Contributed Tech Stuff - LED Lights - Part 2 - Brake Lights

Contributed by F. Robert Falbo

Disclaimer: Information and ideas contained in this section are solely those of the contributor(s) and not those of Harley-Davidson®, Harley-Davidson® of Uica, H.O.G.®, or the Erie Canal H.O.G.® Chapter.

I tallked about LED headlghts in Part 1, and in part 2 I'm going to go over LED brake lights. Being seen is an important safety aspect of motorcycle riding, and if others can't see that you're braking, that's obviously a bad thing.

Harley usually uses the ubiquitous SAE#1157 dual filiment incandescent bulb for their brake lights because they usually combine the brake & directionals in the same enclosure.. Sure, they've been in use for years, and the do the job they were intended to do, but while many cars & trucks have gone to LED brake lights, Harley has clung to the tried and true (and cheap) 1157 bulb. This has a drawback when used in Harly's brake lights because of the small size enclosures they use in their styling. They look great, but function wise, not so much so.

So how do you improve the visibility of those small brake lights? Well, you can get lights with bigger lenses - not the most aesthetically pleasing solution for most people - or you can increase the intensity of the existing fixtures - the way most bikers go. Since this is about LEDs, I'm going to talk about using them to increase your visibility.

Harley originally had a single, fender-mounted brake light on most of it's models. I had one on my Sportster, and on my Low Rider, and there are still plenty of Harleys out there with that same type of single brake light. It was barely visible in sunlight and easily missed in traffic at night, and so probably accounted for it's fair share of car into bike rear-enders.

Well now you have plenty of choices when deciding to replace it with a higher visibility LED brake light - from your basic replacement that substitutes an LED panel for that 1157 bulb, to those that offer you a pulsing light to make sure whomever is in back of you gets the message! I'll include a table of choices at the end of this article.

A while back Harley decided to do away with the single brake light and have the rear directionals do double duty. Since the rear directionals already utilized an 1157 bulb, why not change the lens to red and hook them up to the brake system? So now we have two small, barely visible lights compared to one larger but barely visible light - a quantum leap forward in anyone's book, no?

(Click to view larger images.)

The good news is that there's a fix for this problem, and like the title suggests, it's spelled L-E-D. My first try at fixing this problem was to substitute one of the old, original 1157 LED replacement bulbs for the standard incandescent 1157 bulb. Arrgh!! Those original LED bulbs were dimmer than me! So I started scouring the LED market for replacement 1157 LED bulbs, and found a set that I thought would work. Not only that, but their light output was pretty high - so I ordered a set. They looked great... 45 high output LEDs What could go wrong? I found out pretty quickly. The neck on the base wasn't long enough and hit the reflector before the bulb was fully inserted. Determined not to admit defeat, I got my trusty Dremel Tool out and reemed-out the reflector so that I could fully seat the bulb in the socket. It wasn't pretty, but it sure worked! Obviously this isn't the right way to go, but it worked in a pinch.

(Click to view larger images.)

When I purchased a new bike I decided to go the correct route and purchase replacement LED bulbs designed for the bike, which meant no Dremel tool! I'd been reading other people's comments about Custom Dynamics's LED conversion kits for Harley's lights, and after a bit more reading I took the plunge and bought a set for my rear turn/brake lights. They were simple to put in - simply pry off the red lens with a screwdriver inserted into the notch in the lens, remove the old bulb, push the wired base in it's place, twist the LED platform a few times to get the wires to coil, and hold the LED platform in place while you snap the lens back on. The Custom Dynamics LED kits have 48 LEDs on each platform, and they light red, not white, because the red lenses let all the red light through. (If they were white, the red lenses would block the blue component of the white light, resulting in less brightness.)

While I was upgrading the safety of my brake lights I also decided to install a strobe unit in the system. This strobes the brake lights when you first use them to better get the attention of vehicles following you. Custom Dynamics also makes these units, and they are adjustable for 10 different strobe schemes - I set mine to strobe for the first 3 seconds that I have my brakes on, then let the light remain steady. The unit connects directly into the wireing harness (under the seat), and requires no tools to install. To purchase one you will have to know what type of brake light system you have - My Street Glide Special has only the 2 brake lights, where some models have a 3rd light. (These units require you to install LEDs in the brake lights before installation of the strobe unit.) The unit got (Magic Strobes™ RSG) was maybe 1/4" thick by 3"x1.5" - connects right into the light harness, and fit next to my battery.

So here's some information on stuff...

Manufacturer Model Part Number Price Application
Drag Specialties OEM Style H-D® LED Tail Light 331997 $69.95 Harleys back into the 70's w/single Tail Light
Custom Dynamics Genesis 2 LED Tail Light GEN2I $169.95 1999-2018 Harleys with Squareback Tail Light
Custom Dynamics Red 1157 Rear Bullet LED Turn Signal GEN-200-R-1157™ $89.95 2014-2018 SG,SGS,RG,RGS,RK
Custom Dynamics Magic Strobes™ RSG 2050-0223 $89.95 2014-2018 SG,SGS,RG,RGS,RK

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