By April 28, 2011

Bell Spider Flashing Bicycle Brake Light Review

I wear full protective gear while motorcycling, including specialized boots, gloves, pants, jacket, and chest/spine protector. While my helmet is a nasty “street camouflage,” the rest of my gear is either high visibility contrasting colors or has high visibility reflective tape/accents on it.

I also wear a waterproof jacket and pants combo made by Frogg Toggs if I know the weather is going to be rainy and I can’t get wet during the ride. Unfortunately, the Frogg Toggs are navy blue and have a very, very small strip of reflective trim on the side. Given that visibility is reduced during rain, I am concerned about my visibility, especially if I have a “dismount” and come off of the bike.

I wear a reflective jacket made by ICON when I ride in the rain. For the last year or so, I’ve used the Bell Spider flashing bicycle brake light clipped onto the back of my jacket. After riding through some pretty heavy rain, I’ve decided it was time to do a write-up.

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The Bell Spider light clipped onto my ICON reflective vest

Purpose / Intended Use

First off, I don’t expect people to see the Spider when I’m riding my bike. My FJR is very tall, and the Givi E55 top case sits up so high that unless a flasher was on my neck or shoulders people wouldn’t see it.

Instead, I wear the bike light in the event of a crash.While the FJR has four 65-watt headlights, running lights, a flashing brake light modulator, and reflective stickers on the rear, I welcome any visibility if I come off of the bike. If it’s raining, or if I’m riding at night, I will be wearing mostly dark colors in a mostly / totally dark environment.

Who knows if the Spider’s plastic construction will survive a “get-off,” but every little bit helps.

Construction and Modes of Operation

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The Bell Spider is 100% plastic. It runs off of two AAA batteries, which are added by using a coin to separate the two halves of the flasher. On the opposite side of the opening mechanism is a rubberized plastic switch.

Depressing the switch once turns the LED on. Pressing it again flashes the light, and a third press shuts the Spider off. I typically run the light in “always on” mode.
http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/10267-2/IMG_6655.jpg

There is a plastic clip on the underside of the Spider. You can clip the light onto your clothes like I do, or you can clip it into the included plastic mount. The mount is too thin to clamp onto anything of significant on a motorcycle, but it would easily attach to a bicycle’s seat stem.

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Durability and Battery Life

Bell claims that the Spider can run for about 140 hours in always on mode, and 280 hours in blink mode. I would estimate that I’ve put in about 20 – 30 hours of rainy day ride time with the Spider over a year period, so I’m not even close to the end of the battery life. Still, AAA batteries are easy to find. I was initially disappointed that the Spider didn’t run off of other batteries like the 123A batteries seen in high-powered flashlights, but the ease of replacement seems good for people who use the Spider on the go.

The Bell Spider is supposed to be weatherproof, but I’ve found that a lot of manufacturers meant “weather resistant” once I put their products to the test. So far the Bell has survived everything from a sprinkle to riding in a tropical storm where traffic kicked up rooster tails that went over my head. Pretty impressive for a $10 unit.

Brightness

The Spider light is bright enough to be noticeable especially at low speeds (40MPH and slower). I don’t think that the light is bright enough to be reliably seen at highway speed distances. I am concerned that motorists may not see the light in time to slow down for me if I’m in the middle of the road. I hope the combination of the Spider plus the reflective accents on my vest and waterproof gear gets the job done.

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Picture taken from ten feet in total darkness, ISO 800, f/5.6

Conclusion

I’m a big believer in redundancy. You should have a backup strategy if you only have one way of being noticed. I also believe that multiple, smaller contingency devices add up to a better overall solution than one superior device. My belief is that riding on a well-lit, reflective motorcycle while wearing reflective gear with a flashing light on it combines to provide a better visibility envelope than just relying on one of those strategies alone.

I strongly believe that the Bell Spider isn’t good enough to be your primary — or perhaps even secondary — visibility device. However I believe that it is a good, inexpensive compliment to the rest of your visibility strategy.

You can find the Bell Spider at bicycle shops, stores like Wal-Mart (that’s where I got mine, for about $7) or online at stores like Amazon.com.

Recommended.

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