Motorcycle Brake Light Flasher
Several years ago one car manufacturer added a rapid flasher to their brake lights. Wow! Those things really got your attention when the driver stepped on the brakes. But, if you ever had to stop behind one at a traffic light at night, you were likely to go into seizures from the strobing, rear lights covering your field of vision. I think they dumped the idea after a couple of years (Tony's note: same year), because I haven't seen them for a long time. As I recall, it was about the time 'road rage' started.

The solution for me, was a circuit that would flash the brake light for a short period when I press and hold the brakes. After several flashes (adjustable up to 8), the light would stay on continuously, until I released the brakes. The short burst of flashes certainly gets the other drivers' attention, especially for motorcycle I feel much more safe. The short duration of the flashing solved the problem of irritating the people behind you. From my observations in my mirrors, this circuit does exactly what I set out to accomplish: it gets the attention from those driving behind you.

Check State, Provincial, and Federal laws before implementing this circuit. In the USA, the flasher was approved for use in 50 States. In Canada the flasher and headlight modulators were approved in 2002 for use in all provinces, providing the brakelight flasher has a maximum number of flashes of 8 or less. Other than that, there are *NO* regulations for a brakelight flasher at this time (June 2010), not in the USA and not in Canada. Again, this is only for the circuit above. If you're using a Headlight Modulator, the use of it is regulated. The circuit above, when purchased commercially can cost up to $105US! It is easily homebrew on a piece of vero-board or make your own circuit board.
Parts List:
Semiconductors: IC1 = CD4093UBE, CMOS (4093B) Q1 = 2N2222A (metal can) (RSU-11328499) Q2 = TIP117 (RSU-12163846) Use with a coolrib! (if you have a heavy-duty type laying around like the TIP146, it needs no coolrib) NOTE: The PN2222 for Q1 will *NOT* work! Resistors: All resistors are 1/4W, 5%, unless otherwise indicated R1,R6 = 50K, trimmer (271-283) Bourns, single turn R2,R5,R7,R9 = 10K (271-1335) R3 = 100K (271-1347) R4 = 47K (271-1342) R8 = 2K7 (11344942) Capacitors: C1 = 33uF, 25V (RSU-11939048) Electrolytic C2 = 3.3uF, 25V (RSU-11295904) Electrolytic Radio Shack catalog #'s in parentheses () All parts above can be obtained from Sayal Electronics on Fountain Street in Cambridge (across from Toyota).
Note: Unlike Headlight Modulators (legalized in 2002), at this time there are *NO* real regulations, either in Canada or the USA, in regards to brakelight flashers, other than the number of flashes. They are legal for use in 50 US states and all Canadian provinces.
Police don't like contineous flashing brakelights, just remember that. The last thing you want is being pulled over for a cheap piece of crap you built from the internet. I have seen several designs using a 555 timer. Don't use any flasher which was designed around the 555. Why? The main electrolytic capacitor in those circuits does not fully discharge when you brake rapidly a couple times. This in turn cuts down the number of flashes. The design posted here uses a 4093 CMOS IC and works reliable EVERY time without hysteresis or delays. There are regulations how the taillight is suppose to work and what color the lens should be (red) but other than that the use of a brakelight flasher is not ruled by regulations at this time. I continue to monitor the government website for changes and will inform you here it such is the case. Use at your own risk.

The Circuit:
The circuit is built around a Schmitt Trigger Quad Nand IC, forming a half-monostable/astable and a gate. The output is a PNP darlington for high-side switching of the brake light and components were soldered and point-to-point wired on a small, perforated circuit board. The circuit board was mounted in a small piece of heat-shrink and waterproofed with a dab of silicon glue on both ends. There are two internal trim pots to set the flash rate (fast/slow) and flash duration (# flashes). All components can be purchased through Radio Shack (catalog) or your local electronics store like Sayal Electronics. I'm not sure about "The Source" stores (previously Radio Shack). They really suck in regards to components of any kind.

The schematic shows the circuit for the brake light control. It consists of four sections that are un-powered when the brakes are off. When the brakes are applied, +12VDC (13.8V) is connected to the circuit (point A). The circuit then controls the voltage to the brake light. When the brakes are released, the +12VDC is removed, and the circuit and brake light are no longer powered.

The first section provides a pulse delay to allow the brake light to pulse for only a short period of time. R1, R2, R3, C1, and IC1a form a half-monostable inverter. When the brakes are applied, C1 is charged through R1 and R2. When the voltage across R3 reaches the trigger level of C1 the output at pin 3 goes from +12 volts to zero (point B). Trimpot R1 allows the pulse delay time to be adjusted.
Resistor R3 provides a discharge path for capacitor C1 after the power to the circuit is removed (via the brake switch wire). What this means is that there is no delay for the brake light to come on in between brakes; the flasher works as it should all the time. You can press the brake pedal as fast as you can and as often as you can; the flasher will work every time!

The second section provides the pulse rate for the brake light. R4, R5, R6, C2, IC1c, and IC1d, form a free-running astable oscillator. When the brakes are applied, the circuit is powered and starts oscillation. The pulse rate is determined by the time constant of resistors R5 + R6 and capacitor C2. Trimmer R6 allows the pulse rate to be adjusted to your personal liking. The pulse rate output is taken from pin 11 of IC1d (point C).

The third section combines the pulse rate signal and the pulse delay signal. IC1b 'NANDS' the two signals to produce a series of pulses followed by a constant high level (point D). This will form the On-Off sequence of the brake light.

The forth section is the driver that controls the output to the brake light bulb. Resistors R7, R8, R9, and transistor Q1 form an inverting amplifier. This drives the pull-up power transistor, Q2. The brake light will light as Q2's collector is pulled to +12VDC (point E). The return path to ground is the chassis or frame. The negative of the battery is connected here also.

Hooking it Up:
Installation all depends on your bike's wiring system but most of them are all the same. Look for the wire coming from your handbrake and footbrake, mostly combined into a single wire underneath your seat. Cut this wire and mount the flasher unit between one side of the brakeswitch wire and the tail light. The one end that goes to your brake switch is the +12V and goes to point 'A'. (the end which has +12V on it when the brake is active). The other end connects to point 'E'. One wire more to connect and that's the negative or ground wire; that one connects simply to your bike's chassis. There is a hookup diagram for clarity at the end of this article if you need more help.

Oh, one more thing. I did not use a plastic case or whatever to house the flasher in. Since the unit needs to be mounted somewhere underneath the seat, I used heat-shrink with a dab of silicon on both ends. After shrinking I tightened the ends with a needle-nose plier the whole unit is dirt and waterproof. Don't forget to adjust the unit *first* before heat-shrinking!

Couple more notes:
This design works much better and more reliable then the 555 timer design of the same, elsewhere listed on the circuits page. The 4093UBE design does away with the delay. There is no delay for the brake light to come on between quick brake pedal presses and the circuit overall works fantastic and very reliable (in my case over 9 years!).

For the TIP117 (Q2) I used a replacement type made by NTE Electronics, the NTE262. Works great but they are expensive ($10+) in regards to the TIP117 which coset $2. But a (PNP) TIP125 or TIP127 will also work.
For the capacitors I used Tantalum types because I had them in stock, but they are not as reliable as standard electrolytic caps (for this application that is).

The circuit idles (when brakelight is 'OFF') at about 9mA, and running (when brakelight is 'ON') at about 200mA when the voltage is 13.8V, which is the voltage of the battery when the motorcycle is in operation. For 12V it idles at 8.5mA and running at 165mA. With those values this circuit should run forever!

The "Case and PCB" as listed in the Parts List, can be purchased at Radio Shack ("The Source" in Canada). The 'PCB' is a vero-board design with copper pads/tracks on one side. This 'PCB' is made to fit the enclosure. Good enough for this simple schematic diagram.

If you wish to make and etch your own, my pcb and layout are below. The pcb and layout are copyright © Tony van Roon.

PCB (C) Tony van Roon  Layout (C) Tony van Roon

NOTE: PCB is NOT to scale.
6-06-2007 - Readers reported problems that the flasher was not working, or that it didn't oscillate. Initial checks today shows that the lay-out conforms with the printed circuit board, so no errors here. More testing is underway so be patient! 6-14-2007 - No problems found. Circuit, pcb, layout, everything is correct and checks out as it should. It appears, these same readers installed the TIP117 (Q2) backwards, which of course will not work. All errors pointed back to wiring, TIP117 in reverse, etc. 1-22-2010 - A reader reported his unit failed to oscillate. After a dozen or so messages he finally got it working. The problem? He was using a 12V battery charger which of course does not work. Also, for the 2222 transistor he used a PN2222 instead of the metal can 2N2222A type. The PN2222 will not work for circuits like this. 2-24-2010 - I'm in the process of improving the design with surface mount technology (SMT) and expand the design for use with LEDs. Soon! 6-17-2010 - Updated this article with some legal facts (in red). 6-20-2010 - Added the current consumption for 'idle' and 'run' to the article. 6-24-2010 - Experimented with different TIP's. The TIP146 can be used without an coolrib. Used 20K trimpots for R1/R6 by increasing R2/R5 from 10K to 47K. Or, after adjusting both trimpots for a setting you like, measure their resistance and replace with a regular carbon resistor. These methods are for experienced techies only.
How to hook it up
The original schematic design and article called "Improved Third Brake Light" was designed for automobiles and belongs to and is Copyright © 1996 by Ken Moffett, a Scientific Instrumentation Technician at Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota USA. I found this article in a box with other stuff and circuits I had stored in the attic since my move. I was unable to locate Ken's website and the email address listed in the article came up inactive. Credits and © go to Ken.
I have modified and re-written his article for use with motorcycles. Printed Circuit Board, Layout, and pictures are copyright © Tony van Roon.

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Copyright © 2006, Tony van Roon
Last updated: August 14, 2010