Conspicuity has long been a concern of safety-oriented motorcyclists. We make ourselves visible by wearing bright gear and varying our position in the lane. Headlight modulators have been a tool some riders have used to reach out and grab the attention of drivers. Riders have also used brake light modulators (such as the Signal Dynamics BackOFF XP ) to alert drivers that they were slowing down. Until now, however, these modulators required that the rider actually apply the brake to get the lights to flash. Although riders are familiar to motorcyclists’ frequent use of engine braking, the predominance of automatic transmissions in today’s cars means that many drivers have little or no real experience with the use of engine braking. Consequently, they are not prepared for how dramatically motorcycles can slow without the use of brakes – or the associated display of brake lights.
This past summer, after we received a press release for the GearBrake brake light modulator that operated on deceleration rather than the illumination of the brake light, we posted a news item about it and went along with our jobs, feeling like we’d passed on some cool information to our readers. While one product is interesting, more than one means a new category of products is developing, and that bears looking in to. So, when we noticed a couple other new brake light flashers on the web, we decided to take a gander at each product’s offerings.
What makes these new modulators different is that they sense deceleration and don’t depend on the brake light being triggered to do their work. All three of these brake light flashers sense deceleration, but they each use different techniques to warn approaching drivers.
Stoptix Automatic Brake Lamp
We found this developing technology on the project funding site indigogo.com. The Stoptix Automatic Brake Lamp is designed to simply plug in to the standard-sized 1157 brake/tail socket found on many motorcycles. This means that installing this device is as simple as installing a replacement brake lamp or turn signal. No wire splicing or any other kind of work is required. Once installed, the Stoptix LED lamp senses deceleration of any kind and activates to warn drivers behind you.
For those who are wondering how the Stoptix lamp works since there is no power going to it when the brakes are not applied, the designers cleverly fitted it with an internal battery to power the LEDs. On bikes with a separate bulb for the brake light, the battery will hold a charge for three hours before requiring a recharge. When the brake is applied, sending power to the bulb, the battery will fully charge in about two seconds. If the bike has a rear running light, the battery is always charged while the bike is being ridden. Also, the lamp can be placed in any fixture that has the appropriate socket, such as turn signals.
Because the LED fixture is slightly larger in diameter than the incandescent bulb it replaces, the Stoptix can’t be mounted in all locations that utilize a 1157 socket. Bikes – or any vehicle, for that matter – with different sockets may be covered with future versions of Stoptix.
The GearBrake module is a separate unit that mounts out of sight on your motorcycle, and upon sensing deceleration activates, depending on how it’s wired, either the brake light or auxiliary lights you may have installed on your bike. One interesting feature of the GearBrake is that it has the ability to have its sensitivity adjusted. When properly mounted, the unit itself is parallel to the ground. To increase sensitivity, the leading edge can be tilted slightly downward. Tilting it upward has the opposite effect.
While this tunability is welcome, it does lead us to a question: Since a motorcycle’s chassis attitude changes under the load it is carrying (a passenger, saddlebags, or both), we wonder if the sensitivity of the brake flasher will change with the motorcycle’s load. (Perhaps a full test of these products is in order.) The manufacturer obviously feels that having the module level is important since a bubble level is included with the module.
We really like the GearBrake unit’s two wiring options. The first links it to the existing brake light. While this offers the cleanest installation option, it also involves cutting the wire to the brake light. So, if the GearBrake unit fails, the brake light may not work – which defeats the purpose of the modulator. Consequently, GearBrake offers a second wiring option for the congenital worriers among us, allowing the unit to activate auxiliary brake lights while leaving the stock brake light alone.
The $69.95 GearBrake can be ordered directly from the manufacturer or select dealers.
Thanks to reader, Master V, we’ve learned of the BikeALERT System, which comes in the form of a remote module that incorporates “patented G Force Motion Activated Technology.” Similar to the GearBrake and the VoloMOD, mentioned below, the BikeALERT mounts out of sight on the motorcycle. Upon detecting deceleration, the BikeALERT flashes either lights already mounted on your motorcycle or one of the company’s accessory LED lights. When the module is triggered, it flashes the attached light eight times a second. Consequently, the company recommends that you not connect the module to your bike’s brake light. Instead, the BikeALERT should be seen as a auxiliary means of attracting attention to the bike’s deceleration, giving following drivers an additional warning when the brake is actually applied.
Three versions of the BikeALERT are offered from the company. The BikeALERT G-Force Module alone costs $109.99, while including a red LED strip bumps the price to $149.99. Purchasing a G-Force Module with license plate frame with an integrated LED goes for $159.99. See the BikeALERT System website to order yours.
Vololights Brakeless Deceleration Indicator
Vololights come in two forms, the original Vololights license plate frame and the just introduced VoloMOD which utilizes the motorcycles OEM brake lights. Both products employ the same underlying technology. A 3-axis accelerometer combines with a microprocessor to detect deceleration via any means – be it engine braking, downshifting or brakes. What sets this system apart from the others mentioned here is the Vololights’ ability to alter the flashing frequency based on the intensity of deceleration. Faster deceleration will increase the frequency and, hopefully, transmit that information to the drivers behind you.
The Vololights plate system is self-contained within a license plate frame that will fit 47 of the 50 United States’ tags. For simplicity, powering the system is as easy as tapping in to the bike’s power to the license plate light (or the fuse block in a CANBus system). Vololights is designed to be installed without special tools by the average rider. Straightforward simplicity is the key.
VoloMOD is a separate, under seat module that interfaces with the bike’s brake or signal lights, requiring that some wires be cut. Therefore installation is slightly more advanced. However, for those who want to maintain the factory lines of their motorcycle, the VoloMOD may be the answer. In early 2015, CANBus compatibility will be added to the VoloMOD.
Both the Vololights and the VoloMOD are available from the manufacturer’s website for $129 and $119, respectively.