I spied an old yellow Belt Beacon bicycle light last weekend in Santa Cruz.
Dale Kelley in Phoenix, AZ began selling his Ampec Belt Beacon in 1974 for walking and cycling safety at night. The Belt Beacon had a little incandescent flashlight bulb, some circuitry and a 9 volt battery in a plastic housing, with a metal clip to slide over a belt. The bulb flashed once each second, which reduced power consumption for increased battery life. The marketing material claims “visible over a mile” so “motorists see you!!”
I don’t recall ever seeing Belt Beacons in bike shops; I think they were sold mostly mail order, with marketing in the form of those business card ads in the back of Bicycling magazine. Maybe Nashbar and Campmor also sold Belt Beacon through their flyers, but I could be wrong.
The Belt Beacon became very popular among bike commuters and tourers through the 80s. To this day, some old die hards prefer the amber lens on the Belt Beacon over the typical red LEDs on modern bike lights, pointing to evidence that yellow is superior to red in attention-getting. That’s possibly why this bike had two Belt Beacons mounted — one on the rear and one up front.
I had a pair of Belt Beacons for my bike into the early 90s, when I tried an LED tail light from VistaLite, and I was hooked on the new technology. Those early LED “blinkies” weren’t that bright, but they lasted seemingly forever, and changing out the AA batteries was a snap compared to the screwdriver required to open the Belt Beacon.
(VistaLite, incidentally, also had an interesting Xenon strobe packaged as a bicycle tail light with a red lens. Electronic camera flashes are xenon strobe lights, so imagine a bright camera flash in an explosion of red light firing off every two or three seconds.)
Belt Beacon faded away in the late 90s. Ampec & Associates filed official dissolution papers with the state of Arizona in 2001, but it’s good to see these old Belt Beacons still in use.
What are you Belt Beacon memories?
(…and cue DYNAMO LIGHTS ARE THE BEGINNING AND END OF ALL BIKE LIGHTS DISCUSSIONS! comments now…)
–> Bicycle lights from JensonUSA.