Introduction: Dynamo Powered LED Bike Lights

Picture of Dynamo Powered LED Bike Lights

Unfortunately dynamos seem to be forgotten by many modern cyclists. I'm not going deeper into reasons of this situation - instead I'm going to show You bicycle LED light that works better than many of commercially available battery (an dynamo) powered ligts.

The advantages of dynamo powered bicycle LED light:
- lots of light!
- always available - You can not forget to take it with You
- unlimited burn time
- no cells, batteries, chargers (think of costs and environment)
- unattractive to thieves.

I use this light for daily bike commuting since one year. The instructable misses some photos, because I didn't took many when I was building the light :) The circuit idea comes from the page (highly recommended!!)

Step 1: Electrical Schema

Picture of Electrical Schema

The bicycle dynamo works as a current source - it always "tries" to deliver its typical 500mA of current. This is an ideal source for light emitting diodes, which are current driven. The 500mA is way too much for single diodes, but it is just good for modern power LED (such as Luxeon, SSC, Cree etc). Power LEDs are delicate when it comes to reverse voltages, so we will rectify the dynamo current to power them.

The circuit is super simple - the graetz bridge rectifer, some smoothing capacitors and power LED diode.

Red LED diodes for the tail light are put as one branch of the rectifier. 13 diodes are connected in parallel - that multiplication gives more light and splits the current on more diodes (as You know, one diode can take only 20 ~ 25 mA current).

Please note, that the bicycle frame is usually used as the ground in AC dynamo circuit. The rectifier on the AC side is connected with the dynamo and with bike frame. The DC circuit needs 2 wire cable for its connections - there mustn't be any electrical contact with the frame.

Step 2: Mechanical Schema

Picture of Mechanical Schema


The lamp body is made of plastic tubing (1 inch inner diameter) - we need one connector, and one cap. The power LED (on "star" pcb) will be glued (using heat conducting glue) to a long bolt which will be fastened to the plastic cap with two nuts. The bolt will keep the LED in centered position and will serve as a heat sink. Power LEDs must be operated with heatsinks - otherwise their life won't be long.

The light emmission characteristics of power LEDs alone are not very good, so we have to use special optics to form desired light beam. I used a 30 degrees collimator. The collimator comes on top of LED's star PCB. My collimator has exactly the diameter of the plastic tube I used - it fits perfectly with some glue from heat glue gun between tubing and collimator.

In my case, the rectifier was too big to fit it in the lamp body, so I used a separate 35mm film canister. The diodes and capacitors are connected using an wire connecting rail (which fits the canister), but they can be connected on an universal PCB board or simply soldered together.

Step 3: Part List

- 1W power led (luxeon, SSC P4, Cree or something similar) on star PCB - it must withstand at least 500mA current.
(it looks like [,_Lumiled).jpg that])

- Collimator or reflector suited for above power LED with 10 - 30 degrees beam width (10 degrees has visible light-spot in longer range; 30 deg. puts more light to the sides and is more visible for others)

- 3 (or 4 when You don't make the tail light) Shottky diodes (for example 1N5818) for rectifying (faster, lower voltage drop). the normal silicone diodes will also do.

- 13 - 15 red diodes for the tail lamp

- a base for tail light (universal PCB is very good)

- Capacitor C1 - 2200uF 4V

- Capacitors C2 and C3 470uF 63V

- Resistor R1 - 47kOhm

- 1 Longer Bolt and 2 nuts for LED mount/heatsink

- Plastic tubing for the casing

- some casing for tail light (I used some clear plastic rail in which integrated circuits are transported)

- some length of 2 wire cable for connecting dynamo, rectifier, head and tail light

Step 4: Building the Circuit

Picture of Building the Circuit

1. Build the rectifier according to the schema in step 1 (think of polarity of diodes and capacitors :-)).
2. Solder leds in parallel for tail light (this can be a little boring)
3. Solder wires from the rectifier to the pads on the power LED's PCB
4. Check the polarities and connections once more (a multimeter can be helpful)

When everything seems to be ok, then You can connect the circuit to the dynamo and spin the wheel gently. The diodes should flash immediately. When not, then check the connections once more...

Warning: when You disconnect the power LED from capacitors in rectifier then ALWAYS discharge the capacitors before connecting it again. The load in capacitors can destroy the expensive diode.

Step 5: Front Light

Picture of Front Light

1. Drill a hole in the rear part of the headlight casing, put the bolt through it and fasten it using 2 nuts.
2. Drill a hole for cable.
3. Glue the power LED to the nut head (use heat conducting glue).
4. Put the collimator onto the led (usually the collimator legs fit into the cuts in LED's star PCB)
5. Put the front part of the casing on and fix it to the rest (glue or duct tape).
6. Optionally, You may want to fix the collimator to the tubing with a little of hot glue and/or put some clear plastic on the front of the headlight.
7. Fasten the headlight to the handlebar (I used 2 hose clamps)

Step 6: Tail Light

Picture of Tail Light

1. Build and connect the tail light.
2. Fasten the taillight (I glued mine under the rear reflector light)
3. Fasten the power supply cable to the bike frame (for example using zip ties) or pull it throuh the frame in place of old wire.

Step 7: Ready!

Picture of Ready!

You are ready for test ride!

The LEDs are so efficient that the generated light is useful even when You walk with Your bike. The full power is reached at speeds from 5 to 8 km/h.

As I mentioned, I use this system since 1 year (I go to work by bike even when it snows or rains) and I am very happy with it. I use old bottle dynamo and slipping and clogging was never a big problem for me. Just fire and forget ;-)


kerembasaran (author)2017-01-28

Would it be a problem to keep the rear light as a tungsten bulb? Will a resistive parallel load affect this circuit?

jakesplacebc (author)2016-08-07

Great idea. Would appreciate a video of it in action ?

Hashem_Mehyar (author)2016-01-25

i haven't read the entire instructable or all of the comments, so if it was mentioned i'm sorry..

You should increase C1's size or increase the count, this way you would insure having the light stay on after stopping for a couple of seconds or slowing down

Akin Yildiz (author)2015-10-25

can this be "hacked" and mounted on the bicycle tire, maybe 2 of them in parallel to get +1A output.? its only $3

alex.kocher.50 (author)2015-04-28

How are you attaching the Dynamo to the bike? And what part of the bike rotates it? (the wheel or the sprocket?)

mkvinoth123 (author)2015-03-11


mkvinoth123 (author)2015-03-11


shareghe (author)2014-10-16


how much all together that cost you? the materials you bought and the time you spent to make that. thank you.

rob82b (author)2014-03-30

So where is a good place online to get these electronic components? I found the 1w LED but the site says its 350mA. I wonder if it will take 500? I am working on a project to teach kids about the differences between LED and Incandescent bulbs.

astral_mage (author)rob82b2014-09-20

try or

kptBurek (author)rob82b2014-03-31

Maybe try to find the datasheet for this diode - usually you can find the maximum ratings there...

baggins (author)2014-07-07

What is your reasoning for using the tail light as part of the bridge rectifier instead of powering it in parallel with the front?

kptBurek (author)baggins2014-07-17

Red and white leds have different voltages and I'm not sure what happens when You connect them in parallel :-)

You can power it serial with front, but then it would get all the current the front gets (and You would need more leds or red power led).

When it's in rectifier branch it gets only half of main led current.

knihovna123 (author)2014-02-05

HI guys,

very good and easy tutorial. I have just few question. Your heighpower diode should be 1W and withstand 500mA. I am not a professional, but in this tutorial, the author uses 3,8W 1000mA. What is the difference?

Btw, I am asking, because in my country it is hard to find 1W diode which can withstand at least 500mA.

Thanks very much!

(i will use dynamo 6V 3W)

kptBurek (author)knihovna1232014-02-06

There's no difference - the 3,8W diode will just not reach its maximum current rating and probably will not be as bright as it would be with 1A supply (but you would have to check the current/lumen characteristics to confirm that)

You should not use diode which cannot withstand current lower than 0,5A.

sconner1 (author)2013-09-16

If you live in a metro area with those rental bike kiosks (like Boston), You may notice the leds on the rental bikes flash while in motion. I believe they work just exactly the way this author describes only more simply. Just a 12V dynamo and sets of 4 LED's in series front and back that flash as the dynamo's AC is rectified through them.

industrialphreak (author)2011-06-01

Maybe figure a way to use a couple capacitors in their or add a small charging circuit for a set of rechargeable batteries so you have light at stops.

I am aware of the issues some battery chemistry's have so doing the rechargable dynamo powered led light might be up in the air.

Amen, Brother!
Or just some high capacity caps that take a minute or so to discharge while at a stop and forget the batteries altogether.

Sworthed (author)2010-12-12

the heat conducting layer, must have to isolate or can be conductive? Thanks.

kptBurek (author)Sworthed2010-12-13

This depends on Your diode and light construction. Some diodes have neutral conductive area, some not. You have to decide, whether the contact with the "radiator" is "dangerous" for the circuit (for example possible contact with frame or sth...)

Sworthed (author)kptBurek2010-12-13

I want to thank you for this guide, I've just finished to soldering and assembling everything. It works really fine! Just an idea for the radiator: I used an old radiator from an old PC, just resized with a little saw, add a conductive paste and to keep all together I used 2 paper clip. I put all in to an old stile dynamo's light, a really cool effects!! I'm going to try it tomorrow, and I'll let you know.
Thanks and greetings from Italy,

kptBurek (author)2009-02-08

Shottky diodes have usually lower voltage drop than german diodes. I suggested using them because of that, not because of their "speed".

StuNutt (author)kptBurek2010-08-12

You mean Germanium diodes (they are made in many countries LOL!), but you are right otherwise.

sacanagem (author)2010-02-19

Hi to all, I'm new here and I wonder if you can help me building a same circuit but including a rechargeable battery of 6V or 12v, that can be charged through the dynamo, so it can light both head and back light not with leds but normal bulbs. WHY??  because whenever you need to stop and cross a road at night you'll have LIGHTS ON, cuestion of safety.
I really appreciate all suggestions.

UPwoodsguy (author)2009-11-01

Okay, I build the rectifier, and hooked it up to test it. I used a tantalum capacitor for the 4v 2200uf cap, not a aluminum. When I hooked up the rectifier to my bike dynamo, the test lights I hooked up didn't come on, and the tantalum capacitor did what it likes to do best, explode and burn.

I blew out the fire quickly, but the fire was very close to the shottky diodes and 63V 470uf caps. Hopefully these parts were not damaged.

UPwoodsguy (author)UPwoodsguy2009-11-01

I tested the circuit without the 2200uf 4v capacitor, and everything works fine. I'm pretty sure it just prevents flickering. It seems that it would be safer to use a 2200uf 6v capacitor. A 4v tantalum capacitor might have been too small, especially considering tantalums fail quickly when their max voltage is surpassed by only a small fraction.

UPwoodsguy (author)2009-10-30

Which wire on the AC side of the circuit connects to the dynamo, and what wire connects to the bike? I assume the dynamo connects to the section with the 470uf 63V capacitor, but tell me if I'm wrong.

kptBurek (author)UPwoodsguy2009-10-31

It doesn't matter ;-) this is alternating current....

UPwoodsguy (author)2009-10-29

I'm currently building this project, and I was wondering what is the output voltage of the section of the graetz bridge that connects to the tail light?

I bought 14 super small red Osram LEDs for the tail light.

They have a max working voltage of two volts and can only take 20mA. Will I need any resistors to lower the voltage to the LEDs? I plan on wiring them in series, but I don't want to fry them.

kptBurek (author)UPwoodsguy2009-10-30

Please note that tail light acts as a branch of graetz bridge. These diodes get about 1/2 of headlight current. Your 15 diodes in parallel can take 300mA - so this should be no problem, since the dynamo gives 500-600 mA. This is a current source, so You don't need to care about voltage - when the red led gets 20mA it will have 2V (leds are current driven).

I have 13 noname clear diodes - they work 2 years without problems - I keep the light always on (hub dynamo without switch ;-)).


UPwoodsguy (author)kptBurek2009-10-30


Doing a little bit of math, the 14 leds wired in parellel will just be enough to keep the current to each led around 20mA. It might have been better to have 15, but 14 will work.

UPwoodsguy (author)UPwoodsguy2009-10-30

Ooops, I meant I will wire the LEDs in parellel.

chadeau (author)2009-09-07

kmossman means wheatstone needs balanc as a parralel battery sys does,or output will overload/overheat 1 branch of bridge ? I say mebbe use production rectifier...

Dr.Bill (author)2009-02-09

you already have a wheetstone bridge why not make it fully buffered with resistors and caps in parallel with the diodes?

kptBurek (author)Dr.Bill2009-02-10

I don't understand - what do You mean with wheatstone bridge? What would it bring here?

welder2000 (author)2009-02-07

I recently bought 2 mr16 - 2pin leds from for a pair of bike lights. I bought some simple housings from JC Whitney for $26.00. I also bought a red strobing 4 led light for a tail light. This is all powered by a 12volt rechargable screw gun battery. It will run all lights for about 2 1/2 hrs. before noticing a drop in light. All said and done, the light system cost me about $140.00 and works as well, or better than, any I have seen at my local bike shop at any price. With a little for thought and some good ole American ingenuity you can save some serious money and have fun doing it. Now I have to ask myself, "Should I get rid of the battery and try the dynamo?"

kptBurek (author)welder20002009-02-08

It depends how often do You need to ride at night. I use lights every day on my return from work, so the dynamo is perfect for me - I don't have to remember to charge it, take it with me etc. Batteries are ok, when You don't need to charge too often and wan to share the system between more bikes. My costs were 30$ max for parts, I think. Lately I bought a front wheel with hub-dynamo for next 40$.

kptBurek (author)2009-01-02

these form an unipolar capacitor for increasing efficiency in 5-15km/h range.

kptBurek (author)2009-01-02

Diodes are current driven and for supplied current they keep the voltage according to their characteristic. When the white power led gets its 500mA of current, then the voltage on it is circa 3.5V and that is why the 4V cap is enough. When You disconnect the led then You're right - 4V can be too little...

amaze1 (author)2008-11-24

Great work. I like dynamo powered lights, get rid of all those batteries !

TopCatTC (author)2008-11-20

Yep thats the one. We here in the UK call them Dymano's. Elsewhere (US) call them Generators or such. I was toying with this kinda idea for a while. I raked out an old aluminium torch and stuck MR16 bulb in it and hooked it all up to a 12V Cordless drill battery ..... WHOOSH I went blind for a few minutes :-) This failed when I dropped the light and the bulb wouldn't work? In the end I found that the light had melted some washer inside and seald everything together? Back to the drawingboard. I am now looking at a lovely pair of Salt N Pepper pots in Asda £3. but I would need to use one of those smaller bulbs. These S&P; pots look nice and neat for a light project. Will upload a picture later.

Aerospaced (author)2008-11-20

When you say dynamo, are you referring to the old style friction generator? the kind that rides along the tire and is held in place by a spring loaded bracket?

kptBurek (author)Aerospaced2008-11-20

Yes, I use the bottle-type dynamo, which runs on the side of the tire. You can also use the hub-generator (which is unfortunately much more expensive version).

TopCatTC (author)2008-11-19

Neat. I recently bought a dynamo for my bike and cant seem to get it work right? I may try out you Instructable, If I can find all the parts.

About This Instructable




Add instructable to: