Motorcycle LED Brake Light Replacement
User Comments: See below for comments from
visitors on using LED
brake lights on motorcycles.
In my never-ending search for perfect
motorcycle visibility, I happened to come across the website for LEDtronics, a Torrance, California based firm that makes
emitting diodes) in just about every shape and size anyone would ever
need. I was mulling over the idea of buying a handful of LED's to
enhance the brake light on my 1986 BMW R65 motorcycle when I found the LEDtronics
1156 LED brake light replacement -- it is way too expensive, but I just had to
give it a try.
I have some LED motorcycle brake light enhancements on my other
motorcycle, a '94 BMW
K75, and I'm pleased with the way they've been working (see the article
"Improving the Brake
Light Visibility of a BMW K75" on the wBW
very little current; are very bright; they cycle on and off extremely
fast compared to incandescent bulbs; and they have a very long service
life. This is important for motorcycle applications. They are also much more resistant to failure from vibration,
which makes them potentially useful on motorcycles.
The downside is that the LED lights
throw light that is very
directional. They must be viewed at almost a direct angle in order
to realize their increased brightness (more on this later).
way, did I say they can be very expensive? The LEDtronics 1156 replacement
in red costs $48.50, and it cost me $5.35 for shipping to the east coast
via UPS ground. Yep, I'm embarrassed! But hey, at least the money
was spent in the spirit of webBikeWorld knowledge sharing....
I read an article that was linked from the LEDtronics website that was written by
the owner of a Yamaha R1 about his use of an LED light replacement. The
owner was searching for a brighter LED light to replace the Asian-sourced
LED unit on his bike's custom tail treatment.
It is apparent
(confirmed by other sources) that some lower-quality LED lights from
overseas can produce
very low levels of light, enough to make them fairly useless for brake
The owner was pleased with the brightness of
the LEDtronics replacement light, and there are some photos on the site that
illustrate some of the differences between his stock LED light and the
LEDtronics 1157. I was convinced that a lighting replacement would do the
same for my R65.
I eventually ordered an 1156
replacement after communicating with an engineer at LEDtronics about
which color light would be appropriate. He assured me that the red
LED is the one to use for brake light applications.
LED light is
differently shaped than the 21 watt GE 1156 long life that I use (see
photo left), but it fit in the receptacle of the R65's taillight with no
problem. The shape of the LEDtronics light may be an issue on some bikes though -- see the
dimensions in the schematic above to determine if it will fit for your
I was anxious to try out the LED to see what difference it made.
I assumed it would be noticeably brighter than the 1156 bulb I was using
-- I was psyched up and thinking it would blast anyone to the rear with
shimmering cascades of brilliant light! But as soon as I applied the brakes, I realized this was
not to be.
Although the LEDtronics LED light cycles on very quickly, it
was immediately obvious that the amount of light it put out was nowhere
near the incandescent. It is much more directional, and it doesn't
have enough "side throw" to bounce the light around in the
plastic chrome housing and out the back of the taillight
Photo 2 - 1156 incandescent
Photo 3 - 1156 LED
Photo 4 - 1156 incandescent
Photo 5 - 1156 LED
I took some photos of the
light from straight on (Photos 2 and 3) at brake light level and also
from looking down at the brake light (Photos 4 and 5), where the
directionality is much more noticeable. Both sets of photos were
taken from about 5 feet back, and photos 4 and 5 were taken from a
camera lens height of 5' 2".
It's hard to
get good photos of lighting, but I think you can see that the photos
illustrate that the LED light in Photo 3 is much more directional and
doesn't fill up the brake light lens with light when compared to the
1156 incandescent bulb in Photo 2.
I think the reason for this is
that out of the 24 individual LED lights that make up the LEDtronics
unit, 16 are oriented directly towards the back and only 8 of them are
oriented radially around the sides. This limits the amount of
light that can be reflected off the chrome light housing.
Photos 4 and 5 compare the lights from above. Again, I think this
illustrates what my eye sees -- the LED light is more directional and
doesn't throw the same quality and "volume" of light that the
incandescent bulb does.
So, the bottom line is this: the only benefit I see of using the LED
light in this application is
that the light cycles on (and turns off) immediately upon application of
the brakes. LEDtronics claims that this can reduce reaction time
at 65 mph by 15 feet. But I don't think the tradeoff in brightness
is worth it.
By the way, I have nothing at all against LEDtronics or their
claims. They have been honest and they seem to be a decent company to
do business with. My opinion is that unless your brake or taillight were
specifically engineered for LED lights, the old-fashioned incandescent
may still be the way to go. My search continues....
Visitor "JDV" sent this note: "Rick: I stumbled onto (your article) looking for LED replacement
Great article on
LED's. I bought them last year and they never worked for me: Running
lights would not stay on, and the brake lights would erratically
blink. They are now dust collectors on my garage shelf.
them on three different bikes and three different result I got,
and all three were not the advertised result. I couldn't tell
you if I noticed if they were brighter or not. They just didn't
work for me. When I called (the company that made the
LED's), they told me they were
tested before they had them shipped. I asked them if using them
on a motorcycle would make a difference; apparently not. They
asked me to send them back to them, I never got around to it,
giving up on LED. Back to incandescent."
Visitor "B.W." wrote us with this information: "I came across
your article "LED brake light replacement light", and
noticed the claim that LEDtronics supposedly makes that the
instant-on characteristic of an LED can reduce reaction distance
at 65 MPH by 15 feet. A little simple arithmetic shows this to
be a pretty inflated claim.
A standard incandescent brake
light reaches 80% of its full brightness in less than 100 mS;
with most lights, a figure of 80 mS is pretty representative.
65 MPH is 95 feet/second. Thus in
80 mS, the bike will have traveled only about 7-1/2 feet, not
15. But even that is an inflated figure since already by
the 50 mS mark, a standard brake light will have reached a very
significant proportion of full brightness, and will be able to
be seen easily. In 50 mS the bike will have traveled less
than 5 feet. To me, this is a solution looking for a
But, visitor "H.M." has a comment: "Missed point
here, IMHO. In a
traffic situation, is a sea of incandescent lights, the LED's
catch my eyes first. I'd imagine that if my bike was
sporting an array of LED's and I hit the brakes, the sea of eyes
behind me will respond to my lights first. Five feet is
five feet. I'll take any advantage I can get. I'm
building my own array of LED's to flood my Concours tail light
with a blinding burst of red stopping power."
I also still like my LED's, H.M. How about sending us some photos and a write-up on installing the LED's
on your Concours - that would make a great article that I'm sure would
be of interest to others!
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