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Review: MonkeyLight LED Wheel-Light

May 26, 2013

The MonkeyLight is a bicycle wheel-light that draws objects and patterns as you ride. With 16 electronically controlled LEDs each side flashing and changing colour it’s a great deal more sophisticated than your average spoke-light.

Trippy - Experiment

Playing around with the MonkeyLight in my lounge before installation.

Since first laying eyes on MonkeyLectric’s previous model some years ago I’ve pined for one badly, writing an objective review is not going to be easy. Exchange rates and shipping-costs postponed that initial purchase but the current generation are now very reasonably priced and available right here in New Zealand.

MonkeyLight M232

She’s no oil painting, but she’s tough. That’s the battery-holder zip-tied to the hub.

The unit itself is a 2-part affair. The battery-holder is zip-tied to your hub and connected by a removable cable to the light. That way the heaviest part of the system, the 3 AA batteries, don’t throw your wheel out of balance. The MonkeyLight itself is a circuit-board at heart and gets zip-tied to your spokes out towards the rim. Circuit-boards tend to be a bit flimsy, but this one has been developed with this purpose in mind and is encased in a fully waterproof layer of clear rubber. It’s lightweight, but feels very solid.

Installation is simple, if a little finicky. I made a cup of coffee and took my time (probably 25mins?) as I had visions of it coming loose and flailing around. Those fears were unjustified, it’s proven to be rock-solid and I would have no problem riding rough terrain or popping wheelies with one installed. They can be fitted to a 20″ (think BMX) or larger wheel so even the kids can get in on the action.

In motion the effects are truly stunning. At walking-pace it looks like a very bright multi-coloured glow-stick, but as speed increases the patterns emerge and take-up more and more of the wheel the faster you go. At around 20kph you have full coverage. I’ve actually found myself riding faster than usual as I get such a kick out of the full-blown light-show. So much so that when the weather is good I take the long way home to make it last longer!

There are 3 buttons on the unit. The power button turns it on and off but also sets the light-output, standard or extra-bright. I’ve been running it on full-power for weeks on my nightly commute and the batteries are still going strong. MonkeyLectric reckons you’ll get up to 25hrs run-time.

There are 48 “themes” onboard and in standard mode they automatically cycle through one after another. Alternatively, by using a combination of the theme and color buttons you can access individual themes and alter the colours they are displayed in.

Shake

“I didn’t see him officer.”

I’m a nightshift worker so I’m riding home in the dark all year round. Despite two lights front and rear and some reflective material I’m always a little anxious about how visible I am to motorists, especially if there’s a lot of ambient light around. With the MonkeyLight doing it’s thing I’ve never felt safer. From side-on you could not be missed, and light spills-out either side of the bike so you attract some attention from the front and rear aswell.

There’s no denying the MonkeyLight is a little clunky looking. That doesn’t bother me on my commuter bike, it’s the most fun accessory I’ve ever used and keeps me safe. Roadies might baulk at the industrial looks and added weight, but if you regularly train in the dark being the most visible thing on the road is worth consideration, is it not?

In an attempt to capture the graphics effectively I scared myself stupid filming the above video on a wet & blustery Auckland commute. Left hand in a death-grip on the bars, forehead moistening, chocolate-starfish in full clench-mode, I failed miserably in that 58sec of terror. But despite my amateur camera skills you can’t argue side-visibility is taken to another level when you’re rocking a MonkeyLight.

Clown Commute

Photo-op on my nightly commute home. Man this thing is hard to shoot!

The review unit is the 32 LED (16 each side) M232. MonkeyLectric also makes the M210, a more compact model with 5 LEDs each side and 20 themes. They both use the same battery holder and with 2 leads available you can have 2 MonkeyLights on one wheel sharing the same battery.

Future models could be made a lot sleeker and the battery holder in particular is a bit of an eyesore, but overall I’m more than happy with the M232. In the past I’ve had bottles and food thrown at me as I ride home late at night, now cars are slowing down to admire the graphics, that’s a definite improvement!

I purchased my MonkeyLight from Bells & Whistles and have had such fun with it I’ve just ordered another for the back-wheel.

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