When it comes to the bike lighting arms race, there is usually an escalation in light output and/or battery life between brands and models. The light’s form factor (size, shape, beam profile) is also a hotly contested area, as is price point. What usually isn’t considered is how intelligent the light is. This is probably because we’ve been dealing with dumb lights for generations. We’ve got smart phones, why not smart lights? See-sense thinks the same thing.
See-sense’s Australian distributor, Full Beam Australia, sent me sent two rear red lights, outputting 95 lumens and 155 lumens respectively, and a front white light, outputting 250 lumens. The form factor of the all of the lights was exactly the same, as was the general interaction with their ‘smart’ features, so I’ll treat all of the lights as one this review.
See-sense lights are without a doubt the most interesting bike lights I’ve ever used. The first thing you’ll notice about the See-sense lights is the large over-sized lens. It reminds me of one of those old style handheld lanterns and the reason is the lens, it’s a Fresnel lens and it means you can get a very extreme lensing effect without the size and weight of the standard curved optics required to produce it. The light produced by the very strong LED inside the unit gets spread out over more than 180 degrees giving the See-sense excellent visibility, particularly in flashing mode. Rather than a pinpoint of light or a bunch of flashing dots, the See-sense produces a “sheet” of light and which looks a lot bigger than the device producing it. From a distance it’s distinctive, from up close it’s startling.
So as a light source, it works very well, but that’s not the smart part. Nor is the battery life, which is up to 12 hours (I got a week of commutes out of one charge, so this number looks right to me). No, the smart part is the control system for the light, which becomes an immediate concern when you want to use the light because the light has no switches.
When I say no switches, I mean no external, touchable switches. The only access to the internals of the light itself is the mini-usb port, which is used to charge the light. All features of the light are controlled by shaking it! To turn the light on, you need to shake it back and forth in a particular pattern. To turn it off, you need to lay it lens down for a period of time. The default mode of all of the See-sense lights is flashing, but if you want to change the pattern or turn the light to steady mode, you once again have to shake it a certain way.
It sounds like an interesting way to interact with the lights, but I found it rather annoying. Turning the lights on, after charging them for example, devolved into turning the lights from left to right, right to left, over and over until the little indicator led in the light started flashing and then the main light turned on. The pattern noted in the instructions never seemed to work properly, but it could have just been me. After all of that shaking, I attached it to the bike, since I couldn’t for the life of me turn the lights on while the unit was attached to the bike. Turning the lights off was similarly annoying. I really don’t want to have to remove the lights from the bike to turn them on and off. With the rear lights, to turn them off, I could just stand the bike up on the back wheel for 30 seconds, but then I had to do the same on the front wheel for the front light, unless I removed the lights and did it. Inconvenient.
The best way I found to use the lights was to strap them to the bike and just leave them there. When I got to work, I put up with the very bright flashing lights on the way to my office, rested the bike on the wall near the desk, and waited the three minutes in disco-like splendor until the lights settled down of their own accord. When I needed to use the bike again, I just grabbed it and the lights started flashing immediately. This was usually exactly what I wanted to happen, but several times I bumped the bike while moving through the garage at home or in the office, and each time it was like I was at a Pink Floyd concert, sans the awesome music. While I really like this auto-off/auto-on feature, being able to adjust the sensitivity would be excellent.
So the light doesn’t sound too smart at the moment, does it? It gets better, though. Controlling the lights is the least of its intelligence, the real intelligence is exhibited while you’re riding. The See-sense lights have motion and light sensors built in and the flashing pattern and intensity changes as you ride. This is the big selling point for these lights. If you ride into a dark area, like a tunnel, the light intensity changes, and then changes back to daylight intensity when you come out the other side.
When you’re sitting at the traffic lights, the flashing will slow down and the pattern will change. When you’re moving slowly, it’s different again. Out of the seat, riding furiously? The light guesses you’re going faster and changes the pattern and intensity accordingly. This is an excellent feature for a light to have; I’m happy to call them “smart”.
The See-sense lights have been a bit of a mixed bag to use. I liked the way the light is output and the “smartness” of the light patterns, but I didn’t like the control mechanism. I also didn’t like the form fact of the front See-sense light. The rear lights fitted nicely on the seat post, but I really don’t know where the front light is meant to go. On the front, obviously, but where? It is not a compact light so requires a fair bit of real estate and doesn’t integrate as elegantly as the rear light.
Let me explain the problem of the front light, firstly, the light spreads out over 180 degrees. That sounds good on paper, but the light design means that it is also quite visible to me as the rider. Secondly, the default mode is flashing and there’s no off switch, so when it gets dark I have to stop, take the light off, and turn it off by holding it face down for 30 seconds, all because I hate riding at night with a flashing light. The See-sense is a brilliant (pun intended) “be-seen” light, and if I could work out the best way to mount it on the head tube, I think it could find a permanent home there, at least during daylight hours.
Edit: Full Beam Australia have provided the following image to show the vertical light mount
I hope you’re sensing the frustration I felt when using these lights. The See-sense lights have technology that I want to see in every light I own. As they are, however, they don’t suit my bike or riding needs the way I want them to. If they had a simple on/off switch, I’d buy them for all of their other features. As they are, they will perfectly suit some riders. I expect that these will find favour with commuters (just not me), tourers, randonneurs, and city riders. If the See-sense light suit your needs, then they may be the best be-seen lights you’ll ever own.
While I will reluctantly pass on them, I am going to be keeping a very close eye on the company because they’re doing a lot of good thinking. I really hope they develop something I can use with all of the features I want (add a switch, please!), or at least license the technology to someone else so standard lights can become much smarter as well.
All lights should be smart lights. There is no excuse now. Head to seesense.co to see what the company is up to. If you want to buy the lights (and they are worth it if they suit you), you can purchase them from Full Beam Australia.
There are three sets:
Front 160 Lumen / Back 95 Lumen – $135
Front 210 Lumen / Back 125 Lumen – $158
Front 250 Lumen / Back 155 Lumen – $245