Saturday, February 15, 2014

BLAZE Laser Bike Light: In Depth Review

Continuing from the first part of the Blaze Laser Bike Light introduction, here is the second part of the review! After getting the chance to use the light on the roads, I can now give a better review of the light.

Before we take a look at some pictures of actual light usage, let us first look at the mounting bracket for this light. I did not have a chance to review the mounting of this light in the previous post, as I had not installed it on the bike yet.

This bolt can be loosened to adjust the yaw angle of the light, useful when the light is not mounted at the centre of the handlebar.

Fixing the light onto the mounting bracket. The hexagonal profile is supposed to help prevent rotation.

Secured onto the mounting bracket! To remove, just depress the lever and unhook the light from the mounting bracket.

As shown in the previous post, a variety of rubber shims are provided to help fix the mounting bracket onto various handlebar diameters. However, when mounted on the handlebar with the rubber shim, the clamp of the mounting bracket does not seem to close properly.

When fixed onto the handlebar with the thick shim, the open ends of the clamps are offset from each other, instead of being aligned.

It is obvious that the open ends of the clamps are not aligned when tightened. You can also see that the end of the clamp is only holding onto a small portion of the clamp bolt.

As seen from the previous two pictures, the mounting bracket design is not so ideal. When clamped onto the handlebar, the open ends of the clamp tends to become offset from each other. The result is that the clamp will only hold onto a little part of the clamp bolt. It does not look secure at all, although the Blaze team has assured that this is normal, and it will hold the light securely. No matter what, even if it is actually secure, it does not seem that way visually.

To help solve that issue, I tried mounting the bracket onto a different part of the handlebar. Previously, when mounted on the smaller diameter part of the handlebar (22.2mm), I had to use the thick shim, which caused the big offset. I then rearranged the stuff on my handlebars, and mounted the bracket onto the centre of the handlebar instead, which has a diameter of 31.8mm.

As mounted on the centre part of the handlebar, with diameter of 31.8mm.

I can then use the thin rubber shim instead, which reduces the clamp offset. However, it also means that the clamp cannot close as much. The end result is that the clamp is still holding onto just a small portion of the clamp bolt.

This mounting bracket design is not up to the standard of the light, as it does not inspire confidence when mounted, and seems to be flawed from a visual point of view. Even though it may be designed and tested to be OK, the fact is that the visual appearance does not look secure. Anyway, I will try it out, and if the light does fall off the bike due to a faulty clamp, I think I should be entitled to a replacement.

After fiddling around with the mounting bracket for some time, I have finally managed to mount it on my Avanti Inc 3.

Light is tilted downwards to focus the laser at the right spot (5m in front), and to prevent the white light from blinding other road users.

Handlebar has been rearranged to make space for the Blaze light.

Front view of the crowded handlebar

After putting on the light onto the mounting bracket, I found that the light can be a little loose. It can rotate sideways and forward/backward. This is because after slotting in the hexagonal pin into the mounting bracket, there is still some play between these two parts. The spring of the lever is not strong enough to remove the play.

This means that when I rode over some rough patches, the light will rattle quite a bit. Although it did not drop out, the rattling is rather unsettling. This has also been reported by other users of the Blaze light. To the credit of the Blaze team, they did not deny the problem. Instead, they have been trying to work out a solution, and have also promised to send out improved replacement clamps to all users to resolve this looseness issue.

As a stop-gap solution, I used a rubber band to secure the light to the mounting bracket to remove the play and stop the light from rattling. Spoils the clean look of the light!

Finally, the light has been mounted properly on the bike. Also, I could now go out and test the light further, to see how effective it is on Singapore roads.

One of the places where I tried it out is on the park connectors. The pictures below are all taken at about 645am, when the sun is starting to rise but it is still dark. I prefer to project the laser image as a flashing mode, because a flashing and moving bicycle symbol can really catch attention.

Taken directly under the lamp. The bicycle symbol can still be seen clearly despite the light from the lamppost.

Taken at a darker spot, where the light is not working. The bicycle symbol looks really bright on a dark road. It will be really eye-catching when it is moving forward in the flashing mode.

Taken at a darker spot, with the white light of the Blaze light turned on (100 lumens). It tends to wash out the laser image and reduce its effectiveness.

I find that the powerful white light tends to contradict the laser image, instead of complementing it. For the most effective laser image, the road needs to be dark. However, you would also use the white light to make yourself visible to other road users, and perhaps to illuminate the road for safer travel. Thus, on one hand you want a dark road to make the laser image more effective, yet on the other hand the white light is lighting up the road, diminishing the laser's effectiveness.

Perhaps a way of improving the laser and white light would be to design them differently. The laser image would still be projected onto the dark road 5 metres ahead of the bike, but the white light would be different. Instead of having a powerful white light (which should not be shining directly straight ahead to avoid blinding other people, and also not shining on the laser image and washing it out), just a white blinker facing forward will do. Perhaps a blinker of 50 lumens directed forward will complement the laser image nicely. This combination would appeal to me as the laser and white light would complement each other instead of contradicting each other. If I needed a powerful front light to illuminate the ground in front of me, I would get a separate light for that purpose.

Tested on the road, with plenty of streetlights at the junction. Laser bike image is not obvious.

Laser image is washed out even more when projected at a greater distance. It will be invisible when vehicle headlights shine on it.

To summarize the review of the Blaze Laser Bike Light:

1) Mounting clamp can be better designed. The light unit itself is beautiful and powerful, but the clamp design is not up to the high standard set by the light.
2) Looseness in mounting clamp needs to be improved on to prevent the light from rattling on rough roads.
3) The laser image is most effective on dark roads. Thus it is best used on poorly lit roads or park connectors.
4) The laser image can actually replace the use of the bell on park connectors. It is really interesting when people see the moving bicycle symbol and are intrigued by it.
5) Laser image is directly safely towards the ground, and will not shine in anyone's eyes under normal circumstances. However, it may be possible that it will shine at a child if he/she is directly in front of the bike. In that situation, it means that you need to move away and avoid the child! Or just turn off the laser when you encounter such situations.
6) Laser image can be seen by bus/truck drivers and motorcyclists, as they can see the road and thus the laser image from their vantage point. It will not be as effective for cars as car drivers are seated  lower and will not actually see much of the road.

Overall, I would say that this is a good idea to help make cyclists more visible on the road at night. However, I will need to use it for an extended period of time to see if it is actually effective. So far, I feel that its effectiveness is somewhat reduced by well-lit Singapore roads (which is of course a good thing). It is more effective on park connectors as they are usually not well lighted, which makes the laser image very effective.

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