As winter falls upon Davis and students find themselves biking in the dark more often than not, some may wonder why they even bother using certain models of bike lights. Can they really see anything with it that they couldn’t see without it?
UC Davis Graduate School of Management alumni Jim Houk and Adam Pettler, in partnership with “mastermind” Kent Frankovich, who holds a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford, have addressed this issue by developing a new type of bike light that provides improved night visibility for bicyclists and anyone else on the road.
Called the Revolight, the design is a ring with small LED lights to attach to the spokes of both front and rear wheels, resulting in 360 degree visibility.
“What’s different about the Revolight is the fact that it’s an all-in-one solution that provides both lighting and sighting,” Houk said. “‘Lighting’ is the traditional pathway illumination, and the ‘sighting’ part is making you visible to others that are sharing the road. The idea is that it’s the only bike light you’ll need to buy.”
When it comes to shelves in March, the Revolight will cost approximately $220. It is meant to be purchased and installed only once. The batteries are USB chargeable, and the ring takes around 10 minutes to affix to each wheel. Some may be concerned about theft, but the Revolight’s screw-in feature protects it from thieves, as long as the wheels are locked.
“We’re looking for a fine balance of ease of installation and preventing theft,” Pettler said. “Our approach to that is a simple installation that takes 10 minutes to install, with the idea that it should take 10 minutes to steal.”
“Davis’ thriving bike culture would undoubtedly change at night with the Revolight rolling around,” Houk said.
“When I was in college, I had your standard $15 bike light. It wasn’t anything that was cool, anything I was particularly stoked to have. I think the Revolights can potentially have that aesthetic appeal that would make you feel like you were not only riding safely but also making ‘safe’ cool,” Houk said.
The product is currently in the final stages of development. Version Five was just unveiled to the public for the first time at the San Francisco Bike Expo on Nov. 12, and is currently on display at the WIRED store in New York’s Time Square. The team’s projected production date of March 2012 is only a year and a half after they came up with the idea in October 2010.
“Kent had the idea riding home from work one day, while using a helmet-mounted headlight,” Houk said. “He figured, ‘I don’t really get it, I’m supposed to be lighting up the ground, but it’s so far from the ground. I can’t even see the ground. What if I put something on my wheel?’ He came up with this little hub-mounted design that he just ran out wires with LEDs on the end and hot glued them to his spokes.”
Frankovich presented his idea to Pettler at a party via an iPhone video, and Pettler was immediately on board.
“Adam got in touch with me — we were in business school together at Davis at the time — and asked me if I wanted to help him write a business plan for this guy,” Houk said. “We set up an independent study class, got an advisor and wrote up the business plan.”
Since then, Frankovich, Houk and Pettler have formed a partnership and transformed Frankovich’s original prototype into a high-profile business venture, with an overwhelming amount of positive support and feedback. The environmentally-conscious mentality of UC Davis was a motivating factor in pushing the project forward as well.
“The sustainability emphasis is the reason people want to ride bikes,” Pettler said. “In our MBA program, it was an avenue they tried to put entrepreneurs down. Without a doubt, we were thinking in that way when we went forward with this.”
But the developers have been pleased to find just as much enthusiasm for the idea outside of Davis.
“Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have helped this project take off on its own,” Houk said. “People blog and reblog, everyone thinks it’s cool. We’ve been getting calls from the Netherlands, Australia, Germany … It has made the world feel really small.”
Sabrina Swift, junior animal science and management double major and a member of UC Davis’ triathlon team, agreed that an added degree of safety while riding at night would provide some added flexibility in her daily schedule.
“I don’t bike at night because people can’t see me, it’s dangerous,” Swift said. “If I had a light like [the Revolight] I could stay on campus for longer, especially these days when it gets dark at five. The team also goes for rides every day — the ones who go at night would definitely benefit from having such bright lights, too.”
Houk acknowledged that the $220 price point may be high for the average college student, which is why their target market right now is bike commuters, not just limited to those on campuses. However, they hope for future accessibility to the student market.
“We were college students just six months ago, so we understand. College campuses were our initial thought — to have something set up outside the bike store, or the bookstore,” Houk said. “Everyone’s gotta buy a light. It’s the law!”
LANI CHAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.