Introduction: Bicycle Rim Lights

Picture of Bicycle Rim Lights
The idea was simple. Buy a LED rope light, cut it up, power it with batteries, weave it in the spokes, and you've got some sweet rim lights for your bicycle. But it was too easy. The reality was a lot more complicated and it took a while. But the result is a really easy way to add and remove the lights for your bike, and it looks great. Much brighter than other rim lights I've seen.

Here's a look at the lights in motion:

Here how it looks when using the bike:

Bonus! After riding to your favorite disco, rave, gathering, or whatever you've got some glowy things you can swing around and try to look cool. Just don't hit anybody, that's not cool.


Step 1: Investigate

Picture of Investigate

I couldn't find any details on how LED rope lights are constructed, so I took the plunge and bought a 12ft. blue one. After I ripped open the package, admired the glow, I decided to take some measurements to see what I was dealing with. I used a multimeter to measure the DC voltage coming out of the converter and got 110VDC. That's when I knew I was in trouble. That's going to take a lot of batteries.

LED Rope Light
4 3-Battery Holders
12 AAA Batteries
Hot Glue
4 10 Ohm Resistors
Wire Ties
Rubber Bands made from old bicycle tubes

Soldering Iron
Hot Glue Gun
Razor Blade
Wire Strippers
Wire Cutters
Needle Nose Pliers

Step 2: A New Plan

Picture of A New Plan

I took apart the end of the rope and found that under the outer cover there was another plastic section that insulated a postive and negative wire and third wire in the center that strung the LEDs together in series. It emerged from one of the side wires, traveled about 3ft down the rope then connected to the other side wire. After every 4-5 LEDs there was a resistor. The LEDs had about 2.8V across them and the resistors had 4.6V. I cut the wire and ran it thru my multimeter to measure current and got 13.7 mA.

At this point I was stuck and considered giving up. I slowly realized I had to rewire the whole thing to make it work with batteries. I thought about using a 9V or 2 AAA batteries, but decided on using 3 AAA batteries to power the rope. By using a battery pack on opposite sides of the wheel it should balance out.

I decided to place the LEDs in a parallel circuit without a resistor on each LED. It's generally good practice to place a resistor on each LED when used in parallel, but it would be just too much work soldering all those resistors. So instead I used one resistor on the whole thing. I'm not sure if using only one defeats the purpose of having a resistor in the first place, but lets just go with it.

I used an online resistor calculator and entered 4.5V (3 x 1.5V) as the source voltage, 2.8V for the LED voltage, and 178 mA (13 LEDs x 13.7mA) for the total current. It recommended a 10 Ohm resistor.

To double check I use Ohm's Law which I remember as V.I.R. or Voltage = Current x Resistance. (Current is always an 'I', I don't know why.)

So if I have:
V = I x R
Then: R = V / I
Numbers: R = (4.5V–2.8V) / 0.178 A
and I get : R = 9.5 Ohms

Step 3: Strip

Picture of Strip

I weaved the rope into the wheel and end up up cutting a 33 in. section for my 26 in. wheels. I couldn't pull the innards out so I had to cut the outer section to take it apart.

Once I removed the inner section I began cutting the insulation off every 2.5 in. Having the LEDs close together looks cool, but it's more work. Every 2.5 in. seemed good enough. Removing the insulation was harder than I expected. I used wire stripper, a razor blade, and needle nose pliers.

Step 4: Solder and Glue

Picture of Solder and Glue

I used a battery pack I had lying around to test each LED to see which lead was positive. I pushed the led into the plastic part and wrapped the LED wires around the main wires. Then soldered away. To solder the battery pack to the rope, I double checked which wire was positive, soldered on the resistor, then soldered the red battery pack lead. I connected the black battery lead to the the other wire.

I used hot glue to insulate and attach the wire to the battery pack. I also injected hot glue into the rope where the soldering was done to insulate the wire and help keep it all together.

Step 5: Finish

Picture of Finish

To finish up, I used wire zip ties to hold the battery pack onto the LED rope. I made one tie really tight and left one loose enough to slide over so I can add and remove batteries. To keep the battery pack from flopping around on the wheel I used some rubber bands made from old bicycle tubes to attach it to a spoke.

Once all four sections were complete, I weaved the rope into place, and wrapped the rubber band around a spoke to secure the batteries. It's turns out to be really easy to add and remove the lights.


JackB99 (author)2016-04-26

This is similar to the eye popping electric silhouette style wheel lights. Specifically designed for your wheel.

GEEKLEDs (author)2015-12-19

looks great! if it shows up gif image, it would be much cooler!!

Tron1043 (author)2015-04-02

I like glowing stuff. I like bikes.

This is awesome.

AiyaG (author)2014-10-24

great. But you needed a converter or a 12V strip.

Gabry295 (author)2014-06-25

Nice idea! :D

I have to do this!

niallthemagicone (author)2014-01-16

i love bikes and would love to do this on one of mine

snerik1 (author)2013-01-17

Nice build! I was wery inspired and I'll make one for my kid. I have a few thoughs about balancing it with one battery pack:
------Mounting it near the center of the hub. This way it will not suffer the same amount of sentrifugal force (G).
------Connecting it with thin insulated wires glued on the spokes will hopefully be descrete enough to make it look good.

I hope this is a good idea. Anyone tried it?

SparkytheHappyGiraffe (author)2012-10-23

this is so cool


senacharim (author)2012-08-09

Quite the impressive results!

...wouldn't the whole endeavour have been easier with the application of EL-wire?

(Here, link:)

LongToe (author)senacharim2012-08-09

EL-wire is a great option too. I went with LEDs because they are brighter.

XboxModz (author)LongToe2012-08-13

I would just like to add a few things

EL Wire is a thing of the past, for a few reasons.

*LED's are brighter than EL wire (as the author has mentioned).

*LED's last longer than EL wire.

*EL wire slowly looses brightness by design, similar to neon. Good quality LED's will not lose brightness.

*EL Wire requires a high voltage inverter (which will eventually die) to power it making it dangerous for hobbyists to work with. LED's use low voltages and consume very low amounts of current making them safe for hobbyists to work with and also ideal for battery-powered projects.

SneekytheHut (author)XboxModz2012-10-08

EL wire is not only less bright, but the glow is really thin

senacharim (author)XboxModz2012-08-13

Insightful and informative. Thank you.

sarah05148 (author)2012-08-11

Do any of you think it would be possible to run the lights on one of those bike generators? I have been thinking of doing something like this with rechargeable batteries and the generator?? any ideas? I'd love to have the batteries recharge when I go downhill from work. joule thiefish?? tricklecharger??.....just wondering

LongToe (author)sarah051482012-08-13

Getting power from the bike frame across the axle to the tire would be very tricky. If you could somehow mount a generator on the axle itself that might work, but they aren't made to mount that way. Sounds like a challenging project.

sarah05148 (author)LongToe2012-08-13

Yes that is what my cycling friend said. he said try a hub generator, so I will check that out, thanks, Sarah

grt57 (author)2012-08-12

Cool app! Reminds me of the Light Cycles in TRON.

LongToe (author)grt572012-08-13


RaeMickey (author)2012-08-12

any way to water proof em? in case i ride into a puddle on accident?

LongToe (author)RaeMickey2012-08-13

I'm not sure about waterproof but you can add more hot glue to the wires. Occasional water wont damage it too bad, but if you live in a wet climate that could be a problem.

hertzgamma (author)2012-08-13

Hi, that's a very nice idea! Great job!

I want to add one thing - a suggestion for you. If you reduce the LED's and have twice less, then you can have twice less batteries on each wheel. I believe that the glowing result will still be the same, because as you spin the wheel eyes cannot separate the diodes and we see it as a glowing circle. On top of that you will reduce the weight and be able to accelerate and stop your bike quicker.

If you move the batteries close to the axle of rotation you will immediately reduce the wheel momentum and achieve the same.

That's for your next bike ;), this one is just awesome.

LongToe (author)hertzgamma2012-08-13

Thanks! Those are some good ideas.

GibParadox (author)2012-08-09

The "I" stands for "Intensity", also known as Current. :)

LongToe (author)GibParadox2012-08-10

That's good to know. Thanks!

actimm (author)2012-08-10

Just a quick thought on the subject of balance. Couldn't you have taken care of the balance issue by bringing the batteries up to the axle? I'm actually envisioning something where you only ran 4 or 8 LED's and ran them out along the spokes. It wouldn't be easily removable like yours is, but it should be better balanced and less likely to get thrown from the rim if you rode quickly.

LongToe (author)actimm2012-08-10

That's a good idea. There's another instructable that used that technique with good results.
Mine used 26 LEDs and had the tubing to help diffuse the light. I'd love to see how yours turns out. Good Luck!

imboox2 (author)2012-08-10

I would add wire to be able to locate the battery packs as close to the hub as possible. Ron the wire down the spokes. You'd have a much less effect on wheel balance as well as reduce other forces.

zack247 (author)2012-08-07

i really want to try something like this on my car!
only thing is id /really/ want to make sure its on there tight. the last thing i want is it ripping off at high speeds o.o

Spokehedz (author)zack2472012-08-09

You would be better off buying one of the lighted valvestem covers for your car, as the rope would make your wheels wobble like crazy, and in addition they are quite illegal to use on public roads in Canada as they can cause a distraction for other drivers.

They would look awesome, but sadly we do not live on The Grid and we cannot have blue light wheels everywhere.

zack247 (author)Spokehedz2012-08-09

i wasnt thinking of doing it in the same fashion as depicted in this instructable, i was thinking of painting the inside of the rim with phosphorescent paint or lining it with glow paper, then have a set of LEDs around the hub aimed at the inside edge of the rim to power the glowing area.

Spokehedz (author)zack2472012-08-09

UV lights could work, but you'd have to have some pretty bright ones so that the thin layer of glow paint would have enough energy to absorb and stay lit. Something like the CREE LED's would work, but then you would have a super bright UV source making everything that was UV sensitive light up under your car--which is brake, antifreeze, oil and transmission which is everywhere on roads. Oh and snow, can't forget snow.

Any visible LED's would make your wheel wells look like disco Stu did your mechanical work.

zack247 (author)Spokehedz2012-08-09

thats why i said phosphorescent paint.
if i apply a decent coat of it, it glows much brighter than regular glow in the dark paint, and the glow lasts for a long time. id only have to have the LEDs on for a short while, then i could switch them off and the paint would stay glowing all night long.
the sun would charge up the phosphorescent paint during the day too.

Spokehedz (author)zack2472012-08-09

The best glow paint will only stay on at max for a few minutes, say 10 at most. And that is in a pretty dark room. Being outside on a car with other light sources, you are going to need to keep it topped up with the UV LED's... the UV LED shows up as a faint purple, much dimmer than the actual glow paint.

I would be interested to see your glow paint that could last all night long.

zack247 (author)Spokehedz2012-08-10

the same paint as is used in this instructable:
is the paint im talking about.

tn. (author)zack2472012-08-09

be careful: many areas have laws about extra lighting on cars. ontario, f.ex, does not allowed underlights (glows from under the vehicle) or any lighting on the license plate other than what came with the car.

zack247 (author)tn.2012-08-09

the last time i remember checking (mind you it was several years ago) underglow style lights were permitted on vehicles so long as they werent red, green, or white.

AtlantaTerry (author)zack2472012-08-09

In many government jurisdictions blue lights are only allowed on police vehicles.

LongToe (author)zack2472012-08-08

That would be really cool. I'd love to see how you do it.

tn. (author)2012-08-09

i live in the country - this would be a *phenomenal* safety feature for bikes! the reflectors, etc, all too often are disregarded as being animal eyes until the driver realizes it's not actually running off the road at the car's approach.

sharpstick (author)2012-08-09

Look up "joule thief", a circuit that will run the 110VAC string with a single AA battery with no modification.

LongToe (author)sharpstick2012-08-09

That's good to know. I'll have to that circuit. Thanks!

depotdevoid (author)2012-08-07

Nice!  Reminds me of my own wheel lights, only lighter, and probably with better battery life!

LongToe (author)depotdevoid2012-08-08

Thanks! I really like that green florescent glow on your bike.

CatTrampoline (author)2012-08-07

Very nice finished project! I really like that you showed how to calculate the voltage, current, etc. needed.

LongToe (author)CatTrampoline2012-08-08


DoctorWoo (author)2012-08-07

Sorry if you have this noted somewhere....but why the need to break it down to four strips? Was that just due to the needed voltage?
Also...did you happen to test using just one strip on a wheel? I have a few bikes I think this would be awesome to do to, and seeing as how once you get up to speed, the strip would more then likely blur into one ring. At least, that's who I'm thinking it.
Thanks in advance! Oh, and awesome build!

LongToe (author)DoctorWoo2012-08-07

Thanks! Yes, you could certainly go with one strip per tire, but since I wanted a battery pack on opposite sides of the tire for balance, it just made sense to break it in 2. It would look more continuous if it was just one strip though, good idea. I could still probably glue and wire 2 sections together. That's something to think about.

DoctorWoo (author)LongToe2012-08-07

Oh! Balance, I had forgotten about that! Good point!
This is something I'd love to take a look into and make, like I said, and this is a great process!

kombi66 (author)2012-08-06

hell ya paratrooper ingenuity... way to go

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a software engineer who tries to stay away from the computer when I'm not at work.
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