Ari Bader-Natal

Review: Monkeylectric's Monkey Light bike wheel spoke light

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Update: The model that I review below, the Monkeylectric m132s, is no longer available. It has been replaced by the improved Monkeylectric m232 model.

Let me start by saying that I believe in visibility. And not in the dim-red-blinky kind of way. A healthy dose of LEDs and reflective tape cover both me and my bicycle when I ride after dark. But while my 4-AA front Cateye is quite bright, and my PlanetBike SuperFlash on back is nearly unmissable, my side visibility falls short. So a few years ago I picked up a pair of Hokey Spokes, and attached one to each wheel. (These battery-powered units attach to a spoke and fill the wheel with light from 16 yellow LEDs when it is spinning.) Last week, I took off the Hokey Spokes to try out something new: the Monkeylectric Monkey Light. I'll start with a few videos...

I first heard of Monkeylectric last summer, when I met Dan Goldwater in Cambridge to see his then-current prototype. Dan, the force behind it, is a bona fide Maker. Prior to Monkeylectric, he was a co-founder of Instructables, a community site for how-to's and DIY projects. He has contributed a large number of projects there, both LED-themed and bicycle-themed, and the Monkey Light clearly draws on this body of work. Where the Monkey Light differs, however, is in accessibility: It is for sale, already assembled and ready to use.

I will compare the Monkey Light to the Hokey Spokes based on the three criteria that I believe to be most important to the bicycle commuter: enjoying the commute, practicality, and staying safe.

Enjoying the commute:

There's no questions about it: the Monkey Light is fun. Bright colors, in a variety of patterns, constantly changing.

I'll repeat a request I made when reviewing another fun bicycle accessory: I'd like to see the lights blink to the beat of the music, a la iTunes Visualizer. Dan has posted schematics online, so perhaps this may not be impossible after all. If you figure this one out, please let me know...

Practicality:

Installation does take some time, but you only need to do it once. The included instructions are a bit skimpy, but Dan has posted a detailed guide on Instructables, which I recommend printing out. The unit is attached to spokes with zip-ties, and a set of rubber spacers eliminates any rattling. The Hokey Spokes, on the other hand, rattle incessantly, regardless of how much they are tightened. On the other hand, they were designed to be easily removable (with a screwdriver), and that does advantages over zip ties. I used the Hokey Spokes in the winter, when I ride home in the dark, but take them off in the summer, when it remains light longer. Now that the Monkey Light is zip-tied on, it's not coming off again (unless someone cuts it off.) One suggestion: Before using the zip-ties, think about which side of the bike you stand on more often, and orient the Monkey Light so that the buttons are accessible from that side of the bike.

Monkey Lights ship with a waterproof rubber cover for the battery cage, which works just fine.

When it comes to bicycle accessories for daily commuting, my preference is generally for road-ready manufactured products over homemade DIY products. Rain, snow, salt, constant jostling, and potholes are eventually unavoidable, and so my bicycle and the things on it must be able to handle that. So while it looks like a great project, I haven't assembled a SpokePOV kit. Aside from the Hokey Spokes, there are other approaches to side-lighting for bicyclists. Commute by Bike reviewed the Pedalite Self-Generating Luminescent Bike Pedals earlier this year, and while it doesn't look particularly bright, it wins points for not requiring any batteries.

Hokey Spokes do offer one feature missing from the Monkey Light: multi-unit synching. This is a cool trick in theory, but I found that the IR sensors were often triggered by bright sunlight, and frequently found them already running when I returned to my bicycle at the end of the day (Partially covering the sensors with electric tape solved the problem.) This synching and the fully-waterproof enclosure were two areas that the Monkey Light still lags behind. Perhaps next revision.

Staying safe:

The Monkey Light is significantly brighter than the Hokey Spokes (I included a direct comparison photo in the gallery above.) So to the extent that higher visibility means increased road safety, that's good. I'm a bit worried about the swirling color light show being too visible, and causes a distraction to drivers, so, for the time being, I've been setting it to a single-color (orange.)

Summary: If you are concerned about cars not seeing you at intersections, the Monkey Light is a remarkably bright wheel-based light set. The customizability, hackability, and color variations may be unnecessary for a visibility-focused commuter, but hey, they definitely add to the fun.

You can purchase the Monkey Light through Amazon.


Comments

 

Brett Amole wrote on June 20, 2008
Some great points of comparison. Let me ad that after having used Hokey Spokes for several years and now having added some Monkey Lectrics that while yes, Hokey Spokes do mount with a screwdriver, they must be removed to change the batteries and I've found that having done this dozens of times over their lives, the screws are worn out and on three of my Hokeys, have even been lost. Therefore, like the Monkey Lectrics, they are attached with zip ties as well. I found that attaching the Monkey Lectrics to be easy, fit on wheels smaller than 26 inch and 700c and the ability to install the batteries without removing them from the wheels first to be a huge advantage. They are much brighter than Hokeys and have many more patterns and, unlike Hokeys, are able to do many colors with one unit. Hokeys require you to choose a color when you buy them, Monkeys allow you to choose your color or cycle through all the available colors (many more than Hokeys) with the simple press of a button. I'm done with Hokeys and have switched to Monkey Lectrics. No doubt, the makers of Monkey Lectrics will improve the design in the future and ad more features, but even as they are shipped today, have many advantages over Hokey Spokes.

JJ wrote on January 9, 2009
I am very like anvii LED Bicycle Wheel Lights. It can program text message and draw your pattern on pc.

jenni has her head in the clouds wrote on July 28, 2009
I was just looking into getting the monkeylectrics, your blog was super helpful in giving me all the extra info, Thanks so much!

kooldoff wrote on October 16, 2009
Hi Dan, thanks so much for offering the coupon towards monkeylectrics! Just wanted to let you know that since they have a new model the discount is really 10% not 25% so you may want to change this posting.

x-light wrote on November 27, 2009
after bought anvii lights, hokeyspokes, monkey lights. I enjoy the functions of anvii lights the most. It allows me to draw own patterns. Both hokeyspokes and monkey spokes do not have this function. The installation of anvii is quick simple. Though, you need to get to know how to do it at the begining.

Night Rider wrote on December 22, 2009
I have one Monkey Light that I bought for $65.00 (compared to $29.95 for Hokey Spokes). They are heavy and when you attach them to your wheel it throws your wheel off balance. If you try using two of them to balance the wheel, you get a gibberish image because they are not in synch. Hokey Spokes use infra red to communicate with one another. You can balance the weight and don't feel like your wheel is out of balance. Hokey Spokes are waterproof and shock resistant. The new design addresses the IR coming on from random signals. But the best thing to like about Hokey Spokes is the customer service. If you have a problem you can call them and they will answer the phone to address your questions. Did you ever notice that Monkey Lights do not give you a number to call or an email address to send questions. What they are saying is, "You're on your own, kiddo!" When I call Hokey Spokes I get to talk with a real person, there to help me with the product. Before you do business with some company, make sure you can call them. Make sure they give you a phone number to call. Make sure they back up their product with technical support. As for Monkey Lights, I guess they don't have a real office in the jungle. I'll stick with Hokey Spokes for a lot of reasons!

Anita wrote on December 22, 2009
Tell those MonkeyLectric guys that if they can get their product to sync together, FAR more durable, and lower the price as much as they can. And then I might be able to consider purchasing 4. Otherwise it would be nice if they had a more "step down" model (perhaps with less patterns and/or colors?), so that poor commuters can still pimp out their bike. It's an almost great as can be product, I'm glad they continue updating things. It shows signs of ingenuity. I love the idea, but I'm just a mere student. I can't dish out $200 bucks out of nowhere. Great review! Thanks for the info. I was looking between the Hokey Spokes and MonkeyLectrics.

noel wrote on September 16, 2010
i've had both monkeylectrics and hokey spokes and while i haven't tried the anvii lights -- they just seem like a ripoff of the hokeys with the added "function" of programming your patterns. monkeylectrics are way brighter and don't rattle...the monkey's ran out of batteries quickly and drove me nuts with the constant rattle - i've ridden thousands of miles with monkeylectrics on my wheels, no joke, and i haven't had to true my spokes more so than usual. i love my monkeylectrics, best design, brightest colors and always great when i ride around and go party...and about the customer service, i've never really needed to use them besides wanting to buy more for my other bikes or my friends

Ralston Pereira wrote on June 22, 2011
Has any one see a problem where the power button on the mokeylectric lights don't work and you cannot turn the lights off. I tried resetting it ot factory defaults and still no luck. the only way to switch off the lights is to remove the Battery

Cannoe wrote on January 19, 2012
I'm riding a roadbike and tried a few spoke light that comes to the market. First i thought i'm lucky that i came across this monkeylight. Doon after i tried it for a week and i got the same problem with power button that i could not turn it off and i frel terrible to remove battery off everytime i get off my ride. It happens to both models so i switched to another brand and just keep these monkeylights in a drawer.

KB wrote on July 4, 2012
I have two sets of monkey lights on my road bike. I love them. Yes, they are expensive. No, I have not had to call anyone. Yes, I had a problem with the lights turning off. I removed the rubber case and removed a battery. I am ordering the Hokey's soon. My plan is to move to foldable electric because my LBS quoted me $1800 to install an electrick kit on the road bike. I am also putting something to downplay the decals on the bike. In any event, so far I have $200 worth of lighting on the bike. Yes, I receive a lot of attention--I direct interested parties to the Monkey electric website. I love riding at night especially midnight. It fun! The road bike (Trek Alpha) is fast but not comfortable. I am considering options (foldable, electric, Surly, Rivendell, old steel lugged frame.)