Belt Beacon

I spied an old yellow Belt Beacon bicycle light last weekend in Santa Cruz.


Belt Beacon

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.

17 Comments

  • Paul Johnson
    September 27, 2011 - 2:59 pm | Permalink

    DYNAMO LIGHTS ARE THE BEGINNING AND END OF ALL BIKE LIGHTS DISCUSSIONS!  GET OFF MY LAWN!!!

  • September 27, 2011 - 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Yes, but do you get the top-quality Schmidt Nabendynamo, or chase the yung’uns off your lawn with Sturmey Archer’s dynamo/drum combo paired with your 50 year old AW hub?

  • Anonymous
    September 27, 2011 - 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Amber makes a bright reflector, returning twice as much light as a red reflector. That is the basis for the die hard opinion. However, amber is not good facing forward since it does not send an “oncoming vehicle” message. I also don’t think that amber in a light offers the same advantage over red that it would in a reflector.

    CPSC tests in the 90’s indicated that motorists saw all combos when coming from behind. Of course, the CPSC test motorists were not texting during the test. Deviating from the topic – side reflectors were totally useless in the CPSC tests which raises the question of why they are still required.

  • September 28, 2011 - 6:50 am | Permalink

    I have a wonderful amber rear light from marpac (http://www.ledsafetylights.com/safety_lites.asp?catid=2 ) — mounting is a challenge ’cause it’s so big.  The bike mount I got really wasn’t strong enough& I’ve broken one of the thingies to stick the light into but there’s another one so it’s there if I need it for that bike.
       It has the added advantage, IMO, of being associated with things like tow trucks or tractors or school busses — thigns likely to be moving slowly or stopped — and not “just another vehicle.”

  • September 28, 2011 - 9:19 am | Permalink

    When I lived and biked in Illinois, I worked to emulate a snow plow (during the winter) or a construction zone (during not-winter).  Many white, yellow and red flashing lights!

  • September 28, 2011 - 9:20 am | Permalink

    Yep on the side reflectors!

  • Anonymous
    September 28, 2011 - 4:03 pm | Permalink

    You or I need to do a post on sending messages to motorists with lights, reflectors, and tape. When the motorist is overtaking, you want to register as something slow so they make their lane change early. When the motorist is oncoming, you want to register as something fast so they don’t assume they have time to turn in front of you. It is one reason I now rarely ride with a headlight in blinky mode. My favorite headlight looks like the high beam of an oncoming motorcycle and all motorists KNOW motorcycles never travel at less than 70mph.

    I hadn’t considered the merits of looking like a snow plow, though it might not work well here in North Texas. Still, garbage trucks are slow and operate before dawn. Hmm…

  • September 28, 2011 - 4:16 pm | Permalink

    A couple of years ago I was biking at night and approaching what I thought was a motorcycle with brake light on. As I caught up I wondered whey he was going so slowly in the shoulder. I finally got close enough to see he was actually on a bicycle – his light was the very bright Dinotte tail light in steady on mode. I can see the risk of getting confused for a fast vehicle and coming up on him quickly.

    I like your thoughts on front vs back. Hadn’t thought about the oncoming vehicle speed vs light, but it makes sense. I’ve had people tell me they thought I was on a motorcycle as they approached from the front, so I suppose that’s a good thing.

  • Anonymous
    September 29, 2011 - 10:01 am | Permalink

    Although it’s huge and awkward, I still love the Flashbak http://flashbakonline.com/

    The amber LEDs, large coverage area and irregular flashing pattern all work to alert even the groggiest motorists to your presence. I combine that with a PB Superflash (in blink mode, of course) and a Blackburn Flea on steady.  I’m a proponent of having at least one steady rear tail light, as it puts your distance into perspective better than a giant wall of seemingly random flashes when you use more than one blinky device at a time.

  • September 29, 2011 - 10:25 am | Permalink

    I hadn’t seen the flashbak before — thanks for the tip, Noah.

  • Anonymous
    September 29, 2011 - 10:34 am | Permalink
  • October 20, 2011 - 7:44 am | Permalink

    Ah yes the Belt Beacon! I had one or two of those. Very well made and poweful back in the day. I will now have to look in my garage to see if I still have one or did I give it to someone once I bought a better light. I used it at night when I commuted home from a restaurant job I had many years ago. I even had panniers over the back for dress clothes. I would change in the bathroom. Those were the days!

  • October 20, 2011 - 8:55 pm | Permalink

    When I lived in Texas I worked restaurant jobs a couple of summers. On the hottest days I would hose off behind the restaurant (a steak house) after biking there, change in the bathroom then cool off in the walk in :-)

  • Riptidenj
    May 10, 2012 - 9:15 pm | Permalink

    I have Belt Beacons on 2 of my 3 speeds, still going strong.

  • ma
    November 10, 2012 - 10:25 pm | Permalink

    how do you open back to change battery

  • November 11, 2012 - 3:09 pm | Permalink

    @Ma – flat screwdriver to just pry the plastic lens off of the body.

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