Here at Big Chuck’s Robot Warehouse & Auto Body Center, the fall semester is generally the quiet one where I actually, you know, get things done. I’m not herding go-karts during this time, unlike the spring and summer, so it’s shop facility upgrades and working on stuff at a less frantic pre-competition pace. Like last year, there’s also a section of the popular “How to Make [A Mess Out Of] (Almost) Anything” class running in the IDC fab shops, and I run orientations and trainings on our equipment for those students and more. In fact, life is so chill right now that I haven’t even touched Chibi-Mikuvan since Miku Expo. That’s how bad it is.
Of course, this just means “big van work”, among other things. Here’s a general recap of the past month, or thereabouts.
Also known as “that huge e-bike thing”… or “the battleship”, this thing was part of the inaugural cruft run, the first of many, that a running big-Mikuvan has enabled. It’s a Wavecrest Tidalforce iO cruiser bike, with a step-through frame. This thing is massive – it weighs something like 65 pounds in stock configuration, and its soft and boat-like handling earned it the nicknames shown. It’s been hanging out in the shop for nearly the past year in a quasi-operational state.
With the advent of another promising winter, I’ve decided to ‘resto-mod’ it into something usable. Melonscooter, in all its incarnations, just does not do snow at all. The fat scooter tires means you float above the snow and can’t get either traction or stability, and both wheels gradually turn into solid balls of snow. On the other hand, bikes do somewhat better, especially road bikes with thin profile tires, since they ‘cut through’ the snow – the phenomenon is something I observed very clearly watching people try to commute during winter, and borrowing a bike or two. You’re also higher off the ground in a bike, so the black slush that the snow inevitably becomes after 24 hours stays a little farther away.
To get the bike to a functional state, I decided to ditch the front hub battery like many who inherit them. There’s a small community of Wavecrest enthusiasts who have documented mods and changes to make. In particular, I’ve been in contact with Ambrose of ebikerider about the nuances of using the bike with an aftermarket battery.
First mission was to get a new front rim, since the battery-laden front rim was being removed. I rolled it over to the bike shop for a quick appraisal and parts recommendation. Cambridge Bicycle and MITERS go way back, so I usually patronize them when I can.
They also get to put up with a slew of student questions along the theme of “How can I use this on a go-kart?” at the end of each semester from me, so I also feel bad if I don’t use their business for a legitimate purpose.
Notice the the added cargo box and bag on the back. This was where I was going to put the new battery pack; specifically, the battery will go into the center cavity, leaving the upper cavity above it and the side bags free for actually carrying stuff. All of these bags ‘telescope’ a little, so it’s a fair amount of enclosed space.
Observe, enough lithium to level a small city block.
I decided to dig through the lipo nuclear arsenal to assemble a pack. To my delight, these four 4.5Ah 10S lithium polymer packs fit perfectly, four across, in the center of the bike bag. So that was a quick decision.
These are actually the batteries from the very first generation of tinykart before Shane switched to A123 cells. They have been sitting in various rooms for a while, so the first order of business is to fully charge and balance them both. I borrowed a TP1430C charger from Peter while I purchased one and it was on the way.
Surprisingly, they were in good health and all reached 4.2 volts a cell without incident. LiPo batteries like this tend to be a little more fragile because of their soft shell.
To join the packs in parallel, I had to make another Adapter Which Should Not Be Made, a 5-to-1 Deans adapter using 8mm bullet connectors as the wire-joining socket. I used the Big Weller with the 1/2″ diameter tip for this join-five-12-gauge-wires-at-once job. To prevent errant shorting when plugging in more batteries, each of the male Deans connector ends is shrouded in loosely-shrunk heat shrink tubing.
The other end of the adapter goes to a 45A Anderson PowerPole connector which is used throughout the bike.
The final outfit, with a new wide 26″ front rim. I also replaced the back-curving ‘cruiser’ style handlebars with straight bars that I could stand using. I’m not sure why the cruiser style bars are popular, but my wrists clearly were installed in the wrong orientation for me to use them comfortably. The LED cluster a cheap “56 LED” (That’s the only model name I can find for it) bike light I bought long ago for Melonscooter 1 whose mount I lost, but that was resolved with a 3D printed part.
…and that’s it! It hasn’t been hotmodded to hit 65mph (yet), nor can it go from Boston to New York (yet). I’ve put about 30 to 35 miles on it, on purpose, to test out the speed and range. With the lithium pack, I empirically obtained a range of 25 miles before the motor controller’s own low voltage protection kicked in. This was without me helping it much – if I put some work into it, I’m sure the range will be much greater.
Caddiebike is named such in homage to the floaty ride characteristics of old American ‘land yacht’ luxury cars, since it (still) weighs over 50 pounds and has very soft shock absorbers.
Operation: RUSTY MEMORY Part III
Van bodywork begets more van bodywork. The skills I had to learn and practice on big van work contributed to my ability to tackle Chibi-Mikuvan’s body shell, and the improvement in those skills I got from Chibi-Mikuvan is applied back to big-Mikuvan. I’m trapped in an infinite van loop.
Once again, the onset of cold weather is the impetus for fall-season bodywork. There are still a few problem rust spots that I haven’t gotten to, such as what I consider to be the ‘end boss’ area, the boarding steps, which have holes on both sides. However, for now, I have the area shielded from most water intrusion, so it hasn’t gotten worse.
Last month, I wanted to repaint some more of the very problematic left side. For some reason, the left side of this thing is way more scratched and dented. In particular, the left rear corner had been deteriorating for some time:
I originally wanted to sand down this area a little and just perform a simple repaint, but of course, due to the effects of Famous Last Van Words, there is no such thing as “just [verb] a simple [noun]”. By the time you see the rust bubble, it means it’s too late. The lower corner of the wheelwell is pretty well disintegrated, but I declared it “out of scope” for the day and just proceeded with repainting the dent at the top, which seems like somebody sideswiped a solid object very slowly.
Here’s the area cleaned up a little. The bottom corner has now been “scab picked” so the extent of the hole is visible.
Early October is the last time it’s warm enough to paint outdoors. Even so, I made sure to bring a heat lamp out and point it at the job as I applied more coats.
An area at the front was also repaired during this same session, since just because they write “AUTOMOTIVE” on a can of paint, does not make it fuel-resistant. The occasional fuel pump spill in that area has eaten the clear and color coat a little.
I left the area around the hole unpainted and marinating in “rust converter” spray for the next week or so while I waited on a good opening to bust into the FSAE and Solar Car team shop, where the auto lift is. It is often joked that I will eventually turn the whole thing into a composite-bodied solar car.
Here’s the hole after some more ‘scab picking’. The idea is to trim the area clean with a Dremel, cutting wheel, and abrasive grinding bits, then add several layers of fiberglass cloth, then smooth to shape.
From the inside, here’s a view of where the metal has degraded into holes. This part will be cleaned and trimmed also. In fact, since this is not on a very highly visible part of the vehicle, I am actually just amputating the entirety of the lower inside corner there, where the “bite mark” is taken out, instead of trying to reshape it.
Everywhere there is rust, there is a small rust demon that must be exorcised.
In the middle of the hole-bridging process. My standard so far has been 3 layers of glass, which I surmise makes the region actually more rigid than the rest of the thing. I don’t like to half-ass repairs: if I do something, it’s full-ass, but still ass.
After the resin sets, it’s time to build up the corner with Bondo a bit. I still hate Bondo, but it’s so useful as a material for this kind of work. It’s almost like they designed it for this purpose or something.
There’s two stages of Bondo-work that I seem to do now; first, is “glob on with reckless abandon”, roughly sculpting said reckless abandon to shape, then finely sanding to a visual contour.
A 2nd round then goes on to fill hole and low spots, and that’s when I put away the power sander and resort to hand sandpaper-pushing, since the power sander would be too aggressive at that point.
Here’s the result of “pass 1, fine sculpt”. There’s still some uneven spots to be filled in.
After pass 2, it’s time for priming and painting. I’m not a classic car restoration neckbeard, so the details are not perfect – the oblique lighting in fact reveals the small errors in the contour I left.
I am a adherent of the 5-foot school of cosplay costume creation and automotive bodywork: If it looks fine from like 5 feet away under daylight, and functions fine, then I’m cool with it.
In fact, the only way someone would see this if they were running their hands along it. And if someone is feeling up the underside of my van, then I might need to have a few words with ’em.
The few little black spots are accidental spillovers of the thick black underbody coating paint that I thoroughly smothered the obverse of this area in. The little bit of “orange peel” effect reflected by the room lights was taken care of also.
Letting everything sit overnight under the influence of a large halogen work lamp, here’s the result the next day!
There’s only two major rust removal project left on this thing – the area just behind the front left wheel, which had the most extensive large-area damage, and of course the step holes.
Inexpensive Chinese LED Lighting
Ah, another Inexpensive Chinese name, unfortunately not nearly as cool as ICBM (Inexpensive Chinese Brushless Motor), which I’m glad has spread beyond my immediate influence.
Under the category of “I have nothing left to fix, so I have to start making problems” van work is replacing all the auxiliary lighting with LEDs. I originally conceived this as a step on the way to electrification in order to reduce the power consumption of lighting and other vehicle systems. So perhaps, it’s just keeping the dream alive. Based on the prevalence of 5W “T10” type bulbs, I calculated that I could reduce the power draw of the auxiliary lighting by 66%.
The plan is to replace all the dashboard warning and info icon lights, interior lights, and all the exterior market lights, reverse lights, brake lights, but not turn signals. Why? Because the flasher unit is an older mechanical type, so it counts on the high current draw of filament light bulbs to function. It’s also deep in the dashboard area. No, it’s not located on the fuse panel like a reasonable engineer would do so. This is a job for another day.
I gradually forgot about this as other van shenanigans took over, but DealExtreme made the critical mistake of showing me a promotion for automotive LED replacement bulbs a few weeks ago and made me remember again. The pain is real.
This is what happened. This isn’t the entire haul, either – I also haunted eBay and Amazon simultaneously like when hunting for any other Chinese-supplied resource, and got a few better deals and other form factors from there.
In the fashion I typically preach when it comes to procuring Chinese parts for peoples’ projects, I “shotgun selected” these bulbs. Meaning, I bought a whole bunch of variations and small specification differences to cross correlate which ones are clones and which actually perform up to their nameplate. The fact that you have to do this is a pretty important consequence of buying cheap Chinese parts that many engineers and makers fall victim to, which some of my students get a taste for in 2.00gokart.
I chose to go “middle of the road” sorted by price. One of my own rules of thumb when it comes to Chinese sourcing is to never buy the cheapest thing unless you’re out to use it for something other than its stated purpose; and the most expensive thing is basically like buying from a “real” name brand or established vendor, so you might as well just do that for customer support and service.
The dashboard job was actually quite quick, since I only had to remove the instrument panel and not the whole dashboard. The backlighting was made of three T10/W5W lamps, which I replaced with “1 watt” LED clusters, and the small icons were all T5 miniature bulbs with the exception of the fuel level indicator, which was weird (I later found out it was called a “T4.7”, but I am not going back in for just 1 light right now).
I chose these for all T10 size lamps, so I have a few different colors – white, warm white, red, and amber. I am not a fan of “warm white” in general, even in indoor lighting, and getting rid of the awkwardly yellow “white” lights was part of the reasoning behind this changeover, but just in case WW looked less out of place in one application, I wanted to have it on hand.
For the T5 miniature bulbs, I got these super cute one-LED things in several different colors. As it turns out, the dash icons themselves were colored filters, so I couldn’t use all my fancy colors like cool white and blue and Miku aqua and the like – they just looked “off”, or even greenish, which I would not want as a “You have no oil pressure.” warning light… So they became all red, with the exception of the turn signal indicators, which I used the green ones on, and even switching those out had a visible effect on the flashing frequency of the signals (hence why the external bulbs have to stay Analog until I dig out the flasher unit)
I also found out that the high beam indicator appears to be wired directly to a relay, or is otherwise strongly influencing the circuit, because I totally put a LED in that location and then had no high beams. Analog electrical systems…
In classic “Unintentional Van Consequences” fashion, lowering the power draw of the front electrical harness drastically meant the voltage rose much higher…. and blew out some of the tiny little bulbs living in the switches and buttons. Now, these things I am certain are weird and proprietary.
I had to repair these by soldering in small green LEDs and 1/8W resistors. The photo shows an exaggeration of the lighting gradient in the buttons – they’re quite even in color when you look at them.
All of the exterior marker lights are replaced with LED equivalents in the proper colors.
All interior lights were of the 29mm “Festoon” type, but there were few choices in that size, so I decided to go to the 31mm Festoon and bend the contacts out a little. They’ll live.
The “12-SMD” replacement seems to be the most popular in this size, so I got a handful of these in red and white.
The thing I’m most proud of, though, are these “buttheadlights”. I went all-out and wondered what would happen if I replaced the incandescent bulb with something of the same wattage – 10 watts. The answer is buttheadlights.
The reversing and brake lights are type 1156 and 1157 respectively, and I got these for the reversing lights. I actually am now having second thoughts about replacing the brake lights with their red equivalents, because these things are so bright it’s borderline dangerous to someone behind me. I think I’ll plunder some 5W or smaller ones in a similar form factor later.
During my shopping for all of these lights, I discovered they currently do make LED sealed-beam-replacement headlights. I’m not entirely convinced they work well, though, and they’re also still very expensive. Here’s another vendor I was looking at, and these appear to be the “Chinese copy-and-paste philosophy” off-brand kinds.
There are a number of caveats for those who want to go LED that I discovered in this adventure, and they surround the nameplate rating and physical form factor.
First, shady Chinese parts being shady (but well-lit?) Chinese parts, some of the LED chips seem to be very overdriven or overrated. Specifically, amber/orange and red LEDs have more of a problem with this in my collection than the white, blue, green, etc. This is probably due to the much lower foward voltage of the semiconductor used to make red LEDs (yellow, orange, and so on are based off red LEDs), and the current-limiting resistor being improperly selected. This is hard to fix if the resistor isn’t out in the open, and almost makes switching not worthwhile because of the re-engineering needed
The symptom is lots of heat generation and the LED dims after a while, and some of the wire bonds might even fail and cause one of the dies to go out. The small single-chip T5 lights and the small 1156 sized amber lights I bought have this problem, the T10 size and the “buttheadlight” 9W 1156 lamps did not. This seems to be hit or miss, and so I’d caution people away from buying on the cheap unless you actually do love messing with these things like I do.
Second, you might notice that a lot of these bulbs are way bigger than their equivalent incandescent packages. This is an issue for marker lights, interior lights, etc. where the bezel isn’t very large. At least, you could hold up your bulb to an image of the product and see roughly how much larger it is. Otherwise, you could have to sacrifice brightness for fit purposes.
I got lucky in that the only bulb I bought which didn’t fit directly was the orange front side marker lights, and that was a length discrepancy small enough that I just cut half of the contacts on the circuit board off. But I can’t even imagine how some of those ridiculous corn cob shaped LED wads even begin to fit in their specified form factors. That product right there is my favorite example of “Chinese copy and paste design philosopy” – take what works, then CTRL-C & CTRL-V.
I’m not sure how much more buying the cheap LEDs on heat sinks will help – heat sinks only prolong the time until thermal stress and failure if they’re enclosed in a bubble like most automotive lighting is. That’s why even most home lighting LED products caution against using it in enclosed or recessed light fixtures, because LEDs still generate lots of heat – they’re often cited as “3 times more efficient” than incandescent bulbs or something, but that’s because their luminous efficiency is like 10% instead of 3%. The rest of the 90% is still heat.
I’d say the bottom line here is, I like my glowy cool-white Tron lights enough to shotgun the market and mess with products; if you just want straight up replacements with no hassle, I’m actually not sure what to tell you…