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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

MIT students devise weatherproof, theft-proof bike lights

As nights grow longer, we need to illuminate our way through these dark times. A great first step for UC Davis students would be to use a bike light. Yes, these are required for everyone who chooses to bike at night, but two factors keep most of us from using one and being safe. Light theft and bad weather can make even the best of us too lazy to protect ourselves. Luckily, two MIT bike geeks have a solution.

Fortified Bicycle Alliance is a company dedicated to bettering the lives of bikers and complicating those of thieves. Founders Slava Menn and Tivan Amour are scientists turned entrepreneurs. In 2011, their friend was hit by a car after having his bike light stolen. This inspired them to fight against bike crime and stand up for the one-in-three city bikers who have also lost their lights to thieves. In addition, they wanted to help out the 80 percent of bikers who frequently forget their lights at home.

Biking at night without a light is not only unsafe but also illegal. Akshay Prabhu, a third-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major, works for the Bike Barn on campus and is informed about the law.

“I believe the law is that a front bike light is required but the rear you’re allowed to have a reflector or a rear light,” Prabhu said.

According to CVC 21201, California law requires a white headlight and reflectors any time a bike is ridden at night. Failing to comply can earn a warning, a citation or more.

Sanjam Sawhney, a first-year undeclared in the College of Biological Sciences, said he finds bike lights to be important, especially when biking alone at night.

“I haven’t been in a bike accident yet and I’d like to keep it that way,” Sawhney said.

While some of us may be lucky to get by without lights, Amour knows their true importance.

“The standard reflectors that come stock on bikes are not optimal for being seen at night because … on the average road, the illumination is coming from above … so you don’t have any sort of natural reflection that is going to be able to hit these reflectors … You need a constant source of illumination so that you’re not running a risk of not being seen,” Amour said.

Menn and Amour’s solution, released in April 2012, employs a pill-bottle-like turning mechanism, a unique screw head and a sleek design cut from aluminum. To test their product and improve it, Menn and Amour took it to the MIT campus. With a sign that read “Free bike lights… if you can steal them,” they offered the crowd all kinds of tools. By the end of the day, a few clever students had come close enough to inspire design changes, but no one was able to actually steal the lights.

While the competition in the bike light market is focusing on cheap, quick-release lights to protect against weather damage and possible theft, Fortified Bicycle Alliance employs a different strategy. Their design can handle the elements and comes guaranteed with the “forever promise.” This means that not only are their products built to last, but also if anything does happen to them, their customers are guaranteed a replacement.

Amour says that we are a bit lazy when it comes to our own safety. Some students just forgo bike lights altogether rather than put up with taking them on and off every day.

Sawhney said he would choose detachable bike lights over permanent ones.

“I prefer detachable lights because I’m on a budget and would rather not risk spending money twice on bike lights,” Sawhney said.

To learn more about these products, visit fortifiedbike.com.

CATHERINE MAYO can be reached at science@theaggie.org.

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