Introduction: Efficient LED Bike Light System

Picture of Efficient LED Bike Light System

This is the most efficient method of lighting your entire bike.

What you see in the photograph is only 8 LEDs that run for hours on 2 AA batteries (excluding the red tail light, which is separate).

Say goodbye to cold cathodes and huge strings of many LEDs: this method uses single LEDs to illuminate entire "neon tubes." Here I also make use of the simple features of my bike - reflective surfaces that make the best use of single LEDs by reflecting the light in all directions, illuminating the bike and increasing visibility on the road.

One LED can go a long way; why not use them all that way and create a setup that shows off the most light for the smallest amount of LEDs.

This Instructable can be used more as a guide than exact instructions. I will show you how I wired LEDs and plastic tubing to get a glow stick effect, underglow, and more.

Step 1: Get the Supplies

Picture of Get the Supplies

You need a cheap source of LEDs and some polyethylene tubing, which can be found at hardware stores.

I highly recommend Best Hong Kong as your source of LEDs. The shipping is surprisilgy cheap, and is worth waiting a few weeks for. Mine usually come in just a couple weeks. They sell loose LEDs of different sizes, colors, intensities, etc.

What you need, specifically:

- 5mm, high-intensity LEDs. Choose your colors and intensities, but make sure they can operate at 3 volts. At Best Hong Kong, each LED has its own description that tells you its operating voltage range. Make sure 3v is within this range.

- Polyethylene tubing, 5/16" inner diameter. Make sure this is high density polyethylene (HDPE), and is in its natural color (semi-opaque). I got mine from a friend, but you can look for it at hardware stores like Lowe's. See this example of what the tubing looks like.

- Electrical wire. I won't get into gauge, but a good thickness to use is what you might find on the inside of a keyboard or USB wire. I have in fact used these to wire some of the LEDs on my bike. When you get a keyboard that no longer works, cut the wire off, and carefully strip the insulation off till you can get the 4 multi-colored wires that are inside.

- Electrical tape. Use the good, expensive 3M brand, as it sticks well and doesn't seem to come off even after hundreds of miles and rainy weather. By "expensive," I mean around 3 bucks. So from a broader perspective, it's really cheap.

- Packaging tape. Again, use an "expensive" kind that will stick well and not get torn up. I only use this to help keep the plastic tubing stuck to the bike; it is not required.

- Hot glue & glue gun. You will definitely want this too. I use cool melt, so I don't accidentally melt some plastic part or tape.

- Soldering iron and electrical solder. I use a very cheap iron, the tip of which is almost completely eaten down and needs replacement. Still, it works fine.

- Altoids tin. Of course, everything is made with Altoids tins! This will be the housing for the batteries and switch.

- Springs for two AA batteries. I suggest tearing apart an unwanted device that uses 2 or more AA batteries. Take the springs out to use in the Altoids tin.

- Switch. Some kind of electrical switch; whatever you prefer. Just something to turn the lights on and off easily that you can solder in-line with one of the wires.

That's all that I can think of. You don't have to make your system just like mine; like I said, this is more of a guide than exact instructions. Be creative and come up with whatever works best for you.

Step 2: Altoids Tin Setup

Picture of Altoids Tin Setup

Set up your Altoids tin so it holds 2 AA batteries, a switch, and a connector (I used a Deans connector).

I mounted the tin to my bike by screwing a bike reflector mount into the back of the tin. It holds the tin just like it would hold a normal reflector, and provides easy access to the switch during riding.

Step 3: Get the LEDs

Picture of Get the LEDs

Use LEDs that can operate at 3.0 volts. The max voltage should be no less than 3 volts and no more than 3.4 volts for best results. You will be running them on 3 volts straight, with no resistors or other extra components (unless you want to take this a step further).

Step 4: Neon Tubes!

Picture of Neon Tubes!

This is the difficult part but is the most important.

Some use cold cathode, some use a series of MANY LEDS to get the desired effect. However, I use only 1 LED per tube.

Insert a 5mm LED into one end of the HDPE tubing, and hot glue it securely in place. If the LED fits loosely into the tube, make sure you glue it as straight as possible so it shines straight through the tube and not off to the side.

Un-bending the tube is difficult. You will need as straight a tube as possible, in order for the light to shine all the way through and light up the tube.

Some suggestions for straightening the tubes are:

1) The surface on your bike on which you will be attaching the glow tube must be perfectly straight.
2) Glue the tube to your bike using hot glue or epoxy, and then tape it in place with clear packaging tape to keep it from popping up - it will try to become bent again and may break loose from the glue.
3) Keep the tape on for extra reinforcement. Make sure you use high-quality, clear packaging tape as it will stay on for a long time.

Solder the LEDs to color-coded wires (remember, LEDs are polarity-sensitive, and positive and negative sides must be matched).

I will get into more detail on wiring in the next steps. See the pictures here of my glow tubes:

Step 5: Wiring the LEDs

Picture of Wiring the LEDs

Use color coded wires so you don't lose track of positive (+) and negative (-) terminals. The negative terminal on an LED is the wire closest to the end on which the lip is flattened.

Use good-quality, weatherproof electrical tape to secure the wires to your bike. Black tape works great for me because my bike is nearly black.

When you get to the moving part - the handlebars - you will need to make a loop of wire across the moving area so the handlebars can be moved freely.

Make sure all the wires from different lights come together into one main pair of wires, which will come up the stem and connect to the Altoids tin.

Step 6: Adding Other LEDs

Picture of Adding Other LEDs

Add LEDs anywhere else you like. I have a combination of glow sticks and bare LEDs on my bike.

The axles in my wheels are a shiny, un-painted metal, so directing LEDs onto these makes them reflect the light in all directions.

I also added 2 blue LEDs under the bike to shine directly on the ground.

The red rear light is a store-bought bike light.

My spedometer also has a light so I can see how fast I'm going at night. The speedometer light is rigged on some stiff wire to allow for it to be bent into the right position.

Be creative, and light your bike however you prefer.

Step 7: Finished!

Picture of Finished!

You're now finished lighting your bike!

Check your system to make sure all the lights are lighting up correctly.

Make sure that:

1) the polarity is always correct
2) there are no short circuits or exposed wire
3) everything is soldered in place for solid connections
4) all the LEDs MUST be wired parallel, not in a series (wiring in series decreases voltage to each LED)

Now, go get a cheap tail light fixture and a powerful headlight and you're set!

Thanks for viewing my Instructable!

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chicken12175 (author)2010-06-30

any ideas of how to attach the altoids tin to the bike

check out steps 9-10 on my instructable:

waldoctg (author)2009-10-20


Great tutorial! But can you explain what the deans connector is for? And maybe even put up some better pics (just for the deans connector)?


dag_29307 (author)waldoctg2012-01-12

I could be wrong but I believe the connector is so you can disconnect the "Power supply" box from the light wiring. If I am incorrect please correct me.

chadeau (author)waldoctg2011-06-25

Isn't a Deans the same as what GM refers to as a 'weatherpack' connector?

239hobbies (author)2011-05-14

what angle leds are you using. i tried high intesisty 40 degree angle and it wont work. and suggestions?

dyrkpw (author)2010-03-07

hi, excuse me for my bad english.
How many mcd have the leds did you use for?

hahaa what an english!

Underwater Chef (author)2011-03-01

Very Cool!

asdfghqwerty (author)2010-12-04

hey how you powered 8 Leds on 2 AA bateries

Wire them in parallel?

2AA=3V means you can power 3V (or lower)LEDs

Just that the battery won't last that long

Tommyhzy (author)2010-04-17

Thanks! You helped me improve my night riding experience!

THE_GEEK2007 (author)Tommyhzy2010-04-25

Whoa how did you light the bike tire like that in the second picture?

Tommyhzy (author)THE_GEEK20072010-04-29

 In the first picture, you can see the individual LEDs attached to the front wheel.

In the second picture, I just turned the wheel...    :)

THE_GEEK2007 (author)Tommyhzy2010-04-29

How did you run the wire to the bike tire without it being twisted when you ride the bike?

knektek (author)THE_GEEK20072010-07-31

You don't. The power source and the LEDs are mounted inbetween the spokes so you dont have to do alot of wiring.

Tommyhzy (author)knektek2010-08-02

Yes I have a bettery pack between the wheels and a separate battery pack on the frame.

hoppe_groda (author)2010-07-31

Can i use a PVC tube?
Or does it have to be HDPE?

airplane-boy (author)2009-10-16

how many???

youareinelysium (author)2009-09-22

I used the "neon" tubing part for my Burning Man bike this year. It worked amazingly well, and was definitely a unique style there. I was able to find HDPE at Home Depot in the refrigerator and plumbing section and actually on Amazon (Small Parts, Inc store) for $3 for 25 feet. I used the 1/4" inner diameter tubing and found that if you melt the end with a lighter and press the tube perpendicularly against a flat surface it makes a perfect tight socket for a 5mm LED to fit into and helps to keep the light straight down the tube. Also having a different color of LED at each end of the tube creates a really cool color transition effect, especially blue and red! Narrow angle LEDs at 15-20 degrees worked the best. If using a single LED per tube, putting a cap of something reflective like aluminum foil on the other end fills the darker end of the tube with more light. Thanks so much for the great instructable!

afatflatcat (author)2009-08-26

Just going to be quick here... I met my girlfriend probably because my bike. Thank you!

achollowell (author)2009-08-22

good job been looking for something like this for my Trek

C7mb (author)2009-05-24

I bought the tubing but it didnt say if it was High Density. I am straightening it out but the light wont shine all the way through the tube...

catman529 (author)C7mb2009-06-03

Keep in mind that the tubing should be completely straight (like a ruler) for the light to go through. Also, make sure the LED is aimed straight through the middle of the tube. If the tube is semi-opaque (about 50% between white and clear) then it should work fine. Test it out in a completely dark room to see how much it actually glows.

C7mb (author)catman5292009-06-03

I tried to straighten it but it still curves... Im using 2 LEDs but its not as bright....

catman529 (author)C7mb2009-06-04

The surface on your bike to which you are attaching the tube must me straight. Tape down the tube firmly with clear tape. Make sure it's taped as tightly as possible, so the tube is held straight against your bike. Use one 5mm high-intensity LED and glue it into one of the openings so it points straight through the tube.

C7mb (author)catman5292009-06-04

Oh ok. Thats how it is now. I may just build a strip if I have time...

reusesave (author)2009-05-24

this is cool thank for putting this up

catman529 (author)2009-05-22


PyroMonger (author)2009-05-21

just finished puttin a front wheel neon on my bike forks and i put one on the rear wheel yesterday and took it for a test ride...its sweet and i love the looks i get when i ride past upgrade will be to add a horn and sound system..ive already got headlights...great ible - 5/5

mg0930mg (author)2009-05-16

Cool! I'll be building off of this idea soon. :)

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