Portland Design Works (PDW) Dangerzone Review

What worries you the most when cycling? A flat tire? A thrown chain? Running out of water? Bonking? Getting hit by a car from the rear? Chased by a dog?

Portland Design Works (PDW) Dangerzone

Wait? What was that? Getting hit by a car from the rear? That seems to be a resounding concern among road-using cyclists. Interestingly enough, being struck from the rear by a motor vehicle is actually not that prevalent among bicycle accidents. A summary of bicycle accidents funded by the US Department of Transportation, this program of the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center in cooperation with the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals states that:

“In 1999, there were 750 bicycling fatalities and 51,000 bicycling injuries resulting from traffic crashes in the United States. While these numbers continue to decrease from year to year, bicyclist fatalities still account for 2 percent of all traffic fatalities as well as 2 percent of all traffic injuries.”

A news story about bicycle safety was researched and written by Doug Mink summarized the study and found that, for our interests in this review that:

  • Motorist overtaking a bicyclist (8.6 percent of all crashes). Of these crashes, 23% appeared to involve a motorist who misjudged the space required to safely pass the bicyclist.
  • Bicyclist turning or merging into the path of a motorist (7.3 percent of all crashes). Within this category, 60% involved a bicyclist making a left turn in front of a motorist traveling in the same direction.

So if my math is accurate enough, 15.9% of bicycle collisions with motorists resulted from the cyclist being struck from behind. While we as cyclists may never have the “road presence” of a motor vehicle, there are certain products on the market designed to help stack the odds in the cyclist‘s favor.

One of the most commonly used devices by cyclists to garner attention the red rear-facing light, usually known as a “blinkie.” A quick search of your local bicycle shop or the internet will reveal an astonishing amount of products on the market. While the lights may look similar on the surface by generic feature, LED lighting, red lens, clamps/clips, type of battery and display of light modes (flash, steady) there really does stand to be quite a difference in quality.

Portland Design Works (PDW) Dangerzone

Since I am a commuter as well as a child -trailer toting parent, I wanted to stack the odds in my favor as much as possible. While I tend to save money where I can (store-brand groceries, on-sale hygiene products, ABC gum, off-brand batteries) I do not mind spending more money for safety items, especially when it involves my family. I searched high and low looking at rear lights before I read quite a few reviews of the Portland Design Works (PDW) Dangerzone.

I ended up buying two of them for riding solo or to have one on my bike and one on the child-trailer when hauling my prodigy. The Danger Zone comes with the light, a battery already installed, 2 mounting brackets and a rubber strip to help act as a shim. I initially had one light installed on the seat post and another on the non-drive side seat stay. The Danger Zone attaches to the mounts by use of an attached clip on the back of the light assembly which also doubles as a clip for the loops found on the rear of so many saddlebag and backpacks/messenger bags. I found it reassuring that the Dangerzone “clicks” into place in the mounting brackets, which helped alleviate my fear of losing another light due to it being jostled over rough pavement. It should be noted that the light utilizes two 0.5 watt Nichia LEDs with a “halo” ring/reflector around each LED. Power is provided by two AAA batteries. Along with the ease of using AAA batteries, changing the batteries themselves is quite literally, a snap. The red lens attaches to the light base with two tabs. To open, simply pry the lens off, swap your discharged batteries and then snap the lens back in place. No tiny screws to lose or strip and no need to take out your multi-tool.

Portland Design Works (PDW) Dangerzone

Now, no review of a bicycle light would be complete without a description of the operating modes. In this case, the PDW Dangerzone has 4 modes: off, Zzzzz, A-Ha and Rock Steady as named by PDW themselves. Off mode is simple enough, and probably the one you won‘t be using that much since, well, the light is off. Zzzzzz is a slow flash pattern, one LED lights up and fades, the other LED lights up and fades and then they both light up and fade together. A-Ha (explained later on) is incredibly bright, fast and, in my opinion, the most eye-catching flash pattern I have seen on a rear bicycle light. The pattern is comprised of alternating flashes and then the pattern speeds up and repeats. Rock Steady is what it sounds like, a steady-on beam where both LEDs are lit up at the same time without any flashing. Turning the light on and changing flash patterns on the PDW Dangerzone is accomplished by pressing a small rubber covered button mounted on the bottom. There is a noticeable quality to the button. I‘ve used cheaper lights that use a simple plastic plunger that either fails by getting stuck, or the bottom flange breaks off and you end up losing the button.

I emailed PDW to find out a bit more about the Dangerzone and reached Dan Powell, one of the two founders of PDW. Here‘s what he had to say (my questions are in normal font, Dan‘s in bold):

  1. What is the wattage/lumen output of the bulbs/light? I know many manufacturers of headlights quote the output of their lights, but it isn’t that common in taillights, usually with LED tail lights I’ll see the bulbs as being one or two watts.

The LEDs in the Dangerzone are both .5 watt. We do not conduct test to find the lumen output of our tail lights. We use Nichia LEDs.

2. How were the flash modes chosen? I think this is the among the most attention getting lights out there for flash patterns. We wanted a fun flash pattern for the Dangerzone, so we decided to set it to the beat of a song. After messing around with the circuit, we decided to set the flash pattern to the beat of “Take On Me” by A-ha.

3. Were there any initial concepts you had in mind regarding the design of the Danger Zone? Size, weight, flash pattern, shape, battery life, etc? Was there a void in the current crop of lights that PDW decided to fill or improve upon? We wanted a light that wouldn’t require tools to open. Erik and I both learned lots from the short comings of Planet Bike lights during out time there, and we felt the the Radbot and the Dangerzone addressed those. We also wanted a slim, good looking light that packed a punch. I think that $40 is about as much as folks will pay for a tail light that doesn’t have rechargeable batteries, so we knew that was the ceiling.

4. Anything else you’d like to add? Glad to hear you like the light. We can barely make them fast enough these days. We say it all the time, but we really do design products we’d like to use and the Dangerzone is no different. I’ve got one on my bike right now, it is my favorite tail light.

Personally, I find a certain allure to any company that when contacted, will have one of the owners/founders personally return your request for help; try that with some other companies. Along with their proactive approach towards putting products in the hands of cyclists by cyclists, their goods live up to the high standards of customer service they provide. The Dangerzone, has without a doubt, garnered me more attention on the dark roads during my commute than any other taillight I have owned. I move my lights around when I am riding a bike alone, I‘ll either have both mounted on the loop of my saddlebag or I will have one mounted on the loop of my saddlebag and one attached to the rear of my helmet by slipping the clip over a Velcro loop which then wraps around one of the rear vent “ribs.” Since Santa is due to arrive soon, I have a feeling a PDW Dangerzone will find its way in to my wife‘s stocking. If you‘re looking to stack the odds in your favor to being more visible on the road, I highly, highly suggest you take a long hard look at the Portland Design Works Dangerzone; just try not to look too long, it‘s so bright it‘ll hurt your eyes! For more information, please visit www.ridepdw.com

– Alex (Dos)

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