FlashBak

Review 14

For the last couple months, I have been trying out a product called FlashBak. As you can see in the pictures, the FlashBak is a rectangle made from heavy-duty nylon strap with 10 embedded flashing LEDs. Four clips on the corners with elastic cords hold the unit in place and the 3 AAA batteries are encased in a separate pack that is easily storable in a bag or pocket. The on-off switch for the lights is on a cord and can be clipped in front, to a bag strap or to your clothing. That remote switch has an LED light in it, so you know at a quick glance whether the lights on you back are on or off. That is a really nice feature; there is no need to reach your hand around and look for reflected light to see if it is working (as I sometimes did with the smaller blinking lights that I clipped to my bag previously).

I received this product for review in mid March, immediately after Daylight Saving Time had begun. That was great timing because, even with the days getting longer, my morning rides were all of the sudden starting in the dark. The first time I turned the Flashbak on, I was impressed with the brightness of the lights…even in full daylight.  You can see in the pictures of the product lit that the individual LEDs are extremely bright. Flashing all together, they definitely make an impression.

At first, I only used the FlashBak when it was dark out, but lately I have been using it for my commute all the time, even in daylight. This morning (for Bike to Work Day), it was overcast with light drizzle. I attended our local ride with the Mayor, and ended up riding in to work later than normal…and on a busier road than I would regularly ride. With the rush hour traffic and the light rain, I was glad to have the FlashBak on my back for a little extra visibility. My commuter bike has two red LED taillights, one on the seatpost and one on my trunk pack. The Flashbak is a great supplement to those lights because it is larger, brighter, and positioned higher (on my back).

I mentioned the light rain this morning. I have ridden with the Flashbak previously in rain before with no problems. The electronics that drive the LEDs are housed in the battery compartment, which I keep stowed away in my messenger bag. That part has stayed dry on all of my rides, but the external part can get wet and still function just fine. From the look of the sky right now, I am pretty sure I will be testing it in the rain again on my ride home this afternoon.

The vast majority of times I have used the Flashbak, it has been fastened to my bag as seen in the pictures. The serrated alligator clips do a good job of holding it securely in place to the straps of the bag. When I first received the Flashbak, I did a short night ride with a clipped to a t-shirt. It is a bit tricky to clip to your own shirt, but doable…kind of like pinning on your own race number. The clips work very well on a variety of fabrics, but I never tried them on any of my lycra jerseys (I was concerned that the serrated clips might harm the fabric). I never used it on  recreational rides anyway though, so for me the messenger bag has been the perfect place for the Flashbak to reside. Clipped to the outside flap, it is kind of like part of the bag now.

Overall, I think the Flashbak is a great safety product, especially for commuters. You can read more about it at the company’s website or in this thorough review at BikeCommuters.com. For 45 bucks, it seems like a worthwhile investment for anyone who rides in the dark or on roads with a lot of traffic. I definitely plan to continue using mine for commuting and urban riding.

Disclaimer: Pulse Wave Technology, the company that makes Flashbak, sent me this product at no charge to review. No money was exchanged or anything like that…I am just giving my honest opinion after using it for a while.

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14 Comments

  1. ksteinhoff May 21, 2010 at 2:05 pm -  Reply

    You and I came to about the same conclusions about the FlashBak. It’s a nice addition to my lighting arsenal.

    http://www.palmbeachbiketours.com/flashbak-bike-safety-light/

    Like you, I was a reluctant to try clipping it to my jersey. Since I wear a CamelBak, I didn’t need to try.

    • James T May 21, 2010 at 2:24 pm -  Reply

      Thanks for the link to your review. I am glad you brought up the CamelBak. I only use one for mountain biking, so I never tried it with the Flashbak. It is the perfect size though.

  2. Charlie May 21, 2010 at 7:33 pm -  Reply

    Thanks for introducing us to what looks like a great product!

    Question: how narrow is the beamspread of the LEDs? Thats a problem with a lot of lights clipped to bags: they are really bright on axis, less so if it flops out of alignment. The easiest way to tell is to point it at a white wall in the dark, and see if it’s a spot or a flood.

    If you could answer that—or even post a photo–that would be great!!

    • ksteinhoff May 21, 2010 at 7:45 pm -  Reply

      If you check out my link above (repeated here), you’ll see some shots as I ride past the video camera.

      http://www.palmbeachbiketours.com/flashbak-bike-safety-light/

      The LEDs have pretty good visibility from the sides. As I point out in the review, I don’t think the video does the product justice.

      James, I hope you don’t mind my hijacking the thread.

  3. anna May 25, 2010 at 5:08 am -  Reply

    Are these just available in the US, I’ve found a website in the UK that sells camelback equipment Camelback UK but can’t find anthing that lights up that much it looks really cool.

  4. Todd Edelman July 4, 2010 at 9:08 pm -  Reply

    I call this hyper-illumination, and I would like some feedback….

    I used to drive professionally, a 12 passenger airport shuttle, back and forth to SF Intl. Airport, days and nights. Of course many readers have been on both sides of a windscreen, but I just wanted to mention that.

    My problem with anything over a standard (based on local regs.) light and reflectors set up is two-fold, what I call acute and chronic effects:

    Acute: This means that during the “illumination event” a cyclist who is hyper-illuminated effectively blinds a driver to anyone nearby who is not so illuminated, including pedestrians (and dogs).

    Chronic: This means that if people use these drivers become used to them, and then look out only for them, and less for normally-illuminated cyclists (and even less for the un-illuminated, who may be illegal but still deserve respect!). The Chronic situation is obviously worsened by the Acute effects.

    This my feeling of how things work, especially after driving that van, at night, in the rain, on hills, in a town with quite a few cyclists.

    Does this make sense? I am not stuck on language, so feedback on that or anything else would be useful in persuading someone to do some good research on it.

    Editorial: Speed, hardness and number of motor vehicles is the issue. Hyper-illumination and helmets are a distraction, and separated infrastructure is a understandable reaction by people who feel motor vehicles moving unguided at high speed is inevitable. (I do think that cycling in Amsterdam etc. is quite safe, relatively speaking).

    Cheers!

    • ksteinhoff July 4, 2010 at 9:24 pm -  Reply

      Todd,

      I’m more concerned with MY safety than worrying about raising the visual noise floor. It seems to me that you’re arguing that I should reduce my night lighting so that motorists will be more vigilant about looking for unlighted riders.

      I was on a Freakbike Milita ride a few months back where everyone was “encouraged” to have lights for the evening ride (they are legally required to have them). Too many of the riders felt like they’d be sandwiched between riders WITH lights, so they didn’t bother to light up.

      http://www.palmbeachbiketours.com/rear-video-camera-mount-for-freakbike-ride/

      On this particular ride, we were hit by hard rain that caused the group to fragment. I was concerned that motorists, coping with driving rain and everything else, would see us lighted cyclists, avoid us, then crash into an unlighted bike.

      As far as I know, everyone made it back home OK, but it was a dangerous situation.

      Given that scenario, I’ll still go with the option of making myself as visible as possible.

  5. Charlie July 4, 2010 at 10:29 pm -  Reply

    I agree that there’s a problem–I call it the conspicuity arms race. But I think it’s OK for bikes, being more vulnerable, to have more conspicuous lights. It’s other stuff that should be reined in–for example daytime running lights on cars should be prohibited, not required. (See http://www.lightsout.org/ for an organization supporting that stance.)

    • ksteinhoff July 5, 2010 at 1:17 am -  Reply

      Charlie,

      I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you on daytime running lights, too. When I was a kid getting my driver’s license back in MO in the early 60s, the safety slogan “Lights On For Safety” was drummed into my head.

      In those days, you were driving 70 mph on two-lane roads over bridges that are now marked one-lane. It sure helped to tell whether the car off in the distance was someone going in the same direction as you passing someone else or if it was an oncoming vehicle.

      My vehicle doesn’t come with DRLs, so I drive with my low beams on, day and night. S FL drivers need all the help they can get.

  6. Todd Edelman July 4, 2010 at 10:54 pm -  Reply

    @Charlie: Thanks. I agree about DRL’s, but – sorry – it does not seem like you grasp what I am suggesting: When some of us are more conspicuous, the others are less so…. when some of us protect ourselves, this results in others being less protected. The visibility threshold or baseline moves up. Analogies? Think of an American football game, but where only one side or some players have padding and others do not…

  7. Charlie July 4, 2010 at 11:34 pm -  Reply

    Sorry my response didn’t clearly reflect and understanding of your point. I do agree–when I have a powerful light, another cyclist who has an ordinary light will be harder to see. And so I’m making him less safe as I’m making myself safer. That’s hard to defend. That’s why I call it the conspicuity arms race–the net result can be everybody having to carry more and more special gear to even have a hope of being visible, and those without are not seen at all.

    But I think that it’s reasonable for me to make my lights at least as conspicuous as those of cars–after all, I’m more vulnerable than the cars, so they should be asked to cut back first. I’m not sure where the light in question is in brightness compared to car tail lights and brake lights.

  8. Todd Edelman July 5, 2010 at 4:21 am -  Reply

    YES! Cut back on motor vehicle lighting, beyond DRL’s! The first question is if this should be all the time, or just anywhere these vehicles might impact pedestrians and cyclists (so not on motorways). The second question is how to make it happen? Some kind of GPS-trigger? This could be part of any general “Big Brother” operations involving road vehicles, but to discuss further, Charlie (or anyone) please write me off list.

  9. Ryan B. September 14, 2010 at 7:54 pm -  Reply

    Really bright lights on a bike? Sounds like a no-brainer to me. If it gets drivers attention, then it worked. These lights look yellow in color….like fog lights. Yellow light really seems to punch thru the darkness. I will probably try one of these for xmas this year.

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