deterioration across the life of the battery, this should mean charging no more often than once a week even for the hardiest winter commuter.
So everything is rosy? Not quite. In principle, installing the mounts should be simple: the front mount clamps to the handlebars, the rear mount clamps to the saddle rails. In practice, the width of the lights (approximately 17cm) means that it’s quite difficult to install the front light on a road bike without fouling brake or gear cables. Even on my test bike, a fixed gear with only a single brake cable to worry about, I wound up having to install the mount to the left of the stem, rather than the intended right side, placing the lights off-centre. Second, it proved next to impossible to cinch the clamp tightly enough around a standard 26mm diameter road handlebar to prevent the front light from slowly slipping under the bars while riding. You may need to wrap a few layers of tape around the bars to thicken them up enough for the clamp to grip securely.
At the back you’ll need a good 2cm of saddle rail free behind the clamp to install the mount—if your saddle is slammed forward on the rails, you’re out of luck. Again, the size of the lights means that the rear light will likely foul any bag or pack that mounts to your seatpost. If you have a rear rack that has the standard attachment points for a rear light or reflector, an optional rack mount can be installed there, and that will probably be the ideal solution for most commuters.
Minor niggles: the orange LEDs illuminate briefly each time the lights are slotted into the mounts, or plugged into the USB cable, to indicate the charge remaining. However, there is no indication of charge level while they are charging, meaning that you’ll need to unplug them and plug them back in to see whether the charge is complete. At 100 lumens the front running lights are unquestionably bright enough to be seen by oncoming traffic. However, I’m not convinced that they put enough light onto the road for use away from streetlights. If your commute takes you along unlit country roads, you will probably want to supplement Blinkers with a dedicated headlight. Nor does the laser mode seem particularly useful—I suspect that by the time a driver sees the green line around your bike, they’re already far too close for comfort. Save your money and buy the standard version instead.
These concerns should not detract from what is overall a smart, well-thought-out design. If your bike setup works well with the mounting system, you’ll be rewarded with a very effective set of lights that should significantly improve your visibility on the road. At €62 for the rear light alone, or €102 for the pair, Blinkers are not cheap, but given their unique functionality, they are certainly competitive with other lighting systems. Any safety-conscious cyclist will want to check out this fascinating development in bicycle lighting.