Among my favorite aspects of vintage bikes are the little accessories: the small period details designed into the peripheral parts such as chain guards, racks, fenders, and lighting fixtures. Like clothing accessories or room decor, these peripheral pieces combine to “tie together” the overall aesthetic (to paraphrase Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski). So when I embarked on my latest project, the conversion of an old French road bike into a porteur (the subject of a future post–it’s being built up as I write this), I began studying the finer details of the classic French bikes. What struck me was the simple, streamlined beauty of their lighting systems, particularly the headlights and taillights. Here’s a nice example of a 1950’s René Herse porteur, displaying so many of the wonderful little touches that made these bikes so beautiful:
Let’s zoom in on the taillight:
There is no bulbuous plastic housing or any part of this light that looks bulky or intrusive. Unlike modern taillights, this one is trim, compact, and mirrors the smooth curvature of the fender. Unfortunately for me, all these wonderful, old gems of lighting accessories were designed to hold regular incandescent bulbs, powered by a dynamo. Since I have no intention of incorporating dynamo lighting in my porteur conversion, I wondered whether I could retrofit a modern battery-powered LED into once of these nice old housings. Fortunately there is precedent for this type of undertaking, which I discovered from perusing this Flickr set of Vélocia, a fellow vintage bike enthusiast and DIYer. Vélocia took the housing and lens of an old Soubitez Catalux 6 taillight and retrofitted the LED mechanism from a Planet Bike Superflash. What a great idea, and in one important way, an improvement on the original: the LED is undoubtedly brighter than the original 0.6W bulb!
Fortunately, vintage French bike parts are rather abundant on online auction sites, and I was lucky enough to find a NOS Soubitez taillight shell and lens on eBay, identical to the one on the René Herse example above. Inspired by Vélocia‘s conversion, I set out to retrofit the shell with a modern LED. Here’s how I did it:
First, I needed to find an LED taillight small enough to re-package inside this petite housing. Fortunately, Sigma makes a nice small single LED taillight called the Micro, shown here next to the Soubitez fixture:
Next, I needed to remove the LED circuit board and see how it would fit inside the Soubitez housing. Would it fit? No!
The finished product (note the tact switch unobtrusively peeking through):