My Blinky Turns Twenty

I’ve used one blinking tail light for twenty years.  Not one model.  One unit.  The Vistalite CueLite pictured below.  

I’ve given it new batteries maybe every other year, but otherwise paid it no attention.  Motorists, on the other hand, seem to notice it as none have plowed into me from behind while it has been in use.  Today I write to say thanks to this humble little light and the folks who worked to make it so.

When clipped to my seatpost, I pull it down to get it going.  It is old, so now it slips into the on position on its own on each and every ride.  I need to remember to shut it off.  Easy at night as the light is bright as all get out, but I often fail to notice that it is on after daylight rides.  I come into the garage twelve hours later and find it happily blinking away.  Still, the batteries last years.

Today I noticed it would not shut off.  In the off position, the LEDs still blinked.  Dimmer blinking than when on, but on nonetheless.  My first thought was time for a new blinky.  I wanted to know who made it to buy another.  That’s when I saw that I had a genuine made in the USA blinky.  Made in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to be more precise.  The googles suggest the company might not be in business.  Victim, more likely than not, to competition from companies producing lights in markets with cheaper labor.  I did find a mention in the New York Times, December 8, 1991:

“Nighttime is often the only period of the day when busy athletes can work out. Reflective clothing is useful only when a light source, such as car head lamps, shine on it. VistaLite, a company in Lancaster, Pa., recently introduced a new safety light that can be seen in total darkness or fog from a distance of at least 2,000 feet. The device, the Cuelite, depends on a miniature semiconductor, a light emitting diode, to produce a beam of light. The Cuelite operates on two AAA batteries, which the company says will have a life of about 200 hours. The 1.5-ounce light comes with a neoprene rubber strap, so that it can be worn around a leg or arm. Price: about $20. Available this month at sports stores; for locations, telephone VistaLite at (717) 291-1287.”

Called the number, but it is not in service.  Seems like I was on my own, so I had a go at fixing it.  Here is a video of me opening the thing.  My fingers are yellow from grating turmeric root!

It takes some effort to get it open.

Slide the frame clip and a ramp pushes a rubber plunger with a metallic pad on it.  The metallic pad pushes against a sensor on the circuit board.  The sensors are the grey circles, one on each end.  One plunger but two sensors.  That way you can put the thing together either way and it still works.  Extra expense, but a smart design.

At first I thought the plunger wasn’t fully retracting.  That the metallic pad was always in light contact.  I ruled this out, though, after I installed the batteries directly onto the circuit board (leaving the back of the case with the plunger out of the picture altogether).  Still the dim blinking.

I remembered that instructions told me to clean contacts on my Aurora slot race cars with a pencil eraser.  Maybe the sensors in the light were oxidized and unable to fully open the circuit (shut off the light).  I lightly scrubbed both sensors with an eraser and viola–no blinking until the unit is turned on.  I might get another twenty years out of this little gem!  I am so happy!

Yesterday I pedaled to the upholsterer to drop off a deposit and then to the grocery to get items needed for moussaka.  Just a short ride, but fun to be out in what was beautiful weather.  Pouring rain just now.  A good day to solve electrical mysteries.  A good day to work, too, but I have chewed through all that I have to do.  Something will turn up.

Take care!

35 responses to “My Blinky Turns Twenty

  1. I’ve got one of those on my bike and another in my bag “just in case” (sometimes I forget to turn it off even at night). Tried to buy a third recently only to discover that the company had joined the light invisible. Bloody shame. Not only was the stuff good, but built solidly as well. I’ll carry a few extra grams around if it means I’ll have to carry it for decades.

    The Cateye I got instead has a film type switch which works when it feels like it, rather than when I need it. It’s rack mounted on the Quickbeam at the moment, but I always make sure to have a CueLite along because the Cateye might turn bloody useless on me.

    I see you have a Scott mower as well. OMG! Me too! I see it turned bloody useless on you. I’ll have to watch for that.

    I’ve been selling my Aurora slot cars to the collector across the street and converting them into bloody useless bicycle lights. What’s wit dat?

  2. I just wanted to add that your lady looks downright divine in the photo here.
    Carry on!

  3. I just saw this post. The Cue Lite is great. Too bad they are not around any longer.
    I got a Road ID lite. It works well and is bright.
    I smiled when I read about the Aurora slot cars. I still have mine and can’t wait for the grandkids to be old enough to teach them about racing. My daughters enjoyed them when they were kids.

  4. Had to respond to this story as I bought two of these little lights some 20 odd years ago while visiting my brother near Boston Ma. Both lights still fully functioning and accompanying me on trips around my local area in England. Certainly a well made product and sad to hear the manufacturer has now gone. Anyway happy cycling.

  5. Winer Lawrence

    Oh my goodness. I can’t believe so many people have these great lights. I have two. But I’m a relative newcomer. Only seventeen years! LOL

  6. I just went to use mine and apparently it has died. I tried cleaning the contacts, to no avail. Boo. I think I will try a Planet Bike Blinky 7.

    • Thanks for writing. Sorry to hear about your old reliable.

      Your proposed replacement looks swell, but I see that CygoLite and Light & Motion are made in the USA. REI has the CygoLite Hotshot 2W USB Rear Bike Light for $40. Worth a look.

      Be well.

  7. I used to ride over the Dumbarton bridge every morning to catch the Caltrain to work. This was about 20 years ago. My CueLite was always on. Just recently started to ride again so I put new batteries in the CueLite and nothing. So I googled it and found your site. Cleaned the sensors and voila! Although the design of my CueLite is almost identical to yours, there is one difference: the sensors look different and one is marked steady, the other flash. Sure enough, put the cover on one way the lights stay on, the other way they flash. I don’t know which is the new improved version.

    • Glad I could help! I’ll bet yours is the updated one. If my memory serves mine blinks both ways. Ingenious to have the functions selected so simply. Take care!

  8. Pingback: Curiosity | Randal Putnam Loves to Pedal

  9. I’ve used the one for twenty years and more. Very simple and durable. But recently the plastic backle on the nylon strap adapter to be attached bike’ s seat post broke a part. Trying to fix or find a replacement backle. This small light have saved my life and go with it in rest of my life. Thanks for writing on this product!

  10. Loved your ode to cuelite. I dug one out of a drawer after maybe 10 years. New battery and it worked. Found that flipping cover changed from steady to blinking light.

  11. Thanks so much for your blog. A friend gave me one to use on the back of a wheeled cart that my dog has to walk in. She has degenerative myelopathy where the back legs become paralyzed but she gets along with the use of the cart. We do a lot of walking at night in the fall and winter. I couldn’t get the light to work after putting new batteries in it, but after reading about the configuration of it I was able to fix it. Marlene

    • Aw! That is the best reward I could hope for. You don’t have to read many of my posts to know I love dogs and bicycles. To be able to help a dog with a little bicycle light know how, well, that’s a treasure. Thanks for taking the time to write! Best of luck to you and yours!

  12. This is a great blog. I just ran across one my husband was supposed to use walking the dogs before sunrise (but he never used it much). It’s practically brand new but of course after all these many years the batteries are dead. I don’t know how to open it – I don’t want to break it. Any help would be appreciated – Thanks!!!

  13. So sweet to hear about your parents’ Annie!
    Thanks, but there’s still no luck opening the Cuelight. Mine has an orange lens, but otherwise looks identical to the one above. There’s no movement at all – I wonder what I’m doing wrong? Oh well….

  14. Success!!! Thanks! Seeing the video I was able to wedge it open with a screwdriver. My Blinky now works again! Now we need to get a dog to walk in the dark again.
    P.S. It looks as if you have upstate NY roots. Many years ago I taught 2nd grade in Westmoreland, exit 32 on the Thruway. Moved to Colorado – my heart aches for the fall season but don’t miss the winters at all!!!

  15. Thank you! I couldn’t find battery instructions anywhere online, but found your site. I had no idea my cuelite was an artifact. Thanks for the video of opening it. I also had to use an army knife blade to pry it, and may have damaged the rubber, but it’s working again.

  16. Thanks for this post. I have one of this ancient (easily more than 20 years old) Cuëlites that I recently dug up from one of my many ‘junk’ boxes filled old bike parts. I used to be an avid mtn biker (4-5 days a week, rain, sleet, snow and by moonlight). I would have about a 7 mile road ride to get to the trail head. We often had night rides or would at least I’d have that road home ride in the dark. Quickly advance more than 20 years into the future where I’m now a roadie. I found my little blinker the other day and it still works even with those old batteries but I couldn’t figure how to open it to change them. A cager the other early morning cautioned me riding on the road was dangerous and he said he did not see my blinker. (?) Still seems wicked bright to me but it got me wondering how to open this lite. Suspect like most cagers he’s just oblivious and blind to cyclists regardless.

    • Good morning! Sorry it took me so long to get to your comment. I don’t visit the blog page as much as I have in the past. Too busy walking a high energy dog! I am glad to have helped with your light. I think with fresh batteries it will be pretty bright, but maybe an even brighter one would make sense. I am still using mine, but I am starting to wonder if saving it is being a penny wise and a pound foolish. I love saving things from the landfill and stubbornly refuse to accept that I am unseeable (despite being hit three times). Driving is tough. Too much mental triage. As much as I like motoring, I am ready to give my keys to a robot. I hope others will, too. Have fun!

      • Hit 3 times? Yikes!! Every time a car comes up behind me I think this could be it. Doesn’t keep me off the bike…..yet. Maybe it should and I might be further tempting fate by dreaming about getting a motorcycle. I like not throwing things out also. Hence still having that ancient blinkee. Your response timing is surreal as I only just now got back from buying batteries and installing seconds before finding your response. I’d been thinking likely my blinkee could be dim from old low batteries. We’ll see……I hope drivers do. The other day a guy went past my house in mid day sun with a blinkee that was seriously bright….so…..getting a new one and tossing this one might be in order yet.
        I’m not trusting robots to safely drive. I don’t even have a cell phone. No, not a Luddite.
        I think driving is easy. In 42 years I’ve never had an accident. One just needs to be present and PAY ATTENTION. Too bad so few do.

      • My thoughts about driving have been forever altered by reading Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). Have you read it? If not, get thee to the library? Be well. Thanks again for reading my blog.

  17. I have 2 Cue’s that are less than 10 years old and neither of them seem to work anymore. They snap together tightly, the clicker clicks, the polarity of battery & cover are properly aligned, there’s no apparent damage, i.e., cracks. Any suggestions? Thanks ~ John

    • Wow. I didn’t know they were produced for so long! I am sure you tried fresh batteries that work in another device. Then I suppose you could check components with a multimeter. You have two so you can compare values between the same components on the different units. Winter is coming to the north, so it is a fine time to spend time on tiny indoor projects. Good luck!

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