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Halogen Brake Light Bulb Replacement

DesignTech 50 Watt Halogen 1156 Brake Light Bulb

I blow through a lot of money on webBikeWorld reviews!  Here we go with brake lights again….

Maybe I have a fixation.  I’m looking for thHalogen Brakee perfect brake light: low watts, low heat, lasts forever with no damage from vibration, lights up in nanoseconds, and is so bright that when I ignite it, the whole world behind me instantly stops!

I’ve installed various brake light enhancements on my motorcycles, and since this article was first written, there’s finally an LED replacement for an 1157 bulb that seems to be as bright as an incandescent (see more on the wBWMotorcycle Lighting Page).  But we’ve also received emails suggesting that we should try the “super bright” halogen brake light bulbs that have become available in some auto parts stores.  These are sold under various trade names, but you can usually expect to find the words “super bright” somewhere on the box.

The 21 watt 1156 bulb is frequently used in automobiles as a backup light bulb.  It’s also used in many motorcycles, including my BMW R65, as a brake light.  The R65 has a 5 watt bulb as a rear running light that is always on, and an 1156 upper light that comes on only when the brakes are engaged.

The halogen replacement bulbs are also available in 1157 size.  What’s the diff? The 1156 has one contact on the bottom of the bulb; the 1157 has two contacts and two filaments.  If your bike’s brake light goes from off to on, it’s probably an 1156.  If the brake light acts as a running light, then the same bulb gets brighter when you apply the brakes, it’s probably an 1157 (more articles also on substitutes for incandescent bulbs on the wBW Motorcycle Lighting Page).

The 50 watt 1156 halogen replacement bulb I purchased from AutoBarn is claimed to be “2-1/2 times brighter” than the “standard bulb”.  Is it really? I realized that the halogen bulb might not last as long as an incandescent long life 1156 (on my R65), because halogens in general do not like vibration, but I just had to try it.

I also realized that halogen bulbs are famous for their heat output.  I’m not an engineer, but it makes sense that more power means more light…and more heat!  So I decided to get scientific.  I purchased a Pyrex “Professional” digital thermometer (at Bed, Bath and Beyond no less!) with a remote probe.  I hope you appreciate the money I blow on this stuff! I know my wife sure doesn’t……..

Before I checked to see how bright the halogen bulb was, I wanted to see how hot it burned.  I figured it wouldn’t make any difference how bright it was if the taillight housing was melting into the fender as I stood at a stoplight. So I mounted each of 3 bulbs: the LEDtronics 1156, a standard GE long life incandescent, and the DesignTech halogen.Review,Reviews,lights

I was going to measure the temperature inside the taillight housing with each bulb, but that proved to be too difficult to get the probe and everything lined up consistently.  So I went for the gusto — I measured the temperature right at the bulb at 1 minute and 2 minute intervals.  I don’t know about where you live, but around here in D.C. the stoplights can last as long as 3-4 minutes, which seems like an eternity.  I figured I’d test for about the worst case — the longest you might have the brake lights continuously applied.  Here’s the results:

Ambient temperature 55 degrees F.; all temperatures in Fahrenheit

1 minute 2 minutes
LEDtronics 1156 57 57
GE incandescent 1156 111 142
DesignTech halogen 1156 185 314
Table 1: Temperature vs. Time

After 2 minutes of testing the halogen, I started to smell something burning.  I quickly turned off the ignition and checked the chrome plated plastic taillight reflector.  Yep, some black burn marks above and below the bulb.  I don’t know about you, but 314 degrees F is way too hot for me!

I then took some photos of the lighted bulbs.  While photos don’t do justice to lighted brake lights, I think you get the idea.  These are original photos taken for this test; they are not the same photos used in the webBikeWorld LEDtronics LED bulb test.

The results correspond with the LEDtronics test though; the LED bulb in Photo 1 looks weaker than the standard incandescent bulb in Photo 2.  The halogen is a bit brighter in Photo 3, somewhat noticeable towards the right and left edges of the lens.

However, it’s not really all that much brighter — certainly not “2-1/2 times brighter”, as claimed on the box, and not what you think you might get from a bulb that was 29 more watts than the standard bulb.  This backs up what my eyes saw — I was pretty disappointed in the brightness of the halogen.  From they hype on the box, I was expecting to have to whip out my sunglasses, but that’s not really the case at all.

Photo 1: LED Photo 2: Incandescent Photo 3: Halogen

The camera was mounted on a tripod; lens height 58″ and distance from the back of the reflector was exactly 8′.

So what’s the bottom line? My feeling is that the extraordinary heat of the halogen bulb could easily damage a motorcycle taillight lens assembly.  And while there is some difference in brightness, it’s not enough to justify the risk.  Also, my experience with halogen bulbs in household lamps tells me that they are very fragile.  I’m not sure this bulb would handle the vibration of a motorcycle.  It may be alright for use in a car’s backup light, where the bulb is rarely lighted for more than a few seconds, but not as a brake light.  The search continues……

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Product Review:  DesignTech 50 Watt Halogen 1156 Brake Light Bulb
Available From:  DesignTech International, Inc. or online at AutoBarn and other auto parts stores Suggested Retail Price:  Around $9.95
Sizes:  Available in 1156 (single contact) and 1157 (dual contact brake/running light) Made in:  ?
Product Comments:  Barely brighter than an incandescent bulb, and runs hot enough to be the devil’s own brake light.
More:  wBW Motorcycle Lighting Page

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