Go into any bike shop these days and you’ll find a great selection of high quality, light weight, and super powerful bike light systems. Back in the dark ages, aka the mid 1980′s, about all that was available for cyclists who wanted to ride in the dark were generator powered lights that went out when you stopped or flashlights that strapped onto your arm or leg.
My buddies and I liked to mount a bunch of the generator powered lights on our bikes like mod scooters from the 60′s and then see if we could ride fast enough to make the bulbs blow.
I don’t know if they were the very first high energy, rechargeable battery powered bike light system, but the BLT (Bicycle Lightset Technologies) lights that hit the market in 1986 were the first high quality lights that a lot of riders in Western Canada mounted on their bikes.
BLT was born out of the need for a high output, reliable bike light system in wet, murky, Vancouver BC. BLT designed their first light, wire, and bottle battery system in 1984. Their first lighting systems used big, chrome backed, bug eyed lighting elements. Sets were available as a single light or a dual beam with a switch that allowed one of the lights to be turned on and off. The light that was always on used a regular flashlight bulb to conserve energy and the other light had a bright halogen bulb. The rechargeable NiCd battery was cleverly mounted in a water bottle. The water bottle was the heaviest part of the system and the one drawback was that it took up one of the water bottle mounts. However, run times were long – something like 5 hours with one light on. BLT systems weren’t cheap – I seem to remember paying over $100 for my twin light system.
The BLT was a revelation. You could ride a trail a million times during the day and know it like the back of your hand. When you rode it in the dark with lights on it was like riding it for the very first time. It was a thrill to not know what nocturnal creature you might run into going around a corner. I liked to stop, turn off my lights, and listen to the sounds of the forest. It added a whole new dimension to mountain biking.
Eventually a whole bunch of new companies like Nite Ryder started to market their own bike light systems. Today I have an LED light that isn’t much bigger than a fat Sharpie that puts out about 100 times the light that my old BLT system does.
BLT eventually started to make more high tech versions of their lights with plastic housings and focusable beams and also smaller lights designed more for making riders visible than lighting their way. Unfortunately, BLT seems to have gone out of business in the last few years, becoming another Canadian component manufacturer like Synchros that shone brightly for a few years, and then faded away.