Thursday, October 25, 2012

A brief hiatus and the generosity of strangers

I'm feeling mildly sheepish about the dearth of posts here over the last few months.  After the initial flurry of interest about the Nº58A I ran into some technical issues with the prototype that took a couple of months and several rebuilds to solve.  I got a working version on my bike at the end of July, took it for one night ride and then went on vacation for a month.  I've had it out a few times since, although my night rides are few and far between these days.  So far, so good.  The size is appealing and while pretty heavy, it seems to be surviving mounted on a Schmidt 4 mm wire bracket over the fork crown without pitching forward:

I also spent a long time designing an elegant two-piece sheet metal bracket for a front-rack hanging version.  I was very pleased with the result, but then got a quote for the tooling costs to produce said bracket and my enthusiasm was quashed.

Nº58B hanging bracket design
Further dampening my enthusiasm is the fact that I'm still not convinced that a production run of Nº58As is worthwhile without a cutoff reflector that produces a shaped beam. I know a lot of speciality bike lights, especially the infamous MagicShine series of lamps, have wide, symmetrical flashlight-like beams, but aficionados (to which I aim to appeal) tend to overwhelmingly favor a shaped beam that directs the light down and ahead, onto the road.  Unfortunately, there is no known off-the-shelf solution, which leads down the increasingly unfeasible road to custom reflector design and fabrication.  If you feel strongly either way about what kind of reflector you'd like to see in the Nº58A, please weigh in with your comments.

Also, a nice headlight deserves a matching taillight, which I've also spent a good deal of time designing. Unfortunately, prototyping a plastic lens is not as affordable or facile as CNC machining aluminium. I've been frustrated by the cost to get a red-tinted lens prototype fabricated for a matching taillight. Even 3D-printing methods approach the cost of the entire Nº58A prototype to get a single lens with sufficient detail and acceptable colouring, transparency and finish.  And, of course, the taillight has an elegant but unaffordable formed sheet metal bracket:

JOS FU-inspired taillight design

On top off all that, my development budget is spent for now.  And finally,  while waiting for the headlamp prototype to arrive, I completely immersed myself in another, unrelated electronics project.

That said, I do intend to push forward when money and time allow, although perhaps at a more considered rate than I had first hoped.

In lighter news, a generous reader from the UK (thanks Andy!) offered me a couple of Sturmey Archer GH6s he found whilst cleaning his garage.  They took a circuitous route from the UK to Toronto to avoid prohibitive international shipping charges and I finally picked them up from my rusty-bicycle-hub mule yesterday:

One's an '82 and the other's a '51.  They now await lots of tinfoil elbow grease.  Might be time to build a new bike around an old Dynohub!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Nº58A Glamour Shots

Reception to my first post about the Nº58A front lamp prototype has been great, especially after Chris@Velo_Orange tweeted about it. While waiting for a proper copper heat sink to arrive (and for quotes for a front rack hanging version) I got a new camera that takes nicer photos than my point and shoot. In an effort to learn how it works, I took a series of shots of the Nº58A prototype mounted on my orange bike.  The full set is on Flickr.

Friday, June 15, 2012

BICI LUX now on Twitter

I've never been much of a Twitter user, evidenced by the sparse tweets on my music-related account.  However, Chris was nice enough to link to the Nº58A prototype in the Velo Orange Twitter feed yesterday, which got the attention of a bunch of folks who probably otherwise wouldn't wind up on such an obscure and esoteric corner of the internet. This got me thinking that it was about time to set up an account for Bici Lux.  Tweets will likely be few and far between, but I'll probably link to the occasional notable Ebay auction and may tweet out the minutia of designing, engineering and prototyping.  So, follow me if you like. It might encourage me to tweet more.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Nº58A bicycle light: first prototype

After an agonizing three month wait (quality budget machinists are busy machinists and never send anything you greatly anticipate through regular mail from Australia to Canada), the parts for the first Nº58A prototype arrived.  It was back in February that I first posted about designing a new classically styled bicycle headlight and the prototype was ordered in March.

While I was waiting, I designed and ordered the PCBs for the LED board (with low loss FET rectifier) and stand light board. When they arrived I assembled and tested them. The circuit is very similar to the dynamo standlight I designed for the Sturmey Archer headlamp LED upgrade.  It took me a while to find the time to solder the LED to the heat sink, connect the LED and stand light boards and assemble the whole thing into the housing. After fawning over its shininess for a few days, I took a few photos with my lousy point and shoot:


Second hole is for a taillight connection

Right off the bat, there were a couple of problems. The first was that the machinist's supplier substituted brass for the C101/C110 pure copper that was ordered for the heat sink   This is a pretty sloppy and annoying transgression for which I was assured the supplier was sufficiently chastised (though it would've been nice if the operator had noticed that he was working with brass when pure copper was specified).  Brass is fine for soldering LEDs to but its thermal properties make it unacceptable as an efficient heat sink.  Consequently, it took a lot longer to solder the LED as brass isn't nearly as good a conductor of heat as pure copper.  For the prototype it should be fine, but I'll need to make sure the heat sink is copper for the next revision.

The second problem is that a slight widening at the opening of the lamp body that was specified in the CAD files wasn't machined.  Due to confusion about the female threading it was omitted on the final drawings by mistake and I didn't notice. This widening was to accomodate an o-ring for weather-proofing and without it the o-ring doesn't fit.  Again, the next revision will need to have this step cut for the o-ring.

I've had several people suggest making a hanging version that can be mounted on a front rack. This, which will likely be christened the Nº58B, is in the works.  In the meantime, the current version is designed to be mounted over the fork crown. Its weight dictates that a heavy duty bracket be used, something like the 4 mm wire bracket offered by Schmidt.  Using this bracket, I mounted it on one of my bikes (enjoy the reflections of my living room):

LED needs centring in reflector

Full set is available on Flickr.

Overall, I'm quite pleased with the results. Everything fits together as it should, with the exception of the bezel's o-ring.  I fretted about the location of the switch, but I don't think it's an unacceptable interruption to the lamp's shape.  I might try a full switch boot instead of the half boot pictured or perhaps a switch with a shorter actuator.

With a few modifications, this could be ready for a production run if there's enough interest.  Before that, I'd like to get the front rack hanging version made and log some serious hours to flush out any design flaws. An asymmetrical version would be nice as the round, flashlight-like beam of the current reflector certainly won't meet the StVZO rules for bicycle lighting.  However, for small volume production it seems unlikely that a custom engineered asymmetrical reflector with cutoff will be viable.

Beam shots? Not yet. I personally don't find them very informative, so they are a lower priority. Plus, the LED tested out OK after assembling the lamp, but a few days later it was dead, so I need to replace it which requires waiting for a revised heat sink to get machined. Hopefully this was just an unlucky failure due to the excessive heat required to solder it to the brass heat sink and not because of a systemic design problem.  Only testing on the bike will tell...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A new look for Bicycle Lighting

Just a quick note to say that it was time for a little blog layout upgrade to something a little more... contemporary.  My HTML days are long behind me and I don't even know what the web runs on nowadays so I had to rely on the fine skills of a friend who wishes to remain anonymous. My thanks to you, whoever you are.

Vintage lighting aficionados will recognize the logo as the armature faceplate of my favorite hub dynamo of all time, the Sturmey Archer GH6 Dynohub.

Sorry Windows users, without Helvetica Neue Light you're really missing out.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

JOS, Radios, Luxor Ebay bonanza

I like vintage French bicycle lights. So much so, that one of my saved searches on Ebay is '(luxor, radios, soubitez, JOS)' in the Vintages Parts & Accessories category. Today, this search has yielded an unusual bonanza of beautiful, often new-old-stock (NOS) items.  I don't know anything about the vintage French bicycle accessory market, but there seem to be a few French Ebay sellers that frequently list some highly desirable lights. I assume these guys pick them up for a song and then sell the choice ones for a small fortune (JOS lamps can easily fetch several hundred dollars). I don't know where this seemingly endless supply of NOS JOS/Luxor/Radios lamps is sourced from, but I'm mildly suspicious that it is some kind of racket where supply is tightly controlled to drive up prices.  The frequency of NOS JOS 431 headlamp and FU tail lamp listings borders on conspiratory.

While most of these lights are way out of my budget, I do admire the often beautiful photography and feel that the images have an important archival quality that exceeds that of the two sites I know of that document vintage French lamps.  High quality Ebay listing photos are inherently ephemeral, so I wanted to provide a more permanent home for some of the really nice lamps that have turned up on Ebay France in the last few weeks. I won't link to the auctions on Ebay, as they themselves are eventually lost in the ether.  The main sellers whose images I'm using are 1649philippe and rocvale (the latter of which has a cool site and blog).  Should they have a problem with it, I encourage them to contact me (email at the bottom of the page), although this post will most likely work in some small way to their advantage by furthering the fetishization of their wares!  Here they are:

JOS 431C.  This is the holy grail for restorers of Alex Singer touring/randonneuring bicycles.  These diminutive headlights, usually mounted on the front fender/mudguard, can command anywhere from $200-400!  This one is NOS, although with a lot of noticeable shop wear:

JOS FU and FUA taillights. The charming taillight with the slightly less charming name, it is often paired with the 431 headlight.  Typically, the FU/As are mounted on a braze-on on the left chain stay, like this and this.  Prices are similarly ridiculous ($100-$400+):



RADIOS Nº16 headlamp. This is a slightly smaller version of the RADIOS Nº18. A relative bargain at $75-$200:

RADIOS taillights.  I don't know much about them, but they are pretty spectacular:

RADIOS droplet fender-mounted taillight

RADIOS taillight with bracket for fender mounting

Finally, no sonnet to French lights would be complete without mention of my personal favorite, the Luxor series.  The Ebay listings are a little light right now, but here is a really nice example of the 'Le Paon' fender-mounted taillight:

I'm a personal fan of the 'Le Martele' hammered Luxor lights, and even own a set, which I've been busy trying to upgrade with LEDs.  Now I just need to find a bike to put them on...

Monday, April 30, 2012

A personal masterpiece: Raleigh Sprite 3-speed conversion with retro lights!

This is it, my most finicky and obsessive bike project thus far: a 3-speed conversion of a 1980s Raleigh Sprite with LED-equipped vintage lampset. My Motobecane city bike project was considerably higher end, but it wasn't done by my hands and, crucially, doesn't have a lighting system.  It's been a full year in the making (I ordered the wheelset on April 27, 2011), but most of the time was spent developing the LED lighting system.  First, a bit of history:

Canadian-made Raleigh Sprites are quite a common sight on the streets of Toronto. The most popular colour seems to be black, but there are gorgeous candy apple red ones that I see quite often as well.  The ladies Sprite had a true double-toptube Mixte frameset, very elegant and in contrast to the single sloping toptube of earlier Raleigh ladies models.  The original configuration of the 1980s Sprites was a 5-speed complete with matching fenders and a classic Pletscher CS rack.  This particular Sprite was my mom's, purchased sometime in the early-mid 1980s.  She didn't ride it much and it spent most of its life in the musty basement of an old stone shed.  It had some regular use sometime in the late-nineties to early-naughts by a family friend, who treated it to its only tune up.  Sometime in the last decade the front wheel got smushed and it became officially derelict.  I've had my eye on it for a couple of years as a new bike to build up for my wife.

Last spring, I pulled it out of the damp basement, stripped it of its old wheels, handlebars, brake levers, pedals and saddle, gave the frame a good cleaning and polished up the Shimano Tourney brakeset, SR Stem and Silstar crank arms with Simichrome.  I then set to work with converting it to a 3-speed.  I'm particularly fond of the Raleigh Superbe, and it is the Superbe's 3-speed/Dynohub combination that served as my inspiration for upgrading this Sprite.

First, I ordered a wheel set from Longleaf Bicycles, who provide a very high quality and inexpensive custom wheel building service.  A Sturmey Archer SRF3 three-speed hub and Sanyo H27 dynamo hub are laced to Velo Orange 36 hole PBP rims.  The only problem is that the original wheels were 27", causing a problem with brake reach for the handsome Shimano Tourney callipers on the rear wheel; they barely had enough reach with the original wheel diameter.  Not wanting to have to purchase new longer reach brakes, I had my first part CNC-machined: a drop bolt to lower the rear brake so that its arms have enough reach:

Brake drop bolt for mixte frame

It works nearly perfectly and is very discrete:

Inconspicuous drop bolt

The only problem is that it takes up a bit of space that the fender could have used, resulting in a really tight fit. A future revision would have beveled the edge that comes into contact with the fender.

With the brake reach problem sorted, I went about setting up the handlebars (VO Tourist) with the 3-speed trigger shifter and brake levers. I tried the original levers but they didn't fit with the shifter. I had a pair of ridiculously expensive Paul Love Levers lying around from another project that fit perfectly:

3-speed trigger shifter with Paul Love Levers

The new Sturmey Archer 3-speed hubs feel and shift much better than the originals. I was able to run the shifter cables using the original bosses and did away with the plastic cover that comes with the new hubs:

The last thing to do was set up the lights. After developing a standlight circuit, I had to figure out how to mount a LED on a heat sink and fit it all in the housing of an original Sturmey Archer headlamp and develop a LED bulb for the taillight.  I discovered that the original Raleigh lamp bracket didn't work with the SR stem, so had a new longer bracket fabricated and chromed:

I spent an evening mounting the lights and wiring them up.  The matching taillight for the Sturmey Archer headlight was stolen, so I had to settle for a vintage Luxor taillight, which polished up to a near chrome-like finish.  It's a surprisingly good looking match considering the Luxor is meant for a different era and style of cycling.  In anticipation of using an original Sturmey Archer taillight, I made a wedge-based LED bulb, complete with copper heat sink.  However, I decided to save that set for another project. The Luxor uses a threaded bulb, so I just made up an E10 copper-topped LED bulb with a red Cree XP-E.  The XP-E, driven at ~500mA from the dynamo, is extremely bright, easily rivalling the current batch of boutique super bright battery taillights.

Luxor tailight takes an LED E10 threaded bulb

Here are a few more photos. The complete set is on Flickr.

Now it's just a matter of putting some miles on the bike (ideally at night!) to see what comes loose and to work out any gremlins in the lighting system.  Inevitably, there will be some...