Bike Light That may Improve Cycling (Features List)

I’m working on a bike light for improving cycling. Its features include:

  • Low beam brightness controlled by speed for longer battery life
  • Inactivity timer for improving battery life
  • Daytime running lights
  • Side visibility LEDs
  • Turn signal lights
  • Brake light with brake status LED
  • LED strips
  • Tip over alarm for alerting road users of a crash
  • Horn
  • Bell
  • Low power modes
  • Adjustable modes for different riding conditions and power levels
  • Easy to locate switches
  • Li-ion batteries

What do you think? Do you have any suggestions?

Car Horns Installed on my Bicycle

I have installed car horns onto my bicycle in addition to custom bike lights.

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Car horns installed on bicycle (second setup)

Car horns can alert drivers of your presence. For example, when they’re about to turn and you’re going straight.

They seem effective. When you honk, drivers often brake their cars even though it’s coming from a bike.

My setup can be found at Instructables. In my setup, the horns and batteries were in the basket and the button was on the handlebar. I used the FIAMM El Grande Horns.

The cost of the materials were:

  • Horn button:~$10
  • El Grande Twin red electric horns:29.99
  • 12V 4Ah SLA battery: $16.95
  • 12V 500mA 12BC0500D lead acid battery charger: $29.50
  • Terminal block:$5.50

My bicycle used to have the Airzound horn but I switched to car horns almost a year ago. Its advantage over the Airzound are:

  • Easier to reach buttons
  • Possibly better safety for hearing
  • Longer honk duration for a single charge
  • Familiar sounds may shorten reaction times of drivers
  • Suitability for cold weather

The button should be easy to access because the sooner the driver reacts by braking, the shorter the stopping distance. In my setup, my thumb can be close to the button most of the time when I’m riding. If I see obstructions ahead, I won’t need to spend too much time finding them.

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Horn button can be accessed while braking and steering

 

I believe that car horns are safer for your hearing than the Airzound because it doesn’t cause ringing in my ears in the open. Maybe that’s because they’re quieter and deeper. The car horns were tested to be 112 dB and the Airzound 115 dB at one metre.

Car horns last longer. On a full charge, the battery should last a few minutes depending on the battery capacity. With the Airzound, it lasts 8 seconds at full volume.

SLA battery was used because the horns needed plenty of power, and they were affordable and easy to find locally. You need a 12V battery than can handle 12 amps. You can find the information from their datasheets.

If the battery can’t supply the current required, the horn clicks or sound distorted which was what happened when I used Li-ion batteries from Deal Extreme. You need your horns to be reliable.

Lee’s Electronics carry the 12BC0500D smart charger. Smart chargers stop charging when your battery is full to prevent overcharging. To prevent damage to the battery, make sure that the charge is always topped up. How often you should charge depends on the storage temperature and how heavily the battery is used. Batteries lose charge faster at higher temperatures.

The horn button was installed close to the gear shifter. A custom mount was required. You can experiment with pipe clamp, cable ties, duct tape, and foam.

The horns were installed in my basket. For my second setup, there was clearance beneath and I installed them underneath. This saves space in the basket. The wires wereattached to the basket with cable ties to keep them from flexing too much or coming off the basket.

Since the battery is heavy, I used the bar that attaches to its base and the quick release of the wheel. That way, the basket won’t sag.

I used a 1.3Ah battery instead of a 4Ah battery for my second setup. It’s lighter and smaller but still works because it can supply at least 12 amps. The only problem I noticed was that it’s quieter only when the button was tapped. If you can find Li-ion or NiMH batteries that work, you can charge them less frequently, or use them for other accessories because they don’t need to be kept at full charge.

The horns were attached to the basket with cable ties. I drilled their mounting brackets for the cable ties. The horn still worked even though the instructions said not to modify the brackets.

So far, my horns haven’t been stolen or vandalized. They don’t have a quick release mount.

I started using car horns in October 2015. I haven’t noticed road rage yet. Only twice did drivers honk back. Sometimes, bystanders look surprised. There was a situation in which the face of a passenger was contorted when the driver was turning right and I honked.

My recommendation is to use it for safety. For example, I would honk to alert the driver of my presence if he’s cutting me off rather than honk after being cut off. There’s a risk of over-correction when used improperly.

What are your thoughts about bicycles with car horns?

Filzer dZ2L Cycling Computer Installed on my Bicycle

My Filzer dZ2L Cycling Computer was bought at Mountain Equipment Co-op for $17.50 yesterday.

Filzer dZ2L Wired Cycle Computer Owner’s Manual

The computer measures your speed, trip distance, total distance, how fast you are relative to your average speed, and whether you’re accelerating or decelerating.

The computer is wired which means you need only one battery. I’ve used a wireless one before. I stopped using it because its receiver’s battery runs out even though I used it lightly.

I bought it because it’s reliable based on reviews and displays your speed in km/h. Based on its reviews, it’s more reliable than some of the similarly priced models. It’s easier to pace yourself with a speedometer than by feel which is beneficial when you want recovery days.

You can use the speedometer to test if your speed is affected by different tires, inner tubes, inflation pressures, road conditions, and postures and see if they affect your speeds. I use the 700x38c Schwalbe Marathon Greenguard tires which are considered fast rolling.

I still use Strava on my tablet to record the other details such as time, elevation, maximum speed, and average speed.

Custom Daytime Visible Tail Light with Side Markers Lights

Have you ever felt invisible on your bike or find cyclists hard to see? I’ve felt that way before which is why I built a custom 7.5W tail light.

I felt that my previous bike light setup wasn’t enough because of a recent near-miss. The driver of a van behind me didn’t slow down and even started accelerating. I decided to move into an empty parking spot in case he wouldn’t slow down. Fortunately, I was safe.

It actually happened on the Off-Broadway bike route in Vancouver near Granville St. Close calls should never happen on bike routes. I try to find the safest bike routes. Now I feel that it’s not a bad idea to use a custom tail light on traffic calmed bike routes.

Whenever I experience a near-miss or drivers making mistakes, I feel that if the driver had enough time to decide, they can be prevented or be made less scary. You can give them more time to react by using brighter bike lights because they can see you further away. More time to make decisions shortens stopping distances, and reduces the likeliness and severity of a crash.

If a bike light is effective, you should feel that people drive more safely around you. You should see them giving you more space when passing, changing lanes sooner, and leaving more space in front of them, all of which makes cycling feel safer.

The bike light was built to improve visibility by:

  • Using two 45° amber side marker LEDs pointed 45° from the rear
  • Using two 45° amber side marker LEDs pointed 90° from the rear
  • Using 45° amber rear-facing side marker LEDs
  • Using 15° red rear-facing LEDs
  • Spacing the LEDs
  • Attaching the side marker LEDs close the the sides of the bike
  • Mounting it unobstructed by panniers and racks

 

The light has a custom made circuit. It has a micro-controller programmed with strobe patterns for daytime, nighttime, and power saving. Using strobe increases its battery life and visibility. The micro-controller also remembers your last setting and monitors the battery voltage. If the battery is low, the LEDs will dim to let you have enough time for visibility before recharging its batteries. It has a circuitry for stepping up the battery’s 13.2V to power a string of LEDs which require at least 20V.

It might seem like a lot of work to build the bike light when you could just go to the bike shop to get bike lights. The advantage of the custom made bike light over store bought bike lights is that:

  • Only one battery pack is needed for all 10 LEDs
  • One button controls all 10 LEDs which is useful for frequent stops
  • There’s no need to dismount the light every time you park it, saving you time
  • You can customize its strobe patterns and other features
  • It’s brighter than store bought tail lights
  • There’s side visility which may be important for road curves, junctions, and traffic outside your lane

The bike light may be more effective when there’s plenty of space for passing. If a four-lane road is quiet, you might see many drivers behind you using the inside lane and few using your lane within one block. It should reduce the chance of passing too closely when there’s an available lane next to your’s. If the lane is too narrow to share safely, you may still have to ride in a position that controls the lane. There’s no guarantee that it will work all the time.

The bike light was installed a week ago. My goal is not just to avoid crashes but also avoid close calls. Sometimes I get comments about the light from other cyclists. They often liked the design. Some people thought it was over done. To me, commuting safely and stress free is worth the investment.

I would still recommend using a backup light, a front light, and a helmet light.

In the future, I plan to convert the bike light into a turn signal light and possibly a brake light. Cree LEDs are recommended for higher efficiency and power ratings.

I plan on including this bike light in one of my future Instructables. Feel free to subscribe.

My Daytime Running Bike Light Setup

When cycling, visibility is very important for safety which is why I use bike lights even during the day.

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Bike lights mounted onto handlebar extender.
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Rear view of seat post extenders with lights.
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Side view of seat post extenders with lights.

Higher powered lights are needed for daytime. The lights I used were over half a watt. I used multiple lights for extra visibility and redundancy. In the day, it’s better to have them flash and at night, it’s better to have them at a low or solid setting.

You can get those lights at your local bike shop or Amazon. They are either powered by a built-in Li-ion battery, AA, or AAA batteries. For the last two, you can use rechargeable batteries. I recommend precharged batteries because they hold their charge longer.

Since my bike ran out of space for the lights, I installed custom seatpost and handlebar extenders. With extenders, you can also space the lights further apart by mounting one on the left side and one on the centre or right to give drivers a better idea of the outline of your bike. Having lights on the left improves visibility too. You can expect improvements in passing distances. Left sided panniers and trailers can improve visibility too.

My helmet has a DIY self levelling mount for its rear so that it will point straight even if you tilt your head up or down. I built the mount because for some reason, bike stores don’t have helmet mounts for high powered rear lights. You can easily make one at home. If you want, you can vote for me in my Instructables contests.

I’ve taken pictures of my bike light setup with and without the lights on. It may seem like an overkill but I believe that we should be more visible and be seen miles away which gives drivers more time to react.

Rear bike lights:

  • Cygolite Hotshot 2W USB (mounted on the left)
  • Portland Design Works Danger Zone Tail Light (mounted on the centre)
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Cygolite Hotshot 2W USB and Portland Design Works Danger Zone Rear Lights on solid mode.
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Rear lights turned off.

Front bike lights:

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Planet Bike Blaze 500 XLR headlight on solid mode.
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Custom high powered front lights with side lights on solid mode.
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Front lights turned off.
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Custom high powered front lights with side lights on solid mode.
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Side lights turned off.

Front helmet light:

  • Planet Bike Blaze 500 XLR (helmet mount sold separately)

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Rear helmet light:

  • Planet Bike Superflash Turbo LED Rear Light

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I would recommend using bike lights in the daytime for improved visibility.

Cycling on Westminster Highway in Richmond

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End of the bike trail between No 6 Road and No 8 Road on Westminster Highway in Richmond. This picture was taken from a camera on my handlebar.

Yesterday was the first time I cycled on Westminster Highway. I finished work and was on my way to Tokyo Joe’s near Lansdowne Mall. I decided to cycle just to explore. The trip was 11.5km.

Normally on my commute, I cycle in Vancouver and take my bike on public transit.

My route in was on the Westminster Highway bike lane from Fraserwood Place to Garden City Road. On the highway, there were separated bike lanes, shared lanes, and painted lanes. The separated lane was near farmlands with unpaved road between it and the traffic. Most of the lane was only separated by white paint.

Cycling in Richmond is different from in Vancouver. I find it more difficult because its roads are inconsistent, and I’m not familiar with the roads there. You will find that they have higher speed limits and less traffic calming.

In Richmond, you will find fewer side streets like those in Vancouver at least near Westminster Highway. If you try to go into the side streets, you will often go into parking lots with dead ends or have to travel a long way to go around. It’s like a maze. The junctions are often 1km apart which may make the city car friendly but unfortunately, it discourages walk and cycle commutes.

My plan was to take the side streets or even the sidewalks when I find the traffic too busy.

In Vancouver, it’s much easier to get around by cycling. There are plenty of cycling friendly side streets. The side streets are about 100m apart. A lot of the bike routes in Vancouver have many stop signs and roundabouts, and are limited to 30 km/h which improves safety. You can still cycle in other residential side streets because they are quiet. The main downside is that there are no traffic lights when crossing major streets.

Since the only option for me was to cycle on busy roads in Richmond, I probably won’t change my commute by cycling all the way. I felt too nervous at the intersections.

Have you ever cycled in Richmond? If you have, please share your experience.

Update: This information may not be accurate for all of Richmond and was based on where I cycled. It’s possible that the commute in some other areas of the city is peaceful.