A Short Dark Ride Down Memory Lane

Remember the common battery-powered bicycle lights of the late 1970s to mid 80s? Perhaps you are not old enough to have experienced them, or maybe you are too old to remember, or maybe you have mercifully erased them from your mind. Yes, they were that bad. Here’s a few:

Plastic was big then…

Here’s a Wonder light (a French brand, but this one was made in the USA.) One tiny bulb, powered by a couple of C cell batteries, is used to simultaneously light both the front and back. The light was strapped to your upper arm, or to your leg, or to the seat tube of your bike. No velcro, just a strap with a buckle.

This was the little bulb expected to do it all. As I recall, the rider was encouraged to wear the light strapped to his ankle, so that when viewed from the side, it would appear some sort of giant demon-eyed, demented rabbit was hopping down the road as you pedaled past.

Or you could strap this on your upper arm. It had a proprietary, sealed, arched lighting element that produced a blinding white strobe. It was attention-getting, but highly annoying. I found it awful for cycling, so used it to light jack-o-lanterns at Halloween, to good effect.

This is another Wonder light. It also had a single tiny incandescent bulb, and ran on a 4.5 volt battery that was not readily available.

The local Schwinn dealer sold the batteries, and they were fairly expensive, so you didn’t want to use your light for very long at a time. You would ride in the dark unless absolutely necessary to supplement with the feeble rays of this gizmo.

It did have a fairly creative mounting system for attaching to the handlebars or perhaps the stem or head tube.

Here’s the Wonder light mounted on a 1974 Raleigh Sports. Gag!

If you ever are foolish enough to long for the “good old days” remember how lucky you are to have LEDs.

9 replies
  1. Mighk Wilson
    Mighk Wilson says:

    I had the first and third ones.

    I used to commute home from downtown Orlando to Buenaventura Lakes in Osceola County after a second shift in the early ’80s. I only had the white and red leg-light. Boggy Creek Road in those days had very light traffic. Heading down there at 2AM I’d have just a few cars pass me; no problems.

    Of course that little light didn’t light the roadway in the slightest. So I just rode in the middle of the lane and moved right when overtaking car headlights lit the road.

    One pitch-dark night I was riding that way; riding no-hands with my hands in my back pockets, when WHACK! I hit something big in the road. Amazingly I didn’t crash. Whatever it was, I hit it squarely and was able to grab the bars before the bike careened off one way or the other. I stopped to collect myself. What was it? A rock? (In Florida?) I hear something scampering in the brush alongside the road. A turtle? No, it couldn’t have covered that much ground. I never saw it, but concluded it was an armadillo. I imagined him sitting in the middle of the road, watching my white leg-light bobbing up and down as it approached him; his little head bobbing with it. “Hmmm. That’s interesting….WHACK!”

  2. RonE
    RonE says:

    I used a gigantic flashlight to light my way back in the 60s riding along Corrine Drive as a kid.

  3. Keith
    Keith says:

    I was surprised that your collection did not include any of the dynamo generator type lights that got their power from rubbing against the tire. They only worked while the bike was moving.

    • Diana
      Diana says:

      I have a post coming up on dynamo generator lights. I plan to rock one at Critical Mass this Friday, in fact, on a 1976 10 speed Raleigh Sprite. (But I will supplement with a small LED headlight and rear blinkie.)

      As to my “collection,” I recently came across the strobe while clearing out my garage, and took a photo of it before pitching it into the trash, as it no longer works. I actually had Wonder Lights like the two pictured, but threw my original ones away years ago. But I can’t seem to escape the lights of the past: I bought an old Raleigh Sports from Craig’s list, and the seller insisted I take the Wonder light with the mounting bracket, although I tried to decline. It is now going in the trash. A friend in Oregon with a bizarre sense of humor sent me the red/clear combo Wonder light as a joke. It apparently had never been used (NOS or “New Old Stock”, as they say) and it works perfectly, which is to say, it emits a little glow. Maybe I’ll give it to Mighk so he can recreate his adventure ride.

      • Eric
        Eric says:

        “It is now going in the trash.”

        My dad gave me one of those wonder lights. I was stumped about what to do with it.

        I’m now using the mount for my phone when run the computer program. I cut down the holders a little, then used velcro to hold the phone in place. Surprisingly, the phone stays put when I bounce over the brick streets. Velcro is better than it used to be.

        • Diana
          Diana says:

          That’s a good idea, Eric. I thought about using the bracket to mount a Flip video recorder, but it would have needed some modification, and I never got around to fiddling with it. Maybe I’ll give it a second look.

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