With cycling continuing to gain popularity, that means more cyclists are mixing it up with more motorists, and more companies are trying to sell them products that will keep them from running into each other. Some of them are a flop, some of them are actually really great ideas, and there are tons in between.
There have been a few start-ups lately out of Australia (Adelaide, specifically) that have been producing cycling lights of high quality (Indigo5, Ding), and another has recently popped up from Melbourne called Road Ring.
Road Ring is on the other end of the spectrum from Indigo5 and Ding. It’s small, not particularly bright, cheap, and basic.
Fortunately, that’s not really a problem, because it doesn’t really depend on any of those things.
The Road Ring is a small… well, ring, that slips on your finger and acts as a turn indicator for when a simple hand gesture won’t do.
Here’s the deal:
I was provided one a few weeks ago to have a go with, and the results were surprising. Let’s get into it.
Firstly, this isn’t revolutionary. It’s a standard set (3) of small LED’s, running on a single CR2032 battery, with a rubber band to keep it around your finger. More generally, there have been other attempts to bring to market indicators for cyclists, whether they be on gloves, bags, or on the bike itself. What’s different about the Road Ring, then?
One of its stronger features is that it is highly adaptable, and by that I mean that it’s not attached to the bike, or built into a specific article of clothing, which means that it can be used in any context, in every season, on any bike.
Like a glove that incorporates turn indicators, it’s on your hand, but if it’s hot and you don’t want to wear gloves, you don’t have to, and when the gloves get all worn out or sweaty, you don’t have to wash it or throw it away. If it’s cold and you want to wear warmer gloves, you can without covering up the indicator – just wrap the Road Ring around whatever glove you choose and off you go.
In theory, then, it’s a pretty solid concept. How does it work in reality?
I must say that at first I had written the Road Ring off as just another cheap gimmick that would die a quick death. Firstly, it’s not terribly elegant. Aesthetically, it’s not great, looking like one of those novelty rings that came out of those gumball machines in supermarkets that you used to bug your mom to give you a coin for. With that said, it’s pretty minimal in the grand scheme of things, so it could be worse.
I had quite a lot of trouble coming to grips with the switch when playing with it initially. I tried mounting it with the lever over my first (or is it the last?) knuckle, pointing away from the finger, and that provided inconsistent results. I tried reversing it and that didn’t work at all. I then thought I had a way of using it that they didn’t suggest at all, which was further down, on the middle segment of the finger, with the lever pointing forward – when I wanted to activate it, I would flick the lever with my thumb, which was far more direct and I wouldn’t need to be unsure if it worked or take a few stabs at it.
In reality, on the bike, that didn’t work at all, as its position on my hand was very inconvenient when riding. On the next ride I ended up going back to the original plan, with the Road Ring in the traditional ring position, lever over the big knuckle.
That first ride was interesting.
When I came to the first intersection where I could make use of it, I actually hesitated, both physically and mentally. You see, I’m not a high-viz kind of guy. I don’t throw fashion to the wind in the name of practicality or safety, but prefer to have my cake and eat it too. I suppose I was carrying the assumption that by wearing a giant, orange novelty ring, I was announcing my membership to the hubbard community. Over-dramatic? Yes, but there you go.
Really, I doubt most people would even notice the Road Ring, except when you’re using it, which is the point. So let’s get to the point, then.
After that first hesitation, and immediately upon activating it, I realized that it really does work. In dark situations where most clothing people choose to wear is dark, most gloves are black, and though your whereabouts can be seen by the other lights you have on your bike, your intentions usually remain in the shadows. Everyone who’s ever seen cars on roads knows that a blinking orange light means turning, so it’s actually quite intuitive in practice.
The act of turning it on and off could probably still be better (I don’t have any suggestions), but it does work far, far better in practice than I was expecting it to from just playing around with it off the bike. After a good number of rides home with it, there really hasn’t been more than a handful of times that it hasn’t turned off or on on the first try.
The action of doing so required by your hand is quite unnatural, requiring you to flex your hand outwards to depress the small lever. When do you ever do that? On the bike this is made slightly more difficult depending on where your hands are on the bars. In some positions (the more your wrists are bent upwards), it’s actually rather more difficult to extend your finders out that far, but this is something you get used to without too much trouble, and will simply require you to train your muscle memory a bit before it becomes a more natural reaction. The other thing is that after turning it off, I have sometimes still imagined that it is still on, having it at the edge of my periphery with other flashing lights around, and have found that to be a bit distracting as I feel the urge to check it now and then. Again, maybe something you get used to?
The light is bright enough to get noticed, especially as it will be moving with your arm as it extends out to indicate to those behind you, but works equally well with your hands on the bars for oncoming traffic to take notice as well as those from side roads.
I don’t see this being extremely useful during the daylight, as the LED’s aren’t that bright, and if someone can’t see you sticking your arm out, then they aren’t looking anyway…
Fitting it is easy, but I have found that the finger it is on can lose a bit of circulation, especially as it’s pretty cold out at the moment. “Don’t put it on so tight, obviously”, you say to me, which is fair enough, but on the next loosest setting it was wandering around a little and the lever doesn’t activate as well if it is between your knuckles or a bit too lose. I have been using it with long-fingered gloves of various thicknesses, and that has worked well. Again, it’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good.
Overall, this has been a positive surprise. I went from thinking the Road Ring was bit of a joke to realizing that it actually does a pretty decent job of relaying your intentions in low-visibility scenarios, and it easier to use in practice than it seemed.
My imagined reaction of others has gone from mocking me to thinking that I have a pretty neat product on-hand (boom!), so I’m going to put this in the not-strictly-needed-but-definitely-useful-and-worth-giving-a-look category, if you think a little extra visibility at night couldn’t hurt. After all, junctions are where most accidents happen anyway, so why not improve your chances a little?
Header image: source