Words by Kristen Gross and photos by Francis Cebedo
In honor of their 25th anniversary, a couple RoadBikeReview reporters headed down to San Diego to take stock of the past, present, and yes, future of innovation at NiteRider.
Here are five myths we busted about the iconic pioneer of mountain bike lighting systems. Prepare to be illuminated:
1) Myth: NiteRider was started for mountain bikers
CEO Tom Carroll came up with the idea of a hands-free helmet light for surfing, not mountain biking. The Southern Californian wanted to avoid the crowds and sometimes, after dark was the only time he could get to the water. So, he devised a 150-watt waterproof lighting system that was worn on the head, and powered with a battery fitted around the waist.
The editors of Mountain Bike Action magazine, based in Ventura CA, heard about Tom Carroll's light and invited him up so they could give it a try on a night surf. It wasn't until they suggested he run an ad in their magazine that he introduced his invention to those kinds of night riders. Until then, the "Rider" in NiteRider was a surfer, not a mountain biker.
2) Myth: The Smaller, The Better
When it comes to measuring the power of your light, smaller isn't better. We're talking about a special piece of equipment called an integrating sphere. Until this tour, the biggest one we've seen at a light manufacturer's facility was only about the size of a globe. If those were models of earth, NiteRider's integrating sphere is on scale with the sun (no, not really-but it's big).
The light goes in and they measure things like lumens, how temperature affects performance, run time, and consistency. Why does size matter? If you have an integrating sphere that's too small, it can easily become saturated with all that light and corrupt your data. That means when NiteRider puts "750 Lumens" on a box, you can be confident that that's what you're going to get.
The more lumens you're testing, the bigger the integrating sphere you'll need. The size of the sphere at NiteRider means that their data is solid, and also hints at even bigger light outputs to come. "We want to make sure our numbers are as accurate as possible so we can stand behind them," said NiteRider's Director of Engineering, Alex McKay.
And by the way, if you send your light back to NiteRider for repair or warranty (we saw some lights on the table that were over ten years old), it goes back into the integrating sphere as well, to make sure it's still up to snuff.
3) Myth: NiteRider Is Just Another Light Company Slapping Their Logos On Made-In-China, Mass-Produced Product
At NiteRider, they pride themselves on innovation. Every light is designed and tested in-house by their team of engineers. They have 19 "firsts" to their credit, including the first HID light, and the introduction of USB charging-features that each became industry standards.
In their San Diego headquarters, they have a team of about 30 staff-almost half of whom have an average of 16 years of service. Why does that matter? This crew has been learning from each other, trying things, and discovering what works for a very long time.
Every microprocessor, chip, cable, housing and bulb is sourced from the manufacturers that do it best. For example, CREE makes the best LED bulbs, so that's where NiteRider gets theirs. The lights are then assembled by hand, tested, packed and shipped from NiteRider HQ in San Diego.
Continue to Page 2 for more NiteRider myths and full photo gallery »
4) Myth: NiteRider won't be at your 24-Hour Race
Since its first 24-hour race back in 1992-the 24 Hours of Canaan-NiteRider has participated in more mountain bike races than any other light manufacturer.
If you see the NiteRider Sprinter van at your event, chances are its Tommy behind the wheel and the demo desk offering up lights to try, on-site repairs, and 250 charging banks that "look like a space shuttle," according to CEO Tom Carroll.
NiteRider designed their mobile charging station in their own engineering shop so it can charge any chemistry of battery they've ever created. Not only is it built to handle past technology, they've also made sure it will be ready to handle the batteries of the future. All for about the same amount of electricity as a household refrigerator.
Last year, Tommy was on the road for 306 days, attending about 47 events-chances are, if you're signed up for a 24-Hour Mountain Bike Race, Tommy is too. Be sure to say hello!
5) Myth: You don't need a light because you don't ride at night
By far, the most common fatal collision involving cyclists is the hit-from-behind. Day or night, a light can make a tremendous difference in making sure you're seen. It's some of the best money you can spend for safety and you don't need to spend a lot- NiteRider makes a $12 light that will help with visibility at night and during the day.
But your basic red blinky is just the beginning. With more and more cyclists taking to the street for fun, fitness, and for just plain getting where they're going, innovation is catching up.
In the future, we can look forward to lights that sense sudden changes in your speed and communicate that to motorists or cyclists behind you. Sidelights for added visibility are beginning to gain traction. What about remote controls so you can be sure your light is on, without needing to stop and check? And as we've been seeing more and more, a camera can make a difference in the court of law and public opinion-integrated taillight recorders that capture your ride in 30sec-1minute loops could be available soon.
To close our visit to NiteRider, we enjoyed a roundtable discussion with pro athletes, staff and designers, media, and enthusiasts on these topics and more. It seemed as though every time someone had an idea, a prototype would appear from the back room. We enjoyed over two hours of banter and brainstorming on every level of light-pro, sport and commuter-and NiteRider showed us some very exciting things we look forward to sharing with you soon. Take our word for it: the future is bright.
If you ride at night, want to be seen, or love to race 24-hour events, be sure to check out the 2014 Mtbr Bike Lights Shootout