Security and simplicity are at the heart of Sparse bicycle lights
By Paul Ridden
November 20, 2012
The lot of a city cyclist is not an easy one. After successfully dodging and weaving through obstacles like holes, debris and even other road users, surviving being squeezed off the road by aggressive drivers or getting choked by exhaust fumes, even a quick stop at the local coffee shop for a rewarding cuppa before the final push home is not without risk. Sadly, securing your frame to a nearby post is no guarantee that some vital component won't be missing when you return. San Francisco's Sparse Lights has designed some great looking, theft-resistant and durable front and rear LED lights that, once installed, become as much a part of your bike as the brakes, grips and seat.
The Sparse lights have been designed to be as hassle-free as possible, the idea being that the urban cyclist can just install them and forget about them. Both lights feature die-cast aluminum outer casings and a double lens that's been IP-4-sealed against moisture with a silicone gasket.
"Using diecast for the durable outer housing allowed us to build a truly robust part but also gave us a machined, precision look that was naturally in harmony with the material and the casting process," said Raffi Minasian, VP of Business Development. "Throughout history casting has been a major process in the development of high end design products. Unlike plastics, these cast parts will remain durable, their finish will withstand much of the harsh conditions associated with exterior use, and they will retain their intended finish for years to come."
Instead of having to shop for disposables, each light is powered by its own custom Li-pol battery that's charged via micro-USB, just like a smartphone.
"Micro-USB is the most common cable in our homes, we figure it is for everyone else too," Sparse CEO Colin Owen told Gizmag. "If someone thrashes, smashes or fries theirs, they can re-buy from us or 10,000 other vendors."
Each light or set comes supplied with a 6-foot (1.8-meter) micro-USB cable and wall adapter, and the team is currently looking at giving riders a good four hours between charges, or about a week's worth of after-hours cycling.
The front light has been dubbed the Spacer Light since it's installed just below the handlebar stem, in the stack of spacers. It's compatible with 1-inch and 1.125-inch steerer tubes, threaded or threadless headset setups (on a quill stem, it mounts between the binder bolt and the adjustment bolt). The designers say that the 3-watt white LED gives off between 130 and 220 lumens, depending on how the measurement is calculated. The unit has on, off and blink operating modes, and is powered on by a button on the bottom face.
In addition to always pointing in the direction of travel, the light is also claimed to be resistant to theft. Light-fingered crooks (excuse the pun) would first need to remove the handlebars to get to the stylish illuminator, attracting much more attention from folks nearby than would a quick grab-and-go action.
Owners of bikes with straight-pull cantilever brakes should note that the Spacer Light does note work with such systems.
The appropriately-named Tail Light slides onto a seat post and is clamped in place. It's said to fit most common sizes (20 - 31.6 mm). Anyone wanting to walk away with this light would first need to remove the seat too, which is not outside the bounds of possibility but again is more likely to be noticed than a walk-by snagging.
Four rear-facing, board-mounted red LEDs are flanked by two more at either side for one watt of output (30 to 50 lumens) that's reported to yield a super-wide spill. This light also has three modes of operation.
The on state takes the shape of a steady on/off pulse and an automatic mode kicks off the flashing when bike motion is detected. If you come to a stop, the auto mode will keep blinking for 60 seconds so that you remain visible as you wait for traffic to get moving again. When the bike moves off, the light wakes up to announce your presence to other road users once more.
"The motion is detected via the same mechanism as the light-up bouncy balls," explained Owen. "It's a spring with a pin in the middle. When the spring bends due to acceleration, it touches the pin and makes the circuit."
Neither light module is adjustable, but the team states that "head tube angle differentiation on road bikes is a tiny 3° range and for (non-novelty) bikes in total only 5°. If you're rocking the pedal-powered Harley this isn't for you, otherwise you're good."
Sparse Lights has partnered with Hong Kong-based manufacturers and now just need a cash injection to help get things moving. The designers have therefore embarked on a crowd-funding campaign through Kickstarter to bring the lights to market, and at the time of writing, the funding target has very nearly been reached with a few weeks still left to run.
Backers can pledge for individual lights or opt for a complete set. US$50 will get you a black or natural Tail Light (includes U.S. shipping), while it's $75 for a Spacer Light or $120 for both. Other levels are available to tempt higher pledges, including a special Kickstarter white edition set for $160. Once the campaign closes, the team expects to start delivering lights to backers around March.
Post-Kickstarter, Sparse has revealed preliminary pricing for more widespread availability. At this early stage, a 1-watt Spacer would carry a suggested retail price of $54.95, and a 3-watt version would be $64.95. A 1-watt Tail Light will cost $39.95 and a 3-watt unit $10 more.
Complete sets will also be offered – a 3-watt combo has been priced at $114.95.
The following Kickstarter campaign video provides a good project overview.