LED Brake Lights - LED Tail Lights
by Rick K. for webBikeWorld.com
Motorcycle Lighting Page |
LED light bulbs,
auxiliary LED light bars and other lighting accessories have been popular with webBikeWorld
visitors over the last few years. These devices are used to help
improve motorcycle visibility for both the front and rear of the
motorcycle (for more information, visit the wBW
We have probably received more email about this subject than
just about any other. Motorcyclists seem very concerned with
improving their visibility to other vehicles, and with good cause -- the now ancient
claims that motorcycle visibility (or lack thereof) is one of the
leading causes of motorcycle accidents.
manufacturers have been very slow to react to this concern. Other
than the introduction of halogen light bulbs as standard equipment, motorcycle
lighting hasn't really changed in decades. Most motorcycles are
with a single, cheap, dim, 1156 or 1157 incandescent tail light or
brake light bulb and some lame 21 Watt signal lights in miniscule
reflectors and lenses.
recent introduction of LEDs as standard equipment for rear lighting on
a few bikes has been driven by styling concerns rather than function
or safety, so it's debatable whether or not there's any real
difference in apparent light power from these original equipment LED
This market failure has resulted in the
evolution of a fairly healthy choice in replacement
lighting types via the aftermarket over the last few years. This
includes everything from higher powered headlight
bulbs to high intensity
discharge (HID) lighting kits, xenon bulbs, various marker lights, LED
brake and tail lights, flexible LED light bars and more.
lighting product sales have really been booming, and the
recent hot item is the introduction of "next generation" high intensity
LED products for motorcycles and trucks. Have you noticed how many tractor-trailers,
trucks and other commercial equipment are now using LED rear
lighting? LEDs are perfectly suited for "heavy-duty"
use for commercial vehicles -- and for motorcycles -- because they are more
resistant to vibration failure, they generate almost no heat, and they
The problem in the recent past has been that the first
generation of LED light "bulbs" for motorcycles have
not been able to throw as much apparent light as the incandescent bulbs
that they were supposed to replace. Something I learned recently
is that not all LEDs are created equal! I can't tell you
how many emails we've received from visitors informing us that we
shouldn't be spending serious bucks on LEDs, when "Company
X" has a similar LED for $4.99.
Well folks, you definitely
get what you pay for with this technology. The El Cheapo LEDs
can have as little as a 5-degree wide spread of their highest
intensity light, and what light they do have can be pretty dim, with
minimal difference between running lights and brake lights.
have a much wider spread (some LED developers have claimed as much as 120 degrees) of their most intense light, which is a
crucial factor for motorcycles. After all, the idea
of using LEDs is to increase visibility, no? A wider spread
means that the most intense light will have a better chance of waking
up the traffic behind you at a greater distance.
High quality LEDs (and it doesn't make sense to
buy anything but high quality LEDs) are expensive. The reason
you're seeing them on some commercial vehicles is that after they do
the cost-benefit analysis of an LED vs. incandescent over the long
life expectancy and rough use of a commercial vehicle, the LED will
pay itself off in the long run. But only if top-quality LEDs are
used -- again, it doesn't make sense to spend more on an LED that only
provides slightly more life expectancy than an incandescent.
Custom Dynamics has this to say about
LED quality: "The main difference in quality has more to do with
the semiconductor technology and manufacturing process than anything
else. Of course the circuit board needs to be properly designed
to obtain the maximum efficiency. If the resistor value is not
optimized for the operating voltage you can either over drive the LED,
shorting its life or even destroying it, or under-drive it, producing
less than optimum light output, but the driving factor is the
technology which determines the efficiency, light output, and viewing
Back to motorcycles...the problem has
been that until very recently, either the technology for
high-intensity LEDs didn't exist, or it wasn't available at anywhere
near a price point that would be acceptable to motorcyclists, or LEDs
just weren't evolved enough yet to compare favorably to incandescents, or
any/all of the above.
Well, the curves on the LED vs.
incandescent brightness graph have just crossed, because this 1.85"
light cluster with 48 individual LEDs, manufactured by Radiantz,
is a pretty cool product. This is the first direct plug-in
replacement for an 1157 tail light/brake light that appears brighter than its incandescent cousin.
Photographs of lighting are notoriously
hard to take, and especially so when trying to compare an LED to an incandescent
bulb's output. The photographs are usually very
conservative in their illustration of light intensity.
the photos below, and I think you'll agree that the LED provides
more apparent light than the incandescent in almost every case, but
especially so as a running light (brakes not applied but lights on). This
apparent brightness is confirmed by the eye -- everyone who has seen
the live comparison has said that the LEDs appear to throw
a much more intense red light than the incandescent at just as wide of
a viewing angle.
So enough already -- let's take a
look and see what you think. The following photographs show a 1999 Triumph
Thunderbird Sport, which came with dual 1157 tail light/brake lights, but which
had been replaced with the slightly more powerful 2397 variation (see the
light bulb comparisons). The top row of photos shows the
incandescents on the bike at 16, 32 and 48 feet from the tail light. The
bottom row shows the exact same distances, but this time with the Radiantz
1.85" LED "Clusterz" light cluster. Compare the photos top
to bottom, left to right.
Don't let the difference
between the apparent "square" incandescent light in the top
row and the "round" LED in the bottom row throw you, because
in reality, there's not much difference, and it's the intensity of the
light that grabs you; the shapes aren't as apparent off-camera.
These photos pretty much confirm what the eye sees, especially as the
distance increases -- the LED's seem to get brighter, probably due to
their more focused intensity. Also, the LED light engages, or
turns on and off, much quicker than the incandescent, which has a sort
of ramp-up and decay as it's turned on and off. This can
help to provide a (theoretically) increased safety margin, giving the
following vehicles more time to react, especially at higher speeds.
A 2397 incandescent bulb has an expected life of 5,000 hours, compared to 100,000
hours for the LED (20 times greater). So if a good quality 2397
bulb costs, say, $2.49, it's theoretically equivalent to a $49.80 LED
in terms of its potential life expectancy.
Here's an interesting tidbit:
bigger is not always better with LEDs. We also compared a huge 2.0" LED cluster
from another source to the Custom Dynamics 1.85", and the
1.85" was brighter at all angles. The lesson here is that it's
the quality of the LED, and not the size, that really matters.
The 1.85" Radiantz LED 1157 cluster weighs
substantially more than an 1157 incandescent bulb, at 32 grams (1.125
oz.) vs. 9 grams (.375 oz.). This may have some long-term wear
effect on the brake light's bulb receptacle, depending upon the
motorcycle and the sturdiness of the receptacle and brake light
Also, there may be limited availability
of the 1.85" LED direct plug-in 1157 replacement, as production
is currently ramping back up and the product will be available during
the week of July 7, 2003. The 1.85" is also available
in a hardwire and pigtail version, which may be more appropriate for
your application, depending upon your bike's tail/brake light
assembly. Check the Custom Dynamics
Bulbs and Clusters page for more information.
If you're an LED nut like I am, be sure
to pay a visit to the Radiantz
and the Custom Dynamics
websites. These websites are an LED-junkie's dream, with a huge variety of
LED and incandescent replacement and custom lights, light bars, light
clusters and more. Dave, the owner of Custom Dynamics, is a
straight shooter who can help you find a cool application for your
bike, whether it's a cruiser or Sportbike.
They will custom-make
LED lighting solutions, and they have a wide variety of LED and
hard-to-find incandescent bulbs for many lighting solutions, including
turn signals and more. They even have LED clusters
with up to 136 LEDs for Harley, Honda,
Indian, Kawasaki, Suzuki,
with more on the way.
Review: Radiantz "Clusterz"
LED Brake Light Clusters
Retail Price: $24.99
Comments: The first LED 1157-style replacement
brake/tail lights I've seen that actually perform better
than 1157 or 2397 incandescent bulbs. Not all LEDs are
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From "D.G." (12/08): "Purchased the 1157
(GEN-18-R-1157) Replacement bulbs based on your review and
the reputation of Custom Dynamics. Purchased a 2001
Hayabusa with a sidecar in August. When I rode it home
my wife followed behind and was alarmed at how dim the stock
bulbs were compared to our Goldwing.
In researching solutions I checked WebBikeWorld and found
your review. We replaced the 2 Hayabusa tail lamps and
the Sidecar Tail lamp with the 1.80 inch Genesis Red
Clusters and they are about 5x brighter with instant
response when braking.
These came with a pig tail and adhesive to mount vs. a fixed
stem off the bulb. This allowed me to adjust them and
place them exactly were I wanted them. On the Sidecar
the original bulb was placed behind a reflector for an
indirect placement to bounce off the inside of the housing.
With the pig tail I was able to stick the LED directly to
the lens and improve the brightness dramatically.
Customer service responded very quickly with suggestions for
the application and installation questions. I highly
recommend Custom Dynamics LED's.........if you ever tailgate
me there is a good chance you will get retina burn when I
hit the breaks! LOL"
From "P.E.": Who sent in these detailed comments on
installing a Radiantz LED Clusterz 1157 replacement on a 2000
NOTE: Custom Dynamics suggests that
the 1.85" universal clusters are not the best choice for HD
Turn Signal Replacements. They said "Radiantz makes
and we carry LED turn signal retro kit that are specific to
HD Turn signal housings so that no gluing is necessary.
Here is the link. Thanks, Dave".
"I just wanted to provide a bit
of feedback on the Custom Dynamics vendor and Radianz LED
First, the folks at Custom
Dynamics Technical Support are very responsive and helpful, as
your review states. Dave at Custom Dynamics responded to
my inquiry about LED upgrade lighting products for my 2000 H-D
FLHTCU-I. I purchased a 136-LED rear tail/brake
light/license plate light, #9100-13 a Diamond headlight
modulator w/remote switch a BackOff brake light modulator
w/internal resistance two red 48-LED direct base replacement
clusters for my Tourpak wraparound light bar’s two 1157
I installed the tail/brake
light/license plate light per the included instructions and it
works as advertised. Very bright in running light and
brake light modes.
The Custom Dynamics/Radianz
instructions for installing the 1.85” 48-LED cluster 1157
replacements for the Tourpak running/brake lights were
non-existent. I’d offer the following instructions for
those H-D FLHT owners who have a King Tourpak with the optional
wrap-around light bar:
Order 2 ea. Custom Dynamics
1.85" diameter direct base 48-LED Replacement Cluster – Red.
Open the tail/brake light
sockets and remove the two 1157 incandescent trail/brake
Insert the blade of a
utility knife or other strong, slim blade into the joint
between the Tourpak light bar and the red tail/brake light
lens, and working in a clockwise direction, slowly and
carefully pry the lens from Tourpak lightbar.
Reinstall the Tourpak tail
light/brake light sockets.
With the red lenses removed,
insert the 1.85” LED direct base clusters into the sockets.
Carefully clean the
adhesive/waterproofing sealant from the light bar and red
Use fresh silicone ir butyl
rubber adhesive/waterproofing sealant to reattach the red
lenses to the light bar. Remove excess sealant.
I made the foolish mistake of
removing the Tourpak wrap-around light bar. I thought that
this would simplify the installation of the 1.85” LED clusters,
as they won’t fit through the back of the reflector housings.
Removal of the wraparound light bar is completely unnecessary,
is a waste of time, and will potentially compromise the
watertight seal of the light bar assembly. Live and learn…
The Custom Dynamics/Radianz
recommendations for installing the LED replacements of the 2000
FLHTCU front and rear running lights/turn signal lights are
similarly missing/incomplete. The bulb base axes are
perpendicular to the direction of the turn signal light beam.
The direct base LED clusters will not fit the turn signal
housings. Instead, order the 1.85” 48-LED amber pigtail
replacement clusters for the front and rear turn signals on the
Remove the amber turn signal
lenses and 1157 incandescent bulbs.
Center and attach the LED
cluster body to the inside of the stock amber turn signal
lenses with epoxy, super glue or hot melt glue.
Insert the 1157 base of the
LED cluster into the turn signal socket.
Reinstall the amber turn
signal lens taking care to avoid damaging the 0-ring."
Thanks for sending this