Part 1: by Biker Chad
It seems that colored lighting effects on bikes are catching on like wild fire. They look great, and offer one more way to customize your bike. For those that don’t know, the colored lights used to light up bikes are not actually light bulbs, but light-emitting diodes (aka LED’s). LEDs are smaller (one LED is a few millimeters across), run cooler (LEDs lose almost no energy to heat, like incandescent bulbs that burn a filament to make light losing over 75% of energy consumed to heat loss in the process), last way longer (LEDs last over 10 times longer than the best fluorescent bulbs available), use way fewer raw materials to manufacture than incandescent bulbs or fluorescent bulbs (and they use no poisonous mercury like fluorescent bulbs). LED lights also come in a variety of colors. I am convinced that LEDs will soon be used as replacements for all filament and fluorescent bulbs helping to save a ton of energy and raw materials.
How much power does an LED use? Well, lets say you need a 60-watt output light bulb. If you used an incandescent light bulb you would use 60 watts of power to make 60 watts of light, not very efficient at all. If you used a fluorescent light bulb it would use around 13 watts of power to produce the same 60 watts of light. If you used an LED replacement bulb it would use around 3 watts to produce the same 60 watts of light. Most LED replacement bulbs for a house have a cluster of around 180 individual LEDs. A motorcycle would use way less than 180 individual LEDs (around 32 to 64 individual LEDs) so the power consumption is usually less than a watt to light up an entire bike. This is because each individual LED uses .016 watt to light up.
Now that we understand LEDs and how they work I will explain some of the most common options to light up your bike. LEDs for bikes come in strips, what I can only describe as the “Kuryakyn” style, and pods. There are several other variations on LED styles and assemblies, but the ones I have listed most commonly used on bikes.
First the strip style: These are like stickers that are nothing more than a printed circuit board with the LED lights either exposed to the elements or sealed in clear silicone. This is not my favorite option, they are the least expensive option and have several LEDs on them, so many folks are tempted to purchase them thinking they are getting more bang for their buck. I do not recommend getting these units installed on your bike. They do not last long and are very easily damaged by weather or washing your bike, and if they ever need to be removed for service, they are usually ruined in the process.
Second the Kuryakyn “Lizard Light” Style: This style has the LEDs in a plastic stick on housing, so they are a step up from the strip style. Unfortunately, the cheap plastic used does not get along well with the heat of Harley V-Twin engines. They use small plastic plugs making installation easier for the at home mechanic, but the wires used to go from unit to unit are very thin and fragile, melting easily and breaking from vibration. The Lizard Light has the ability to strobe and cycle through many colors with the addition of a sold separately programmable controller unit. Lizard Lights are also very similar to the ones that H-D sells with their name on them and they are most likely made by the same manufacturer. These units could be removed and re-used if extreme care is used.
Third is the pod style: The pods you want are units that are filled with high temp silicone to absorb the vibration and heat of a running V-Twin engine. Pods are made in two different styles; a pin spot style pod that consists of about 4-6 individual LEDs that make a more focused beam, and a fan style pod that consist of 4-6 individual LEDs that have a more dispersed or “fanned out” light beam. Pods are very sturdy and may be removed and re-stuck many times, with out damage as long as the double-sided stick tape is replaced when removed.
In the next installment of this series we will continue our study on colored LED accent lights, and what to expect if you would like to wire your own LED accent lighting on you bike.
-Ride smart, Biker Chad