VIBE LED Lights – be seen, be safe

Light and Motion is a California based company that has been manufacturing lights for 28 yrs. Founded in 1989 by a pair of Stanford graduates who started the company from a passion of SCUBA diving and underwater photography, the products are designed, assembled and tested in Monterey and what they cannot make themselves they outsource to USA suppliers and a small percentage to specialists overseas then brought back to California – think similar to Apple’s strategy. With a strong line of lights for water sports, running and hiking, L&M also serves the cyclists with products from urban to ultra high power mountain biking models.


The VIBE is the latest in the line of compact urban lights and is a series of three lights aimed at increasing safety in everyday urban use. The VIBE are full of new technology and new features and, judging by the items they focused on, I assume they must have conducted some research with actual cyclists, as they sound great on paper.

  • Fully Waterproof
  • Automatic activation and shutoff (vibration)
  • USB chargeable without cords
  • Daylight / night auto sensing adjusting flash pattern
  • Easily and quickly removable via a 90 degree twist
  • Compact
  • Flexible mounting options

A few thoughts on the new features  – Living in Oregon and cycling means riding in the rain is unavoidable thus waterproof resonates with me! Quite often electronics fail with water because it manages to find a way in through cracks or seals around buttons etc, so the claims on the VIBEs waterproof design are very interesting. The automatic on/ off sounds great and picks up on vibrations but does it really work? The cordless USB charging has less impact on me, but removing wires is smart design. Quickly removable also makes a lot of sense if you are commuting or running errands, parking your bike in public you don’t want your lights taken. Other companies seem to have achieved this already with some good clip designs so I’m interested to try L&M’s take.


First thing is first: the packaging. What to say? well, L&M should step up their game in the packaging department along with some other major manufacturers. Packaging is the one of the first moments of truth (google reference there)  The new product line consists of three models:-

  • 100 lumen front light VibePro FL ($50)
  • 100 lumen rear light Vibe Pro TL ($60)
  • 50 lumen rear light called Vibe TL ($40)

The two rear lights are very similar. The Pro is brighter but runs for 1/2 the time of the non Pro. (see comparison charts at end of review), due to the shape of the lens the mounting orientation is different also, with the non Pro intended to be mounted in a vertical configuration. With the Pro’s horizontal design it allows for an optional accessory to mount to the saddle rails, for when a higher location or space is at premium.

img_2a

The design of the lights is very simple, capsules almost. They reminded me of USB thumb drives but a little bigger. Each of the Vibes are fully encapsulated, meaning the electronics are fully encased in plastic – but even more important that each electronic circuit board is full molded around  and encapsulated, meaning there are no screws and separate cases and cracks where water can leak in. They are fully sealed via the manufacturing process. (Technically known as overmolding) In this case L&M use a bio sustainable plastic that can be fully submersed in water down to 3 feet before anything goes wrong.

Styled so that there is a very noticeable front, a snout, so to speak, and a USB connector on the other end, the products are obvious for orientation and charging. Graphics on one side and a clear view of the electronics on the other. In some ways the translucent plastic body reminds me of the first iMac, revealing their innards and setting that design trend. Along with the main front led, there are also two sided amber LEDs to increase visibility from the side.This is a common hi viz theme from L&M and you see side indicators in their other products also. Something to mention here is that a close up inspection of the main LED reveals a highly engineered reflector and lens, unlike other less expensive products.

The VIBEs come with bike attachment brackets of a common design that uses stretchy rubber / silicone straps and nubs to fit different shapes and sizes.

To use you simply insert the USB connector end into the mount/ bracket on your bike, turn 90 degrees and off you go. The light is sensitive to vibration it automatically comes on, and when you stop riding for longer than 30 seconds they automatically turn off. Smart. The twist lock is secure, at first it’s a learned experience and a tad counter intuitive. There is only one way for the 90degree twist direction and it’s a little perplexing because the correct way is logo side down – counter intuitive to conventional think.

front_vibe

Mounting the VIBE is easy, the bicycle mounts / brackets are designed well and simple to install with rubber straps that are easily adjusted and fit securely to a range of bar and seatpost diameters. The front bracket has the twist turn adapter you have to install, which maybe a little mis leading at first because you have to give it a nice hearty push to snap in or the twist turn action on the bike won’t work. The rear bracket has the twist turn built in and has been designed well so that you can use the Vibe TL in a couple of orientations depending on which way you mount the bracket. It can sit vertically or horizontally (the Pro is intended to be mounted horizontal due to the shape of the lens and the regular TL mounted vertically). The flexible mounting options do allow you to attach to a horizontal tube (i.e. not a seatpost) if needed. Additionally the VIBES’s are intended to be attached to a bicycle, but there could be another opportunity for L&M if they came out with an attachment to clip on a bag or body.

Auto on / off, I like this feature since it’s one less mechanical part to go wrong, one less seal, so should stay waterproof. I found all of the VIBE’s on test were very sensitive to vibration, at one point when my bike was lent against the door to the air conditioning unit in my home, when the air turned on it triggered the lights! I also found that when locking to a public bike rack and leaving the lights on the bike, they would turn on even when the rack in use by others was two or three spaces away. It’s very sensitive – Is it too sensitive? I’m not sure. It could be less sensitive but would it still be functional, I suspect it has to be very sensitive for very smooth roads to ensure the light doesn’t go out. The lights have the benefit that when they are NOT mounted to the bike they are always in off mode, they have to be attached to the brackets to have auto on / off.

vibe_charge

Charging of these units is no fuss – A standard USB, it’s a USB “A” type,  The standard USB and the length of the connector is designed well so it doesn’t physically interfere. They plug straight into most USB charger adapters, including a wall iPhone charger. There’s enough USB A types out there that there should not be a problem for users. I forecast than in about 12-16months USB C will be dominant mainly due to the computing industry and L&M might have to change their strategy going forward.

Vibe_underwater

The VIBE submersed for over 72hrs and no problems.

Sustainability and Recycling
All electronics nowadays face the challenge of “green” methods of production and also the impact when the product is at the end of it’s life. L&M have been thoughtful with regards to materials on several accounts. Backing out to the premise of the product – a fully waterproof, tough product, should mean the product lasts longer and you don’t have to replace every year. This in itself a green step forward. Technomelt (the plastic used to encase the Vibe) is a plant based, not petroleum. During manufacture, all waste material can be reused, and Technomelt is a low VOC material, meaning that the air emissions are cleaner for the environment. More information on their plastic can be found here http://www.henkel-northamerica.com/sustainability. At the moment there are no plans for end of life disposal or separation or recycling. Some companies like Planet bike allow you the return of their products so they can separate and recycle, hopefully L&M can find a way to do this at end of life also.

on_bike2
The front light is bright and the casing is transparent. This leads to some light leakage straight out the top which means bright light in your periphery vision. Maybe it won’t distract you, but it did me. As you can see I ended up hack modifying my front light with some tape to make it more usable / less distracting.

Vibe_tape

Pros

  • Waterproof, durable, bright and pocketable.
  • 100 lumens provides high visibility and the flash pattern is not annoying running solid with intermittent flash. I have to add I’m not the one to use lights in the day (the current marketing trend) but these lights are so convenient that I found myself using them all the time.
  • The front VIBE has auto sensing daylight/ night time. It senses and changes to a flash pattern during the day for extra visibility and a solid beam at night so it doesn’t irritate drivers.
  • They are easy to take on and off (after you have learned, see below), you don’t have to worry about them accidentally turning on in your bag and are small enough to slip in a jean pocket.
  • Attaching the lights to the bike was very simple, the mounting brackets use simple bungees and they seem to stay in place and be as durable as the rest on the market.
  • They look very cool, the transparent housing is notable and they look very tech. Being slim and low profile also helps with the esthetic and aerodynamic (ha!)
  • VIBES are easily chargeable, no looking for that special wire to connect the USB. Just plug em straight in and let them charge. This may seem like no big deal, but it’s a nice touch to not have to search for the charge wire. Is it at my desk? At work?
  • L&M have been very thoughtful, also designing a go pro adapter available that allows the Vibe to connect to a go pro base , meaning that if you have a helmet with a go pro mount for bike cam, simply snap in the VIBE. Also a mount that allows for mounting the Pro version to the rear saddle rails. Smart options.
  • The two year warranty is great, much beyond other company’s of 90days or 12months.

Overall, the product is solid, I would say the rear models are slightly better design than the front. There are some basic design niceties that L&M should consider to further improve the product.

Cons

  • The high output means you do have to charge them quite a frequently, I preferred the 50 Lumen rear VIBE as the battery lasted longer.
  • The front light leaks a lot of light into your peripheral vision – this only happens with the front light as it’s located right beneath your face on the handlebars. When used at night on the handlebars the front light leaks light upwards and towards your face, I found this distracting and it reduces the sensitivity of your eyes (diminishes forward visual contrast). This light leakage is due to the design no the transparent housing, the whole body glows which looks cool but not at the cost of safety. Seeing at night is harder with this light. I modified my product with some semi transparent tape to block the stray light and it’s much better (be careful not to cover the ambient light sensor if you do this).
  • The twist on and off needs to be more intuitive, Better indication of which way to twist the product when inserting and removing, a downward facing logo adds confusion to this situation. It’s not hard to use, it’s just not intuitive. Sure it’s a small learning curve but the devices could be designed to be more intuitive and this would mean less frustration straight out of the box. Put the logo on the top surface, people expect it there and it will help with ease of use on the twist. To make things even worse, in use the logo is underneath (bottom), but when you charge in a usb charger the logo is on top. This caught me out a few times, thinking I was charging it when really I wasn’t.
  • Make better recharge indicators – I have found this with other rechargeable brands also, the way the light indicates low power is not obvious and often overlooked. Since L&M have a transparent casing it would have been easy to use a battery low led indicator on the circuit board as a simple solution indicating when to recharge  instead they relied on a forgettable series of irregular flashes. Which means your device will run out of power when you least expect it, unless you make a habit of charging.
  • One other small thing, the front VIBE mount became quite sloppy and loose after a couple of weeks of use, this s a one off, according to L&M

Summary
After riding with these lights for two weeks every day, twice a day. I have to say they are quite good. L&M is by far the most durable and waterproof out there, then the size and style are right too.  The removable feature is great, but honestly the twist is just a different solution to an addressed issue. The rear lights are of better design than the front but both could do with a v2. If L&M want people to use this as a daylight running front light then they need to make the time between charges longer, i’m a little tired of charging it to be honest. What if this were a 60 Lumen light? I also found that the front light bracket is becoming sloppy and starting to feel loose on the usb area connection, L&M have told me that they have since revised the engineering of the front mount so this does not happen, so it should not affect you.
L&M are a tech forward company and this shows in the VIBE’s from the approach of design ,the manufacturing innovation, to the quality of the optics and electronics. The products are very appealing and push the market technology forward. Overall, the product is solid, I would say the rear models are slightly better design than the front, because of the light leakage issue. L&M’s models are priced competitively considering performance. There are some basic design niceties that L&M should consider to further improve the product.

At this point I would not overlook the option of using a Rear Vibe and different front light, say an Urban 700 (The combo is on sale for $130), as I feel the Urban is more developed as a front light and has a quick release also, but the drawback being it’s not quite as sleek looking and there is no auto sensing mode on the Urban.

856-0659-a_urban_700_vibe_pro

The VIBE’S are definitely the latest in tech and would easily appeal to the early adopters and people who want to step out and try some new advanced gear that has some great new features. If I had to force these on scale I would say 8.5 /10 , with a few small modifications I could see these gaining a point.

DETAILS:

Available now, online and from local dealer.

  • 100 lumen front light VibePro FL ($50)
  • 100 lumen rear light Vibe Pro TL ($60)
  • 50 lumen rear light called Vibe TL ($40)

More VIBE information here :http://www.lightandmotion.com/choose-your-light/vibe

Comparison Charts

Google Doc Link

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