(see updates below)
There are two competing products on the market that are basically the same thing: a length of flexible electroluminescent (EL) tubing connected to a battery holder that is intended to be used on a bike. These products are the Bike Glow and the GloWorm. This is a followup to an earlier post back in October where I had just finished installing Bike Glows on my commuter and my Xtracycle. In the course of writing that post, an internet search turned up the GloWorm as a competing product, while a comment on the original post pointed out that the Bike Glow was now waterproof. Long story short, I intended to order one of each to test them against each other.
First a summary of my experience with the original Bike Glows; the bottom line is that the one on my commuter failed after about a month, whereas the one on my Xtracycle is still going strong. If you look at the way that the Bike Glow was installed on the commuter:
the end of the bike glow was taped to the seatpost near the underside of the saddle where I strapped the battery unit in a dry bag. Unfortunately, I also had a cable lock coiled around the same area. What I suspect is in the course of unlocking and locking the bike, one of the connections to the EL wire was broken. Although I have not verified this, the most likely suspect is the solder joint that is protected by a length of shrink wrap. The Bike Glow on the Xtracycle has had no such problems since the wire connections are better protected from jostling.
Back to a consideration of the new units. I got the GloWorm first, and I was inspired to incorporate it into a Hallowe’en costume for my daughter. She wanted to dress as a “Silly Band” (remember them as the hot toy for about two months?). I wrapped the EL tubing around a fun shape and made a bracket so that she would wear it as a hat.
I did not foresee what would happen: she came home and asked:”Dad, what’s a bonehead?” Poor kid. At any rate, I include this picture to prove that the GloWorm did actually work for a while. However, just as I was preparing for a comparison test, it failed due to a bad connection. However I have some pictures of the unit, and it is useful to compare it to the Bike Glow.
The GloWorm appears to be based on a waterproof battery unit that is also available for purchase from this site. The main selling point of the unit is that it claims to be waterproof, which was a weakness of the old Bike Glow. It also has an unusual connector that is threaded and has an O-Ring seal. In practice, this connector was problematic since it required detaching the battery unit from whatever it was mounted on in order to unscrew the connector. I this respect, the push connector of the Bike Glow would be preferable. I should also note that the GloWorm is shorter and less bright than the Bike Glow. However, the GloWorm driver is considerably more quiet than the Bike Glow. The hum from the Bike Glow is not a serious issue, but it is loud enough that I would not consider mounting it on my helmet.
As can been seen in the comments of the original post, Chris from Bike Glow said that there was a new version of the Bike Glow that was waterproof. He very kindly sent two units for review. (Disclaimer: in the end, Bike Glow provided three units to me free of charge. I bought the GloWorm from Amazon). The new units looked very promising.
This is a picture of both the new and the old versions of the Bike Glow. The new battery holder is considerably more robust than the old one. The colour of the yellow EL wire on the new version is the orangish one.
Here you can see the subtle difference between the new and the old versions of the Bike Glow connector. They are the same in cross section, and in fact, you can interchange the old and new battery holders on the old or new Bike Glow EL wires. However, the male end of the new connector is slightly longer and it has four ribs instead of three.
The new units came with AA batteries, and they seemed to work well, but when I tried to test them with rechargeable AA’s I had two issues. The first was that the rechargeable batteries fit so snugly that they didn’t seem to really slide into the holder properly. I tried four different brands of rechargeables. It turns out that the rechargeables were about 14.2 mm in diameter, whereas the non rechargeable alkalines were about 14.1 mm. In order to solve this problem, I carefully peeled the labels off of one set of rechargeables. They slid in fine, but the unit still did not turn on. After sitting on this for a while and puzzling over it, I e-mailed Bike Glow. They told me that they had since updated the new version, and they would send me one as soon as possible. It arrived a couple of days ago. The only way that you can tell if you are buying the new new version is that it comes with a small Phillips screwdriver that you can see in the corner of the package. Also, AA batteries are no longer included.
When I opened it up, I still couldn’t slide in batteries. However, in this case, the problem was obvious: there was a bit of flashing around one of the screw mounting posts. After I trimmed this away, I had no further problems, and the new new unit works with rechargeables. I am currently measuring runtime, and I will update this post when I am finished.
Finally, the water test. Here is a picture of the new unit sitting in a glass of water for 20 minutes. It is obvious that the battery holder is fully waterproof. However, shortly after I took this picture, I moved the wire so that the first connector was also immersed, and after a few minutes, the Bike Glow started dimming. I removed it from the water, unplugged and replugged the connector, and had no further problems. I did not immerse the other connection which is the one sealed by shrink wrap tubing.
Bottom line: the new version of the Bike Glow is waterproof enough that I would feel comfortable installing it on a bike with no further protection. It comes with a wide velcro strap. The only caveat is that I’m going to be very careful to install it in a way that the connectors will not be stressed or moved on a routine basis. I’ll let you know how the new unit is doing in another six months.
I would also note that Bike Glow gives terrific customer support, again with the caveat that I was furnished three review units for free.
On steady mode, the Bike Glow lasts more than 12 hours, and less than 18. On slow blink mode, it lasts about 24 hours.
Update2: Nov 2011: it would appear that the Glow Worm product is no longer available.
UPDATE Jan 2014: according to a commenter, bikeglow is out of business. They still appear to have a website, but it is very odd that the only vendors on Amazon that still appear to have Bikeglows in stock are from Japan.
Updates Nov 2016:
- the bikeglow website is still dead, but REI still has them in stock?
- Amazon sells similar products, although the battery housings look like the first gen Bike Glow units.
- There are many vendors selling EL wire if you are willing to do a bit of soldering.