Light-up wheels turn your bike into a 'Tron Cycle'

Story highlights

  • Revolights are a set of wheel-mounted LEDs which increase cycle visibility
  • The project raised five times the goal funding on Kickstarter in 2011
  • Now the team is looking to Kickstarter again to develop wheels with in-built lights
  • The lights are timed to blink depending on the speed the bike goes, preventing them from blinding riders

Anyone that bikes dreams of riding a Tron Light Cycle. Revolights, a set of wheel-mounted LEDs, now makes that dream a little closer to reality, and a new built-in version is helping that system become even more lightweight and simple than the original bolt-on setup.

The white-and-red lighting comprises a ring of LEDs that you install around the entire edge of each of your bike rims. Using a pair of clever devices, only the forward-facing lights (or backwards, in the case of the rear wheel) illuminate when the wheel spins. The result is beautiful arcs of light that make you visible from all angles, an effect that Revolights' co-founder and CFO Adam Pettler says came by accident.

Revolights inventor Kent Frankovich didn't set out to produce the arcs, instead he was looking for a better headlight design, one that would make obstacles stand out more clearly though low angle lighting. The timed blinking of the lights was to prevent them from shining in a rider's eyes. "It wasn't until after he had created the first prototype that we realized the huge increase in rider visibility that came with it," Pettler says, "He then quickly made a red taillight to match."

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The lights use two mechanisms to tell the LEDs when to turn on and off. At low speeds, an accelerometer determines the position of the lights by reading the pull of gravity. At higher velocities, the lights switch over to calculating speed based on the wheel's period of rotation. That allows the system to synchronize a cascading LED pattern.

This is Revolights' second Kickstarter campaign. The first one was completed in 2011, raising five times its initial goal. Pettler says this second Kickstarter is being done to celebrate the release of a v2 version of the product. Interestingly, the revamped Revolights City v2.0 kits aren't one of the Kickstarter rewards.

"The City represents our second product, designed with the goal of making Revolights more accessible," says Pettler. "And while it is a new product we now offer, Revolights City is an aftermarket kit you install on your own wheels, and we felt putting it on Kickstarter would be too similar to our last campaign."

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So they went bigger. The current Kickstarter is for custom wheels with the lights built right in. It's a project created in partnership with Mission Bicycle Company (also a Kickstarter alum).

"We designed Revolights Wheels to address our largest design challenges: installation and compatibility," says Pettler. "While many cyclists enjoy their existing wheels and want to put Revolights on them, there's a whole other group of riders out there that don't want to install their own lights."

It's a smart way of using Kickstarter. For simple product updates, there's no need (and indeed some discouragement) for using Kickstarter. But by putting together an ambitious product for the crowd funding site and timing that to coincide with an update of your more stable product, you get the best of both worlds as a creator.

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