Review: Sparse Fixed Bike Lights

December 23, 2013
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It’s a problem most bicycle commuters face on a daily basis. After you reach your destination of choice, what do you do with your lights? For years I’ve been stuck with either carrying them around in an awkward canvas sports bag, or crossing my fingers and leaving them on the bike, a ready-made victim vulnerable to any thief. It’s the single thing, according to New York magazine, that ultimately converts bike riders into car drivers.

Into the picture steps Sparse, a front and tail light pairing that is permanently installed on your bike’s headset and seat-post. Now this is a great product, but at $140, expensive. As such, installing these lights is not the easiest job in the world. If you’re not Mr. Fixit, dexterous and talented at tinkering with bikes, or don’t own the tools, take it to your local bike shop or get a properly equipped grease-monkey friend to help.

Sparse Fixed Bike Lights

Lauded by C/net, Sparse Lights are a cool, design-savvy company out of San Francisco, California who have engineered what they feel is a modern necessity for the city bicycle commuter. It’s unobtrusive and subtle and made with security in mind. Theft of bicycles and/or bicycle parts is common in any city, but rarely is it dark enough that you need a floodlight, which is not the Sparse’s intended use. Though it’s plenty bright at 3 watts and 220 lumens at the front, it’s meant less to be useful for lighting your way than it is for making you visible to drivers or pedestrians constantly in the thrall of their headphones and mobile device(s). Unlike other brands which are sometimes removable lights, and sometimes not, there is no way to adjust the light’s tilt or the amount of brightness. Sparse lights then, are either on, off, or blinking. Made from die-cast aluminum, it stands up to both the elements and the jostling of biking.

A juice junkie because of my phone and other electronic devices, not to mention my automobile, the first question I want answered concerns how to charge the lithium polymer batteries. They come with two long 6-foot USB cables, which are definitely long enough if you park your bike inside a home or business near an outlet. This is never an issue for bike geeks like yours truly who wouldn’t dream of parking outside anyway. The four or eight-hour (when blinking) runtime for the lights means it’ll last long enough that you’ll rarely have to worry about recharging anyway.

One irritant for me is that the light, which comes mounted on a threaded headset, tends to twist away from dead center a little bit while you’re hard-nosing the road. This is a bit of a distraction. No longer looking directly forward, you kind of need to navigate in a slightly compensatory manner. Occasionally such movement can loosen the headset. This is not a deal killer, though. It’s easily fixed by equipping the light with a notched spacer at a cost of around another US$15.

Just like a car, or your house, nothing you lock up and leave outside is burglary-proof. You should buy locking seat-post clamps, but the fact is that the rear light is still located on one of the less secure parts of your bike. That’s the reason I always tell you to buy a cheap saddle! All in all, although expensive at US$140 and another US$15 for the notched spacer, Sparse Lights are a handsome elegant answer to a constant bike rider’s problem that can never see a perfect solution. The drawbacks are minor compared to the light’s convenience and savvy design.

As a bonus, the zinc casing and rubber underside open up, allowing access to the lights’ guts. In fact, according to Wired, Sparse is already developing a DIY following of enthusiasts and hackers who are talking about replacing the controller boards and LEDs to make the lights customizable and programmable.

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