by Sean P. and Rick K. for webBikeWorld.com
From my own experience working with the Department of Transportation, I can tell you that the difference between being seen and becoming a statistic is simply this: visibility.
Motorcycle riders are constantly exposed to risk because of their smaller outlines, so getting the attention of other drivers on the roadway at night or during the day can be a bit tricky at best.
I ran across this Safe Lites BeaconWear vest while looking through the webBikeWorld motorcycle safety page and decided to check it out.
The Safe Lites BeaconWear vest features a new type of patented electroluminescent lighted safety strip technology called "GlowSkin".
These are sewn into the vest on top of the reflective stripes and they are covered with clear vinyl.
The GlowSkin strips are not LED lights; GlowSkin is a very interesting product that is very lightweight and not much thicker than a piece of paper, yet the entire fabric glows when the vest is powered on.
The BeaconWear vest meets or exceeds the ANSI 107-2004 Class II specifications for reflective safety vests.
The BeaconWear vests feature six "active lighting panels" on the front, the side and the back, which illuminate using the GlowSkin lighted strips.
GlowSkin has several unique features that make it useful for a motorcycle safety vest.
Safe Lites claims that unlike "point source lighting", the electroluminescent GlowSkin does not destroy or impair night vision.
It also has a very wide viewing angle (unlike LEDs), it has over 25,000 hours of useful life, does not generate heat, uses little power and is very light weight.
One important feature for motorcycle use is that the GlowSkin lamps are vibration and impact resistant.
Also, Safe Lites claims that the GlowSkin can be used in a wide range of temperatures, from "freezing cold to desert hot".
And finally, the electroluminescent lamps contain no hazardous materials and they are also biodegradable.
The BeaconWear vests are available in lime green/yellow with lime or orange stripes. We ordered two vests with orange stripes.
The vests come with a battery power pack that uses two AA batteries, but the batteries are not included.
We also ordered one rechargeable power pack. The vest and the power pack come in a black canvas-like carrying case which is suitable for storage on the bike or in a closet.
The vests seem well made compared to the lighter and more flimsy mesh vests I had worn as a traffic flagman.
The mesh is tightly woven and, other than the color, it looks very similar to the mesh liners used in some motorcycle jackets.
The tight mesh also gives the outside of the vest more visible surface area because there are simply more square inches of solid fabric to show off the bright lime yellow color.
The vest secures in the front with a 9" (20 cm) heavy-duty YKK zipper with Nylon teeth.
The zipper looks identical to the one used on the Joe Rocket Blaster perforated pants, and if it can hold those heavy leather pants together, it should last forever on the much lighter vest.
The big Nylon teeth make the zipper easy to connect and to operate.
The vest has a high level of visibility even without the GlowSkin lighted strips activated. Between the bright yellow overall color and the big 4-1/4" (153mm) wide reflective strips, it shouts "look at me".
The strips have a safety fluorescent orange background with two inch-wide silver reflective material on either side, which creates what looks like 5 stripes of reflective and orange color.
The vest fabric seems of higher quality than other safety vests we've tried, because both the mesh material and the stripes are made from a soft fabric.
Most of the cheaper reflective safety vests use stiff plastic strips of reflective material, which can make the vest uncomfortable for motorcycle use.
The reflective strips around the mid-section of the vest have Velcro backing to make the adjustable.
The width of the strips in this area can make it difficult to get the vest adjusted correctly when worn over a motorcycle riding jacket.
There are three snaps on the bottom edge and in the midline of the vest that are designed to attach a tool belt for safety workers but can also be used to shorten the length.
The vest has a battery power pack pocket on the inside of the right side and a storage pocket on the inside left.
The battery pocket has an attached flat electrical cable and connector for the standard AA or the rechargeable (see below) battery power pack.
A Nylon fabric loop is located on the front of the vest, which might be used used to hold sunglasses, a name badge or a helmet-to-helmet radio receiver.
The GlowSkin electroluminescent (EL) lighting system incorporated into the vest is powered by an inverter circuit that is powered by either the two AA batteries or the rechargeable power pack.
The power pack connects easily to the snap connector located in a pocket on the right side of the vest.
The battery pack weighs 3 ounces (86g) and has a three position slider switch which activates the GlowSkin in either a flashing or continuous mode.
We checked the flashing rate and it averages 28 flashes per minute, or about one flash every two seconds. The rechargeable power pack has only an on/off mode with no flash function.
Once activated, the GlowSkin glows with the pale green color typical of a standard EL lamp.
Sean had the chance to test the water resistance of the vest when he rode back home in a downpour recently. The vest was running in continuous mode and it was still brightly lit when he arrived at his destination.
Safe Lites also claims that the vest has a 40 hour charge time in flashing mode and 20 hours for continuous burn using the regular power pack.
A "PRO Pak" rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack is also available as an option.
It consists of a non-memory Lithium rechargeable battery weighing 3.125 ounces (87g). Safe Lites claims that the rechargeable battery will light the BeaconWear vest for 8 to 10 hours.
The rechargeable battery pack also has a feature which compensates for the level of brightness as the charge wears down.
The rechargeable battery power pack is labeled as made in the U.S.A. and it has an LED display with a waterproof pressure button that can be pressed to indicate the remaining charge (see photo above).
It takes about an hour or so to charge completely and Safe Lites claims that it has a 500 cycle charge life.
The PRO Pak comes with the electrical charger shown in the photo above.
The PRO Pak is good for 8-10 hours of usage, compared to the (claimed) 20 hours of use in continuous mode and 40 hours in flash mode for the standard AA unit.
The main differences are that the PRO Pak uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, it has the brightness compensation and an energy remaining display.
As of this writing, the list price of the PRO Pak is $39.95, which can buy many AA batteries, or better yet, a good set of rechargeable AA batteries and a charger.
The Safe Lites BeaconWear vest has a lot of nice features that are missing from the average reflective safety vest.
The GlowSkin strips give the vest an active lighting system that helps it to stand out well against oncoming traffic at night.
The vest is more expensive than the average reflective safety vest, however. But the quality and features of this vest make it an excellent choice for motorcycling.
|wBW Product Review: Safe Lites BeaconWear Lighted Safety Vest|
|Manufacturer: Safe Lites||List Price: Vest - $59.95, includes AA power pack but no batteries. Rechargeable Li-Ion power pack - $39.95. Extra AA power packs - $19.95 each.|
|Colors: Lime yellow with lime or orange stripes.||Made In: U.S.A. and China|
|Review Date: December 2005|
From "S.D.G." (01/11): "I bought the Beacon vest with Glow Skin strips after the wBW review.
If you want to be noticed this vest on the flashing mode is as good as it gets.
My commuting suit is a BMW Coverall suit which only comes in run-me-over black and having this vest on definitely makes a huge difference in visibility. I like light!