Motorcycle Lighting Upgrade Ensures Other Drivers Know You’re There


[Pete Mills] recently bought himself a motorcycle, and as people are known to do, they start trying to scare him with gruesome stories of cycling accidents once they hear about his purchase. While he tries to shrug them off as people simply not minding their own business, something must have resonated with him, because he started tinkering with the bike’s taillight in order to ensure he was always seen by other drivers.

He swapped out his motorcycle’s incandescent taillight for a smart LED-based lamp that he constructed using perfboard. Not only does his new brake light feature ultra bright LEDs, but the onboard ATtiny85 rapidly flashes the lights each time he hits the brakes, making his presence impossible to miss. Before everyone starts with the claims of, “Flashing red lights are illegal!”, let’s all take a deep breath and read on.

We’ve seen these sorts of lights on the back of motorcycles for years, though being a careful guy, [Pete] wrote to the state of Michigan in order to ensure that his modifications won’t get him pulled over. He has yet to hear back, but in the meantime, he merely needs to start the bike with the brakes applied to trigger the ATtiny85 to run the lights in “normal mode.”

Continue reading to see a short demo video of his brake light mod in action.


52 thoughts on “Motorcycle Lighting Upgrade Ensures Other Drivers Know You’re There

  1. The CHMSL (middle tail lamp) on my SRT8 blinks for a full second when I hit the brakes on my car, and the hazards come on when I really wail on the brakes. I suspect he would be fine, so long as it doesn’t constantly blink.

    1. When eye-level brake lights started to be added to cars, they all blinked a few times then stayed on as you described. The idea was the blinking attracted attention.

      Somewhere along the way it stopped happening, I’ve no idea why.

      These days you might be better off arranging the LEDs into a Facebook ‘Like’ symbol to get noticed.

      1. @hackjack: good. If you find them disturbing they’re living up to their expected behavior. Nobody wants to piss you off, but it’s better to be annoyed by them than not to notice them at all. Nice idea, I might implement something similar on my bike.

  2. I’ve always thought it would be useful to flash the stop lamp in proportion to how hard the driver is braking.

    that is, slow flash before solid = easy brake
    fast flash before solid = hard braking

    then again… if everyone in front of you has flashing tail lights it may be a problem.

    1. I’ve thought about this and I think the best way to make other drivers aware of how much you’re braking is by varying the amount of LEDs that light up on the middle lamp, starting from the middle, like this:

      light Breaking: _____OOOO_____
      Medium breaking: __OOOOOOOO__
      Heavy breaking: OOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

      ( _ = LED off, O = LED on)

    2. While it’s a good idea, there are some flaws. The biggest of which is that if you have terrible brakes, you may have to slam on your brake just to slow down, and if you have amazingly responsive brakes, you may not be giving enough warning to the driver behind you with not so good brakes.

      1. Learning algorithm? Hardest braking from the last 5 drives is considered max braking. The real fun part would be if (no idea if it is or not..) the pedal is actually on a curve.

      2. Use the brake lever switch, as in this design, but use it to activate an accelerometer. Sense the deceleration and vary the intensity of the brake light with the force of deceleration. Just another idea but might be be plagued by false readings if not done carefully.

  3. I love doing LED conversions for these types of things.

    While most officers will not notice much less pull him over; this modification most likely is illegal. The certification stamp on the lamp assembly is basd upon that old fashioned filament lamp, and without that lamp the certification is null and void

  4. I would think you would be more likely to get run down with crazy bright lights flashing B-dazzling the drivers around you then using normal lights and being careful. It looks cool but my bet is this puts you at more risk. One bright flash would probably work better it would grab attention but not b-dazzle people, by the time their eyes got to it it would be a normal bike light.

      1. He probably a confused ricer who put ‘go faster’ stickers all over his Harley. There’s probably even an ‘R-Type’ sticker as well.

        That would explain the imperial threads and why things keep falling off it.

    1. i have gotten cars impounded for flashing red lights before … one even ticked at the speed of the hazards and on the back and still

      what you want is to put a high brightness red LED on the back and point it up at about 20* above 0 rifle … this will flash in the drivers eye if there to close without physically flashing the light … shutter covers work well to … worse case if someone is stupid and dickish enough to tailgate you on a bike just either pull off to the side or run the light … taking your butt off the seat and leaning a bit forward when stopped is also good habbet

      1. It does that to everyone. If you want to reply to someone’s post, it is better to click the Reply button so that it opens in a new tab. When you finish replying, close that tabe and you will be able to post like normal. It shouldn’t be necessary, but it works.

  5. LOL most vehicle are required to have flashing red lights on the rear, call hazard warning flashers.All this does is automates tapping the brake to make the lights flash. I really doubt anyone who sees this flash going to think modified light. Some States do have a requirement that tail lights be visible at a certain distance, that’s the first thing that came to my mind when I read the name of the post. Not even close to mimicking an emergency vehicle. In the event such equipped vehicle is subject to an annual inspection it would be a good idea to install the standard bulb and unhook the LED prior to inspection.

  6. I very much understand the motivation behind this hack; the modification seems effective but glare can be a real hazard, especially for older drivers. One thing that may be helpful would be to include additional LEDs that project a red patch of light behind the bike to give the illusion of the bike being car sized.

    We tend to see only what we expect to see. When looking for a car; we often look for the pair of headlights or taillights. I’ve noted that motorcyclists here in California ride side by side and I am sure that habit increases their visibility. To that end; a tail light that could somehow mimic the look of the backside of a car would be great.

    – Robot



  7. First, flashing brakelights are nothing new, if you don’t want to make your own, you can but one of these…

    Second, Legal? YMMV, check with yor states’ department of motor vehicles (or what ever your state calls it). I know they’re ok in my state, I don’t know about yours.

    Third, I’d bet there’d be more problem with it not being “DOT approved”.

    But, what do I know?

  8. Looking at the operation of your tail light… I would be annoyed by it. It’s already too damn bright on my computer monitor. I can’t imagine what it will look like at night as I drive behind you and you keep pumping the brake. So… I looked up the MI law. Only thing I can see about flashing brake lights is this:

    “A stop lamp or signal lamp shall not project a glaring or dazzling light.”

    So you’ll probably get a ticket…

  9. I’ve seen some buses with brake lights that do like 4 flashes at 10Hz before staying on constantly.

    I’ve thought about doing something similar for my bicycle, in which case traffic laws are unlikely to matter. Where I live traffic laws do apply to bikes, but most police officers won’t waste their time pulling over a bike. I have a bunch of blinking tail lights right now, and I don’t think anyone would question that they improve safety.visibility of the bike.

    Here’s what I want from a set of bike lights:
    -Bright enough to be seen in the day. Right now only one or two of my lights is bright enough
    -Mounted as high as possible. Most of my current lights are mounted close to hub level.
    -Large area of light. I’ve found that single isolated LEDs are not very visible, no matter how bright. It’s much better to have something with the surface area of a typical car brake light or head light if possible.
    -Removable rechargeable battery
    -Theft resistant and waterproof

    If I ever get around to making something, I’ll post it here for sure!

    1. I just saw a police motorcycle that does the 10hz flashing when the rider applies the brakes. Sure it’s a police motorcycle, but I don’t think this is necessarily a “police only” feature.

  10. I would like to see a comparison between the signal lights and the brake light. It’s very difficult to tell how bright that light is otherwise.

    The main reason I mention this is because I have investigated LED conversions for automotive lighting, and it seemed that it would take far too many/too large LEDs to put out the required amount of light in a wide pattern.

  11. As I ride every day of the year, when I need to slowdown fast, hence warn the driver behind me, I have the habit to pull the brake lever several times before really breaking.
    It’s quite effective when I arrive right in the middle of a traffic jam and does not require any modification.
    It’s a good practice too for not squeezing the brakes to much and risking a fall.

    1. I don’t ride every day but I did for a long time (15+ years). I ride about 6 months of the year now but I developed the same habit of a couple of warning squeezes just before hitting the brakes. It’s embedded in muscle memory and I do it every time. It’s a good habit to get into for sure.

  12. It’s a nice mod.

    As others have mentioned, might be illegal but even if it is, it’s questionable if you would get stopped for it.

    Couple notes though:
    The problem with these (and most likely why they are illegal) is they slightly delay the reaction of the following driver as there is a question of whether the flashing was intermittent braking or an attention getting prequel to full braking. Probably doesn’t make a difference in the real world unless being hit will come down to feet.

    One version of this that might be very effective and possibly entirely legal is to use xenon strobe flashes. In my state, they are used when two stop lights are close together but on different timing patterns. The first set you would encounter has the strobes to draw your attention to it (they go on when the light changes to red). Additionally, school buses are using them on the top of the vehicle to draw your attention to the vehicle and at least on me it works very well.

    One final nitpick, always start your bike holding the brake on. Neutral indicators and clutch systems do fail and sometimes only partially. Holding the brake on while starting is cheap insurance to avoid having the bike walk away and fall over or hit something/someone resulting in 100s or 1000s of damage.

  13. I see cars and trucks all the time with the flashing mod on the 3rd brake light, usually on Toyota vehicles. I think I vaguely remember that Toyota was adding this as an available option on several models.

  14. I’m surprised by all the whiner’s,It’s too bright,I would be annoyed,give me a break. The point of the light,is to wake up drivers,get their attention,why ?because these drivers have a nasty habit of running over motorcycles stopped at traffic lights.Buses have white strobes on their roof,why?to get your attention.I suggest a white strobe on motorcycles to increase visibility.

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