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Bright Lights Save Lives

Oct 25 2018

Regardless where you’re from, autumn and winter bring a lot of change to our surroundings. One common thread we’re all forced to deal with is daylight savings, leading to an increased amount of riding at night. Loud pipes may save lives, but bright lights are the best way to increase safety when darkness falls. So upgrading to L.E.D. lighting is one way to ensure you’ll be able to see and be seen instead of just being heard.

An increasing amount of new motorcycles now come standard with L.E.D. lighting, but coming up with the scratch for a new bike isn’t as easy. Luckily, there are plenty of aftermarket alternatives that offer the latest 21st century technology for early and late-model rides lacking proper illumination. Before we dive into that, let’s first establish the basics of what L.E.D.’s are and some of the many benefits they offer.

What is an L.E.D.?
An L.E.D. (Light Emitting Diode) is a solid-state semiconductor device that emits light once an electrical current is passed through it. Unlike light sources that utilize heated filaments (halogen/incandescent) or gas capsules (HID/Xenon), the visible light from an L.E.D. is produced when particles that distribute the current combine together within the semiconductor material. An L.E.D.’s durability and versatile design allows integration into a massive variety of shapes, material types and applications, with limitless color variations.

Benefits of L.E.D. Lighting
The benefits of L.E.D. lighting vs. HID, halogen or incandescent are abundant. L.E.D.’s are known to have a lifespan 25 times greater than their heated filament or gas capsule counterparts. Definitely something to take into consideration if you suffer sticker shock when comparing prices. They’re also approximately 70-90% more efficient and thus consume far less energy; resulting in less stress on the battery and reduced current draw from your bike’s electrical system (more on that in a bit).

A lot of factors add up to establish the fact that L.E.D.’s are flat-out more durable and last longer compared to filament bulbs. L.E.D.’s operate at a much lower temperature and often integrate heat sinks to emit FAR less heat. In fact, traditional bulbs like incandescent have been proven to convert more than 90% of their total energy consumption into heat, which means only 10% is being used to generate light output. Not exactly efficient.

L.E.D.’s require no “warm-up time” and operate equally as good in terms of performance whether in cold or hot temperatures. They’re also superior in terms of vibration resistance and can absorb impact at a greater capacity.

Additionally, L.E.D.’s rarely (if ever) burn out completely. The actual lifetime of an L.E.D. is based on a prediction of when the light output decreases by 30%. Unlike filament or gas bulbs that can literally leave you stranded in the dark, L.E.D.’s will experience lumen depreciation where the light slowly dims over time rather than burning out completely.

Another important benefit, particularly for us motorcyclists, is that L.E.D.’s are a directional light source. Unlike incandescent or halogen bulbs, L.E.D. headlights and driving lights provide significantly pronounced and targeted light output to illuminate dark roadways at a much greater distance and angle (width).

L.E.D. headlights and driving lights for motorcycles are available in either projector or reflector styles. Both have their advantages and depending on whom you ask you might not get a unified answer as to which is better. Projector lights, like the Orbit Headlamps, produce a more even/targeted distribution of light without having noticeable hot or weak spots. They also integrate a cutoff shield in the design to direct the light output downward, which helps keep the light from pointing directly at the eye level of oncoming motorists.

Reflector lights keep the appearance of a more traditional headlamp, but light output tends to be less evenly distributed and there is also no cutoff shield. However, advances in technology have led to the integration of mirrors and complex reflectors to help improve directional output, much like the Phase 7 Headlamps and Passing Lamps.

Color Temperature
Sticking with the subject of headlights, a common term you’ll likely notice when comparing options is color temperature. Color temperature is essentially a measurement that describes the illumination’s color appearance. The ratings are measured in Kelvin units that typically fall within the 2000-7500K range for automotive applications.

As a comparison, stock halogen bulbs tend to fall in the 2800-3200K range, higher-priced HID bulbs run around 4000-5000K, and most L.E.D. headlights will settle into the 5500-6500K range. The diagram below outlines the variance of light illumination across the color temperature scale so you can put a visual to the numbers.

Another measurement of performance to consider is lumen output. Lumens measure how much light output you get from any given bulb, so the more the better, right? Perhaps, but that’s not always the case.

L.E.D.’s generate a higher lumen output than filament or gas bulbs. But there are two types of lumen measurements: “raw” and “effective”. Be wary of any light that only states its raw lumen ratings, as this number does not account for practical losses such as thermal, optical or assembly. Effective lumens take these factors into consideration to provide a more realistic measurement of the light’s output.

For example: Light (A) has 2,300 raw lumens and 1,300 effective lumens. Light (B) has 3,500 raw lumens and 900 effective lumens. To some, Light (B) might seem like the better choice based on raw lumens alone, but it’s actually less powerful due to its lower effective lumen rating. Don’t be fooled.

It’s not size that matters…
The old saying "It’s not the size of the dog in the fight...” definitely rings true for L.E.D.’s. Kuryakyn by Kellermann Atto indicators, for example, utilize high-power L.E.D. technology along with a series of complex reflectors and “smart lenses” to produce intense illumination from an extremely small package.

Filament bulbs need to be larger in order to produce more light, which isn’t ideal for motorcycle applications. Conversely, multiple L.E.D’s can be linked together on a single circuit board to amplify output.

Chip-on-board (COB) technology is a great example of this. COB makeup involves mounting multiple L.E.D. chips directly to a substrate to produce L.E.D. arrays, which produces significantly increased output compared to standard L.E.D.’s. The greater packing density uses less space than traditional filament or L.E.D. construction. That combined with the intense, pinpoint light output is why this type of L.E.D. application is being used more frequently in aftermarket automotive applications like our new L.E.D. Saddlebag Hinge Accents.

Load Equalizers and Controllers
Now, back to efficiency. L.E.D.’s are so efficient that they draw very little power, which can disrupt the OEM flasher relay. This can cause the lights to flicker, flash quickly or not flash at all. Or worse, it’ll cause your bike to throw a code.

A load EQ offsets the loss in current draw from L.E.D.’s by providing additional resistance so that the OEM relay functions properly. Kuryakyn offers a wide variety of Load Equalizers and Adapters to ensure trouble-free operation and installation of aftermarket or custom L.E.D. turn signals and taillights. It’s a safe bet that load EQ’s are essential for converting stock turn signals to L.E.D. on bikes that do not operate via CAN-Bus system. So when you’re ready to make the move to L.E.D., make sure you do your research.

Kuryakyn also offers a wide range of L.E.D. Conversion Taillights and Turn Signals, as well as L.E.D. bulbs, which serve as direct replacements for the stock 1157, 1156 or 3157 incandescent bulbs. This is the easiest route to take if you’re wanting to go L.E.D. but aren’t confident installing full turn signal or brake light replacements.

Another great way to increase visibility is through Accent Lighting. Whether you’re after colorful flair to enhance your ride’s style or more practical features such as additional run, turn and brake functionality, the opportunities are endless thanks to the versatility behind L.E.D. technology.

DISCLAIMER: This blog was intended to shed a little light (ba dum tsss) on SOME important benefits of L.E.D.’s and their various motorcycle-specific applications. We’re not breaking new ground with this information, and surely there are some important aspects we likely didn’t touch on. So if you have anything to add, we’d love to build on this topic with your thoughts in the comments section below.

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