The Better Bike Light Blog

Behind the scenes with Bike Engineers and Entrepreneurs. Fortified Bicycle Alliance.

Finding the Right Contract Manufacturer – The Aviator and Afterburner

Friends – on our recent trip to the far east, we saw some horrific things. And we saw some wonderful things. Here’s the scoop…

Manufacturing Schedule: We’re way behind on our spring delivery estimate but we found an excellent factory. We’re estimating summer delivery and will know more when we ink the deal next week.

We visited 14 factories in 3 weeks. If you remember, we started with a long list of 33 factories, short list of 10, and scheduled 4 visits. Each final assembly factory we saw had their own suppliers: PCB assembly, plastic injection molding companies and aluminum die casters. So of course we had to see those too.

factory tour

MIT: Made in Taiwan

Bleary-eyed and hung-over from 27 hours of travel, I couldn’t understand why people were pointing and laughing at me in the Taipei airport. To them, my MIT t- shirt meant something different and they thought I was being ironic. Taiwan reminds me of a small ant carrying 25X his weight – every person and every square meter of land was working. Our Taiwanese manufacturing agent told me that until the 1980s, many people subsidized their income with a lathe in their living room cranking out machined parts. Rice patties are crammed into every corner.

Highway overpass? Rice patty. Your house has a small yard? Put a rice patty in it. Tend it on nights and weekends. Of the three factories I saw in Taiwan, the best was in Taoyuan – one of the manufacturing cities. They specialize in commercial lighting – Philips and Home Depot are their clients. And they’ve been making bicycle lights since 2004.

Here’s what was important to us:

1. Multi-Stage Quality Control

They tested parts (LEDs, batteries, etc) upon receipt from suppliers. They test again partially assembled and again fully assembled. These guys understand Poka-Yoke.

LED and battery accelerated lifetime testing

2. Performance Testing

Below are two optical chambers that measure lumens. This means they don’t take their LED suppliers word for specs – they test specs.

Lumen Test Chamber

3. Factory Conditions

The Taoyuan factory was state-of-the-art. Automated equipment with safety checks, excellent lighting and ventilation. It reminded me of an Intel semiconductor clean room.


But this was only our 2nd best factory  best factory. We’ll show you the terrible factories and the next week!


Slava and Team Fortified

Adventures in China, Batteries, and Your Favorite Turn-Offs


First comes first… production update for our new bike lights – The Aviator and Afterburner. 

We’re behind. Way behind. We haven’t even ordered tooling yet. Here’s the scoop:

Remember how we rejected the first batch of quotes because of astronomical prices or untrusted quality? And then remember how we went full force to find the perfect contract manufacturer: starting with a long list of 33 potential partners à short list of 10? Now we’re down to 4.

All 4 come from trusted references but we need to be sure. So we’re flying across the world to visit them and scrutinize the full supply chain. And everything we see we will share with you: machines, labor conditions, materials, dies, molds, PCBs, assemblies.

We’re not delivering in April. We are now aiming for summer but will know more in two weeks when Slava returns from Asia. This kills us and we lose sleep over it but again we’ve prioritized quality and this is the price we pay.

Take that, Energizer Bunny. 

You may recall that our prototype for our new bike lights the USB battery was rectangular. Since then we’ve upgraded the design to make it more compact and easier to remove with the same charging capacity. We also added an anti-shock feature to the battery housing – a rib that slides into an internal groove in the light, fully securing the battery in place. This battery is going to be awesome!

Your Favorite Turn-offs!

You can turn us on with a press of a button but how do you want to turn us off? Remember there will be 3-4 light modes (Full on, Full blinking, eco blinking, etc.)

Option A: Cycle through from On -> Blink -> Eco -> Off

Option B: Hold down the button for 2 seconds to turn off

Tell us what you think in the comments!


Tivan, Bruno, Brian, Slava

True and Transparent Manufacturing Stories from the Trenches

Beloved Backers,


Perhaps you’ve heard the manufacturing horror stories. We have inside stories from many entrepreneur-friends. “We’re six months past deadline and still 9 months from delivery.” Another confessed, “$60K spent on tooling and the manufacturer stopped returning emails so we’re flying to Korea to try and get our money back.”

If you backed our first Kickstarter, you know we’re open kimono on everything. We are behind on manufacturing. We’ll share this story in because we believe it will help other entrepreneurs.

In July, we had 12 manufacturing leads. By September when we launched the Kickstarter campaign, we shortlisted 4. Let’s call them Doug, Jack, Janice, and Bill.

Because those are their names.

Bill had 25 years overseas manufacturing experience and we were ready to pay a premium for it. But the premium came back at $120,000 on top of all other production costs. Bill dropped in October.

After asking Janice questions about how her factories inspect parts and do QA, her quality was questionable and we can’t afford reliability issues. Janice dropped in October as well.

Doug, a resourceful engineer at a reputable company, became our frontrunner. He initially quoted the tooling and part costs we were expecting. Then he came back one week later and added $40K to tooling and doubled the part cost. Doug dropped in November.

Jack inspired a lot of confidence with his technical knowledge. He became our new frontrunner with fair pricing and an April delivery date. Then, three weeks ago, his factory told got a large order from a big box US retailer and pushed the production start date to January. Of 2015! We still like Jack so he’s sourcing new factories for us.

Since Jack’s factory dropped, we called all the physical product entrepreneurs we know. Right now, our long list has 20 factories. In two weeks we will shortlist 10. After due diligence, we’ll find an awesome partner.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit this process is agonizing. Had we gone with the low bidder, we would be on track now but our customers would pay later when bike lights failed them. By refusing to sacrifice QA and reliability testing, we are behind schedule.

You may be asking, “Why not just make it domestically?” I wish we could but if we did the Afterburner be a $150+ instead of a $45 bike light.

Lesson learned: more manufacturing leads. In our case, 12 sounded like a lot but it’s not enough. By the time this process is said and done, I will have personally spoken with >30 manufacturers.

Is sharing this story helpful? Any other lessons you’ve learned from watching us so far?

And hey, let’s be friends.


Electronics Upgrade Photos and Thwarted Thefts

It’s been all quiet on the Fortified Front. Apologies for the radio silence, we’ve cranking in the lab and working with manufacturers. Here’s the scoop.

1. Our new Electrical Engineer is more awesome than Doc from Back To The Future. He’s a MIT guy who built a speech recognition computer. IN 1978! We decided to give the Afterburner/Aviator electronics a major upgrade. This means more efficiency, faster charging, and smarter functions on a smaller PCB footprint.  If your friends missed the Kickstarter, they can still Pre-Order.


2. Every week, we get a new Thwarted Theft photo from a customer. This one came from Hector, an old MIT classmate. The would-be thief stripped the screwhead trying to steal it, but The Defender saved the day.

3. We’re in final negotiations with our manufacturer. It’s been a long, hard bidding process as we’ve been choosing a manufacturer. Several had the right price, but we questioned their quality. The manufacturer we’re (probably) using costs much more in tooling and part price, but it’s worth it for a lifelong bike light product. More info to come.

How to Avoid Getting Your Bike Stolen

So you’ve made the investment, and spent all the money putting the bells and whistles on it, but what good is all of that if your new ride gets jacked à la Deebo from Friday? We can’t really help you if you get cold-cocked by the neighborhood bully— you’ll just have to charge that one to the game. But with a bit of common sense, the right equipment, and a little luck, you can keep your bike from being stolen.

1. Always lock your bike. It’s so simple, but there are plenty of poor souls who were “only gone for a minute” that have lost their bikes in the ether. Don’t be like them. Invest in a good bike lock and use it. Always.


2. Lock the frame, not the wheels. Don’t just lock the front or back wheel. People who have often come back to the bike rack to find only that wheel remains. Better to lock the sturdy metal frame in place. If the would-be thief steels the wheels, then he/she was just out to ruin your day and wasn’t even worried about the bike itself in the first place.


3. Don’t lock your bike to just anything. If you lock your bike up to a headless parking meter, the only thing that stands between a thief and your bike is the physical exertion it takes to lift it free. Trees are also a no-no. Stick to bike racks whenever possible.


4. Take your bike inside with you. Just avoid leaving the thing outside altogether. Bring it into the office if possible, or keep it in a garage. When you get home, bring the bike inside— if you payed as much as we know you have, and ride it as much as we know you do, it shouldn’t be outside  if you can avoid it.

5. Make your bike your own. Adorn your ride with all manner of theft-resistant bike accessories. Paint it ridiculous colors. Nothing is more attractive to a bike thief than a bike whose “misplacement” will go unnoticed.

6. Park next to a nicer bike. Not the most “we are the world” thing you can do, but it’s safe to say that if your bike is parked next to a much more expensive rig, yours isn’t the one that the thief will be stealing.

7. Park your bike in a visible spot. If you do park it outside, park it where you can keep an eye on it and get to it easily if there’s a problem. When trying to keep it safe at night, park it in the most visible, open spot possible. I look for street lights.

Keep all of these things in mind when stowing your ride before and after your commute, and you’ve greatly increased you chances of it being there when you return.

« Older posts