Range Anxiety? Be Prepared (and Stop Worrying)

Want to take a long trip with an ebike? Just want to proof yourself against running out of juice on your commute? Here are a variety of solutions.

I’ve put rather a lot of effort into proofing myself against running out of battery juice. In all the years I have been using an ebike as a daily driver – almost always for utility rather than for recreation – I have never run out of battery power. Even when I’ve forgotten to charge before a ride (more on that below).

There Are Solutions

Lets explore some range-extension options. Hopefully you’ll come across something here you hadn’t thought of and can take advantage of.

Use a Big Battery

This is the most obvious one. If you don’t want to run out of gas, put in a big gas tank. This is not a new idea. Nowadays when a gearhead hears about a Corvette Z06, a super fast, light and powerful version of that car comes to mind… but back in 1963, if your option code was RPO Z06, that meant you had the “big tank” Corvette… with a freaking 36 gallon gas tank to minimize refueling stops during races. Or Cannonball runs.

So not a new idea.

If you are doing a DIY ebike conversion, unless you have specific weight goals, you typically want to fit the biggest battery you can afford. Same goes for a manufactured ebike. If it has a larger battery option… you want that. Whether you can take advantage of an option will boil down to the size of your wallet. An XL-sized battery will also let you preserve your battery by charging it to 80% or 90%, but thanks to it being oversized you still have enough in the tank to go wherever you please.

I am all about big batteries on the bikes I build. The Great Pumpkin has a 31 amp-hour, 52 volt custom triangle pack. The Lizzard King has a 32ah/52v brick hiding under its floor. The biggest in the fleet is 2Fat – now a recreational bike, it needs big power to run through remote stretches of beach without inland access. That bike has two parallel’d 16ah/52v packs joined together to make a single 36ah battery.

Bigger is better only up to a point. Big batteries equal big weight. So there’s a limit to what you can and should get away with. You can’t go this big on normal neighborhood ebikes, nor should you.

With all that said, going big on a battery can also save your bacon when you do something like forget to charge your battery… there’s enough extra capacity to eke out a ride home rather than having to figure out a way to sleep over at the office.

Bring Along a Spare Battery

This is my least favorite solution, but it may work for you. If you have a battery, buy another one just like it and toss it into a backpack or pannier. Swap it in when needed. This is probably most likely going to appeal to folks with a manufactured ebike and thus no other options. Unfortunately with a solution like this, you can’t get anywhere near as much out of two batteries as you would be able to for a big single one, or for two joined together in parallel (you can to only partially drain each of your packs, hence the loss in capacity). But you suffer the same weight penalty.

Sidebar:
Don't parallel batteries together unless you know EXACTLY what you are doing.  Running packs in parallel increases the potential for danger dramatically, and should only be messed with by folks with the experience to know how to mitigate those increased risks.

Onboard Charging (Permanent Mount)

I have written up my experiences with using Mean Well power supplies as CC+CV ‘smart chargers’, and mentioned they are fanless and weatherproof. This and the fact they have mounting tabs means they can be mounted permanently. Assuming the bike is large enough to have a brick bolted on without anyone really noticing. That can mean cargo bikes and any bike with a front rack – the charger works great as a rack deck. And on the front, you don’t really miss the fact you can’t put a rack trunk on.

Pictured above on the left: The Big Fat Dummy and its 185w/3a charger gassing up at the park. The charger is bolted onto the lower deck, up front on the rack. On the right: The Great Pumpkin‘s 320w charger on the front rack is good for 5 amps.

The 480w monster now on the front rack of 2Fat is good for a whopping 8 amps. Its supersized, as when I need a recharge on that bike I am in the middle of nowhere and facing darkness, fog … and may need to negotiate with an unpleasantly high tide if I dawdle.

Onboard Charging (Carried in a Bag)

You don’t always want to be lugging a charger around; nor do you always have a place to bolt one on. I have both 185w and 320w portables that I bring along occasionally on bikes that don’t have a permanent charger mount. For instance, I didn’t want to add a heat-generating charger to the largely enclosed basement battery box on The Lizzard King. So I carry the 320w unit you see below when circumstances warrant (not the shoe. Thats just there for size comparison). Being able to pump in 5a into any battery is going to add a whole lot of range if you plug in while having lunch.

Speaking of open outlets, where are they best found? Here in the USA I have really good luck with public parks. Oftentimes a picnic canopy will have a working power outlet. You can also stop at a roadside cafe, shop or gas station and ask the owner if you can plug in while you are there visiting. This works best if you are stopping somewhere for lunch and will be there for awhile. I’ve also found plugs attached to the outside of restroom buildings at state parks.

Obviously, this approach works best on regular routes where you can determine in advance what is available. Keep your eyes open, scope out your options and file that information away for the time when you need to use it.

I include a ‘Y’ plug in my kit so if I am asking someone to plug into their AC power, I am proposing to share it, not take it over.

Don’t Be Such a Pig

This next one is obvious… or is it? Its a technique I have used and it gets the job done so here goes:

Use less power, as in dial back the assist. My Bullitt with its Great Big Battery was about 3 miles into a 16 mile Saturday morning Costco run when I realized I had forgotten to charge it after work on Friday. Its 52v/14S battery reads 58v when its full, and was already down to 52v when I realized my mistake. Not only would I be blowing my morning turning around and going back home, it would be hours before that battery was charged. I decided to just go for it. So I reduced my assist to the minimum and continued. When I returned home with a cartful of groceries stuffed into my cargo box and panniers, I was down into the mid 40’s, voltage-wise – and more than a little worn out.

But I made it. I wouldn’t have if I had not gone overboard with the size of the battery.

After this I made sure I carried a charger with me on these trips. There is a park midway on the journey with a publicly available power plug. I can plug in, sack out and catch a nap next to a water fountain and be on my way. Late… but I’ll have beaten the system.

Charge at Public (J1772) EV Charging Stations

Yes really. It may be difficult to find an open plain vanilla AC power outlet that you can use… but nowadays electric vehicle (as in automobile) charging stations are popping up all over the place.

If you do not live in the USA, you will want to find a different adapter than what I am describing below (from what I hear non-USA charging stations in the EU are much more likely to have an ordinary, separate outlet available for public use).

But in the Land of the Free, this may be the only obviously available power plug you can get hold of. I’m seeing them increasingly in parks and ordinary store parking lots. Likely they are also springing up at the more refined campsites and national parks.

This is my J1772–> Nema 5-20 adapter for plugging into an EV charger

This is an option that hasn’t been available until recently, and is still not widely known or even understood. Above is a picture of the adapter I have. It plugs into a USA-standard J1772 EV charger plug and terminates in a female NEMA 5-20 plug on the other side. NEMA 5-20 plugs are also compatible with NEMA 5-15 plugs. Folks in the USA know of the 5-15 as your garden variety 3-prong grounded electrical plug. Using this adapter, you now have a bridge directly from a 240v EV car charger to a plug that you can connect your charger into.

Fzzzzzzzz… BOOM!

Thats what could happen if you just plug in without making sure your charger can handle 240 volts of current versus the usual 120.

Here’s the thing: Many ebike chargers are manufactured to run on global power grid voltage. In the USA, we use 120v. Much of the rest of the world uses a lot more volts. 240v in particular. So if you are manufacturing chargers and want to sell them everywhere, you make one that can handle the various voltages right out of the box, so you only have to make one model. However, you can’t count on this feature being there. So check first.

How can you tell? Look at the fine print on the label. The really tiny print that you never read. In the case of the Mean Wells I use, its written clearly in big letters, since they are meant for commercial use and nobody cares if they look pretty.

Yup it’ll handle 240 volts, alright. Since I have also made chargers for relatives who use them on their ebikes in the EU, I know they work just fine on the higher EU voltages.

But thats me. YOU have to figure this out for yourself on your own charger. You won’t know until you go look.

So Much For The Good News…

Here comes the bad news: These adapters are expensive. I have seen them selling for as much as $200. Oddly enough, after some googling I found a seller only an hour or so down the road from me who seems to have the lowest sale price on the web. I paid $85 for mine. Thats still a lot. Lets hope the price is only going down as these types of units become more common.

Or better yet, lets hope that EV charging stations in the USA start commonly having normal AC plugs available.

Whether that happens or not, you should be able to do one or more of the things above, and turn range anxiety into something you used to have … but don’t anymore.

How To: Safe, Reliable Electrical Crimp Connections (part 2 of 2)

in Part 1 we introduced the topic and assembled our tools. This time, we’ll use them to make something and show how its done, step by step.

So after having gone through Part 1, we assembled our gear and have what we need to get a job done.

What are we going to do? I have an article on how to create an ultra reliable ebike battery charger (which also works as an AC charging brick for a solar generator like a Bluetti AC200P). Since I have an extra one sitting and gathering dust, we’ll make some plugs for it here. That will serve the dual purpose of giving readers of that other article a step-by-step construction guide.

What do we need to get the job done?

Everything we saw listed in Part 1. Our project device will be a Mean Well HLG320H-54A LED power supply.

The Mean Well power supply with bare wires. If purchased new retail, both ends will be stripped and tinned.

We will also need a 6-foot-long, 3-prong AC power cord with an open pigtail on the female side. Never seen one before? Don’t worry they are commonly available. Apparently a lot of construction workers tear up the cords on their power tools, so replacements are easy to find and cheap.

Lets get started.

Step 1

Size the heat shrink you will need at the very end of this process, and run it down along the wire NOW before you need it. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I have gotten wrapped up in making a cable and then realized I forgot to size and place the heatshrink for that last step. Do it now before you need to do it and before a connector is on and its too late.

The heat shrink has been added – nice and long – and you can slide it well back from the connection as needed.

Put it on the side that you can slide the furthest away from the heat gun for when we have to take that step later. You don’t want to be shrinking this one up when its out of position so it needs to be away from the heat.

Step 2

The wires on the pigtail side of the power cord are already stripped and tinned so they are easy to work with. Lets use those to teach ourselves how deep the butt end connectors are. We can trim these wires so their insulation fits right up to the edge of the metal connector insert. Once we do that, we’ll know how much we need to strip off the wires on the other side of this connection.

Dip the wire into the connector. The insulation on your wire should seat against the metal butt end connector inside. How much extra is there? Snip some off so the insulation fits right up to the end. Repeat for all three wires on the power cord.

Step 3

Next, we strip the wires that go into the other end of these butt-end connectors. The lengths we snipped down to in Step 2 give us an easy visual guide to how much we need to strip back on these wires.

A note on wire stripping: There can be a little more to it than just picking the hole that matches your wire gauge and biting in. I like to spend a little more time on the job so I don’t lose a single wire in the bundle (if I can help it).

Here’s the way I did this particular wire: I picked the 18 ga slot and was able to clamp down hard on it without damaging the wire underneath the insulation. Its a size up from where I’d get a clean, complete cut, and gave me a safe cut of maybe 80% of the insulation. Then I shifted down a size to the 20 ga slot and – very gently, clamped down on the same spot. Just a bit. While slowly spinning the cutters radially around the wire (again, just a bit). This cut the insulation without cutting any of the wires underneath. Until you get a feel for it, put the wire into a hole thats too big for it and work your way to smaller holes from there.

From there, I hand twisted the now-exposed wires so they bunch together and I’m ready for the next step.

Step 4

Crimp connectors onto the wires on the power cord. For this article I am using my new handy-dandy semi-auto crimping tool for the first time, rather than my manual commercial-grade crimper (i.e. giant pliers). The ‘semi-automatic’ part of this crimper is you just squeeze until the crimper releases, and you have a good crimp that is solid, and uniform with every other crimp you make for this job. Because of the small wire size, we can use the pink 18-22 gauge connectors.

Something to remember when you do this: While you are fumbling around the wire can slip partially or even fully out of the connector. Because of this I like to grab onto the connector with my crimper – without squishing it any just yet. Once I have it fixed in place, I use one hand to push and hold the wire end into the connector so it can’t slip back. Only then do I squeeze the bejesus out of it to make the final crimp and permanently connect the two wires.

Step 4 Complete. The semi-auto style crimper with its dual crimps was almost too big for this small 18-22 gauge connector.

Another something to remember: When doing one of these 3-wire connections, things can get awfully tight when you start finishing the connections in the next step. There may not be enough room to stuff the crimper’s jaws in between the wires to get the job done. Solve this problem by stripping enough of the plastic sheathing back from each side so you have enough open space to work with when things start getting crowded. If you can’t do that (I couldn’t here) then you’ll have extra effort in store trying to get the crimper’s jaws in the right spot while the wire stays in place inside the connector before the crimp.

Step 5

Now crimp on the wires on the other side – the charger side. This time, you have to pay close attention to which wire goes where. Since I live in the USA, our power cords do not adhere to the international standard for wiring colors. Connect:

  • The green wire on the cord to the green wire on the charger (GND)
  • The black wire on the cord to the brown wire on the charger (AC+)
  • The white wire on the cord to the blue wire on the charger (AC-)
Step 5 complete. Note the dual crimp lines on each side. The 18-22 ga crimper jaws were almost too large for this connector. You have to go right to the edge of the metal connector inside.

If you live pretty much anywhere else besides the USA, the wire colors will all match and what you connect to what will be obvious.

If you happen to screw up making one of these connections: Bite the bullet. There’s no uncrimping one of these. You have to snip off any crimped connectors at their very edge. Then snip down any wires you haven’t connected yet so they are all still the same length. Then re-strip and try again from scratch.

Step 6

Now you heat shrink the individual wire connectors. Remember the big heat shrink you put over the wire in Step 1? Make SURE you keep it well away from the heat gun while doing this. Let it get warm in the slightest and it’ll stick itself to wherever it is now, and not where you want it to eventually be.

I use my heat gun on its lowest setting, which is much slower going, but it lets me very carefully heat up my connector. I like to push the wires – and the connections – together a little, which spreads them out more or less evenly. Then I slowly rotate them around under the heat so every side of each connection gets heated up. You’ll be able to tell when you are done on each side because you will see a little bit of the internal adhesive squeeze out and form a bead on the wire. When you can see that – AND the air bubbles inside the connector disappear (this is another reason you slowly rotate while heating) you are done.

Ready to begin Step 6

Heat up each END of the connector. Stay clear of heating the center over the metal connector. That center section is where you stressed the adhesive covering by smashing the hell out of it with your crimper. If that stressed area shrinks and tears, it will expose the metal underneath, and thats a bad thing. Let the center section shrink down thanks to the indirect heat coming to it from each of the two ends. Also, if you use a manual crimper, which is much more likely to cause a tear if you are a little overzealous, then staying away from the center will let the adhesive inside liquefy and seal up the hole you created rather than spreading it open via shrinkage.

Step 7

Let the wires cool a bit. Our next step is to slide the oversized, overly long piece of adhesive heat shrink over the connection we just made. If you try and slide it over while the connectors and wires are still hot… it’ll stick to them, shrink up a touch … and you’re screwed. So walk away for five minutes and be patient.

On this power cord, I am using an extra long piece as I want this to be a strong connection. I am also using an oversized tube that will just barely shrink down to hug the power cord, which means it will be very thick once it gets to its minimum diameter. I did this because this cord is going to take abuse as its going to be pulled, coiled and stepped on. Hopefully for years (it turns out when this stuff cools after shrinking its also completely rigid, which is a good thing for protecting my connection).

Step 7 complete. That little red ring of heatshrink near the plug is just a test I did to make sure the big size I used would shrink all the way down to hug the cord.

Application of heat is the same process as it is for working the connectors. Regardless of whether or not it looks like the heat shrink has shrunk down enough to do its job, take the extra time to apply heat to the every angle of the exterior of the strip. Slowly go around all of it in even, top-to-bottom strokes. It may look like its fine halfway thru the process, but going around it and heating thoroughly it at every angle will shrink it down tight on top of the other work you just did.

And… pay attention. Keep the nozzle moving and keep it on low heat. Its a whole lot easier to melt your cord than it is to unmelt it.

And thats the end of the AC cord input side.

The Power Output Side…

We did the power input cord in step-by-step detail. We won’t need to go into that same level of detail on the output side, since its almost the identical process. But there are a couple items worth calling out.

We need step-down connectors this time

The XT60 we are using for power output is a nice beefy 12 gauge, which would need a yellow connector. The Mean Well’s power wires are 14 gauge. Thats ordinarily a blue connector. So we need a step-down (yes, I could have used a 14 gauge XT60 – I do have them in my shop – but I prefer the heavier wire).

We do the same trimming to size the wire in the connector as before. However the 12 ga wires on the XT60 have enough fudge in the 10-ga-capable wire connectors that we can leave the tinned ends on. So no need to snip them, we just take some insulation off and job done. If you can leave the ends of a wire tinned, do it and make your life easier.

Bigger connectors = more room to work with

On the 18-22ga pink connectors, we almost didn’t have enough room to work with. But with the larger yellow 10-12ga connectors that wasn’t a problem.

You can see how the crimping jaws are within the borders of the metal segment on this larger connector; ending fully to the left of the slot in the middle. Lots of room.
The connectors, after applying heat to shrink them down onto the wiring, just before having the external sheath shrunk down over them. They essentially glue themselves and the wire connection together, providing a second of three layers of stabilization to the connection.
The finished product. I used red heatshrink over the wire on the output side simply so my stock of heatshrink (red and black) gets used up at about the same rate.

How To: Safe, Reliable Electrical Crimp Connections (part 1 of 2)

Solder or crimp? Debate on that can be fierce. After more than 7 years of daily commute riding, I have never had a crimped connection fail. How is that reliability accomplished?

We’re going to add this to the growing list of topics I never thought I’d be writing about. But it seems to need discussion quite a lot, and not just in ebike circles. I come across it frequently in the world of solar generators too, from folks who have zero experience with or initiation into the necessary skill of making extension cables. So while I am typically discussing DIY ebike topics, this subject crosses over into a whole lot of other areas.

Should I Solder or Crimp?

If you know how to do a good job of soldering, chances are pretty good you already know your answer. There’s nothing incontrovertibly bad about doing a proper soldering/wiring support job. At the same time, if you make good crimps that never fail, then there’s nothing wrong with crimping, either.

Can a case be made that either method is superior? Yes. I’m going to ignore the existence of this debate and instead focus on showing my tools and methods, which have resulted in a perfect reliability record so far. You decide for yourself if you want to go this route, or another.

What Tools Do We Need?

As is always the case, your success will be entirely predicated on using the right tools for the job. A crimping tool is not a pair of pliers for instance, regardless of the fact that you already own pliers and crimpers sure do look a whole lot like pliers.

Wire cutters

I use a dedicated set of wire cutters. Yes you absolutely can find yourself a single combined tool, or press tin snips or scissors into service if you already have those. I suggest you resist that temptation. Right tool for the job… remember? I use these, which I bought from Amazon.

You can find what amounts to the same cutters with a different label on them under about a zillion different brand names. These are actually cable cutters (not wire cutters) and they serve a good dual purpose in that they also work great for cutting bicycle brake and shifter cables (did I just violate the right-tool schtick I went on about just a second ago?). The best way to make a cut is to put the wire in their jaws and use a sharp, fast hand squeeze to snip the end off lickety-split. Trying to cut slowly and deliberately will give nothing but trouble with leftover wire strands. These bigger cutters will work especially well on the 10 gauge wire that is common on ebike controller input and battery output wires.

A good, strong pair of industrial scissors – with tiny serrated edges on the cutting surface to grip the wire – can work in a pinch. Regular household scissors… not so much.

Wire Strippers

Here again, you want a dedicated tool. I mostly use this one, again purchased from Amazon. I also have one made by Klein Tools that is marginally better… and double the price. While I like the Klein tool a little better, reality is I use the cheapie almost exclusively. So it must not be so bad, right?

Wire crimpers

Here’s where the magic happens. Its another tool you’d be tempted to not buy and just use a pair of pliers or something, but its very important to use actual crimpers. We’ll get more into why in Part 2 when we look at actually making crimps.

For the most part I use a 9 3/4″ manual crimper that I bought from Home Depot. I like it because I am used to it, but its probably better to use something like this Klein Tools semi-automatic crimper. It makes a uniform crimp that is perhaps more likely to leave the outer heatshrink surface of the connector completely intact – something you have to learn how to do after some experience with manual crimpers.

While the manual crimpers have been my tool of choice for years, I have the Klein tool on order right now and we’ll see how it goes when I use it in Part 2 when we get hands-on with crimping duties.

End Connectors (Pigtails)

So you have your wire on one side. You need a connector of some kind on the other. For an ebike, the common choice for a battery charge connection is an XT60 female connector with a 12-gauge wire. For the battery output its typically an XT90 female connector. A larger, more power-capable version of the widely-used XT60. Better yet, instead of using an XT90, make the connector an XT90S, where the ‘S’ signifies the anti-spark feature of that otherwise identical-to-XT90 version.

Tinned XT90S pigtails. The green paint signifies the connector is the anti-spark variant.

The cheapest way to create connector ends is to take a soldering iron and directly attach a connector to the destination wire. But an alternative shortcut is available to folks who may not be up for that, and its ideal for folks who are crimping connections. “Pigtails” – a connector professionally pre-soldered to a short length of wire – are commonly available, ready to crimp on with very little preparatory work. I use them almost exclusively.

My box of XT60 and XT90 pigtrails, along with some pre-made extensions. Crimp two pigtails together you’ve made a cheap, short extension cord. You can see one in the center of the box (an XT60).

How much preparatory work is ‘very little’? Well on a pigtail, the bare wire ends are ‘tinned’. Essentially this means the bare wire has been dipped in solder, which makes it a single piece that cannot fray. You almost always have to snip off that end bit before you strip them. But we’ll get to that in Part 2.

Wire Connectors

All of the connectors I use are 3:1 heat-shrink adhesive ‘marine’ grade connectors. There are non-adhesive connectors (usually employing a 2:1 heat shrink ratio) which you should avoid. There are also connectors that do not employ any heat shrink at all. Same deal: Stay away from them and use only the adhesive marine grade version (unless you are an experienced hand at this, in which case there’s no reason for you to bother reading this article in the first place).

Why? Well, the heat will shrink tightly around the wire insulation on each side. This firm, adhesive grip will strengthen the connector’s bond, and support it. The adhesive liquifies under the heat and then dries, forming a strong gripping bond that ends up being stronger than the plain wire. Whats not to like about that?

You can find a variety of crimp-on ends. These two make up a detachable bullet connector that can be manually separated.

While there are a variety of connector types, including spades that let you screw a wire down, or bullets that let you uncouple and re-couple a connection manually, I almost always stick to butt-end connectors that just connect a length of wire to another wire. I do any form of quick-detach connections with proper connectors like an XT60 or XT90.

There are two sorts of butt-end connectors you should know about:

Straight-thru same-gauge connectors

These are pretty straightforward: You have the same thickness of wire on both sides. Or, more accurately, the thickness of one wire is within one size of the other.

Your yellow connector works for 10-12ga wire. the blue ones work with 14-16 gauge and the pink ones work with small 18-22 gauge (thats actually three sizes). But what happens when you have a bigger difference in the wires on one side or the other? You need a special kind of connector that has a smaller hole on one side.

Step-down connectors

This is the solution for connecting two wires of different sizes that exceed the ordinary tolerance of your standard straight-thru butt end connector.

The yellow connector is ordinarily used with a 12-10 gauge wire. But notice the blue band on the left? That side has a narrower opening that accepts a wire of 14-16 gauge. The right side, banded in yellow, takes the standard-for-that-connector 10-12 gauge.

The blue step-down connector has a blue stripe on the left for its normal 14-16 gauge wire. The red stripe on the right means its suited for an 18-22 gauge wire.

Here’s a connection using same-gauge connectors:

Above at left, I’ve connected a three-prong (grounded) power cord to a power input cord on an ebike battery charger I am making. The connectors have been crimped together, but have not yet been heat-shrunk. On the right is what the adhesive connectors look like after careful application of heat from a heat gun.

Notice how the adhesive covering of the connectors has not been broken or split despite being smooshed by the crimper. This is a big deal as if you split the adhesive shrinking surface, the split will widen when it heats up and make a hole with the bare metal of the connector exposed: an uninsulated path to a live connection (more on that in Part 2).

All this wire needs need now is some adhesive heat shrink covering the entire connection to finish off the job. And yes depending on where you live thats a funny looking plug. Its a ‘Schuko’ type plug and I was making a charger for someone living in the EU.

Heat Shrink

Once we completed the crimps as seen above, we need to cover it. This is to further stabilize/support the connection and protect it. For that I am using heat shrink tubing. Once again, there are two kinds of heat shrink: 3:1 marine grade adhesive heat shrink is the best. Stay away from the thinner, less sturdy 2:1 non-adhesive stuff unless perhaps you are putting on an external layer in a pretty color – over top of the 3:1 stuff – for the sake of cosmetic appearance. I have orange, green and white 2:1 heat shrink rolls for use on cable coverings for orange, green and white bikes I have built. But its just for show.

You can buy heat shrink in little pre-cut bits, but I much prefer uncut lengths so I can snip it to exactly fit the job I am doing at the moment.

By using the thicker adhesive version you add another significant layer of protection over your connection. If it wasn’t going anywhere before (it pretty much was already unbreakable) its completely safe and protected now with a crimp, an adhesive grip on the crimp and another adhesive grip completely over top of that.

Left (above): the same plug already illustrated, with the wire now covered in adhesive heat shrink. Without looking right at it you might miss that its not a factory-made cord. See the red/black wires? That is the bare wire on the other end of that same charger (its not the same wire).
Middle: We take the two output leads on that black/red wire and graft on an XT60 plug to connect to our ebike battery. We use blue connectors this time because of the thicker 14 gauge wire.
Right: After shrinking the connectors, we slip a long length of 3:1 adhesive heat shrink over it all to strengthen and stabilize the new connection. Job done.

A Heat Gun

This is what does the shrinking. You might be able to use a hair dryer for this job instead of a proper heat gun. And it may work.

For whatever reason, I don’t own a hair dryer

One benefit of a heat gun is you can stand it up vertically on the garage floor, so you can use it hands-free. That gives you two hands to slowly rotate what you are heating up over it, to get a uniform effect without burning or melting stuff.

This is the heat gun I use. It has two heat settings and I almost always use it on ‘low’, which is slower but gives me lots of control over what is happening (its a lot easier to melt things than it is to un-melt them).

I keep the leftmost adapter permanently on the nozzle to concentrate the heat as much as possible. This minimizes the possibility of collateral damage to nearby wiring and connectors.

Quality Bulk Cable

One of the spiffs of having all this cable- and cord-making gear on hand is the ability to make just about any cord your heart desires. To do that conveniently, it will pay in the long run to buy the cable you are most likely to need in a spool. Say… 250 feet of the stuff. Thats going to seem expensive until you need a 50-foot extension for your solar panels and snip-snip-poof you have what you need in 30 minutes.

Sadly, the 250-foot spools don’t seem to be available at the time of this writing, but you can still get 100 feet of oxygen-free copper wire in 10AWG for under $1 per foot. You can spend more than this for bonded, PVC-coated wire that can take the outdoor weather and even be buried.

A quick morning’s work: A 50-foot extension out to my portable solar panels, sitting in the blazing summer sun. The short factory cable connects to a watt meter that I added to measure current, and that connects to the actual extension which leads outside to my solar panels. Created entirely from parts I already had in my garage workshop.

Next: Part 2 of 2. How To Do The Work, Step By Step

LED Strip Lights – Quick and Easy Part 2

You thought the last post on LED strip lights for a Larry vs. Harry Bullitt was a quickee? Lets be even quickee-er for this followup.

This post is a continuation of this one where I did the full description of how I added low-power-consumption LED strip lights to my Larry vs. Harry Bullitt… In less than an hour and with no wiring skills. No skills at all in fact.

I Moved The Switches & Batteries

I could stop right there with that heading and just show off a couple pics, but lets do a little better than that.

When we last left off with this little project, I had put together a neat set of working strip lights in a very short time. However, since I just slapped it together, there was one glaring omission: The on/off switches for the lights were inside the cargo bay, just sitting in a little unsecured bag.

Figure 1: Not going to win any design awards with this one.

Considering the Bullitt is a really stable ride, this was not such a big deal. But I shouldn’t need to go into the cargo bay to turn the lights on. Gotta fix that.

Background

That little bag was already there, holding the battery packs for my two front-wheel-mounted headlights. So it wasn’t much of a stretch to just toss in the USB power bank for the strip lights, and run the on/off switches over to it. While we are at it, we’re going to move and secure the power packs for those lights as well, and eliminate this little brown bag completely.

Figure 2: Low-mounted headlights on the fork, which created the need for the little brown bag

As you can see in Figure 1 above, I lined my cargo bay with a sort of 1-piece tub of super-dense closed cell foam. It is bolted down at the rear but nowhere else. Its easy to just pull the ‘tub’ up and run the wires underneath it, back to the cockpit.

Lets Keep It Simple

This is going to be real easy: I already have a handlebar bag. It holds my front motor controller. That bag is not right for this job, but it is also a MOLLE bag, so I can easily attach additional bags directly to it. I had a small, cheap bag in my leftover parts pile. It will hold the power packs for both the head and strip lights, along with the strip light power switches.

Figure 3: My handlebar bag. In this ‘before’ pic, the bag mated to it (at an angle) via MOLLE straps on the front is small; barely big enough to hold wallet, phone and keys.

Now we need a way to connect the wires up front to the batteries in the bag. Since they are nothing more than USB 2.0 plugs on both sides, I used simple USB 2.0 extension cables. The ideal length is 2 meters and these can be had from Amazon via their Amazon Basics USB 2.0 cable in a 2-meter length. Its possible to use USB 3.0 cables, but those are quite a bit more expensive versus the 2.0 cables that run about $5 each. I needed 4 of them.

Figure 4: Each connection to each extension is wrapped in silicone tape to waterproof it and ensure they stay connected.

I connected one to each of my four plugs at the front. Two to the headlights and two to the strip lights. Then run the cables along the floor back to the rear… bulkhead or whatever its called.

From there, run the wires up the bulkhead, out of the cargo bay and up into the handlebar bag. For the top portion, I zip-tied the 4 cables together for the sake of a neat appearance.

Figure 5: Peekaboo! looking back under the installed tonneau, which has been lifted up. You can see the bundled cable running up from behind the padded wall at the back of the cargo bay.

There is a fair bit of extra cable, which works to my benefit as it let me route the cables into the bag at precisely the point where the zipper opens it. I bundled the wires together with some non-permanent velcro ties; again for neatness’ sake.

Figure 6: The wires once they come up out of their bundled exit from the cargo bay. Much more noticeable thanks to the camera flash. Even in daytime they aren’t really visible against the black cordura background.

Inside the bag, the battery packs line the bottom, ends-facing-up, so I can plug directly into them.

Figure 7: The switches simply sit on top of the USB power banks. They are wired together to always face opposite one another with a simple wire tie – like you’d find on a bread loaf – for now.

The USB on/off switches from the strip lights are stuffed in here rather than getting creative and surface mounting them on the bag via the MOLLE webbing. My thinking is I want them kept out of the elements.

Figure 8: The complete picture, post-assembly. The little bag sits just above the tonneau and doesn’t contact anything. I keep those pliers handy in case I collect a nail or worse in a tire. I can grab them and pull out the jagged offender and let my tire sealant do its work.

End Result

  • Batteries and wiring are secure and out of sight.
  • Switches are easily accessible.
  • There is more than enough room in the bag, which is only half full at most.
  • Batteries are convenient to pull out when bike is left outside at a shop and I pull everything not nailed down and take it in with me. It is just as convenient to reconnect upon return.
Passes the everyday Easy test!

One Last Thing!

My LED strips have an extension soldered onto each of them from the factory. They were originally 1.6M long and both, at the same point in their length, have a visible solder joint where they were extended. Since this is open, unsealed solder, thats an open connection. I’m not sure if a bad thing would happen if water ended up bridging the gap between those bits of solder, but lets not find out. I used a narrow bit of that same 3M mastic sealing tape I described in the original article to cover that connecting point and waterproof it.

That little strip of tape makes no difference in the appearance of the light when its turned on.


Thats it! Pretty simple, right? Carry on.

LED Strip Lights – Quick and Easy

I knocked this project out in maybe an hour, start to finish. I’m doing the same with this quickee explainer post.

There is a Part 2 followup to this article detailing some improvements. See it here.

What It Is

Not too long ago I saw someone show off some LED strip lights lining the front and bottom of their Larry vs. Harry Bullitt. Since I am fooling around with and writing up bike lights recently, I thought this looked pretty cool, so I decided to spring a few bucks to do a simpler version of the project myself.

What I Did

I have a reputation for not taking the easy way out, with careful planning and meticulous execution.

None of that happened here. I just slapped this sucker together, kind-of. Actually the way it went down … I was mocking up a couple different layouts in the garage, a light bulb went off for a simple setup, decided “how tough can it be?” and from there did the complete installation in under an hour.

I will probably pretty this up at some point but for now I’ll just enjoy what I have and see how I like it as-is. Before I get into the strip lights themselves, I need to back up a step and describe a mod I made awhile back that led me directly to lining the side panels rather than doing the usual and lining the frame.

What I Did Before: Side Panel Extensions

Waaaay back when I first built The Lizzard King, I lined the cargo area with a sort of tub of a special, ultra-dense closed cell foam. It works great, but its 1/2″ thickness narrows the cargo box area just enough that boxy items can sometimes not quite fit. If I could get back that space I would gain back some convenience.

I only wanted to get back a little as the LvH tonneau cover won’t fit if I spread the panels more than a little. I settled on the following parts to do the job

I wanted to use the big countersunk washers and screws on all of the attachment points, but the front two don’t have enough room for the washer to fit so I just used standard socket caps.

Pictures of the parts installed will do a better job of explaining how this all came together than writing it up:

The spacers add 8mm of width and the skinny washers sandwiching it together give a bit of extra strength. They also add about 2mm total for a roughly 1cm widening of the panel mounting on each side (so 2 cm total width increase). The countersunk washers and screws give a nice flat facing, with broad contact to the mounting bracket. The socket caps worked fine too, so the expensive option of the countersunk washers can be considered optional although I think its a nice touch, and prefer the facing to the cargo area be nice and flat.

I could have gone a lot wider as you can see if you explore the site linked above, but that would spoil my ability to use my LvH tonneau cover. As it stands its tight but it fits.

On To The Light Show

So… coming into the game this is what I bought:

4000k LED Strip Lights
If you want something to match your typical bicycle headlight, choose a strip with a 6000k color temp. I decided to go a little warmer and it turned out to be a good choice, although I didn’t know why this was yet.

I chose this set of lights because it was a longer 1.5M (just in case), it used 3M adhesive tape for mounting – these kinds of lights are infamous for coming off after exposure to weather – and it had a simple, switch-free USB plug.

Inline LED Switches
I thought when I bought the parts that I might not use switches at all – I would just plug and unplug my lights from the power bank I planned to use (more on that later) or use the power bank’s on/off switch to do the same job without extra parts. If I had been thinking I would have bought the white ones to match the USB wire coming off the strip lights.

0.4″ (10mm) -wide 3M VHB Double-Sided Tape
VHB – aka “3M red body tape” is a weatherproof, super-durable rubber tape available in a variety of widths and thicknesses. The bigger stuff can literally be used to stick smaller body panels (trim pieces and such) permanently to a car. Most modern car badging uses this stuff to stick on the vehicle make and model logos. Its strong and weatherproof. I had a roll already in my garage. Use the link above to get yourself some.

My idea was to lay down the VHB on the bike frame, and then stick the lights to the VHB – essentially: stick tape on the lights to tape on the frame. It’ll never come off.

Anker 13000 mah USB Power Bank
I already had this power bank in a drawer. It has two USB output ports and works perfectly to power both strips. Looks like it will last for a full week (I recharge all my stuff once a week).

Configuration

I started out trying to rig something up by running a USB extension up the steering tube to the handlebars where I have a bag already. I could have mounted the switches on the bags. This meant I would need to run the USB connections from the lights from the rear of the frame, and hiding that connection wasn’t going to happen since the light strips only bend on one axis. Plus I’d be gaining two more wires running up the steering tube and more visible wires are never a good thing.

While I was pondering that, I realized I had an overhang created by my side panel extensions. This gave me a rubberized surface to stick my base layer of VHB, which will only make for a more firm connection. Also this would bring the wiring up further away from the ground, splashes and shield it from ground impacts.

After poking at it a bit more from this panel-mount angle, I realized I could run the power connections from the front, directly into the front of the cargo box. Since I already had a small bag located there holding two power banks for my lower front headlights, I could just add this to the bag that was already there.

Dang thats good enough to just get it done in a few minutes. I can mess with cleaning up the wires later if I feel like it. And so, here again I’ll use pictures to show the install result:

You can see the light strip is sitting directly on a ‘bed’ of thin black rubber. That is the 3M VHB, which I laid down first as a complete strip, front to back. From there I peeled and stuck the lights atop that. Since I was sticking sticky tape onto sticky tape I had to be careful to get it right the first time, but it wasn’t difficult. The light strip can be cut at specific, marked spots along its length and it was easy to do that.

You can see on each end there is a rubber cap. This is 3M 2229 mastic electrical sealing tape. Essentially its tape-shaped rubber goo. You cut a thin strip of it and lay it over what you want to insulate. Then you work it a little like clay until its formed into a shape that gives you a watertight seal. Mastic is one of those things everyone should have in their tool box. There is a thinner version – 3M 2228 – that is commonly available in big box hardware stores in the USA (much cheaper than found on Amazon).

And yeah I know that bag just sitting there is kinda cheesy, but it was already there holding the power for the two fork-mounted headlights. Thats a spot where my lock is always sitting (in that black bag) so its not taking up space I use for anything else.

Whatsit Look Like Turned On?

Well, before you scroll down to see the pics, know this: The camera gives you a false impression of how bright it is. It is nowhere near as blindingly bright as you see in the night time pics, and its brighter than it seems in the daytime pics.

At night, mounting the strips on the panels – which thanks to the mods I did create a narrow overhang ideally suited to mounting these lights – the effect is to light up the frame as if it was a billboard. Its bright and legible and really cool looking. The camera makes it look like its a blinding washout of light and thats the camera, not reality. Also, the 4000k warm color temp I chose meshes perfectly with my green frame. Different color frames (Moondog – navy blue – comes to mind) might take better to a 6000k color temp, and I bet Pepper (hot red) would like 3000k better than 4000k.

The bike jumps out in the night, which is the idea insofar as visibility in traffic is concerned. Also, the lights face downwards and illuminate the ground in a nice big circle around me. Thats useful to me in a minor way (whatever I smash into will be brightly lit up), but also helps increase my visibility to oncoming and overtaking traffic. The forward facing lights provide a minor benefit to illuminating the road close up.

During the day, the effect is minor but on a cloudy day the bike does look a bit ‘brighter’ from the side, and for sure the forward facing portion of the lights provide a daytime running light effect. On sunny days? No idea I just did all this last night.

As near as I can tell, power usage is minimal. I was unable to dent the battery in my testing and trials. We’ll see how that goes after a week of daily use.

Down the road, I may play around with USB extensions and move the switches back towards the rear – I can run them behind the padding that lines the box – so I don’t have to open the tonneau to switch the lights on. I have a couple extension cables and smaller power banks without a job that may work well in this regard. We’ll see. For now this is quick and dirty and pretty slick.