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8.14.3 Building Your Own Bike Lighting System: Part 3


This article is from the Misc Bicycles FAQs, by various authors.

8.14.3 Building Your Own Bike Lighting System: Part 3

Part 3 - Notes and Experiences!

Well the Hilly Hundred is over and what a great ride, now back to the salt
mines :-(

This part of the series is to just summarize my experiences with three different
lighting systems I have built. I received several emails with hints and
experiences from others which I will try to incorporate here.

The three systems are:

1 - 55W Halogen driving light, vista lite rear

2 - 18W Landscape flood light, utility trailer rear tail

3 - 35W low voltage indoor track spot light, vista lite rear

System 1 is on my communter and I have been using it for about 4 years. I
really like the amount of light that I get, but it does come at a price of
battery weight. I own 12V gell cells in the following capacities: 2AH, 5AH,
7AH and 8AH. With the 8AH cell, I get about 1 hour 20 minutes, whereas, my
commute is 1 hr. 40 min. This precludes full dark riding in either direction
without having to add more batteries. This light comes housed in a metal case
with a bracket to be mounted to a car bumper. I mounted it to the front
reflector bracket and found that this bracket was too flimsy and the light
bounced a lot. I added a brace from the point that the light mounted to the
bracket up to the tightening bolt for the handle bars. It is now very stable.
I mounted a toggle switch under the seat along with a molex quick disconnect and
keep the battery in my pannier.

HINT: If there is any clear glass or plastic from the lens directly
visible to your eyes while you are on the bike, you will get light
shining in your face. I had to put a strip of duct tape over the
top edge of the glass lens to remove this effect.

I have found that with this light that cars have no trouble what so ever seeing
me approaching. Many times cars entering my path from the side have waited
longer than really needed until I have passed thinking that I was a motorcycle,
or a one eyed car.

System 2 used a Toro landscape Verifocus FLOOD light with an 18W incandesent.
I was never too pleased with the performance I got with this light. It put
out a lot of light, however, as it was a flood, and not a spot, it did not
light up the road very far ahead and it threw a lot of light up and to the
sides which I didn't need. I could not get enought light ahead of me so I
consistently over road my vision. The main problem I see is that I had a
flood light and not a spot. I could not locate a spot version and was forced
to buy the flood. Another effect I noticed with this light was that approaching
cars made my light ineffective (i.e. I could not see the road) and I had a few
cars make last second jerky motions which suggested to me that they did not see
me right away. The housing that this light comes in is very light and sturdy.
I mounted it to the front reflector bracket which didn't suffer from jiggle.
I used a cheap rear utility light for the back. I would not recommend this
setup, however, others on the net have reported good results with the SPOT

System 3 is my latest design and so far I have been very pleased with the
performance. The light cost $7.95 at the local building supply store. They
also carried 50W versions and I have seen 20W versions in lighting supply
stores. These bulbs come in both flood and spot versions. I tried both,
and the spot is the way to go. This light is just a bulb in a glass housing
with two pins out the back. Mounting can be a challenge. I took a four
inch piece of 2 inch rigid PVC pipe. This has a slightly larger inner
diameter than the bulb. I cut eight slots in one end about 3/4" down equally
spaced around. Then I took a beveled router bit and routed a small ridge on
the inside edge that has the cuts. Placing the bulb in the end with the
ridge and cuts and placing a hose clamp around the outside and tightening. The
cuts allow the end to be sqeezed smaller and grip the bulb. The ridge gives
a place for the perimeter of the bulb to seat. It is a very sturdy mount.
I used two molex quick disconnect female pins to connect the wires to the
light and mounted a toggle switch in an 2" PVC end cap placed over the rear
of the housing. Mounting to the handle bars is with a conduit hanger with
a wing nut to tighten. As I had the battery and the PVC pipe, the whole
sha-bang cost under $12. With my 8AH battery, I get about 2hr. 10 min of
light which is great for an after work ride during the winter months. These
bulbs get very hot to the touch, so be careful while experimenting. As these
bulbs are not made for automotive use, I do not have enough time to relay
reliability data. So far so good. If I can find a 20W bulb for under $10,
I will buy and try.

As for tail lights, I have used both 12V utility lamps and vista lights. I
guess that I like the vista lites the best. It appears to be very visble
to cars, and is very reliable. I view a rear light as being almost more
important than a front light for approaching cars to see you. I have had
two occurances of the rear light bulb breaking out of the brass bayonet base
inside the housing leaving me with no rear tail light. Appearantly these bulbs
are not made to experience the constant jaring encountered on a rear rack.

Several posts have suggested fusing the circuit. This is a very good idea from
a safety perspective. I have not done this to any of my systems, but I probably
will after I experience my first fire while night riding :-)

I hope that these three articles have been helpful. I gain a great amount of
personal satisfaction designing and using these kind of things myself, and the
investment is significantly smaller than a commericial system, and amount of
light is significantly greater.


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