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  1. #1
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Cyccommute's Retinal Burners...DIY lights

    This year I’ve discovered what others have know for a long time. The MR-16 lamp… overvolted by 20% … puts out a fantastic amount of light. It’s not perfect but for the price it’s hard to beat! It doesn’t have the run time of LED or HID but it doesn’t have the cost of those either. You might be able to make an LED system that puts out what a 20W MR-16 puts out but you wouldn’t be able to do it with a single lamp nor would the light be as concentrated as a single MR-16. This is my attempt to collect the how-to for a pretty good system in one place.

    There are other systems out there (the Pond Scum light is nicer looking and more waterproof) and most of the ideas for my system comes from them. There’s lots of tweeks that could be made for my system and will probably be made in the future but you can put this whole thing together in an afternoon and be on the road as so as your batteries are charged. All prices are estimates and I've added links where I have them.

    Run time is around 1.5 hours with the 3.3 Ahr batteries.

    First the result (seen elsewhere but repeated for your enjoyment)



    Equipment list

    Lamps

    Optronics QC-777 $20 JC Whitney

    Hampton Roads Pin Back track lamp $20 Home Depot

    MR16 12V 12° bulb $3 each Battery Space

    Wiring

    Remote switches $4 Battery Space

    Dean’s connectors $4 Hobby Town

    Polarized Speaker wire $10/spool Radio Shack

    Mounts

    Helmet mount $10 Battery Space

    Handlebar mount $ 10 ea Battery Space

    Space Bar $20 Performance

    1” aluminum tube (fits lights better ) for Spacebar $4 Local hardware store

    Batteries

    3.3 Ahr batteries $19 ea Battery Space

    Cage Rocket holder $10 ea REI

    Chargers Maha C777 Plus II $70 (I have 3! But you can get cheaper ones at Battery Space) I like these chargers but they are expensive and they have an analyze function that most people won't need. Battery Space sells less expensive, less sophisticated ones.

    Misc

    Velcro – sticky back and regular - $10 Local hardware store

    Misc nuts and bolts $5 Local hardware store


    For my 3 lights with all the stuff except the chargers, I have $294 in it plus shipping and tax.

    In all honesty, however, I had the batteries, the Spacebar, the battery holders, the wire, connectors, the bulbs and, finally, the chargers. I have another full set of lights that are based around Niterider lamp heads (similar to TrailRats) but juiced to 14.4V. They put out around 700 lumens per lamp which is very respectable. The Retinal Burners are just a fun experiment in how far over the top I can go

    Here's another DIY called the Pond Scum that's pretty slick too. Mine are a little more robust because they have a metal housing. Price is about the same per lamp.

    Next up Construction tips.
    Stuart Black
    Solo Without Pie. The search for pie in the Midwest.
    Picking the Scablands. Washington and Oregon, 2005. Pie and spiders on the Columbia River!
    Days of Wineless Roads. Bed and Breakfasting along the KATY
    Twisting Down the Alley. Misadventures in tornado alley.
    An Good Ol' Fashion Appalachian Butt Whoopin'.

  2. #2
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Construction tips

    Construction tips.

    I like to solder my connections. Long experience has taught me that when lights fail…other then a bulb blowing…it’s most often due to a bad connection. Crimp connectors can be used without problem but they are rather bulky.

    I’ll show pictures of the final result but I didn’t think to take pictures as I went along…sorry I won’t go into detail on the pin back lamp because it was more complicated and not that much of an improvement over the Optronics system. It was also my first attempt and really isn’t worth the effort. It’s a little lower in height but not significantly. I like having at least 3 lamps on my bikes and, if I had it to do over again, I’d buy 2 Optronics and put 3 lamps on my bars

    The first thing you need to do is to take the Optronics units apart and replace the 50W bulbs they come with. It’s easy to do, you simply twist and pull the front of the lamp. You could use the 50W bulbs but it’ll take more battery capacity and it would just be silly…

    The lamp will be plugged into a ceramic pin plug with wires attached that run out the back. There is a rubber grommet behind the plug and an o-ring behind that. Since this is for mounting on car bumper, those seal the lamp and should be left in place. You can simply plug your choice of wattage into the plug and reassemble the lamp head. Nothing more needs be done on the inside of the lamp now.

    Now we come to the soldering bit. Be careful since this is where I always get burned Cut off the connectors that are on the prewired unit. The wires coming out of the bike are a little oily but use them anyway. You may need to use a bit of plumbers flux to get the solder to stick to the wires. Tin the wires on the lamp and, if you are using a switch (you don’t have to but it’s nicer), on the switch. You’ll want to add a bit of wire to the end of the light and switch. How much depends on how far away your battery is. I tend to make them a little short and use an extension cord to the battery so that I can use the lamp on bikes with different water bottle cage locations.

    Cut some short sections of shrink wrap and slide them on to the wires before you solder the wires together. Avoid heating the shrink wrap when you solder the wires because it will…well…shrink! I also use a longer section to cover the joints and make the whole thing neater looking.

    Solder the wires from one side of the lamp’s lead to one side of the switch. Solder a bit of the speaker wire to the other side of the switch. Make sure you insulate the wires from each other to avoid a short. Use the shrink wrap to do that. On the other lead, wire the speaker wire directly to the lamp’s wire. Slide a section of shrink wrap that you already put on the lamps wires before you go further to seal everything up.

    If you are using Dean’s Ultra Connectors (there are other connectors out there that might be better…Anderson Powerpoles are cleaner and simpler to use
    ), you’ll want to connect them to the end of the speaker wire.

    Mount the lamp on the handlebar or helmet mount using the bolts provided by Optronics. The lamp is a little tight in the holder but it will work. Your lamp should look like this.



    For helmet mounts, like this.



    I put the switch on my helmet lamp on a velcro mount and stuck it to the helmet. I'd suggest keeping the helmet lamps tail short so that it doesn't hang down too far off the back of the helmet...which I didn't do here!
    Stuart Black
    Solo Without Pie. The search for pie in the Midwest.
    Picking the Scablands. Washington and Oregon, 2005. Pie and spiders on the Columbia River!
    Days of Wineless Roads. Bed and Breakfasting along the KATY
    Twisting Down the Alley. Misadventures in tornado alley.
    An Good Ol' Fashion Appalachian Butt Whoopin'.

  3. #3
    Senior Member
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    I really like the Optronics lights. I have one attached to a reflector bracket. I used 2 AA, 12 packs in parallel.

  4. #4
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Batteries.

    Since you’ll want to run the lamp at 14.4 V to get the best light output, you’ll need to wire the RC car batteries in series. You’ll need to make a harness to do this that will take the negative pole from one battery pack and connect it to the positive pole of the other battery pack and then make sure that it all connects to the light. This is easier than it sounds. I use Dean’s and my connections are complicated and ugly…but they work.




    The Anderson power poles are easier to do this and would be my choice if I didn’t have so much invested in the Dean’s.



    Just make sure you have a black wire running from one pack to the red wire on the other pack.

    I charge my packs as a single 14.4V unit so that I don’t have power imbalances in the packs…and so that I only have to charge 3 packs and not 6 different ones.

    Once I get the packs wired up I put them in the Rocket Cage holder and put them in a water bottle cage.



    My helmet light is powered by a pack carried in my Camelbak. (No picture)

    The final result is this



    Over 4500 lumens of raw retinal burning power. People at my work hum the Darth Vader theme when I leave work at night. In nearly 30 years of riding at night these are the brightest lights I've owned or ever seen. I even got high beams flashed at me for the first time ever...by a guy in a 4x4...up a hill from me I have arrived!
    Stuart Black
    Solo Without Pie. The search for pie in the Midwest.
    Picking the Scablands. Washington and Oregon, 2005. Pie and spiders on the Columbia River!
    Days of Wineless Roads. Bed and Breakfasting along the KATY
    Twisting Down the Alley. Misadventures in tornado alley.
    An Good Ol' Fashion Appalachian Butt Whoopin'.

  5. #5
    Member Hawseman's Avatar
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    Wow, very nice....

    Rarely do I see a beamshot of a halogen that appears to have "washout" from it's brightness. Is that an issue at all for you with these most wonderous daylight makers....or is it just the photo?

  6. #6
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    Does it blind on-coming traffic?

  7. #7
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hawseman View Post
    Wow, very nice....

    Rarely do I see a beamshot of a halogen that appears to have "washout" from it's brightness. Is that an issue at all for you with these most wonderous daylight makers....or is it just the photo?
    Picture was 1.5 sec at f4 at ISO 200. They are as bright as the picture shows. I can illuminate objects very clearly up to about 200 yards and still see objects up to about 1/4 mile. Signs on the side of the road reflect back to me from even further away.

    Over taking cars don't wash out these lights either
    Stuart Black
    Solo Without Pie. The search for pie in the Midwest.
    Picking the Scablands. Washington and Oregon, 2005. Pie and spiders on the Columbia River!
    Days of Wineless Roads. Bed and Breakfasting along the KATY
    Twisting Down the Alley. Misadventures in tornado alley.
    An Good Ol' Fashion Appalachian Butt Whoopin'.

  8. #8
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by yamcha View Post
    Does it blind on-coming traffic?
    I aim them down so that I illuminate the road about 40 feet ahead of me...much like a car's low beams would be set. If I lift my head and look people in the eye, I can certainly get their attention...if I have to
    Stuart Black
    Solo Without Pie. The search for pie in the Midwest.
    Picking the Scablands. Washington and Oregon, 2005. Pie and spiders on the Columbia River!
    Days of Wineless Roads. Bed and Breakfasting along the KATY
    Twisting Down the Alley. Misadventures in tornado alley.
    An Good Ol' Fashion Appalachian Butt Whoopin'.

  9. #9
    Velocommuter Commando Sirrus Rider's Avatar
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    Smile

    Quote Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
    Construction tips.

    I like to solder my connections. Long experience has taught me that when lights fail…other then a bulb blowing…it’s most often due to a bad connection. Crimp connectors can be used without problem but they are rather bulky.

    I’ll show pictures of the final result but I didn’t think to take pictures as I went along…sorry I won’t go into detail on the pin back lamp because it was more complicated and not that much of an improvement over the Optronics system. It was also my first attempt and really isn’t worth the effort. It’s a little lower in height but not significantly. I like having at least 3 lamps on my bikes and, if I had it to do over again, I’d buy 2 Optronics and put 3 lamps on my bars

    The first thing you need to do is to take the Optronics units apart and replace the 50W bulbs they come with. It’s easy to do, you simply twist and pull the front of the lamp. You could use the 50W bulbs but it’ll take more battery capacity and it would just be silly…

    The lamp will be plugged into a ceramic pin plug with wires attached that run out the back. There is a rubber grommet behind the plug and an o-ring behind that. Since this is for mounting on car bumper, those seal the lamp and should be left in place. You can simply plug your choice of wattage into the plug and reassemble the lamp head. Nothing more needs be done on the inside of the lamp now.

    Now we come to the soldering bit. Be careful since this is where I always get burned Cut off the connectors that are on the prewired unit. The wires coming out of the bike are a little oily but use them anyway. You may need to use a bit of plumbers flux to get the solder to stick to the wires. Tin the wires on the lamp and, if you are using a switch (you don’t have to but it’s nicer), on the switch. You’ll want to add a bit of wire to the end of the light and switch. How much depends on how far away your battery is. I tend to make them a little short and use an extension cord to the battery so that I can use the lamp on bikes with different water bottle cage locations.

    Cut some short sections of shrink wrap and slide them on to the wires before you solder the wires together. Avoid heating the shrink wrap when you solder the wires because it will…well…shrink! I also use a longer section to cover the joints and make the whole thing neater looking.

    Solder the wires from one side of the lamp’s lead to one side of the switch. Solder a bit of the speaker wire to the other side of the switch. Make sure you insulate the wires from each other to avoid a short. Use the shrink wrap to do that. On the other lead, wire the speaker wire directly to the lamp’s wire. Slide a section of shrink wrap that you already put on the lamps wires before you go further to seal everything up.

    If you are using Dean’s Ultra Connectors (there are other connectors out there that might be better…Anderson Powerpoles are cleaner and simpler to use
    ), you’ll want to connect them to the end of the speaker wire.

    Mount the lamp on the handlebar or helmet mount using the bolts provided by Optronics. The lamp is a little tight in the holder but it will work. Your lamp should look like this.



    For helmet mounts, like this.



    I put the switch on my helmet lamp on a velcro mount and stuck it to the helmet. I'd suggest keeping the helmet lamps tail short so that it doesn't hang down too far off the back of the helmet...which I didn't do here!
    I like your light housings. Very classic Sturmy Archer-esque!

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
    I aim them down so that I illuminate the road about 40 feet ahead of me...much like a car's low beams would be set. If I lift my head and look people in the eye, I can certainly get their attention...if I have to
    Do drivers get pissed off because you have so much more light then them and that they feel that a bicycle doesn't deserve that much light?

    It's a serious question.

  11. #11
    Senior Member maximushq2's Avatar
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    Nice

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    Very nice. Thank you for taking the time to describe your system and parts sources in detail.

  13. #13
    reductio ad absurdum ericy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by yamcha View Post
    Do drivers get pissed off because you have so much more light then them and that they feel that a bicycle doesn't deserve that much light?

    It's a serious question.
    I would think they would only be upset if the light were shining in their eyes and they were blinded.

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    Drivers get jealous when they see a bike own the road like that.

  15. #15
    cab horn
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    Quote Originally Posted by ericy View Post
    I would think they would only be upset if the light were shining in their eyes and they were blinded.
    I get this feeling with the 200L. The lights are not biased down and to the right (you can't with the standard mount), so I get the distinct feeling that i'm blinding and/or glaring drivers with my light.

    This is not cool.

    Nobody ever seems to mention this when they are reviewing their lights/using them.
    Mes compaingnons cui j'amoie et cui j'aim,... Me di, chanson.

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    Thanks cyccommute!

    Very nice system and description. I've been doing a bit of research on DIY lights lately, and have come to the conclusion that your system has the highest benefit/difficulty ratio! The benefit/cost ratio is incredibly high too!

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
    Batteries.

    Since you’ll want to run the lamp at 14.4 V to get the best light output, you’ll need to wire the RC car batteries in series. You’ll need to make a harness to do this that will take the negative pole from one battery pack and connect it to the positive pole of the other battery pack and then make sure that it all connects to the light. This is easier than it sounds. I use Dean’s and my connections are complicated and ugly…but they work.

    I'm guessing you went with RC NiMH batteries instead of Li-ion because you had them already? Myself I have a whole bunch of AA NiMH so I made a 14.4V battery out of them by gluing together two 6AA holders (<2$ each from mouser.com).

    Good recommendation on the cage rocket and Maha C777 btw; I just ordered the former and am seriously considering the latter.

  18. #18
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sir Bikesalot View Post
    I'm guessing you went with RC NiMH batteries instead of Li-ion because you had them already? Myself I have a whole bunch of AA NiMH so I made a 14.4V battery out of them by gluing together two 6AA holders (<2$ each from mouser.com).

    Good recommendation on the cage rocket and Maha C777 btw; I just ordered the former and am seriously considering the latter.
    I found RC car batteries long ago when there weren't any good light systems...commercial or DIY. I find their size convenient, the power good, they are relatively cheap, they're rugged and they work in my RC car Although the Li-ion would be lighter, they are too expensive and too delicate for my tastes.
    Stuart Black
    Solo Without Pie. The search for pie in the Midwest.
    Picking the Scablands. Washington and Oregon, 2005. Pie and spiders on the Columbia River!
    Days of Wineless Roads. Bed and Breakfasting along the KATY
    Twisting Down the Alley. Misadventures in tornado alley.
    An Good Ol' Fashion Appalachian Butt Whoopin'.

  19. #19
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by yamcha View Post
    Do drivers get pissed off because you have so much more light then them and that they feel that a bicycle doesn't deserve that much light?

    It's a serious question.
    Not that I've noticed. I have noticed that they don't quite know what to make of this massive amount of light coming at them. They tend to wait a very long time to find out

    I live in an area of Denver with some of the cities narrowest streets...I have to pull the mirror in on my truck or it gets broken off on too regular a basis. The dance we all do is to drive until we find a hole between parked cars and pull into it to let the on-coming car pass. The other night I had someone in a car pull in behind a parked car and wait for me to clear the road before they proceeded. I've never had that happen before
    Stuart Black
    Solo Without Pie. The search for pie in the Midwest.
    Picking the Scablands. Washington and Oregon, 2005. Pie and spiders on the Columbia River!
    Days of Wineless Roads. Bed and Breakfasting along the KATY
    Twisting Down the Alley. Misadventures in tornado alley.
    An Good Ol' Fashion Appalachian Butt Whoopin'.

  20. #20
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by operator View Post
    I get this feeling with the 200L. The lights are not biased down and to the right (you can't with the standard mount), so I get the distinct feeling that i'm blinding and/or glaring drivers with my light.

    This is not cool.

    Nobody ever seems to mention this when they are reviewing their lights/using them.
    The mounts from Battery Space allow me about 20 degrees of side to side adjustment. And the helmet light will adjust as far as my neck will I've learned over the years not to shine the light at people unless absolutely necessary. I don't want to be a jerk...but I don't want to be squished either
    Stuart Black
    Solo Without Pie. The search for pie in the Midwest.
    Picking the Scablands. Washington and Oregon, 2005. Pie and spiders on the Columbia River!
    Days of Wineless Roads. Bed and Breakfasting along the KATY
    Twisting Down the Alley. Misadventures in tornado alley.
    An Good Ol' Fashion Appalachian Butt Whoopin'.

  21. #21
    Senior Member ken cummings's Avatar
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    It is so nice having my new light with that kind of power. It is satisfying to have cross traffic at uncontrolled intersections wait until I go by even when they have time to make their turn. I use a modified Cessna landing light.
    This space open

  22. #22
    reductio ad absurdum ericy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ken cummings View Post
    It is so nice having my new light with that kind of power. It is satisfying to have cross traffic at uncontrolled intersections wait until I go by even when they have time to make their turn. I use a modified Cessna landing light.
    With that kind of light, the next thing you need to do is add something like a train whistle .

  23. #23
    Senior_Member2 diff_lock2's Avatar
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    Cessna... Thats small time, have you seen that 747 landing light over at candle power forums?

    Jk about the light being weak, i'm sure its more than 50w.

  24. #24
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    Very nice set-up 'cyccommute'.

    I have something similar as yours, only I opted for pvc pipe to secure the MR-16 bulb.

    Still, your rig puts mine into the caveman days.

    Good job
    ~ "I like the way the brake cables come out of the top of the levers and loop around to the brake calipers!...I like those downtube shifters too!...No no no, don't take 'em off, don't take 'em off,...leave 'em on, leave 'em on! - Thats right baby!!

    ~BF - Steel Club Member #00051

  25. #25
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    Excellent light setup and description cyccommute! I'm curious why you would remove the 55 watt bulb and replace it with a 20 watt bulb. I would think that the 55 watt would be brighter. Is it because you want longer battery run time?

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