India’s Lumos definitely has some bright ideas. After creating a line of solar-charging backpacks for hikers, the brand decided to produce a pack for cycling called the Aster. This clever commuter bag incorporates lights on the front, sides and rear as well as turn signals and an automatic brake light. The company’s stated intent is to make cycling safer for urban riders.
The Aster backpack is fairly comfortable, and offers ample storage between its large main pouch and accessory pockets. Clearly the design was very well thought out, but…
After testing a prototype last summer and receiving a production model during the winter, my Aster still isn’t performing consistently. I got concerned right away when pairing my phone with the backpack took a few tries, and since then I’ve encountered significant issues with the handlebar remote as well…
Before getting into the electrical stuff, let’s check out the bag itself. The Aster has a zipper on its main pocket that runs from corner-to-corner. It’s a bit odd, but it does flay the pack wide open making it easy to load or access cargo. Inside the main pouch is a zippered pocket and some divided storage for small items, plus a handy removable shoe bag to keep dirty footwear from messing up your other cargo.
The Aster also has two long pockets running down each side, a soft-lined sunglass pocket on the front and a laptop pouch behind the back panel. Other nice touches include a helmet carrier, a whistle buckle on the chest strap, reflective details and a slide-out card to write emergency info on. The Aster isn’t quite as comfortable as my Dakine or Osprey backpacks, but really I have no complaints about the design.
The front lights on the Aster are located on the shoulder straps, the red fabric strips on both sides illuminate your flanks, and the rear light and turn signals sit in a transparent pouch at the bottom rear of the bag. The lights are controlled in two ways- with the Aster app through your smartphone, or with the Sidekick handlebar remote.
The app allows you to turn the bag on or off, customize the lights’ configuration and enable the anti-theft alert. In testing, I encountered some issues with right off the bat: Upon its first pairing, the app did not communicate with the bag at all. On the second pairing, the app mostly controlled the pack but would not scroll through the light configuration modes.
As of the third time I paired the app it has consistently controlled the bag’s functions, but on one dark evening ride my phone lost communication with the bag and all the lights went out. Once I got home and re-paired the app, the lights worked again but I wasn’t happy that they shut off on me mid-ride.
As for the Sidekick, things started off fine but then a big problem became evident. On the first and second tests, the Sidekick remote performed all its functions perfectly. However, after about a week the battery in the remote was dead. The Aster’s instructions say the unit switches off automatically.
I replaced the first dead battery and re-calibrated the unit. On this test however, the remote buttons were semi-responsive. The Sidekick’s controls did what they should but only after several presses, especially the button on the right. Another week went by and I had a second dead battery in the Sidekick.
I put a third battery in the remote and after one perfect test ride following calibration, the bike sat for a few days. I went to go for another ride, and found the Sidekick was semi-responsive again. In less than two weeks the third remote battery was dead, and my testing was officially over.
When I took the Aster out for a ride and everything worked, it was glorious. I noticed drivers peering out their windows at me, and I felt a real sense of security by wearing this bag. Having turn signals and an automatic brake light (the rear LED’s glow brighter when you slow down) definitely makes it easier for drivers to predict your movements.
The issue is that a product like this has to be perfect, and my Aster certainly isn’t. My remote has not been 100% reliable, and that could become a serious issue when you’re trying to indicate turns to other road users and the signals are not switching on or off on command. Even the app failed me once so far, losing communication and leaving me in the dark on a late ride home.
The other big problem is the remote killing batteries. Without the Sidekick you lose the turn signals, brake light and anti-theft alert function (which I never even got around to testing). Since I don’t want to replace batteries constantly, I can only see myself using the bag with the app. At this point, I have a backpack with lights that turn on and off, and can be configured to my liking, but that’s it.
While Lumos’ concept is worthy of applause, their execution simply doesn’t make the grade. My production model Aster has presented far too many glitches for me to recommend this product to anyone, and it troubles me that some of these issues were apparent in the prototype I tested last summer. If you’d like to add a light-up backpack to your kit, I’d say wait until Lumos gets the bugs ironed out or someone else steps up to the plate with a fully functioning version of this brilliant idea.