Wherein a little history, and new Blackburn Flea 2.0 USB lights are reviewed.
First, some history…
When I first built out my 2003 Kona Fire Mountain as a commuter way back in ’07, I mounted two Cat Eye TL-LD600′s on the front fork, one on each side pointing to the side, and two pointing towards the rear off the rear fender, and my Triple Shot rounding out as the bright headlight.
This was a good setup, but I got tired of replacing batteries in the TL-LD600′s. They were also quite the protuberance on the fork up front. Eventually, and perhaps inevitably, the fork lights came off; one snapped off, and the other looked lopsided. Additionally, the Triple Shot, bright as it is, is heavy, and the separate battery is bulky, takes up valuable frame real-estate, and is not as convenient to recharge as I would have liked. I wasn’t really complaining though, and rode with just the headlight and taillight for a while. Then I didn’t ride for a while. Then I rode again, and nearly got plowed into twice in two days by people who clearly were not using their lookenpeepers.
That brings me to today. I’m back to my original setup, but this time with different lights. I still have an old TL-LD600 on the seat post. But on the fork I now have two Blackburn Flea 2.0 USB rear lights, each pointing out and to the side. For headlights I’ve replaced the heavy and bulky Triple Shot with two Blackburn Flea 2.0 USB front lights. I’ve gone the extra best-practice mile and mounted another on my helmet.
When they’re all set to blinkin, I am quite a sight to behold, and after all, that’s the point, isn’t it?
On to the review…
The lights are very small and light, which is a nice change of pace from my old Triple Shot. As far as construction goes, they feel moderately sturdy, but not quite as solid as I’d like. That goes double for the helmet mount. The base that sits against the helmet is metal, but the bracket that slides into the slot on the light itself is plastic, and I’m worried that it’ll snap off. I’m playing pretty careful with it to push that day out as long as I can. I’m a little disappointed with that piece, and would have expected only metal for the price of $15. Still, it’s possible they went plastic to save wear on the light chassis, which is itself plastic. I’ll entertain the possibility, though I’m pretty sure it was a cost thing.
The four LED headlights have three modes: a rather bright standard, a much brighter overdrive and the standard blinking. I rode this morning in the dark with the headlights set to overdrive and the helmet light set to blinking. This afternoon I set them all to blinking. Run times are quoted as 3 hours on steady, and 5 hours for flash. It’s not stated whether steady is for standard or overdrive modes. I suspect overdrive to be less than 3 hours. I probably won’t time them to see, but that should provide a solid week of riding to and from work without recharges. If it’s less than that, I keep closer track, but otherwise I’m not worried about it.
The four LED rear lights (which I have on my fork) have three modes as well: all-on steady, flash (all lights blinking in unison), and chase (alternating blinking between two pairs). Run times are quoted at 6 hours steady, and 12 hours flash. I suspect 12 hours is for chase mode, and flash to be somewhere in between, but again, I’ll only keep close track if they’re obviously falling short of those times.
Both front and rear lights are, as one would expect from LEDs, very bright. Rated at 40 lumens, the front lights aren’t anywhere near as bright as my 130 lumen Triple Shot, but two running in tandem illuminate the urban landscape aplenty for my purposes, and they’re nowhere near as bulky. I wouldn’t take them on singletracks at night, but for daily street use, they’re plenty sufficient.
They charge via a little USB dongle. The light sticks attach to the dongle via two magnets, which also serve as the charging contact points. I found the holding power of the magnets more than sufficient, and was able to charge three of them at once in my D-Link USB hub. The first charge took about half an hour per light before each was fully charged and the charge indicator went from blinking red to blinking green.
I bought one set that came with a solar charger, but I’ve not tried it yet.
The button that serves as the USB charge indicator, and that you use to turn on and off the lights and switch modes, also serves as a running charge indicator. After you shut the light off, it’ll glow green to indicate a charge of 75% or more, orange to indicate a charge between 25% and 75%, and red to indicate a charge of 25% or less. That’s useful insofar as knowing about how much charge you have left, but not really useful in knowing how much time you have left. Still, it’s probably enough… red simply means charge as soon as you can.
At ~$25 per light, they’re cheaper than a lot of options out there, but if you want more than one, the $$’s add up. Still, the charging method definitely offsets the initial price.
They mount to the frame via custom made Velcro straps, with protective strips on the non-sticky side to help protect the frame. The straps need to be completely removed in order to properly charge them, which means they have to be remounted after every charge. That’s not a big deal to me because they’re very easy to mount, though it might be to some. The ability to quickly move them around the frame, or share them with friends in need outweighs, at least for now, the inconvenience of having no permanent mounting bracket. That said, it shouldn’t be too tough to rig up a permanent mount (perhaps using the, albeit plastic, helmet mount) if one were so inclined.
The rear lights have what look like belt straps on them that the Velcro frame mounts slide through. They also allow them to be strapped directly into loops, belts, or wherever else you can find that fits. They’re allegedly compatible with certain helmets. Unfortunately, mine isn’t one of them.
So, what’s my final take on them? Traffic was pretty light today, but those cars I did encounter showed every sign that they saw me. There were no close calls at all, and I certainly felt better having the directional light on my helmet. All the blinking made for a very cool and eerie strobe effect that lit up reflectors everywhere! In the dark of the morning, they were bright enough for me that I wasn’t worried about potholes, stray cats or zombie arms reaching out from sewer drains.
I have to take some points off for the construction, though. Though I’m sure they’ll last as long as I want them to, the lights don’t feel quite as solid as I’d like,. The helmet mount feels like it could break at any time. I’m pretty sure I’ll be taking them up on their (limited) lifetime warranty for that piece. Until then, I’ll be handling them with kid gloves to put that day off as long as possible.
All in all, I’m going with 4 out of 5 der blinkinlichten after my first day with the lights. Points revoked for construction, but more points given for size, price, performance, convenience, ease of use and charging method.