Bicycle Gets Turn Signals And Brake Lights For Added Safety

Traveling by bicycle can be a fun and exciting mode of transportation, and can also save a ton of money compared to driving a car. There are plenty of places around the world where a bicycle is the primary mode of transportation for a significant percentage of the population, but there are many more places that are designed entirely for cars with little thought given to anyone else. For anyone riding a bike, especially for people living in these car-dominated areas, additional safety measures like this LED array are often necessary.

The light array was created by [Estudio Roble] for traveling around his city. The design is based on the Adafruit Circuit Playground Express, which sits directly in the middle of the light fixture. Surrounding it is a diamond-shaped strip of LEDs within an additional ring. The light uses a bright blue color for normal driving, but is programmed to turn red when the accelerometer in the dev board detects braking. There are also integrated turn signals which operate similarly to motorcycle turn signals. The signal is sent wirelessly between the handlebar switch to the lights.

The device itself clips onto any backpack, and since the controller is wireless there are no wires to connect every time a rider gets on their bike. It’s quite an improvement over the complete lack of lighting on most bikes. If you’ve read this far, you need to check out this bicycle headlight which uses a projector to display information directly in the path of travel.

27 thoughts on “Bicycle Gets Turn Signals And Brake Lights For Added Safety

  1. Good idea but not visible from 270° like a stretched out arm as they teach you when you learn riding a bicycle in your youth.

    Next version should be a belt you wear: Right half and left half are 2 LED strips, your torso flashes on half a side to indicate a turn. Should be orange but that is just how turning lights are in my country. Red is associated with braking here only.

    Waterproof with a shrink tubing, perhaps ruggedize it even more with a clear PVC tube from mechanical stress.

    /my typical nitpicks but respect, cool project!

    1. While I understand the arm signal thing it never felt safe, like I’d lose my balance while signalling and braking or going round a corner. Maybe that’s a bike size and fit thing?

      If you’ve never ridden a bike imagine for a moment the only way to brake in a car was by pressing the pedal with your nose.

      1. Edit: thinking about it it must be a fit thing. When I ride there’s a lot of weight on my hands so moving one off the bars feels risky. I’d bet it feels fine on a Dutch bike where most of your weight is on your rear.

        1. sounds like your bike is too small and the bars to low. Then you may just also have some minor balance issues.

          Il like the concept behind the lights but as others have mentioned the angle of visibilty is some what limited. fitting Motorbike indicators would give a better “field of view” or is range of observation.

          1. In urban environments, leaving one handlebar is problematic for balance AND control reasons: you lose half your braking controls and have less torque to control the front wheel position. This all means that an unseen pothole or wayward vehicle are difficult to correct for.

            Also, most road bikes are configured in racerboy geometry: the saddle is higher than the handlebar post, which hinders agility. Even buying an “hybrid” only changes slightly the configuration, mostly to change the handlebar to mountain bike bars.
            To get out of that geometry you have to get those “city bikes”, which make for a more relaxed position but have wide tires and stupid gearing so are a lot less efficient to travel around on.

      2. In the Netherlands, kids usually take a “bike exam” when in primary school (about age 10), and by that age you ought to be able to ride one-handed.
        But we’re Dutch. I can tie my shoelace while riding a bike.

        1. Tying shoelaces while riding a bike, sounds like a joke. But believe me, I speak from experience, it is practical skill for some of us. If you ride a bike that has coaster brakes and have a loose shoelace, it is a matter of time before the lace wraps itself around the pedal. Which you’ll notice immediately since the lace tightens the shoe as it wrap itself around the pedal with each turn of the pedal. You cannot reverse the pedaling to loosen the lace, since it would stop the bike and you have a 50% chance of falling to the side where your foot is stuck to the pedal. So you keep on pedaling… but this has the disadvantage of tightening the lace even further, hurting your foot (hoping for the lace to break, which it never does), so you gradually slow down and hopefully you can stop safely without falling over to the side where your foot is tied to the pedal with the shoelace. Either way, laying on the ground, you still need to figure out how to untie yourself… So carrying a Swiss pocket knife isn’t such a bad idea, but it’s easier to push the ends of the laces into your shoe.

          So to make a long story short, always make sure your laces are tied correctly when riding a bike with coaster brakes OR make sure you know how to secure your laces whenever a lace start to get loose (just push them into the side of your shoe) while riding the bike. Although there is always the option, to stop, tie the lace and continue… but somehow that doesn’t feel like the most efficient option when you are in a rush.

          1. Yeah I’ve done that too, the ol’ ‘oh bother this could hurt’ thoughts as you try to fix the problem before it does…

            It should only happen once before you ‘fix’ the cause and make doubly sure the laces are well secured and not so frayed at the eyelet its about to snap on one side. If you can’t learn from the near misses…

          2. Best to get rid of shoe-strings altogether. You will never again suddenly take a step in place and feel that tug of oh here we go again. Such stone-and-leather age tech is still around today. I found a pair of Shimano shoes with Velcro straps at Goodwill for $5. I am never going back to ligation. 3 seconds on or off per shoe one handed.

          3. I stopped wearing laced shoes on a bike specifically because I was fed up of laces getting loose whilst I was pedalling and wrapping themselves around the pedals — or getting chewed up by the chain.

      3. it’s a real concern. don’t know about other places but here the state law says you have to have two hands on the handlebar, and you have to signal, and it even says (a practical law, whodda thunk!) that you can chose which of those two laws you want to follow.

        anecdotally, on my road bike (drop handlebars, light wheels), i have to be a lot more conservative when i’m one handed. but on my mountain bike (upright posture, very powerful brakes, heavy wheels that are huge gyroscopes) i have a lot of control even with just one hand. another thing, if i only have one hand, i’m a lot better off if it’s my right hand on the bars! when i have the left hand only, it feels very unstable. ymmv

        personally, i signal early so i’m not signalling at the same time i’m braking or turning.

        1. Ironically it’s the bent-left-arm-pointing-up to signal a right turn that drivers mostly seem to not understand – ironic since it was developed for drivers of the first cars, who could only signal with their left arm out the window. In most states it’s legal to point with either arm to signal on a bike, luckily, and easier for drivers to figure out (sadly I still end up behind other cyclists occasionally who don’t really get it and signal their left turns with a bent right arm, sigh).

          1. i used to do the bent-arm left signal, and to clarify, i started adding “pointing” to it. so for a right signal, my arm is straight out and my hand is a fist except for my index finger pointing right. and for a left signal, my arm is bent and it’s a fist except for my thumb pointing left.

            i stopped doing that once because i had a driver comment…seemed like a friendly comment, “hey i love your signal” but i started thinking about it too much and i wasn’t 100% sure it wasn’t a sarcastic comment because a fist in that position almost looks the same as “giving the finger”, and with black gloves maybe you couldn’t tell if the one finger is up or not.

            and that’s why i switched to, as you say, right arm for right turns. real no-brainer in hindsight.

          2. Perhaps they get it very well – they are just from a nation that drives on the correct side of the road? Those sort of automatic responses you teach yourself do get rather ingrained, and unlike sitting in the wrong side of the car there are no real prompts to remind you continuously this isn’t ‘home’ on a bicycle, except whatever traffic their might be.

      4. Likewise… I learned to ride pretty late in life, and never got to the point where I could confidently stick my arm out.

        Plus, it’s not like my arm flashes orange when I do stick it out. My solution was some LED motorcycle indicators, a 12V battery (which I have for a radio transceiver), a NE555, a N-channel MOSFET and some switches.

        I also added a piezo buzzer to the circuit so I knew when I had left the indicators on. (An idea inspired by the Honda motorcycles that Australia Post use.) This turns out to be better than a bell when around pedestrians (although I have one of those too as required by law).

        I figure using indicators, and keeping my hands on the handlebars is safer than sticking limbs out. The old way is the back-up if I have signal failure.

    2. I wonder if you could use one of those really basic tilt switch to turn the indicator strips down on automatically, so you can just just cycle normally and still glow like a neon sign, that may just make the drivers do a double take and actually pay attention to you (who am I kidding). As when indicating should be the only time while riding your upper arm is so outstretched in that axis.

  2. Blue is reserved for emergency services like ambulance, police, firemen, and thus not street legal.
    It should be red for normal driving, and bright red (or better, three bright red (triangle) ) for braking. Just like the car. Why invent a new code ?

  3. (Replying to “Yes I bike to work”)
    You present a lot of facts here that are not a fact (I don’t blame you, I blame American absence of Bike culture).

    -In urban environments, leaving one handlebar is problematic for balance AND control reasons < If you lose your balance, you are not a very skilled biker. I could bike with no hands on the bars age 7 (and I was very late to learn to ride a bike, only age 6)

    -you lose half your braking controls and have less torque to control the front wheel position. < When braking, your front brake does ⅔ of the work, so you leave your hand on that brake.

    – This all means that an unseen pothole or wayward vehicle are difficult to correct for <Just watch out for potholes. You can grab your handlebars within half a second if needed.

    – Also, most road bikes are configured in racerboy geometry: the saddle is higher than the handlebar post, which hinders agility. Even buying an “hybrid” only changes slightly the configuration, mostly to change the handlebar to mountain bike bars. < Very true

    – To get out of that geometry you have to get those “city bikes”, which make for a more relaxed position … <Very true. Also, their steering bar us usually more c-shaped than a bar, so you can easily steer it with one hand without losing control as you pull that one side toward you or push it away from you.

    – … but have wide tires and stupid gearing so are a lot less efficient to travel around on.< This is not a given. My normal bike has a 7 speed hub gear and i think 32mm wide tires, which is wider than a racing bike but far narrower than most bikes I've seen in the USA.

    The USA is really at loss with bicycling, as by many it's seen as either for kids, purely recreational or something those crazy delivery people do without any regards for rules or safety. I use my bike purely utilitarian, as it is the fastest, cheapest and most flexible way to get to the train station (3.5km each way).

    1. You seem to be under the impression that I have no idea how to handle or use a bike, or that I need coaching on that.

      The fact that you can get away with no hands on an empty, flat street has no bearing on anything. You are no more in control than a stupid motorist that has a cigarette in one hand and a coffee in the other. Yes, you will keep traveling in a straight line, and yes you could use your legs to affect some minimal course corrections, but you are an accident waiting to happen.

      Also, in an urban environment, you do not watch for obstacles, obstacles seek you. 2-4 ton obstacles at that. Or sneaky legged obstacles. In half a second, it’s too late and somebody gets hurt.

      Hand signals should be done with the left hand, which incidentally controls the front brake. This is because traffic passes you on the left.

      Last, but not least, 7 speeds is exactly what I mean by “stupid gearing”. Those are unusable on hilly terrain because to have a very low gear and a high gear that lets you go 30+kph, you have to deal with long steps or gaps in the ratios. And most cassettes have a pretty narrow range between low and high.

      I have 3 gears at the pedals and 8 in the back, this lets me modulate pedaling torque to stave off exhaustion AND tackle the 30% grades on my way. On long constant grades I can always find the right combination to manage my effort.

      1. Hi,

        Sorry, reading back my own post it came over as agressive. I didn’t mean that.

        It’s just that you take a lot of things as a given that are not, again in this post.

        I posted my ability to bike no-handed as a way of saying one-handed biking should be able to control your vehicle. Potholes (which you brought up) are usually stationary – and should be fixed!

        Also, I do my hand signals with the hand that I’m turning into: left turns with the left hand, right turns with the right hand.
        You can change which hand controls the front brake – in the Netherlands there is no standard for that, I prefer to have my right hand control the front brakes and ask my repair guy (“fietsenmaker”) to set up my bike when I get a new one.

        The advantage of the Netherlands being such a bicycle country is everyone knoews what to expect so often I don’t even stick out my full arm but just one finger – many research has shown that bike safety goes up when there are more bikes.

        As for the gearing: I don’t have cassettes, I have hub gears. As I live in the Netherlands, we don’t have hills nearby, the total elevation difference between house and work is 10m from going over and later under a highway. Yet my gears are perfectly able to cope with that, in fact I’d like to have them spaced a little closer as I feel my “sweet spot” lies between 3rd and 4th gear. Of course, if I lived in hilky terrain I would use more of the gears or even chose a different set of gears or even gearing system.

        My whole point is that from watching many US-view traffic videos (which, being a civil engineer, I do a lot) I see a lot of “It is so because it is so” inability to improve on any situation, be it safety, comfort or flow.

  4. Unfortunately with the new laws we have here that ebikes need to ride with lights on at daytime, they clearly stated that a front and real light need to be attached to the frame of the bike. So the backpack mounted light would still need a second light on the frame. (Switzerland)
    Turn signals are required to be visible from all sides, not just the back, so thats another issue that makes this system probably not really road legal over here.
    Still an interesting project, but it would take quite some tweaking to not risk getting a ticket, and with “fancy” lights, chances are quite a bit higher that you will get pulled over by overcorrect cops over here…

  5. i just remembered a hack i’ve seen that serves the same purpose, at least for turn signals. i don’t do this, mind you.

    this guy took a regular stand-alone red tail light, and somehow glued it to the end of like an 8″ wooden stick. and he’s on a mountain bike, so straight handlebars. he holds the stick in his left hand, and when he’s biking straight, he’s got his hand wrapped around the stick and the handlebars, so the red light is just past the left extreme edge of his bike. so it provides a reference for drivers to know how far they have to be to avoid clipping him when passing. and then when he signals the left turn, the light is out past left of his extended hand, pretty clear so long as his center is visible (maybe a second light in the more traditional location). the right turn is more awkward, i’m not sure but i think he does the bent arm style with the stick extending to the right of his hand. so it’s like he’s stuffing the light into his left ear. which i don’t know if that’s really totally clear. but he also takes advantage of the ability to use movement as part of the signal, to communicate by waving the light around.

    so he integrated the light and the control unit (the turn signal switch) into the same mechanical linkage. definitely a hack. :)

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