Posted by: dolan | January 13, 2014

Six months with Magnic Lights

NOTE: this is a review of the original Magnic Light, not the upcoming Magnic Light iC, currently under active development

It seems like ages ago that the original Magnic Light concept debuted.  The online gadget press went gaga over the idea with numerous hastily written articles. They looked sleek and sexy in the manner of the best bike porn: tiny yet powerful lights ensconced in a carbon fiber shell.  One Kickstarter campaign later ensured, in the spirit of a normal product development lifecycle, that some of that lustworthniness was traded for practicality.  The hard edges were refined, as fitting challenges and manufacturing complexities collided with the minimalism of the original design.  However, their initial alluring promise held true: plenty of light with low weight, great simplicity, and minimal drag.

 At the time of their release I was sorely tempted to order a set, but the ordering process was daunting, as was the exchange rate.  The dollar was low, the euro was high, and having a nice dyno setup already, there was little reason to pull the trigger.  That was, until a local shop called Clever Cycles was kind enough to become the first (and so far, only) importer in the great U.S. of A.  On finding out last August that I could get a pair right away, a colleague and I made the short ride over the Willamette river and promptly bought two sets.  The next day, with a thinner wallet, they were installed on my daily commuter with additional mounts on my road bike.

The mounts, while effective, are my least favorite part of the design.  To be fair, they work, and work well.  They keep the light close to the rim without easily being moved out of position.  That is their primary objective, and it’s a more important and difficult task than one would expect, especially given the variety of brake and fork designs (cantilevers, calipers, disc brakes, etc) that they have to adapt for.  Only a handful of times has the light been moved out of position, and those were due to some major inadvertent pressing on the light on my part.  The design drawback is more apparent when you attempt to move the lights from one mount to another.  The first few times you do it it’s reasonably easy.  You press on the two tabs down with your fingers and pull the light backwards.  It subsequently pops out and you can either take the light with you, or move it to another bike.  The problem is when you try to do this repeatedly.  With my lights, getting them out has gotten harder and harder, to the point that I have to wrench and wiggle the light much harder than I’d like to get it free.  Luckily they’re very solidly made so this has not caused any breakage, but it certainly causes me concern, and I don’t switch them around nearly as much as I’d like.  Ideally I’d love to see the mount lock and unlock as easily as the Garmin half-twist mount.  I realize making this happen would be easier said than done, and all things being equal, I’m largely happy that they mounts succeed at their main mission.

Another small issue with the mounts that I’ve seen come up several times in discussions is that a very small screw and nut is used to combine the piece that anchors the light to the arm that is attached to the brake bolt.  It’s exceedingly easy to affix this screw backwards and potentially  damage the mount.  I did it myself when first assembling them.  Luckily I noted the issue before it became a problem but I’ve encountered several dissatisfied customers who had fallen into this trap.  Using different diameters for the bolt and nut might make this much less error prone.



So, lights in place, how bright were they?  Well, Dirk Srothmann, the creator of Magnic Lights has claimed 30 lux at maximum brightness.  This seems about right compared to my B&M IQ Cyo dynamo light, which is rated for 60 lux.  Riding them back to back, the Magnics indeed seemed about half as bright.  However, the beams are different.  The Cyo has a distinct beam cutoff in accordance to the German StVZO reguations.  The Magnic Lights however do not have a beam cutoff, which is more akin to more lights sold in the US market.

The big question for most potential Magnic Light customers is whether or not 30 lux is sufficient, and after riding them for half a year, coming from a system that was twice as bright, my answer is a resounding “yes”.  There were virtually no situations where I found the amount of light insufficient, and they were often brighter than lower-end battery powered lights.  For high speed descending one could make the argument for more lighting, but for general riding they are plenty bright.  When my rear light was aimed too high it drew complaints from riders close behind me, so proper beam aim is pretty important.

Recently a commenter on an article about the Magnic Lights claimed that dynamo light setups were effectively “dinosaurs” given the current crop of battery lights.   This was my reply:

“Most battery lights don’t have a good charge indicator, so people tend to run them even when they need to be charged and are barely putting out any light at all. A dynamo will always put out full power.

An additional downside of battery lights for those of us who commute in very cold weather is that batteries lose their efficiency and are apt to go out much quicker than expected. I nearly got T-boned for exactly this reason. Had I been on my dyno-lit bike it would have been a non-issue.

Don’t get me wrong, battery lights have gotten *much* better in the last ten years, and I think the USB chargeable ones are great — I own more than one — but there are still significant advantages to a dyno setup. Aside from cost, Magnic Light kills the last significant argument against dynos (drag). And even on cost, the Magnic light set isn’t much more than a good USB chargeable set.”

Another question that seems to come up often enough in online comments is whether or not they’re truly efficient.  I’ll be the first to tell you that they’re very, very, very efficient.  As in, efficient enough that I challenge you to notice if they’re installed or not without looking.  My previous dynamo setup was extremely efficient for a dynamo setup (Schmidt SON with B&M IQ Cyo and D Toplight Line), and yet I could clearly notice even the minimal drag it caused when it was running.  Consequently I left it turned off if it wasn’t dark out.  The Magnics are efficient to the point that, not only do I run them in daylight, adding to my overall safety, I run them on a fast lunchtime club ride (the Portland Lawyer ride) and haven’t noticed any significant slowdown.  So, is the energy free?   No, it’s not a magic light.  But it may as well be.  Not only are they extremely efficient, they are also quite lightweight.  Each light is roughly 70 grams, so the full set of three weighs in right around half a pound.  Significantly lighter than virtually any dyno setup, and on par with higher end battery light sets.

Maintenance has been minimal.  Getting the mounts set right and the beams aimed correctly takes a bit of flddling.   A handful of times I’ve had the mounts come out of position and had to push them back into place.  The other day I took a damp cloth and wiped off the road grime from the lenses.  Other than that, just set them and forget them.

So, how would I improve on the Magnic Lights?  In this order, I’d give them a standlight (staying lit when the wheels stop moving), make them brighter, and have them cost less.  Finally, I’d rework the mounts to make changing them easier.   Luckily enough, all but the last of my requests will be accommodated soon enough with the release of the Magnic Light iC.

Dirk has started a second Kickstarter campaign aimed at bringing the next generation of these lights to market.  Visually little if anything has changed.  To keep costs low much of the tooling is being reused.  However, the internals are upgraded.  There is an integrated circuit (thus the iC in the name) to keep the light output even across varying speeds, to add a standlight feature, and to optimize the light output for maximum brightness.  Dirk claims they will be around 30% brighter.  Finally, the lenses will be reworked towards a true beam cutoff in the interest of not blinding drivers and fellow riders, and meeting German lighting regulations.  All in all, a solid upgrade, especially when one considers the full set will cost less than the originals.  The set of two headlights and one taillight sells for $180 USD on Kickstarter while the project is running.  Individual lights are $70 each.  After that point they are projected to be significantly more expensive.

Luckily for those interested, there are plenty of sets remaining as Dirk has added additional later target dates to keep up with demand.  The second project is already wildly successful with about three times the original target reached as of the time of writing.  I’m glad to have my order in the earliest group, and look forward to getting my new and improved set.   Perhaps sometime next winter I’ll get the chance to write a second review.  Until, I’ll keep on enjoying my Magnic Light “Classics”.

Magnic Lights:

Magnic Light iC project on Kickstarter:

Magnic Light on Facebook:

Clever Cycles:

Posted by: dolan | March 28, 2010

Nothing to See Here, Move Along Now

This may well be my last post here on WordPress, at least for a while. Really I spend far more time on Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr, so if you want to know what’s happening, those are the places to go. See you there!

Posted by: dolan | April 21, 2009


Zooey arrived just after midnight on Saturday at Legacy Emanuel hospital.  She was 6lbs, 12oz at birth — smaller than Lucas but very healthy.   We’ve been trying to rest these past few days, and she’s been wonderful to have with us.  Renee is doing well; this labor was much easier on her.  Lucas is enjoying being a big brother.  Renee’s sister Ashle is down from Seattle to help us out and family will be coming over the next month to see her.

Here are some pictures I finally managed to upload.

Posted by: dolan | April 7, 2009

The Loss of Trust

The US auto industry bailout is a very contentious issue, and for good reason.  There’s no easy answer, no glib solution, if you have any idea of the complexity that is the modern automotive industry.  Personally I feel quite conflicted about the whole deal; American makers have been making better cars as of late, and are doing some forward thinking things, but for the most part their cars are not to the standards of imports, and their focus is scattered at best with respect to innovation.  To make matters wose, their “leadership” has been arrogant and self serving.

However, I’m not sure this is the real issue for the meltdown.  In reality, there are many, but one very obvious one to me is the loss of trust with the customer.  I watched by dad’s 1979 Plymouth Horizon literally fall apart in front of my eyes.  His next car was a 1981 Honda Civic, which ran over 100k miles with few issues.  Both my mom and my dad inculcated in me that I should buy Japanese cars, a heretical idea for the previous generation.

Growing up, I only owned one American car — a 1967 Ford Mustang, which was promptly stolen from out in front of my house after two weeks of owning it.  From then on, it was Japanese all the way: a 1966 Datsun Roadster, a 1973 Austin America (the other exception, but hey, I was overseas), 1972 Datsun 240z, 1985 Nissan Sentra Diesel, 1989 Nissan 240sx, 1994 Honda Civic EX, 1994 Mazda Miata, 1994 Honda Del Sol, 2004 Mazda Protege 5, and most recently a 2009 Mazda 5.  One theme among these cars was that they were inexpensive to run and repair, very reliable (well, except the Z), and pretty fun to drive.  Oh, and Japanese.  Looks like their advice stuck.

Truth is, when looking for our most recent car I didn’t seriously consider anything made by the big 3.  I’m aware that Ford has a big stake in Mazda, but the 5 is made in Japan.  The big 3 didn’t really offer anything comparable in the category.  The only direct competition was Korean (Kia Rondo).  If not considering buying domestic was true for me, I’m thinking it might be true for quite a few others.  In fact, there are very few people I know among my friends who drive an American car.  I can’t think of anyone offhand, but I’m probably overlooking someone.

As time goes on and my generation and subsequent ones gain in influence and wealth, and as gas prices go up, things will get worse and worse for Detroit.  Unless they figure out a way to regain that trust (start up a new company, like Saturn or Tesla?, make insanely great products?) I can’t see themselves digging out of the hole.   Next time I’m in the market for a full-size truck, maybe, but that will very likely be never.

Posted by: dolan | March 22, 2009


It took me at least three times as long as the duration of the actual vacation, but I finally finished posting all 672 photos (and 22 videos) of our trip to the Yucatan peninsula, namely Isla Mujeres and Puerto Morelos.  We had a blast, especially Lucas who still talks about Mexico (a place where the ground is sandy) months later.


Us having fun in the sun.

Us having fun in the sun.

Click here to for a slideshow of our trip.

Posted by: dolan | March 10, 2009

A Torrent of Awesomeness

The company I work for, Jive Software, unleashed a torrent of awesomeness today in announcing version 3 of the product I work on (Clearspace, now known as SBS). I’m not marketing person by any stretch, but I do appreciate it once in a while when it’s done well, and I think the video below shows that:

Stay tuned for more good things from Jive.

Posted by: dolan | February 27, 2009

Debt To GDP

Apparently we owe as much or more as we produce. And apparently the last time that happened was, you guessed it, 1929. Time to pay down some debt.

Posted by: dolan | February 18, 2009

The End of Boomer Dominance?

Are we seeing the end of boomer dominance of politics and culture? It certainly seems that way. My generation (33-45?) has begun to breed in earnest, and I think that is producing somewhat of a shift. We have entered the workforce, bought houses, settled down, and are looking to ensure a good world for our children. We who were raised on “Free to Be” and Sesame Street are taking to heart the idea that we’re all the same color when you turn off the light. We’ve voted out the very epitome of “i’ll get mine first” and voted in someone who we hope embodies very opposite ideals of sharing the wealth. Our current situation has many causes, but surely it is more due to the belief that the only true market is an unregulated market, a belief embodied by SUV-driving boomers, than it is by their children. I’m sure when we get our chance to screw our offspring we’ll do a solid job of it as well, but I don’t think this one of is of our making.

Posted by: dolan | February 17, 2009

Renewable energy is great, but what about storage?

Despite it being at least ten years late, it’s great to see some traction in funding renewable energy in the US.  Better late than never.  But my optimism always fades a little because I know what renewable detractors will counter with: “what good is solar when the sun doesn’t shine and what good is wind power when the wind stops blowing?”  Now I’m aware that those are largely specious arguments, but common knowledge points otherwise.  Which leads to the rather obvious question: That’s great that we’re investing in better, cleaner ways to produce power, but why not throw a dime to schemes to conserve it too.  And when I say conserve, I mean more than switching to CFLs.  I mean, literally, conserving energy by storing it, kind of like a battery.

Flywheels are one simple, relatively cheap way to do this.  You build a huge, heavy flywheel, bury it in the ground, and set it in motion.  Energy generated is stored in the flywheel, and when energy is needed it is tapped from the flywheel.  Voila, you’ve decoupled generation from demand.  Easier said than done, but a definite possibility.  Another simple, effective solution uses gravity instead of inertia.  Use some energy to pump water or lift a heavy weight uphill.  When you need it, let out some water or let the weight down.  There are plenty of other ideas out there, but the point is, we should be spending some of that 800 billion dollars seeding companies that are developing this area, instead of focusing purely on cleaner power generation.

One fairly promising solution is A Better Place.  Their big idea is to use plug-in hybrid vehicles as energy storage mechanisms to offload the grid during peak generation hours.  I’d love to see this succeed, and it may on a small scale (in the short term at least).  Definitely something to keep an eye on.  Japan and Denmark are forging ahead in this area, so we should know in the next few years how it’s working.

Of course, one can’t complain too much about spending on renewable power generation technologies.  I truly hope a little of that money goes to researching enhanced geothermal, as well as solar towers.  As has been stated many times, the government isn’t generally all that good in picking technologies, but they can be the ultimate angel investor, and give worthwhile ideas (and some that aren’t) a hell of a (critical) jump start. Perhaps if we’re lucky, clean power generation will be so successful that conservation is an afterthought (kinda like Quebecers with James bay).  Of course that’s what they said about nuclear, and that didn’t work out so well.

Multiple eggs, please meet multiple baskets, because we’re gonna break a few along the way.  Better to get started sooner rather than later, as we’ve already put off doing the right thing for far, far too long.

Posted by: dolan | February 11, 2009

Certain Lawmakers Need A Serious Clue

Judging from what I see here:

There are more than a few members of congress who equate cycling with golf. Next time someone gets to work and does their shopping on a golf club, please let me know. Sooner or later people need to accept? figure out? that the bicycle is as legitimate a mode of transportation as any other, more so when you take the environment into consideration.

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