Let There Be (a Better Rear Bike) Light
One engineer’s quest to build the world’s safest taillight for cyclists
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Peter Clyde’s three-hour round-trip from Seattle to his day job in the Bellevue tech district isn’t smooth bike-path commuting. Rain, fog, snow, and choking traffic combine to make a hair-raising, often death-defying, trip.
To boost his visibility on the road, Clyde—who holds an electrical engineering degree from Seattle Pacific University—tried all the top-of-the-line taillights from the industry’s biggest players, but he still felt vulnerable. Though they had plenty of wattage and state-of-the-art LED bulbs, all were too focused, like a flashlight, limiting their range of visibility. Others succumbed to constant exposure to moisture. Some ran through a charge far too quickly.
So, three years ago, the 23-year-old decided to invent his own bike light company, Orfos, a transliteration of the Greek and Hebrew words for light that “loosely translates to ‘a light to become light.’”
“It took about six months to get from the idea to proof of concept,” he says. “While the first prototype was fully functional as a safety light, the aesthetics, optical efficiency, and durability increased substantially with each revision.”
Clyde took cues from automotive illumination when designing the Orfos Flare, his first and still only product. With nine superefficient half-watt LEDs, the red light casts 300 lumens that match the intensity and light dispersion of a modern car’s taillight.
“My first night ride with the final prototype was an exhilarating feeling,” Peter Clyde says. “I actually felt equally safe as I did in my car. That’s when I knew they were finished.”
A reflective interior surrounds the LEDs to boost the beam’s range. The whole package is ensconced in a clear, low-viscosity-silicone case that’s as waterproof as a silicone spatula. (To test this, the Flares underwent extensive scuba trials at saltwater depths below 50 feet.) The light diffuses throughout the lenslike polycarbonate case and emits a muscular red 360-degree shroud behind a rider.
“My first night ride with the final prototype was an exhilarating feeling,” Clyde says. “I actually felt equally safe as I did in my car. That’s when I knew they were finished.”
Turns out, designing the world’s best rear cycling light was the easy part. Obtaining patents and funding was much more difficult. Clyde turned to Kickstarter for capital, with great success. Last November, at the end of Orfos’ 30-day campaign, the company had raised $157,323, nearly 800 percent of its initial goal.
When commuting like the mailman, you trust a rear light with your life, and I see the Flare as the most important Monday-though-Friday piece of gear I own. I’ve been running the red Flare (there’s also a white Flare for the handlebars) on my daily 25-mile commute since January. The unit looks utilitarian, industrial, and a little erector-set DIY, and at 112 grams mounted, it’s about the size and weight of a roll of quarters.
But it works damn well. The Flare mounts pretty much anywhere thanks to badass neodymium magnets that attach through your pack or via zip ties to your seatpost. And it’s eye-wateringly bright, with two steady modes (bright and brighter) and a strobe.
A 90-minute charge of the LiFePO4 lithium iron phosphate cell battery gives me 24 hours of run time on the low setting, even in temperatures below zero. (Battery drain in cold temperatures is one of the biggest issues I have with other manufacturers’ lights, which use cheaper lithium ion batteries.) The Flare’s battery lifespan is also three times longer than that of typical lithium ion models.
The Flare’s internal components aren’t cheap, and Orfos’ profit margins can’t compete with the already established players: The Flare sells for $119—double the price of most of its competitors.
But it may be the last rear light you ever need. And why wouldn’t you spend as much on your rear light as you do on a decent helmet? The Flare is available through the Orfos website and Amazon.