Entrepreneurship: LED Bike Lights Target Night Riders and ‘Burners’

Entrepreneurship: LED Bike Lights Target Night Riders and ‘Burners’

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“My colleagues love them and love recommending them,” said Christopher Kisicki, a cycling associate at the flagship store in Seattle of REI, the sporting goods retailer. “We can’t keep them in stock,” he said.

Monkeylectric does $1 million in sales annually. There is the Christmas rush and in summer, the Burning Man bump.

“I hate to say it, but it’s almost mandatory to have them on your bike at Burning Man,” said Jefferson McCarley, manager of the Mission Bicycle Company, which builds custom bikes in San Francisco.

Monkeylectric’s market is a niche one, but growing: As of 2015, 885,000 people commuted on bicycles in the United States, up from 488,000 in 2000, according to the Census Bureau. And biking in the dusk or dark is clearly very dangerous. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, bicycle deaths occur most often from 6 to 9 p.m.

In an unscientific survey along San Francisco’s Market Street one night last week, most cyclists had front lights and weak red reflectors on the back (as required by law), but no side lights. Few bicycle lights are as eye-catching or noticeable to motorists as Monkeylectric’s lights. They are sold in 500 stores and on Amazon, which offers many similar-looking products for much less money.

Mr. Goldwater calls many of those products knockoffs. Every year, he said, he saw a half-dozen more companies based in China with look-alike lights that sell for $10 or $15. Mr. Goldwater, who holds five patents on bicycle lighting, refers to them as “toys,” although some consumers fail to see the difference.

Cheaper lights, Mr. Goldwater said, tend to be dim, not very durable and not waterproof.

Monkeylectric’s founder, Dan Goldwater, said that when he started making his products, “I couldn’t imagine how I could make a commercial project out of it.”

Credit
Christie Hemm Klok for The New York Times

Phillip Yip, Monkeylectric’s top engineer.

Credit
Christie Hemm Klok for The New York Times

James Hill, a worker owner at Missing Link, a cooperative bicycle shop in downtown Berkeley, who monitors bike lights when he is in his car, recalled being at a stoplight with his wife late one afternoon when they watched a cyclist whip across the road, with “very impressive lights,” he said. “A lot of inventions are terrible,” he said. “A lot of them are great.”

Monkeylectric lights “are arguably the best way to be seen” by motorists, he said.

Janelle Wong, operations manager at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group with 10,000 members, has Monkeylectric lights on three of her five bicycles. “It’s an affordable way to light up a bike,” she said.

A few miles away in Emeryville, a company called Revolights also sells LED bicycle lights. It makes bright front-wheel lights that illuminate the road ahead, and red taillights that blink when a cyclist slows down and that can be used as turn signals. A Bluetooth version gives speed, distance, tracking and weather alerts. Revolights, which sell for $149 to $249, are sold at REI, in bike shops and on the company’s website.