A few weeks ago Transport for London started trialing Blaze laser lights on some of their Boris Bike fleet. The device is a simple green coloured laser which projects a bike shaped beam a few metres onto the road ahead. The marketing reckons that this gives other road users warning of your approach (although from my car, if I’m at a T-junction, my bumper obscures the bit of road immediately in front but which is where the bike projection would fall).
Before today I had only ridden the laser equipped Boris bikes in daylight and I’ve been unimpressed. Whether or not the designers intended it to be effective in daylight I’m not sure, but it isn’t. The projected image appears faint and spidery; its hard for me to see it when I know what to look for, so I can’t imagine it being readily noticed by other road users. However, with the end of British Summer Time and the onset of dark evenings it was as time to see whether the laser would come into its own.
There was only one laser equipped bike in the Berry Street racks so I picked it. In the dark the projected laser image was immediately crisper and brighter than in daylight. It was clearly visible to me and anyone else staring at the ground. When I stopped for the first set of traffic lights it switched to a blink mode and that I think is perhaps it’s only genuinely useful feature over an ordinary light. If you’re sat in an HGV’s blind spot it *might*, just might catch the driver’s eyes. Of course, do you really want to be sat in an HGV’s blind spot in the first place? I know I don’t. Otherwise, I didn’t feel the projected bike image made me more noticeable to other traffic, it is easily lost in the morass of traffic and other lights. Any feeling of improved visibility I had came from having a bright green laser dot shining from the front of the bike.
The laser beam probably looks good in fog.
One area where I think it could be of benefit is around pedestrians. First iPeds, either glued to a screen or listening to My Bloody Valentine and oblivious to the world around them. Just before they step out, the projected green bike might stir a memory of those public information films from school days. Second, on shared use paths the projected light is an other warning to pedestrians with their back to you that you’re approaching, just not as effectively as an old fashioned bell.
So I think it is a bit of a gimmick. It feels like a solution to a problem which has already been better solved. I would rather Boris Bikes were equipped with brighter and better positioned lights, especially at the rear. I would rather TFL invested in better infrastructure, education and policing rather than sticking plasters.
Would I buy one for my own bikes? From experience so far, probably not, although I should point out the retail lights combine the laser projection with a 300 lumen front light. It costs £125. For that money you can get a similar USB chargeable 1500 lumen light from Lezyne; £50 will get you 600 lumens, but without the laser gimmick. In the dark I ride with 2 or 3 front lights pumping out either 300 or 600 lumens. They are positioned on my bars and helmet and I have various reflectors and bits of reflective clothing. Despite this I’ve twice been t-boned in the dark on urban roads, with SMIDSY the proffered excuse each time. I doubt the laser would have altered either outcome, but a fully weaponised one might have. Disappointly that isn’t on offer.