– Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

LEDs and Motorcycles

Reading that the new Audi A8 automobile will have LED headlights (as opposed to daytime running lights — a feature on current Audis) made me think about the use of LED lights on bicycles. Relatively small and light, battery powered LED headlights for a bicycle are now approaching the 1,000 lumen level — quite bright, and roughly the same as a traditional, low beam headlight on an automobile. Larger, heavier LED lights (approaching the size and weight of traditional automobile headlights) could easily top 2,000 lumens.

Most motorcycles lack the headlight power found on automobiles for a simple reason, i.e., lack of real estate. An automobile simply has more space for four large headlights (two low beams and two high beams), while most motorcycles (short of tourers) opt for a single or dual headlight setup. LEDs could allow motorcycles to have relatively small, lightweight headlights (in keeping with current designs) that are just as bright as most current automobile setups. Indeed, LED technology could allow motorcycles in the not-too-distant future to have lights brighter than most automobile HID setups.

If you have particular knowledge about LED headlight applications, please send us an email that we can share with our other readers.

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MD Readers Respond:

  • I opted for a set of the Hondaline LED fog lights for my new ’08 Goldwing Airbag when I made the plunge. I don’t recall off the top what the power rating is for these lamps, but I will say that they seem pretty heavy for their size. If LED headlights are the next big thing, they’re going to have to be a lot more powerful than these units. While the ‘Wing has 4 headlights, I new before purchase that I’d have to upgrade the lighting situation to suit myself. I traded in a ’06 ST1300 for the Wing on which I had installed a set of HID lamps coutesy of Xenon Depot, along with a set of PIAA 1100’s. I ended up grafting a set of KC Highlights 6″ Slimlite Series (Black) off-road lamps to the Wing; these Halogens are rated at 100watts each, and provide enough light for my 50 year old eyes to actually ride with reasonable confidence in dark conditions here in New England. The lights were the best value for the money, and I believe the company actually makes them here. The other nice thing about these lights are that I didn’t have to perform major surgery to the bike to put them on.   Mark
  • I’ve been using this bicycle light on my honda scooter for night riding. The main headlight on the scooter is a 35w/35w high/low HS1 halogen bulb. It put’s out about 650 lumens on high beam. This bicycle light puts out 900 lumens. It’s nice to see deer before they cross the road in front of me while I’m travelling at a good clip.

  • I was just talking about this with a couple of buddies a few days ago. When I was in Iraq, I saw the new HMMWVs(hummers) with LED headlights. When I got a close look, they made a lot of sense. They are essential shock proof, fit in the standard housing, have multiple elements which reduce the chance of failure, and they throw out an amazing amount of light. And they look very cool. So I looked for them on the net and found a company that will sell them for your H1 or Jeep with a 7″ headlight…just like my Hawk. I am planning on ordering one and talking my EE and motorcylce fabrication buddies, to help me make it work. Would make great sense because of the durability (many times longer), lower power, no ballast to hide, and well just looking cool. The site sells the lights for $350 a piece, which is a little salty, but not when you consider what those GS guys pay for the Tourtech stuff. I bet it won’t me loong before you see some w/ HMMWV lights bolted on …
    Love your site,   Greg

  • As a very small percentage of riders go out after dark probably the most important reason for motorcycle headlights is daytime visability. The potential problem with LEDs is the same as it was when BMW started using projector beam lights: The lens area is so small and the field of light so sharply focused that from any angle other than straight on an approaching driver cannot see the light. But, when was the last time you heard a motorcycle buyer ask “How well do the headlights work?” We are more concerned with asthetics than function.

    Having said that, I am guilty of the same thing. The ’03 Triumph Daytona 955i I use to have had the best lights of any bike I have ever ridden. Yet I sold it for a Street Triple R with lights that are large and bright but poorly controlled with lots of dark spots in the beam pattern. This is not a real problem for me though because, again I seldom go out after dark.

    I work for an electric sign company. Several years ago LEDs started showing up as an alternative for neon. More recently we have been using them to replace fluorescent lighting. The major advantages for our customers are lower maintenance costs and lower power usage.

    From my limited experience, the actual point of light from an LED is very small, about 1/4 the head of a pin with some that I have seen. The beam angle is also very narrow (about 5 degrees for some) unless they are molded into a larger module that spreads the light out to as far as 110 degrees. So maybe the best use of LEDs would be a combination of a daytime running light as Audi has done and also as a light source for a projector beam headlight.   Paul

  • LED headlights for road going vehicles poses a whole level of problems due to government standards and regulations that bicycles do not have to deal with. The biggest problem is that LED light output actually varies greatly due to ambient and working temperature. Rather then go into all the problems I would recommend you read this specific section in an automotive headlight entry on wikipedia.

    Of course these problems can be overcome but at the moment it appears that the complexity is only solved by throwing a large amount of money at the problem. Also the cooling problems are probably size prohibitive to motorcycle applications.

    The technology that could e in use right now for motorcycles is HID. In fact the whole headlamp assembly could be made much smaller and if done by the manufacturer the ballasts could be integrated into a single unit and hidden easily within the headlamp assembly. HIDs have a huge amount of advantageous including higher efficiency equalling more lumens per watt and a much longer bulb life then standard halogen bulbs.   Louis

  • These guys offer some outstanding led lights for motorcycles. As of now the led’s they offer are considered marker/fog lights, but some driving lights are in the works and soon to be released.   Scott
  • One benefit of the LED lights for bicycles, that would also be a benefit for the motorcyclist, is that the draw for a relatively bright “parking” light is nil, compared to a incandescent bulb. Since bicycles have such issues with battery weight and motorcycles have batteries that are much smaller than autos, the amount of time you could leave a vehicle parked with “parking lights” on is extended greatly, should it be required. This also will put less draw on the alternator so a little bit more performance is available too. (Not that it is usually required at night, but since bikes run with their headlights on during the day, it might be worth a 1/2 horse or so).

    On top of all that, the LED bulbs are very durable, with no filament to burn out or be damaged from a bump or drop of the bike. For off-road applications, much like for Mountain Biking, this is a huge benefit of LED. HID lights have the “no filiment” aspect in their favor, but they are still susceptible to impacts and crashes damaging the bulb and losing the gases, etc… So – smaller, lighter, brighter and lower-power drain (can you say “Green”?) What is there not to like about this?   Scott

  • Check these two out.


    Light in Motion   Jamie

  • Being in the electronics assembly business, I have a couple of customers who are on the fore-front of designing and manufacturing LED lighting systems. One of them has a system that they’ve developed for the military for use on Humvees as a directable searchlight. It draws only 150 watts, but can light up targets 400+ yards out, in either visible or infrared light. It’s way brighter than any HID headlight I’ve ever seen. In its military configuration, this LED unit is a bit bigger than a normal headlight nacelle, but if you dropped the IR portion and re-shaped the housing, it could easily be a replacement for a standard headlight. But then, IR with a matching pair of goggles might make for some really interesting night riding….   Bob
  • My company makes lenses for all types of business and commercial aircraft. We partner with a company that makes LED lights for these applications. I don’t know the specs because I work in a different section, but I have seen examples of extremely bright LED applications for wingtip lenses in relatively small packages. I can assure you that the technology exists to exceed the brightness of incandescent auto bulbs. The issue at this point is cost which is always prohibitive with new technology. The aircraft LED’s that we use are about 3/8” in diameter and are extremely bright.
    Here is a link to one of the companies we partner with on certain projects.
    As a side note, my 2005 Yamaha MT-01 has LED tail-lights that are much brighter than any tail-light I have owned in 30+ years of motorcycling.   Jeff

  • Great web site!!

    I think there are a couple reasons that motorcycle headlights have not been as robust as most cars. Nobody has demanded them, and dual headlights don’t just take up more space, they take more power. Many sportbikes have dual headlights, one for low, one for high. Why not make them both dual beam? More electrical power requires a bigger alternator and battery to power them. That means weight, space and cost to provide that, and since nobody picks a sportbike based on the best headlight coverage, a shortcut is found.

    LED lights takes much less power, so switching to dual LEDS should only be a matter of money and engineering. That will still be a tough sell unless consumers start making noise about it.

    Or maybe someone will do it to be a technological leader (Honda?)… Anyone else want to beat them to it?

    P.S., the new Norton makes me want to go COMMANDO!!   Dean

  • Next door neighbor works for Cree. Last year he told me about a 10W die (the actual LED chip) that they had for car headlights and a 40W die that gets mounted in front of reflector and hung under helicopters for a searchlight.

    That said, packaging the die is a little difficult. In spite of the fact that LEDs are fairly efficient, they don’t like heat if you want them to live a long life. Hence the heatsinks you’ll be seeing.

    As for the LED headlights on the Audi R8, Autoblog says they have 24 LEDs and cost $7,100

    Cree neighbor says they are working with other manufacturers for lower count, less expensive headlights in the next year or so.

    Lights that are currently available? LED landing lights for airplanes:

    There is a DOT approved 7″ diameter headlight available. No price noted.

    And finally, there is an LED corollary to Moores law, Haitz law.’s_Law

    “Haitz’s Law is an observation/prediction about the steady improvement over the years of light-emitting diodes – LEDs.
    It states that every decade, the cost per lumen (unit of useful light emitted) falls by a factor of 10, the amount of light generated per LED package increases by a factor of 20, for a given wavelength (color) of light. It is considered the LED counterpart to Moore’s Law, which states that the number of transistors in a given integrated circuit doubles every 18 to 24 months.[1]”

    Yeah, it’s something I watch.   Mark

  • The main problem with LED’s is that when they are designed to put out so much light, they produce so much heat that they need a lot of cooling. Some integrated auto systems now come with miniature air conditioning along with the lights. Really expensive and complicated! Just the opposite of what we thought they were representing.

    A few months ago in Automotive News there was an article quoting an Audi engineer saying that although for low lighting applications LED’s are the way to go, for main headlighting there is no better way that real HID Xenon plasma light. That requires about 25,000 volts to light the plasma and with no filament, the lifetime is over 20K hours! Once lit, the Xenon plasma runs on really low wattage and is super efficient.

    LED’s do have another advantage though and that is in packaging. As a light source, they are really small and can otherwise be sprinkled rather easily into an aerodynamic fender for example without disturbing the designer’s wishes.

    I would guess that on real expensive sport bikes you might see them in headlighting, but not in the mainstream. For the “mood rings,” they are perfectly suited.   Barry

  • There is no question that LED headlights are inherently advantageous and are the way of the future, the simple reason being that they are more efficient, i.e., a lesser proportion of the energy they consume is wasted as heat. But I am not so certain that real estate is a limiting factor in the brightness of motorcycle headlights. Electrical power is a limiting factor for most motorcycles, since greater electrical power requires a bigger, heavier AC generator. If a manufacturer of a bike with engine power adequate to supply the required amount of electrical power were to want to put two high beams side-by-side and two low beams side-by-side, they would probably not encounter any real limitation from the standpoint of real estate. I do not know whether there are any federal regulations that would prohibit doing this. My issue with the headlights on the last two bikes I bought was not with the high beams, which I thought were excellent, but rather with the low beams. On both of my last two bikes, the low beams exhibited an abrupt cut-off, owing to the design of the H4 halogen bulbs. With the headlight adjusted properly, anytime that I braked hard and the bike pitched down in front, that abrupt cut-off point would move abruptly toward the bike, leaving virtually none of the road ahead lit. It seems to me that it is utterly brain dead to use H4 bulbs for the low beams on a motorcycle, as compared to earlier designs where the cut-off is less abrupt and where you still have a useful amount of light on the road even when the front is pitched down. If the adoption of LED headlights would have the side effect of getting rid of H4 bulbs, this would be an advantage equal to the advantage of the increase in the amount of light relative to the amount of electrical power consumed.   Tom
  • Something I’d thought I’d pass along …   Rick

  • Actually, it is not just the brightness of the light. The frontal area of
    the light is a large factor in the visibility of the bike to cars. Smaller
    headlights can appear as tiny points of light, while a large frontal area
    are far easier to see in daylight. The Honda VFR (previous generation) is a
    good example of a bike with a large headlight area. Smaller lights may well
    be a bad trend.   Ken

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