In the past few years, we've seen many light products come and go in the cycling scene. We even brought a couple of those LED valve caps that light up your wheels in a Tron style motion...didn't last long as after one rain shower, they died. We came across The Orb last year which was looking for backing from potential consumers via a crowdfunding campaign, pleased to say they've made it through and you can now purchase the next innovative design in the bike lights department. Ever thought about drinking your light?! Confused? Liam Reilly explains...
Panic on the Streets of London
Commuting through Central London feels like a fight for survival sometimes, especially during the dark winter months. In order to try to stay safe, you must possess an arsenal of kit designed to catch the attention of those who are usually in too much of a hurry to look. For me, this consists of a pair of front & rear lights (for redundancy), retroreflective shoes, retroreflective rucksack, Hi-Viz jacket or jersey (hot pink where possible), several tactically placed retroreflective stickers on my bike frame, and an action camera. You’d think with all this at my disposal I’d have no issues right? Unfortunately, that isn’t the case and ‘SMIDSY’ incidents – involving motor vehicles, pedestrians, and other cyclists -- are a near-daily occurrence on my short commute.
I considered options for improving my visibility, which I felt was lacking -- particularly from the side. My front and rear lights were bright enough but very directional; my reflectives were completely passive, depending on light hitting them first to shine. What products were actually out there that could help in my battle to survive? I’d seen various wheel lights on the market, ‘Revolights’ for example; however, these products either looked complicated to fit and expensive or cheap and nasty. A sidelight product by the name of ‘Brightside’ has potential, but according to their own website ‘gives full 180-degree side lighting’. Only 180?! Enter, The Orb: 360° Visibility for Your Bike.
Message in a Bottle
At first glance, The Orb is an odd-looking water bottle with faceted sides and a frankly ugly yellow/orange/black lid; however, hidden in that lid is a USB-rechargeable battery with 8-16h runtime (mode-dependent) and four LEDs that output 72lm of light. At night, these provide a soft orange glow from your centre triangle, visible from all angles. Combined with the ‘bio-motion’ of your pedalling legs, The Orb should help other road users spot you from the side sooner and so avoid potential incidents. For the last two months, I’ve thoroughly tested The Orb daily on my dark morning and evening commutes…
Blinded by the Lights
As you may have gathered, I find The Orb to be an aesthetically challenged bottle. At least compared to my favourite bottle, the Camelbak Podium (Rapha-branded, naturally). Of course, this is subjective and since the bottle will mostly be used in the dark, it’s a bit of a non-issue! My primary reason for buying this bottle is to function as a safety aid.
As far as battery life goes, it has more than enough juice for my weekly commute, which roughly equates to about 5 hours of riding. That’s under the claimed 8 hours at full power. This is ideal because I don’t think I’d want to use anything other than the full power mode. In fact, I’d go as far as saying I’d be happy with a future model outputting a few more than 72lm. Lumen wars can be a bit of a problem with front and rear lights, but I don’t think The Orb would ever be blindingly bright because the output is diffused into a soft glow by the bottle itself. This would affect battery life negatively; however, I’d like the option as I felt in some optically busy parts of Central London, The Orb was drowned out a bit in a sea of other light sources. Similarly, this is the case at dawn or dusk when it’s not quite dark enough. Once away from the busiest, brightest streets, The Orb was evidently eye-catching, as many fellow cyclists have paid it compliments. Whether or not motorists are noticing The Orb is harder to gauge but I believe I am more visible with, than without.
But how well does The Orb function as a water bottle? My answer would be ‘adequately’. Physically, the bottle fits my cages and extra small frame; however, I still think it’s on the large side. Your needs may differ, but I’m unlikely to consume 700ml of water during my commute – even in the height of summer. I’d appreciate the option of a smaller 500ml version that would be less cumbersome when full of water due to the top-heavy lid-cum-battery. Although, the apparent unwieldiness of The Orb may just be due to the combination of thick winter gloves and my feeble upper body strength. When it comes to drinking from it, the Orb has a standard bite valve. Again, for the wish list would be the clever, self-sealing style valve as used on Camelbak Podiums that allow you to drink with no spillage or valve biting.
The Orb is well built, and you’ll be pleased to know that it is fully waterproof (providing you close the seal over the micro-USB port). It seems robust enough to survive should the worst happen – even if you don’t!
I think The Orb is a worthwhile addition to any commuter cyclist’s arsenal of safety gear. It is a simple, elegant solution to the problem of side-visibility and takes advantage of mounting space that already exists on every bike. No need to add extra clutter to your frame or handlebars. Priced at £39.99, The Orb could be considered somewhat expensive compared to the ‘Brightside’ light at £22.50. Is The Orb’s 360° visibility more effective than the directional output of their competitor? It’s difficult to measure this objectively and in my experience, some road users will just not look your way regardless of how much you resemble a Christmas tree. I will say that I do feel safer with The Orb mounted in my cage and most of the issues I had with it were merely down to personal preference. If a brighter, 500ml version of The Orb (that may or may not look exactly like a Camelbak Podium) were released, I wouldn’t hesitate to upgrade.