Introduction: LED Motorcycle Headlight

In order to reduce the power consumption of the lighting system of my electric vehicle, I took it upon myself to change all of the lighting to LEDs. When it came to replacing the incandescent 18 watt 310 lumen headlight bulb, none of the drop-in LED replacement bulbs looked good to me.
Also none of them offered output levels that were comparable to or better than the bulb I was trying to replace.
So I shopped around and decided to make my own. The approach I took was probably more complicated than what most of you will actually need, but since I put both available options in one headlight I can explain how to implement both.

DISCLAIMER
LED headlights are not DOT approved, so use at your own risk. The one I made was installed on an electric moped.
This guide assumes you will be using an input voltage between 12 and 14 volts. If you are using a different input voltage or LEDs of different ratings than what is indicated in this write-up you should use an LED Calculator to determine what resistors you need to use.

I would recommend this LED Calculator

The cost of this project ranges from $15 to $65 depending on whether you are making a new headlight from scratch, or adapting an existing fixture to use LEDs. This is primarily meant to be an introduction and overview of the options available for making an LED-only headlight.

Step 1: Part 1: LED Array Running Light

This option will be the most cost effective and easiest to assemble with basic tools. It's adaptable to whatever size, shape, or style of headlight you decide upon and if needed you can tailor the output level and pattern as well.

To calculate the potential output of the array you are going to make take the rating of the LEDs (6000mcd = 6 candela = 6 lumens) then multiply by the number of LEDs you intend to use.
I used 20 of the 6 lumen LEDs, so 20 x 6 means my output is approximately 120 lumens.
If you want more intensity it's best to start by using LEDs of a higher rating. Also keep in mind that even 6,000mcd LEDs will be painful to look at directly in the dark and will need to be diffused somewhat.
You can diffuse LEDs
1. by sanding their lenses with 600 grit sand paper
2. by making a soft diffusor sheet out of 1/16th or 1/8th inch clear or tinted acrylic or polycarbonate and then sanding it with 600 grit sand paper
3. by making a heavy diffusor plate out of 1/16th or 1/8th inch thickness white polyethylene sheet

Part 1 Supplies
1. Headlight fixture
2. Thin Polycarbonate or other suitable plastic sheet
3. Bulk lot of 50 to 100 white LEDs in 6000mcd or higher
You can order these cheaply from Chi-Wing LED Product Shop
4. Resistors (180ohm 1/4w for 13.4v max input or 220ohm 1/4w for 14v max input)
5. 22ga Wire
6. Pack of full sheet label paper

Part 1 Tools
1. 45w+ Soldering iron
2. Wire cutters
3. Power drill
4. Tin snips, band saw, or scroll saw (tool for cutting thin plastic)
5. Super glue
6. Hot Glue (optional)
7. Scissors

Step 2: Part 1: Adapting the Fixture

Part 1: Step 1
Disassemble your fixture and measure the parts.
You will either be trying to mount your LED array off of the original reflector plate, or by replacing the glass lens with a plastic sheet that you can mount it on.

Part 1: Step 2
Use the dimensions taken to draw a CAD template of the array plate.
Any CAD software will do. If you do not have any CAD software I would recommend getting a free trial copy of [url=http://www.alibre.com/xpress/]Alibre Xpress[/url].
Draw the shape of the piece you want to make. Then add one hole the same size as the LEDs you intend to use. You can then duplicate that drilled hole in whatever pattern you want for however many LEDs you want. Just make sure to keep in mind that you will be wiring the LEDs in sets of 4, so the total number of holes will need to be a multiple of 4.

I went with a ring shape.

Step 3: Part 1: Making the Array Plate

Part 1: Step 3
Highlight the finished sketch and then press the PrntScrn key
Past the image into any graphics program such as GIMP or Photoshop and then select only the yellow sketch lines and blue sketch nodes. Copy that part of the image and paste into a new image, then fill those colors with black.
Save that image as a .png file.

Part 1: Step 4
Place the image onto a page in Microsoft Word or Open Office. Format it's size on the page to match the size of the part in the CAD file.

Put one sheet of full sheet label paper face down into your printer and print out the page.

Use scissors to cut out the template, then apply it to the protective film/paper of the plastic sheet.

Part 1: Step 5
Drill the holes where indicated by the template, then cut the part to the shape indicated using tin snips, a band saw, or a scroll saw.

If you are making the part out of thin plastic such as 1/16th" thickness polycarbonate or ABS it will be very easy to cut with tin snips, so a power tool won't even be required. However a band saw or scroll saw will produce much cleaner edges and will allow you to cut more complex shapes.

Part 1: Step 6
Once the piece is made, test fit it in the fixture.

I wasn't complete happy with the look of the first piece I made nor did I like the lens that the fixture came with.
I ended up making a replacement out of gray PVC and the clear base disc from a CD-R spindle.

Step 4: Part 1: Wiring

Part 1: Step 7
Place the LEDs into the array plate you made making sure that they are appropriately oriented with their leads bent to make series sets of 4 LEDs.

Solder the sets of 4 LEDs together. Solder a resistor onto the positive side of each set. I would recommend testing each set with a battery or variable power supply to confirm that you have them wired in the correct orientations. If on LED is wired in reverse orientation that particular set won't turn on.

Solder all of their negative leads together to make the Neg- input, then solder the leads of all of the resistors together to make the 12v+ input.

Solder leads of wire onto the Neg- and 12v+ inputs. Mark the ends of the leads with tape or heatshrink.

Part 1: Step 8
Use a battery or variable power supply to test the fully wired array.
Once confirmed that it's wired correctly, use a dab of super glue or hot glue at the back of the LEDs to adhere them to the array plate.
Once the glue is dry, Assemble and test assemble the array into the fixture. Test again with the variable power supply or battery.

If super glue is used, make sure to take the fixture back apart and let the super glued parts dry out in the open for several hours. The fumes that super glue produces in the first 2 hours of drying will in enclosed spaces stick to and whiten fingerprints as well as fog up most clear plastics.

Step 5: Part 1 Complete

Part 1: Step 9
With the glue dried, do the final assembly.

If applicable, solder the connector onto the bare leads and you will have a completed LED array headlight.

Part 2 will now cover how to add a High Power LED.

Step 6: Part 2: High Power LED "High Beam"

If you want even more intensity from your LED headlight you can add a High Power LED. These are available in outputs ranging from 100 to even 600 lumens! The LED I chose is a Luxeon Endor Rebel rated for 430 lumens at @ 7.5 watts.
You can order them ledsupply.com which also stocks the optics for them if you want a certain output beam.

Part 2 Supplies
1. High Power LED
2. Lens (optional)
3. Small Heatsink
4. Resistor (8ohm 5w for 14v max input)

Part 2 Tools
1. 100w+ Soldering iron
2. Wire cutters
3. Power drill
4. Tapping bits (UNC #4-40 and whatever preferred size you want to use for mounting the heatsink to your fixture)
5. Super glue
6. Hot Glue (optional)
7. Scissors

Part 2: Step 1
I tore a heatsink off of an antiquated video card, sanded the base, then drilled and tapped holes for mounting the heatsink and retaining the LED onto the heatsink.

The LED and lens are held in place by the mounting screws.

Step 7: Part 2: Soldering

Part 2: Step 2
Using a 100 watt or higher soldering iron, solder the 8ohm 5w resistor onto the positive pad of the LED, and a wire lead onto the negative pad.

The negative pad is thermally conductive onto the back of the LED PCB so you will need to keep it off of the heatsink when soldering. Because of the thermal transfer rate that results, a soldering iron rated lower than 100 watts is not likely to be able to keep the pad up to a high enough temperature to make a decent solder joint.
Once soldered, apply heatshrink to the connections. Then apply thermal past to the back of the LED and place it on the heatsink. Retain it by affixing the set screws to the heatsink.

Step 8: Part 2: Testing

Part 2: Step 3
Assemble the light unit. If needed, secure the wires to the array plate using hot glue so that any tugging on the wires won't stress the solder joints.

These pictures show the unit before I added the polyethylene diffusor inbetween the lens and the light array. A diffusor is highly recommended because the focused output of a High Power LED is literally blinding.

Test the unit with a battery or variable power supply.

Step 9: Part 2: Complete

Install the finished light unit into the fixture and if needed solder on the connector.

Step 10: Optional Addition

If you add a capacitor to the circuit where appropriate, you can produce a fade affect when the headlight is switched from the "running light" to the "high beam".

And that's it for this Instructable!
LEDs allow you to make extremely long-lasting, highly efficient, vibration-proof, unique, and inexpensive headlights. The same process applies to making turn signals and brake lights.
However those won't require as high of an output level and most available drop-in replacements will work fine. But should you want something unique for those too, there's always the option to make your own.

Comments

author
Babloo412 (author)2014-11-03

sir, my moped headlight is very poor, has 12 volt AC power system, no battery, how to install this LED headlights system into my moped?

author
DiederikvD (author)Babloo4122015-07-29

I've included some images how I connected my 12V headlights on my Tomos moped. I used other headlights, but I used a battery. For more details, you can take a look at my Instructable

https://www.instructables.com/id/Tomosmoped-LED-headlights/ .

Tomos schakelschema - accu.jpgTomos schakelschema - led lampen.jpg
author
DiederikvD (author)Babloo4122015-07-29

I used a 12V scooter battery and a diode on my Tomos. At the moment, I'm not able to send you a schematic, but in a few days, I will. I used a diode for rectifying and the battery for powering the lights when the sine is negative.

author
Goatherd1 (author)2013-10-03

What did you search for on Ebay for the headlight fixture? Obviously something waterproof. Or did you order sacrificial standard headlights?

author
ToesNose (author)2013-05-16

Thank you Capt. Slug!!! Great instructions Woots!

author
mika.ch04 (author)2012-09-22

sir can i make this type of headlight with 5mm and 1w power led?
can u plz help me with resistance i m little confused with calculator.
plz tel me the resistance for 5mm and 1w led.
and how much 1w led i can add with 12v battery..

Thanks

author
Willie_CN (author)2012-08-13

Hey!Guys.If you have any needs for motorcycle LED lights,contact me.

author
mmanikkarasa (author)2012-04-01

GOOD IDEA

author
ganpool (author)2011-09-16

Good

author
ShaiGar (author)2009-01-03

This Instructable is very interesting. I've got a SYM VS 125 scooter and I'm looking to make the headlights more powerful, with a better view of the road and surroundings (there are morons in Darwin, NT, Australia who like to walk on the roads wasted, or just throw their children onto the roads in front of government vehicles for compensation money) so I'm going to try this at home before attaching it.

author
CaptainSlug (author)ShaiGar2009-01-06

Using LEDs to supplement the existing headlight will be quite beneficial. If you use "Daylight" or "Cool" white high-power LEDs they can make road signs and anything even slightly reflective much easier to see.

author
wobbler (author)CaptainSlug2011-08-15

The Royal Blue used to have some UV in them and they really did make road signs glow at a distance. Unfortunately, I think they might have taken the UV out of them now and blue in the UK is illegal on the road.

author
nedlloydcaypuno (author)2010-04-29

Sir,

Im Ned from Manila, just want to know if this would work on my scooter if my headlight is running on AC not DC?

author
wobbler (author)nedlloydcaypuno2011-08-15

You would need to rectify the AC to DC using a bridge rectifier (you could use four single diodes, but for the cost of a bridge rectifier, it's probably not worth it). Here's an example:
http://www.maplin.co.uk/bridge-rectifiers-19088

You would connect the alternator to the two AC symbols (doesn't matter which way round) then the rectifier would provide DC +/- on the other two terminals.

Then you can run your scooter and measure the DC voltage on the outputs and then calculate the number of diodes and resistor values as shown here by Captain Slug.

There is a rough idea of how to do it here:
http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread.php/390107-My-new-LED-headlight-and-USB-dynamo-circuit.

Although this is for a bicycle, the circuit will be the same, you'll just need the correct number of LEDs and dropper resistors.

author

No, you would need a driver/adapter

author
wobbler (author)2011-08-15

Great Instructible and a professional final result.

Only comment is in reference to (6000mcd = 6 candela = 6 lumens). Candela and lumens are different and there is no direct link between them. They are not equal. Lumens measure the total light output, candelas measure the light per unit of angle, so two LEDs with the same lumens can have different candelas due to having different beam angles. Candelas will more effectively measure the brightness within the beam., If however you are comparing two different LEDs with different beam angles, you can go to the following page to use a calculator to calculate the apparent beam brightnesses in candelas from lumens:
http://led.linear1.org/lumen.wiz

or here:
http://led.linear1.org/how-do-i-convert-between-candelas-and-lumens/

author
CHAMPt (author)2011-03-31

Have always wanted to do this, and this filled in pretty much all the gaps I had to figure out a good plan of action. Good explaination and write-up!

author
pufftmd2389 (author)2011-03-25

nice.. i can see the last time you have replied here was about a year ago but still, like the idea and still cant find any LED motorcycle headlights anywhere easily so i am making my own.
plan on using one of these, hopefully it will work out well.
http://ledsupply.com/creexml-w280.php

author
-Syrus- (author)2011-03-24

Thanks a bunch!

Great piece of engineering, simple but effective.

author
mrlunna13 (author)2010-12-11

I bought 250 Super White LED's for 10.00 USD on eBay. They were from China but absolutely cheap and work great, plus you can buy ANY color in the rainbow.
I did a head light and turn signals for my motorized bicycle.
Great instructable.
Jesse

author
dolulob (author)2010-12-03

You did put it in your disclaimer, but I would once again like to point out, that this is highly illegal in pretty much every country!

author
Calorie (author)2010-12-03

This is cool, and I have thought about it in the past. I use to have a Honda C70 Passport. The headlights were anemic to be mild. I thought about somehow substituting in LEDs but never gathered the courage.

There is know an after-market stator which produces 90 watts!

If I could I would of installed flamethrowers instead of LEDs, but such is life. Nice Job.

author
Jayvis Vineet Gonsalves (author)2010-01-15

Hello CaptainSlug, can I use a 100 5mm LED array to produce a beam of 1500 lumens? Where I live we do not get any Crees or Rebels. And will I get the same distance with the 5mm LEDs as I will get with the Cree? 

author

You won't get the intensity of distance you're after. If you need more than 300 lumens then you will need to look into high power LED lamps. I would recommend ones made by Vision X. Their "Solstice Solo" units can output 800 lumens while drawing only 8 watts.
http://www.visionxusa.com/led/

author
Jayvis Vineet Gonsalves (author)2009-12-31

How many meters ahead can you see with the led Headlights? 

author
Jayvis Vineet Gonsalves (author)2009-12-28

Thank you : )

author
Jayvis Vineet Gonsalves (author)2009-12-27

But could you please upload the photo of the led head lamps brightening the road. Please : )

author

http://www.captainslug.com/temp/ledhl_17.jpg
http://www.captainslug.com/temp/ledhl_18.jpg

author
Jayvis Vineet Gonsalves (author)2009-12-25

Great instructable!! Does your high beam illuminate the entire road ahead?
Could you please upload an image of the headlights illuminating the road. So that I can understand the power of these little LEDs. Thanx in advance.By the way Merry Christmas

author

Since I published this instructable there are now significantly more powerful LED headlights available. This one in particular is brighter than a 21 watt incandescent headlight.
http://www.projectresponder.com/pse/d304-Solstice-Solo-10w-LED-Light-Euro.htm

The unit I made in my instructable would still be fairly useful for a bicycle, but just can't match the output of an 800 lumen unit.

author
SwaggeringPagan (author)2009-09-01

Great looking 'ible! How's the projection with the LEDs versus the regular bulb?