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This Brilliantly Simple Design Makes Your LED Bike Light More Visible–And Less Blinding

Stare directly into this bright bike light and you won’t feel like you need to swerve out of the way.

Bike lights used to be notoriously dim. That changed with the introduction of extra-bright LEDs, but the dazzling new lights cause a different problem: They might be visible farther down the street, but if they’re aimed too high, they can also blind oncoming drivers or other cyclists.

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As light manufacturers race to make the brightest lights possible–some go up to 7,600 lumens, over 16 times brighter than an old-fashioned 40-watt lightbulb–one designer has a new solution. The Sombra is basically a lampshade for your LED bike light. It manages to make it both safer for oncoming traffic and visible from new directions.

SombraCycle

“One night, I was cruising the bicycle lanes in central London, when another cyclist flew by me,” says designer Offer Canfi. “He had one of those blinking, bright-red tail lights, and in the dark it played some nasty tricks on my eyes. The light was so intense that even as the cyclist pushed further away, I kept feeling disoriented. With cars on my right and the sidewalk to my left, I was forced to stop so I would avoid diving head first into the curb.”

Canfi was annoyed, but realized that–ironically–his own bike had exactly the same type of light. He couldn’t find an alternative on the market that was both bright and non-blinding. But one night, reading in bed, he happened to look at his lamp and realized a shade was the answer.

The simple plastic shade he designed, after hundreds of prototypes, diffuses the light so it’s no longer blinding. Because the folded shade glows, it can also be seen from either side, unlike an ordinary bike light.

Though it’s less intense up close, the light is still visible for drivers at the end of the block. “When approaching a bicycle from behind, the main beam can still be seen from afar,” Canfi explains. “Only when closing on a cyclist does Sombra come into effect. A driver normally sees a cyclist from an angle . . . With Sombra, the beam–which would be blinding at this range–is diffused, and it becomes much easier to assess the rider’s speed and location.”

The design is made as sustainably as possible. Since you don’t have to get rid of your current bike light to fix the problem, it eliminates waste. It’s small, flat, and lightweight enough to be sent to customers through a standard envelope in the mail, and it can also easily be manufactured locally. It’s also recyclable. Canfi calls it a “low-friction” product, something that he can responsibly sell worldwide from his studio in London.

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The Sombra is currently crowdfunding on Indiegogo.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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