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Green goods: Cycle safer with self-powered blinky pedals

Today, I’m starting a new feature here: a regular look at green products and services that pass through my radar. Some, like this will be recommendations for good, innovative products that I’ve tried out. Others, I’ll ding: dicey products with dubious green merits. I’m hoping that John and Heather will chime in too, since we’re all coming across more and more intriguing green stuff.

I admit I’m a sucker for the “high-tech will save us” promise of green technology. But sometimes it’s the surprising re-inventions of age-old technology that are more surprising. Pedalite’s self-powered, illuminated pedals hit exactly this sweet spot: an ingenious 21-st century new spin on a very old bike technology. Into a heavy-duty mountain bike pedal, Pedalite has cramed a thimble-sized generator, a tiny capacitor, and three very brite LED lights: one pointing forward, one to the side, and one facing to the rear.

What does all this get you? Pedal and you make electricity, which powers the LEDs, so as you spin your blinking pedals become an attention-grabbing, safety-enhancing point of interest. In fact, because the human vision-system is attuned to notice motion — ever caught a mouse skittering by in the corner of your eye? — the rotating motion of these blinking lights, I wager, is way more noticeable than a like-sized blinky light mounted on your bike.

I tested some Pedalites at dusk in late May in New York’s Central Park. They’re relatively rare here, I gather, since Pedalite is UK based and seems to have only recently hit the US market. If queries about where to buy them are any proxy for improved safety, they worked wonders. Based on questions from idling taxi drivers, speedy spandex-clad racers and even slow sidewalk strollers alike, I could have sold a half dozen in single loop of the park.

These neatly solve a problem common for anyone who rides or commutes regularly: keeping an LED lite on your bike, with fresh batteries, ready to go for whenever your ride. Since these are built into the pedals, they’re always there. And they generate their own energy, so you’ll never have the inevitable problem of rolling out to find (a) that you forgot your light and/or (b) that the battery is dead. LEDs typically last for years, so unless you’re pedaling nonstop around the globe, your bike is likely to fail before the bulbs burn out. The capacitor inside the pedals even keeps them flashing when you stop pedaling, coasting, or at a stop light — when you really need to be seen.

My only complaint, and one that’s sure to improve in time, is that cramming all these electronics into these pedals means they’re kinda big and relatively heavy for pedals. Not a big deal for day-to-day commuting or pleasure riding: they offer a nice stable platform. But for anyone that’s taken pains to lighten up their ride, the bulk is likely to make them grimace. Somehow, though, I’m sure future versions are going to get smaller, slimmer, and sleeker. Such is the relentless progression of all technology, especially among bike-geeks. Someday, perhaps, maybe we’ll see a future Lance Armstrong outfitted with featherweight versions of these attention getters on national TV.

For now, I’m betting kids are likely to find them a fun accessory, and one that parents will gladly spring for. Among adults, there are equally serious reasons to consider them. Skyrocketing gas prices have sent many folks to their garages to resurrect disused bikes to start commuting. While cities like New York and Washington are accommodating the growing army of commuters with expanded bike lines, cyclists remain dangerously exposed, and drivers surprisingly hostile to sharing the road. Of course, the more cyclists on the road, and the more visible they are, the safer it is for the other cyclists. So get blinky.

Pedalite’s pedals retail for around $60 per pair.

Check ‘em out here:

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July 1, 2008 12:19 PM

Up here in Vermont I'm not so worried about it, but I wonder if there's some risk down your NYC way of walking out of work only to discover that someone has stolen your cool pedals. Just a thought.

Separately, it'd be nice if when they improve and shrink the components, they could make it to fit bike cleats. I like biking with SPD pedals. I see you can have toe cages on the current model, so that's nearly as good.

Anyhow, cool tip, thanks!

July 4, 2008 02:45 PM

I heard about these on a UK podcast a while ago: clever idea! I guess if you are not pedalling they don't light up, so nobody would steal your pedals since they wouldn't notice them. Not that pedal theft is a big issue: at $60 a pair these are a lot cheaper than good quality clipless pedals.

Sean Krizsan

November 27, 2008 05:05 AM

We have come far from the first recorded bicycle accident that was probably in 1842.

A study done in 2000 by the Institute for Road Safety Research found that collisions with other road users accounted for 40% of all bicycle accidents.

I have never seen one of these pedals on the road, but I like the idea even though it seems over priced, almost as expensive as a bike. $19.00 would seem more "green", but what price tag would you put on your safety?

Sean Krizsan

Katie Ast

February 13, 2009 08:17 AM

I was given a pair for Christmas. I think they are great and I like the fact if I ran out of batteries I would still at least have some light and be seen!

BusinessWeek correspondents John Carey and Mark Scott, cover the green scene, keeping on top of the business aspects of energy, the environment and climate change, as well as the technologies, policies, markets and people that are shaping how the earth's resources will be used in the century ahead.

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