Motorcycle LED lights have been a popular topic on webBikeWorld since we
first started investigating them way back in... could it have been 7 years
ago? Wow! Time sure flies...
Seven years ago I thought for sure that, seven years hence, LED lights would
have completely replaced incandescent bulbs for motorcycle lighting, except maybe
for the headlight, which I figured would be probably be powered by something
like a cold fusion LED.
And here we are, back to the future -- but what happened? Yep, there
are a few bikes here and there with a LED brake lights as original
equipment, but surely by now an incandescent bulb would be more of a
curiosity than current best practice?
LED lights have very interesting theoretical potential for motorcycle use;
they are nearly unaffected by vibration, they don't get hot, they draw very
little current, they last virtually forever and they're theoretically more
resistant to moisture incursion. And when viewed well within their
"cone of visibility" they're very bright. Perfect for motorcycles!
But, as we discovered during our many motorcycle LED lighting reviews (see
the right column for links), there are two basic problems. First, LED
lights are, by their nature, very directional. For example, a typical
1157 replacement LED light might have a beam pattern (what we call the "cone
of visibility") of around 18 degrees in the running light mode and 100
degrees for the brake light, compared to an incandescent that has, oh, 300
degrees of total visibility?
The second related problem is that the motorcycle tail light, brake light or
turn signal reflectors must be designed and built specifically for LED
lights to exploit their limited beam pattern.
But the motorcycle
manufacturers (their suppliers actually) don't seem all that interested in
busting up the status quo; after all, they have zillions invested in the
tooling required to make the basic 50-year-old chrome plated plastic 1156 or
1157 receptacles. They're dirt cheap (the receptacles and the
manufacturers) and -- let's face it -- old style incandescents actually do a
super job of firing up your typical brake light and turn signal. So
what's to change?
Well, motorcyclists love to tinker, customize and personalize, and
webBikeWorlders are always looking for the best and brightest when it comes
to motorcycle visibility. So off we go to our favorite LED store,
SuperBrightLEDs (see below) to see what's new and try once again to beat the
hoary old 1157 at its own game!
We've tried many different flavors of LED lights over the years with lots of
stories to tell. Like, for example, my recent tale of woe, which is
familiar to the the readers of myDucati
GT1000 blog. You may recall that I spent about $300.00 on two
separate LED light orders from SuperBrightLEDs with nothing to show for it!
The first box was stolen from my mailbox, and the second box, well, I guess
it disappeared somewhere in the house, never to be found! By the way,
this isn't the first time this has happened to me -- I lost a brand-new set
of Pazzo adjustable levers recently when my wife tossed the box into the
garbage, not realizing the levers were still inside...
So this most recent batch of LED lights includes our third and finally
successful attempt at procuring a LX-3 Luxeon LED (red bulb) 1157
replacement; a 19-LED 1157 replacement; a 24-LED 1157 replacement and, for
something new and different, four 12-LED 921 "wedge" bulb replacements for
the turn signals on the GT1000.
The premise of this comparison was just to see if anything's changed in the
world of basic LED 1157 replacements recently. We compared the Luxeon
to the 19- and 24-LED 1157 replacement LED lights, using the original
equipment 1157 incandescent brake/tail light and 921 incandescent turn
signal bulb as the "control", or baseline, but since the 24-LED
didn't compare to the brightness of the 2397 incandescent, we didn't even
bother mounting the 19-LED equivalent.
Note that I did replace the standard 1157 on the GT1000 with a 2397, which I
think is very slightly brighter than a normal 1157. See the
article comparing several different incandescent bulb equivalents for
more information. The GT1000 is actually a good testbed for comparing
LED and incandescent lighting because of its very plain and round tail light
and turn signal reflectors. The basic round design helps to get the
most out of each light and avoids any potential hot spots or other lighting
aberrations that might be caused by more adventurous reflector styles.
The interesting but super-expensive ($24.95!) Luxeon LED had been suggested by several webBikeWorld
visitors. It uses a 3-Watt LED light and has a claimed 130-degree
"cone of visibility" or beam pattern. It's a very compact LED light,
so it should fit just about any 1157 receptacle out there.
has an operating range of -30 to +85 degrees C; it puts out 35 and 90 lumens
for its running light and brake light respectively and it has a claimed
50,000 hour operating life, which should keep it going in stop and go
traffic into the next millennium!
Here's a photo of the unique Luxeon LED (left) next to the 24-LED 1157
The GT1000 uses the 921 "wedge" bulb as its original equipment turn signals;
I'm not sure why Ducati uses the wedge type bulb, maybe because it's
slightly smaller and the bulb holder may be more secure than a "twist 'n'
turn" 1156 type.
Here's a photo of the 921 LEDs compared to the standard incandescent
(right), followed by a photo of the 921 in its wedge holder on the GT1000's
OK, so what's the bottom line? We
compared all of these lights to the standard
incandescent bulbs and dragged several victims through the
garage to watch the light show. The consensus is
that although the LED lights have a noticeably quicker
on/off cycling time, in this application they just don't
put out the same quantity and brightness as the standard
The LX3 Luxeon is way too expensive for
what it does, which is not much in this particular
The 921 LED turn signal lights have a
faster on/off cycle time than the seemingly slow
incandescents, which may make them more noticeable by
attracting the attention of other drivers, but that's a
Our conclusion is that there is still
room for improvement in LED lighting for motorcycles
and, based on this small sampling, there isn't much new
to report on the LED front. LED lights may be the
equivalent or better of an incandescent bulb only in
certain instances, but they aren't yet a complete
replacement for every incandescent motorcycle light that
is housed in an old-style reflector.
Here's a brief video we put together
that compares the original equipment lights to the LEDs
used in this article:
Video: Motorcycle LED Brake Light, Tail Light and Turn
Motorcycle LED Brake Light, Tail Light and Turn Signal
Comments are ordered from most recent to oldest.
Not all comments will be published (details). Comments may be edited for
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From "D.B.": "Here's a
little supplement to your LED lighting article. These are
3 watt Luxeon LED's from Superbrightleds.com. They were
approx $24 each plus shipping. I -did- find them to be
just as bright as the stock bulbs that my VTX1300 came with, and
- was- quite satisfied with them. However, as you can see,
they proved to be less than durable. They lasted 13
I found myself riding down the road and hearing
some sort of buzzing noise that I had had not heard before.
It was subtle through the wind and my helmet, but it was
audible. A short time later, I observed that my front
right turn signal was no longer functioning. I put 2 and 2
together and, sure enough, the bulb had broken. It had actually
fallen into 2 pieces! Poor quality indeed!
Due to the fact that they were so costly, I was
stunned to see them fail so soon and even more stunned at the
lack of good will shown to me by SBL. While they did fail
just outside of their warranty period, I did somewhat expect SBL
to show me at least some sort of consideration as I felt that I
certainly had not got my money's worth out of these bulbs.
The VTX is a very smooth bike, so I cannot see excessive
vibration or anything like that being the cause of the bulb's
My bike has had -every- light on it, with the
exception of the headlight, converted to LED's. These are
the only ones that were not supplied to me by Custom Dynamics,
and the only ones to have failed so far. My rear turn
signals are Custom Dynamics Dynamic Clusters, and I am very
satisfied with them.
Their LED products are first rate and most of
them have a lifetime warranty. However, unfortunately,
Custom Dynamics charges its Canadian customers exorbitant
shipping charges that are way out of line for the size and
values of the products being shipped, and that leaves a very bad
taste in my mouth as I feel I am being taken advantage of.
We have been using New Enough as our exclusive
helmet, glove, boot, and m/c outerwear supplier for years around
here. I've had New Enough ship us packages that contained
multiple jackets and a full face helmet, and paid similar
amounts for shipping to what Custom Dynamics charges me for
shipping just a couple of LED's."