Instructables

Pedal Powered EL Wire Bike

Featured
Picture of Pedal Powered EL Wire Bike
IMAG0027.jpg
This is a relatively simple instructable that uses advanced EL wire techniques. If you've never worked with EL wire, check out some of the other great EL wire instructables first. You'll need to know how to solder and connect it before doing this project.

Since the whole point of this instructable is using repurposed parts, it won't be exactly step by step. Instead I'll guide you through finding and choosing parts, and testing them. Then you can apply it to your project as necessary.

EL wire is a copper wire covered with a phosphorescent coating. 2 extremely thin copper wires are wrapped loosely around this coated copper wire, and the whole thing is covered in plastic. When AC (and only AC) current at about 90-130 volts is passed through the outside and inside wires, it excites the phosphor, and the wire glows like a neon tube. It's very, very cool stuff.

Generally, you need a driver to convert low voltage DC battery power in high voltage AC power. These inverters are available online, but there are a few problems:

1. They break. Quite often.
2. They aren't expensive, but they aren't cheap either.
3. You can pretty much only get them online.
4. They require batteries.

I wanted to put EL wire all over my bike for Burning Man this year, but I wanted to light it with pedal power. No worrying about charging or hauling batteries, just pure muscle power. I had an old stepper motor lying around and I remembered that they ONLY produce AC current. Usually you have to rectify it to DC to use it. But I needed AC! Could it be possible to hook an old stepper motor up to light EL wire with no driver all? The answer, it turned out, is yes, and not only that, it fades on and off with speed, and can even change color (slightly) as the frequency of the AC signal changes. SCORE!

Here's a video of the final project in action. This is before I got the wheels lighting up too. In the first few seconds of riding, you can see the color shift from Green to Blue, because of the change in frequency as I speed up. Also, I should warn you that this is on my swing bike, which has two pivots, so the video may be confusing if you've never seen a swing bike in the day-time:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0n2m4cs3lx0


Now, on to the disclaimers:
First, this instructable deals with electricity. Be sure you know what you are doing. I gave myself a few nasty, though not life-threatening, shocks along the way.

Second, sending unregulated power through EL wire could short it or shorten its useful lifetime. It's importand to size the output of your generator at speed to your transformer so you don't damage the EL wire.

 
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up
PLdesign7 months ago
Im looking to use EL wire for a light up skateboard project, what power source/ inverter would I need to use? thanks
lucylou8541 year ago
It looks too complicated for me but I like the way it looks. It would be great to have something solar powered so no electricity and a lot of wire wouldn't have to be used. Making bicycles more safe for riders is great! Perhaps someone will come up with that idea for bicycles made in the USA.
mgingerich2 years ago
In my experience, the best place to find stepper motors is in an electric typewriter. They usually have at least 3 good ones!
thepelton2 years ago
I love it!
So could you use a switcher, and how?
skrubol3 years ago
Most cell phone chargers are switch mode power supplies. They don't have a big transformer. You can usually tell which type it is by the weight. If it feels like it's practically empty, it's a switcher. If it feels like it's filled with iron, it's a linear (transformer.)

Also, this type of transformer is very lossy at high frequencies. HF transformers (like those in switchers) are usually powdered ferrite material cores that don't have the eddy losses that laminated cores have at high frequencies.
odiab skrubol3 years ago
So where could I possibly find a linear transformer these days? Or would a switcher work in this case?
Wall bugs have transformers. Wall bugs are the square AC-DC converters that power just about everything that's too small or too cheap to fix. So you probably have a few of them rattling around in the kitchen junk drawer. They are generally square, about 3" on a side. And black. the AC prongs stick out one side and a skinny wire comes out the other side to plug into your whatnot.

The switch mode power supply that is commonly supplied with cell phones these days is less likely to be square, and like Mr Skrubol said, they don't weigh as much as the traditional wall bug.
hey, i was watching your video and i couldn't help but notice that when you turn your rear wheels turn to. do you have a video of you riding that in the light???? and how does it effect the ride?

That's why he said in his description "Also, I should warn you that this is on my swing bike, which has two pivots, so the video may be confusing if you've never seen a swing bike in the day-time" ;)
Here a video which shows a Swing-Bike at day:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktyRiTv9qsI
you should make a light cycle from tron
Maybe a not so bright question, but could the steppermotor be replaced with a contactless dynamo and rectifier?
I am thinking about a setup like in the instructable of vbnicolau

http://www.instructables.com/id/Contactless-dynamo-bike-wheel-lights/
I was wondering the same thing, anyone have any thoughts on this? I really want to use this to illuminate the bike rims, so I want to include everything inside the rim essentially.
Inducktion3 years ago
just a thought; You could technically make this into a regulated supply. Though, granted, it would be a bit more complicated you would run close to 0% chance of burning out your EL wire...and plus, it'd probably be a bit lighter, too.

...If you want help explaining how to do this, you can just message me and I'll try and explain it as best as I can. :)
srini2763 years ago
just like how the transformer is being used the other way around to make high voltage electricity, is it possible to use the charger chipboard to convert DC current to AC current?
zack2473 years ago
in theory, could the transformer used backwards power the fluorescent tubes in a LCD monitor? (with a 5v input, not the stepper motor)
Excellent instructable, and I'll be trying to do the same for the playa this year so I'll hopefully see you out there.

Question: Are there any AMP concerns? I was looking around a local used electronics store, and the stepper motors they have range in amperage. Wasn't sure if there was any concern with over-amping the EL like there is with over-voltage.
samsmith17 (author)  adrielginsburg3 years ago
That's a great question, that I don't really know the answer to. I'm not very good with the theory of electronics, I just like to tinker with the premises I know and see if they work. Maybe someone else here knows?

I do know that EL wire itself takes next to nothing current-wise. I read something like 50mA per 10' or something, but it wasn't a reliable source, so who knows. But the point is you don't need a very powerful generator, and the amperage drops as the voltage increases in the transformer, so you can't be getting a lot of power in there. Also, this seems right to me, although I'm not sure, that a generator only produces current relative to it's load? The bigger the load, the harder it is to spin, the harder it is to spin, the more amps its producing. So since the EL wire is providing the only load, it is providing the magnetic resistance to the generator, so the output of generator is exactly equal the current drawn by the EL wire and no more. Can anyone back me up on this?
zack2473 years ago
this helps me because i never knew you could use transformers in reverse!
I might not do this with EL wire, but i do have plenty leds im going to use this on once the snow melts
Tater Zoid3 years ago
Great Instructable. I'll look for you on the Playa this year.
-Leif-3 years ago
you could put a battery powered led to each wheel, then it would look even better :D
El_AMPo3 years ago
Love the transformer passive step-up solution, clever!

For the overvoltage problem, make an upgrade from the rheostat putting clamping diodes in series on the stepper coils so that they clip the waveform over your desired voltage (1 diode = 0,7V)  not the best solution but dirty cheap and works.

http://img716.imageshack.us/i/clipper.png/


http://dar.ju.edu.jo/mansour/lab369/cont/35/default.htm

rikiardo933 years ago
very nice idea ;)
congrats
skaar3 years ago
from the days of analogue tv, there's something called an AGC, automatic gain control, just a transistor with a feedback loop, but it works fast. one kind of transistor would cause the voltage to increase though... i think, can't remember, like i say, old days stuff. so, use some scr's to do rough regulation and an agc to keep things stable.
pdub773 years ago
Excellent job! Very cool and renewable!
CameronSS3 years ago
Beautiful!

Suggestion: When you open this Instructable in the editor, there is a little filmstrip icon that allows you to embed videos. You can use the (old) embed code from YouTube to put the video directly in the first step so that it's easier to view.
foobear3 years ago
wow, that's beautiful
wsanriv3 years ago
Wow super nice!!
Also this totaly look Tron Alike. Great Job