The Bike Lights Spoke-th

The Bike Lights Spoke-th

Yes there are billions of ways to light your bike. We tested some off-the-shelf LEDs to see what works on the harsh Playa. Dust, sun, splashes of beer, tip-overs, and drunk pilots all fight to destroy your lights. Who wins?

Copper Mini-Lights


The Labs Do Not Recommend these bare copper-wire lights! They are too fragile and tangle-y (that’s a word now), and they aren’t even that bright. Thumbs down.

LED Xmas Lights

These are OK. The wire is coated so it’s better than bare copper, but the bulbs and wire can yank completely out of the battery pack by unknown causes (IE we woke up that way). They’re fun in lots of bright colors, but get a few backups.

Try this trick with a strip of duct tape to reinforce the wire against getting yanked out:


EL Wire

This stuff is really cool and comes in lots of colors. It’s not very durable however and not super bright. You can do fancy wraps like neon signs—just bring extras (battery packs, wires, and batteries) and re-do it on Wednesday.

Wheel Brights

The WheelBrights are more expensive than the others. But damn they worked the best! The light strand has a clear tube so the bulbs don’t get snagged. The battery pack attaches directly to the spokes without a jerry-rigged zip-tie. And they are less likely to be stolen. We’re still testing a set that has been to the Playa 3 times and it works great.

The only drawback is you need a screwdriver to change the batteries, but according to our battery test, one set of batteries should last all week if you remember to turn them off when not using. For the same price you could by 4 copper light packs that will definitely break, or buy 1 WheelBrights that will last multiple burns.

Lab Test: On a fully-charged set of 3 AAs, the Wheel Brights lasted over 50 hours straight:

Monkey Lights

Monkey Lights are super cool and more expensive. They make a moving pattern as your wheel spins. Some can even show a custom pattern.

We really like these lights, but we don’t buy them much due to the price. They’re fun if you can afford it. They make a few different versions. Some take AA batteries while some are USB rechargeable, which works with our Solar Power kit tutorial.

  • M204 Narrow strip light

  • M210 Wide strip light

  • M232 Full width light

  • A15 Strip light, auto on/off

  • Backup USB chargeable battery

The A15 model turns off automatically when the wheel stops spinning—which saves battery but makes it hard to find your bike in the dark. Another reason to add a supplemental Xmas light.

Preferred Bike Light Kit

Simple total bike illumination: Start with 2 spoke lights (either WheelBrightz or Monkey Lights). You need more light to be seen from the front/back. Get 2 or 3 LED Xmas lights for this purpose. All these light packs use AA batteries! A pack of 20 or 48 is plenty. We also recommend a handful of small rubber LED lights for emergencies and buddies.


The WheelBrightz are easy, take 5 minutes to install using the instructions provided. It works well to install an additional Xmas LED battery pack under your bike seat (or under the rack if you build our Cargo Bike).


First add batteries, then do the duct-tape strip shown above to reinforce the wire. Then wrap a zip-tie around the battery pack.

Interlace another zip-tie running perpendicular to the first one. If your zip-ties are too short, you can double them up:


The battery pack should fit under your bike seat or cargo rack. Rig the battery pack all up in there, leaving the on-switch accessible. Your bike seat may be different so try a few different angles. The important thing is to have 2 zip-ties running in different directions, interlaced with each other. That way the battery pack can’t wiggle loose in either direction. Tighten those zips tight!


Loop the wire around the bike, covering some of the rear frame and some of the front frame. Add zip ties every few feet, and make sure there isn’t loose wire or bulbs hanging into any moving parts.

If you have a bike basket, it’s easy to loop another LED Xmas light into the basket and zip the battery pack on board.


You’re set! That was a 10-minute bike pimping. You can do more-more-more if you want! But this basic scheme is enough for that first Playa sunset. Remember, the cheap plastic bike lights tend to fail and MOOP. Spend just a bit more and get lights that are more stable.

Bring little clippers to quickly undo zip ties. You will have to change batteries eventually. No biggie, just clip, change batteries, and zip back into place.

For more bike tips, see our bike review and our tutorial on rigging up a lockable cargo rack for all your gear!

Now ride off into that sunset, would you?

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