Two groups of entrepreneurs want to light up your bike's wheels


August 10, 2011

Two groups of entrepreneurs are currently developing separate products (one of which is the Aura system, above), both of which are intended to let bicycle wheels serve as running lights

Two groups of entrepreneurs are currently developing separate products (one of which is the Aura system, above), both of which are intended to let bicycle wheels serve as running lights

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Riding a bicycle on busy streets full of motorized vehicles can be risky enough in the daytime, but it potentially becomes even more dangerous at night, when motorists are less likely to see cyclists. Much of that risk can be minimized by using a bright headlight and strobing taillight, although those don't do much to increase a cyclist's visibility when seen from the side - and even if they did, there's no such thing as being too bright. Two separate projects, however, are aimed at developing systems that would allow a bicycle's wheel rims to act as running lights that would be hard not to notice.

Carnegie Mellon University industrial design sophomores Jonathan Ota and Ethan Frier are currently using a research grant to develop their Aura system. It incorporates six groups of three tri-color LEDs embedded into both rims, that are powered by a dynamo generator built into the front hub. The rims start out appearing as two red circles when the bicycle is moving slowly, but transition through to white as it gathers speed. A handlebar-mounted power switch allows riders to turn the system off when riding in the daytime.

The two students are presently working towards commercializing Aura. "We wanted to make a cool product that people will want to use, and in the process of using it, will make them safer," said Ota.

Below is a video that shows their invention in motion.

Over in California's Bay Area, meanwhile, inventor Kent Frankovich and partners Adam Pettler and Jim Houk are refining their Revolights system. It consists of two hoop-like assemblies each containing eight LEDs, that clip onto a bicycle's existing rims. Powered by hub-mounted lithium-ion battery packs, the lights blink on and off at a rate set by the speed at which the wheels are turning - this blinking pattern, in turn, results in the front half of the front wheel and the rear half of the rear wheel being illuminated. This means that a bike running Revolights looks rather like a pair of bright parentheses, traveling down the street.

Unlike Aura, which is meant to be used in conjunction with regular head- and taillights, Revolights is intended to serve as such lights. The system is designed not only to provide side illumination, but also to project light in front of and behind the bicycle. The front set of white LEDs produces a combined output of 134 lumens.

Frankovich and company are now in the process of raising funds from prospective customers for commercial development of Revolights. They expect it to be available by the end of the year, for a suggested price of US$220.

Should you want your lit-up rims right now, however, there are already various companies selling LED valve stem caps, along with LEDs that attach to the base of the spokes.

The Revolights pitch video, which includes shots of the system in action, can be seen below.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

For everyone who wishes TRON lightcycles were real. ;)

Gregg Eshelman

I like this very much and would put on my bike in a heart beat but honestly I want this on my motorcycle!


The revolights look cool but I\'d rather not ruin my bike rims with something like that that could break easily. I\'m @ work, so can\'t listen to the sound of the videos, though - so maybe I missed something?

Renārs Grebežs

What a great idea!

Ruth Butler

Motorsickle version please...

Nick Herbert

Huckfin, I definitely agree with you about installing on a motorcycle. Any extra visibility would be great


The valve stem caps have the same effect and are much simpler and cheaper. I had something called Tireflys on my moped. The tire spins and you get the same effect as shown here for only $8. :-) You can see them at and they are available for cars and motorcycles as well.

There are other similar products out there - I just searched and found this video on youtube - - with a custom design that actually makes different patterns appear as you ride! Now THAT\'S nice!

I just don\'t see what commercial merit these other products have. Aura doesn\'t offer any features beyond the LED valve stem caps, and Revolights offers more features but at a much higher price. As DIY products or niche custom mods they are quite attractive, though.


I can\'t wait for all of this to become available here in Minneapolis. Products that are beautiful and promote safety are going to improve our lives.

Carlos Grados

I Have Monkeylectric LED\'d on my e-bike.....they are amazing!! I regularly get applause!!


My friends kids all had a cheap clip on lights on their wheels 5 years ago, that filled their wheels with a rainbow of colours. Remarkable for a cheap toy.

I found a demo video here


The same effect or even much better (any picture you like) can be achived with this:

for 2 wheels you need 4 units so it is like $120 +shipping..

I use it and it is really nice effect especially in the evening.


I find it interesting that for folks so interested in safety, the Aura group seems to have stripped all the reflectors off their bike. And their rider is not wearing anything reflective or light colored either. So, if the prototype system fails while on their ride they've pretty much become invisible.

Patrick Steg

Why so high-tech? In the Netherlands it has been a legal requirement for bicycles for several decades to have tires with reflective side walls. And believe-you-me they show up from a great distrance when your headlights shine on them. And nothing can go wrong with them. Easy, no?

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