Introduction: 1000 Lumen+ Bike Light From $7 Flashlights

I found a particular cheap Cree flashlight that lends itself well to being used as a bicycle headlamp if you gang 4 of them up together.  This is a really easy one to build.

This light is rated around 280 to 300 "Chinese Lumens", i.e. it's probably in the 200 - 250 lumen range in reality, but that's still pretty bright.  It uses 14500 LiPo batteries, which are very close in size to AA cells but are a higher voltage.  You can use AA cells but the flashlights will give something more like 100 lumens each if you do.

These are Q5 crees, so be careful that you don't get a dimmer version such as a Q3 because they're sold in identical enclosures.  Also these are frequently sold at a discount so Google for coupons or check on sites such as Slickdeals for a good price.

Unfortunately because of the batteries and accompanying charger, the cost of the components is more than the cost of the four flashlights (ie under $30), but if you already have some of those cells and a charger (or just want to get some anyway to try stuff out) then this is a cheap build, otherwise if all you want is a very bright light off the shelf, look around for a good price for a Magicshine of equivalent output, it'll take up less space on your handlebar and won't cost that much extra - maybe $60 total.

This bundle will get hot if you turn on all 4 lights for an extended time and are not actually cycling, which is needed to keep the temperature down due to air flow.  However it does have the advantage that you can get an extended run time by simply not turning on all four at once!

Step 1: What You'll Need

 

Step 2: Remove the Lens

One thing that makes these lights ideal for biking is that the focusable lens can be removed, leaving a wide flood effect rather than a directed spot.  In my opinion this is much better for biking at night (although perhaps not, if you are a serious racer who needs to examine the road farther ahead, but in that case you'll be buying a serious light and not making one of these).

The adjustable focus mechanism was by sliding the front of the flashlight forwards or back; since we're no longer using the lens, slide it all the way back now so that there's no obstruction of the light beam.

Step 3: Bind With Zip Ties

Optionally you may want to remove the clips from the flashlights as that may make them easier to bundle together, otherwise you simply need to be careful how you orient the clips when do you the bundling.

Take one of the flashlights and attach the twofish.  This is going to be how the bundle is attached to your handlebar. You can save some money on the build by attaching it in some other way, say with velco strips and zip ties.  Work out what is best for you.

Hold all four lights together in a diamond shape as in the picture, with the strapped one being one of the pair that are closest to each other, and bind them with zip ties but not completely tight yet.  If you're using the clips, slide them underneath the clips.  The body shape of these lights makes the positioning of the ties fairly self-evident.  Place the bundle face-down on a hard flat surface and push the assembly with the palm of your hand so that all the fronts are perfectly aligned.  Tighten and cut as short as possible.

That's pretty much it!  You'll be able to open the lights to remove the batteries without cutting the zip ties.  (The battery is accessible by unscrewing the clicky switch.)

Step 4: A Word on Charging...

There's always a fire risk with LiPo batteries.  I recommend putting the charger in one of these fire-resistant bags while charging, and also unplugging the charger when unattended even if not yet fully charged. Go look at some YouTube videos of LiPo fires and convince yourself that this can be a real danger.

The charger I linked to here has some protection against overcharging as do the batteries but you shouldn't trust it completely.

Many of these chargers are knock-off versions of more trusted brands and may not be built to spec.  I noticed with this one for example that the batteries did not give a good contact, and I had to add a rubber band (you can see it in the photos) to make them contact sufficiently.

Note that it lights red when correctly inserted and charging.  However it lights green both for fully charged and for not being properly inserted (I mean with a poor contact rather than being reversed).  I sympathise with the red/green colour-blind!

Comments

author
gtoal (author)2014-07-06

I spotted these today for $2.89 - lowest price yet...

author
gtoal (author)gtoal2015-04-20

And for amusement value, at the other end of the price scale... http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/f3b7/ - a prebuilt 4-headed monster using XM-L emitters for $300!

author
rimar2000 (author)2012-05-23
Good idea, but
  1. Really do you need that big amount of light?
  2. Do not dazzle the oncoming? That would be dangerous for you.
author
gtoal (author)rimar20002012-05-23

1) Yes
2) It's no brighter than a motorcycle heardlight. Do motorcycle headlights make motorcycles more risky?

Trust me, in the US, car drivers are generally so bad that it's important that both oncoming and tailing vehicles see you (and side-on vehicles - I have a lot of retroreflective tape on my bike and am currently adding EL wire.).  Lighting up the road ahead of you is almost a side-benefit.

I never once felt at risk biking in London for years, but here in a small Texas town I feel like I'm taking my life in my hands every time I go out.

author
oakironworker (author)gtoal2014-03-30

The only issue I would have with referring to the USA is that you are not in the USA, your in Texas.

author
glorybe (author)gtoal2012-08-26

You are at risk. I bicycle to get around myself and also spent over 40 years on motorcycles. Crashes are a fact of life and often simply can not be avoided. Think about how many cars are struck from behind while at a light or stop sign. Modern cars have all kinds of lights and warning devices and are large and still get smacked. Wearing a helmet and gloves are a beginning but still one needs lots and lots of medical and disability insurance. On top of all of those problems we also have people that actually want to smash into others these days.
We all take our chances and it sort of sucks.

author
rimar2000 (author)gtoal2012-05-24

Well, congratulations. I'm sick to come across at night, in poorly lit streets, cyclists dressed in black, riding a black bicycle, without lights nor cat eyes, nor reflective stripes. And sometimes, to complete the picture of terror, carrying a child ...

author
john5247 (author)2013-12-24

Woah! That two fish thingy is £2 from China and £12 in the UK!
Also, I tried to pop the plastic lenses out and fit a circle of flat plastic in - but gave up and put a single piece of plastic across the front of all 4 lights
The batteries in your link are Lithium ion and not as firey as Lithium Polymer.
I have been meaning to solder wires to the LED bases and go for an external battery box, but I haven't done it yet. If you do that you must leave the whole metal body on to lose the heat.
Also been looking at making a second lamp for off road and keeping the lenses on.
Even building two of these (8 flashlights) is a lot cheaper than some of the £500 kits
and is just as bright.

author
gtoal (author)john52472013-12-24

In the year or so since I posted this, the cost of both the flashlghts and the batteries has come down quite a lot, though I know that my countrymen back in the UK are still paying in excess for imports which can be frustrating, but at the same time, the cost of professional lights has come down remarkably too and it might not be such an obvious win to go the home-made route - I have to confess I've moved on to proprietary lights now - a genuine Magicshine for the rear light, a cheap lookalike for the front light, and some very cheap lipo battery packs. (If you're interested in the exact list email me privately.)

I used the twofish straps at the time because I happened to have some around, but you're right, they're quite expensove so you might instead improvise an alternative using the sort of velcro straps that often come with computer equipment (especially monitors) to bind cables. You could even try using some of the same tie-wraps to fix the bundle to the bike that you used to fix the lights to each other.

Merry Christmas,

Graham

author
Bilal Bin Siraj (author)2012-12-08

Ref step 2
perhaps you would like to leave one of the lenses that give you a directed spot light way ahead of the other three LED's flood effect.
try that and let us know the difference