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ADV ProductsADV Bike AccessoriesHID vs. LED Auxiliary Lights – Illuminating the Differences

HID vs. LED Auxiliary Lights – Illuminating the Differences

 The battle heats up as lower prices make LED a more viable option.

Published on 03.11.2014
Twisted Throttle Denali D2 LED Auxiliary Lights
Denali D2 Dual Intensity LED Lights from Twisted Throttle are small but bright.

Night riding is a stressful activity for most riders. It becomes more difficult to see road hazards and other motorists have a harder time seeing you. If you ride off-road at night, it can slow your pace down to a crawl as you struggle to make out variances in the terrain.

Most Adventure Riders try to avoid night riding, but sometimes it cannot be prevented. You may find yourself riding in the dark if you get a flat tire or encounter some other type of unplanned delay. If you ride a lot of miles, it’s inevitable that you will at some point ride at night.

The best way to improve safety and reduce your stress at night, is to add auxiliary lights to your motorcycle. A good set of auxiliary lights makes a big difference in your night riding vision.

If you have ever been out at night with other riders that use high-output lights, then you know exactly how much they can improve your night riding experience. When you are able to see clearly, you’ll feel a lot more relaxed and you might even start to enjoy riding at night.

When shopping for a set of lights, it can be confusing determining which lights offer the best combination of price and performance. The three different lighting technologies commonly used for motorcycle auxiliary lights are Halogen, High-Intensity Discharge (HID) and Light Emitting Diode (LED). Although, Halogen lights are less common these days because of the superior performance of HID and LED lights.

A few years ago if you wanted bright lights, HIDs were the obvious choice. HIDs were preferred over Halogen because of their improved vibration resistance and lower energy consumption. Recently, affordable high-output LED auxiliary lights started to emerge on the scene. LEDs offer similar performance to HID lights, but with lower energy consumption and even higher durability.

Many people have heard of LEDs but don’t understand if they offer an advantage over other lighting technologies. When LED lights first appeared, they were expensive and had a reputation for quality issues. But each year LEDs improved in cost and reliability, causing the HID vs. LED battle to really heat up.

So are LEDs now the top technology in auxiliary lighting? Let’s take a look and see how the different technologies stack up.

HID vs. LED Technology Overview

HID lights use bulbs just like Halogen or other incandescent lighting. They rely on an electrical charge to ignite Xenon gas in a sealed glass bulb, which produces more light with less energy than a standard incandescent bulb. Since the HID’s bulb has no filament to burn, they are more vibration resistant and have an operating life of around 4,000 to 10,000 hours compared to about 2,000 hours for Halogen lights.

LED lights have been around for decades, commonly found in digital clocks and Christmas tree string lights. LEDs use “solid-state lighting” technology that emits light from a semiconductor created by the movement of electrons. LED lights use small plastic bulbs that are less vulnerable than glass HID bulbs.

LEDs were too expensive for many years to be used for high-performance lighting applications, but the price of semiconductor devices continued dropping and costs came down significantly. Now LEDs have finally become a cost-effective and viable option for aftermarket lighting companies.

LED Light Advantages

More Efficient: LEDs don’t put off as much heat as HIDs because a higher percentage of electrical power goes directly into generating light. The low current draw means you can run brighter lights without requiring an alternator upgrade for your motorcycle. In addition, you’ll have more electricity for heated grips, heated gear and other accessories.

More Durable: With a typical lifetime of 50,000 hours, LED lights last about 10x longer than HID lights. That’s roughly 6 years of continuous usage! Even if you ride at night frequently, a set of LED lights should theoretically outlast your bike. LED lights do not require a ballast like HIDs, which is another electrical component that could potentially fail. The plastic LED bulbs are more resistant to the shock and vibration experienced during off-road riding as well.

Durability Demonstration of LED lights

Long-Term Investment: While the upfront cost of LEDs may be more expensive than HID lights, their lower cost in the long run can make them a better buy. Costs for LED lights are now more comparable to HID lights and are expected to drop even more in the future.

No Delays Turning On/Off: LED lights come on instantly and can be switched on or off quickly without problems. HID lights typically need to warm up before they turn on and can turn off slowly. This can be frustrating if you are turning on and off auxiliary lights for oncoming traffic. Also, repeatedly switching HID lights on and off can cause them to fail.

Easier Installation: HID systems require a ballast to operate and cannot be directly wired to your bike’s 12 volt power source. LED lights don’t use a ballast, so wiring is easier and you don’t need to find space to attach a HID ballast on your bike.

Smaller and Lighter: For the same light output, LED lights are typically smaller and lighter. Evidence of this can be seen with the top-of-the-line racing lights from Baja Designs. For years, the lights of choice for racing in the Baja 1000 were a set of 8″ HID lights. Now, according to Baja Designs, you can get the same light power from a set of small Squadron XL Auxiliary lights.

The Baja Designs 8″ HID lights are about 7x larger and more than twice the weight of Squadron XL LED lights. You can see the size difference between the two equivalently powered light setups below.


Baja Designs 8" HID and Squadron XL LED

Compare the size of the Dual 8″ HID lights (left) and equivalently powered LED Squadron XL auxiliary lights (right) mounted on the sides of the headlight.

HID Advantages

It would appear the advantages of LED are overwhelming, so why would anyone buy HID lights anymore?

HID lights provide a wider and more tunable beam pattern than LED lights. This is one reason most LED lights are not DOT street legal. Also, LED lights are newer, so you may have an easier time finding DOT approved HID lights .

To avoid blinding oncoming traffic, many riders use auxiliary LED lights only off-road or in rural areas. Some riders use a dimmer to turn down the brightness of the LED lights enough to not be a nuisance on the road. Make sure you check your local laws before you buy auxiliary lights if you intend to use them on the street.

Another consideration is whether you ride in remote areas. Repairing lights in a 3rd world country may be easier with HID. Also, if you don’t ride off-road, then the extra durability and weight savings of LED lights may not be as important to you. In that case, you may consider saving money with HID lights.

Advice on Purchasing LED Lights

LED lights are clearly the wave of the future and will continue to get better, but buyers still need to shop with caution. The performance of LED lights can vary depending on the brand and model. If you buy cheaper LED lights, you may not get the performance and durability you were hoping for.

Some of the less expensive auxiliary lights may look enticing, but don’t have good manufacturing quality. When a technology is constantly evolving, your safest bet is to buy brand name products that come with excellent warranties and service. You also want to steer clear of older versions of products that may not have more recent updates.

Features to Look for in LED Lights

  • Dimmer for low beam setting
  • Using higher quality Cree LEDs
  • IP-68 water/dust protection rating
  • Durable polycarbonate lens
  • Impact resistant aluminum housing
  • Auto dimmer prevents overheating
  • 50,000 hours lifespan or more
  • Amber lens covers for fog and dust
  • Lens covers to change beam shape
  • Multi-LED lights still work if 1 fails

Top LED Auxiliary Light Vendors
Below are some of the top vendors in the business that carry LED lighting kits for Adventure Motorcycles. Visit their sites to see if they have an LED auxiliary kit for your bike.

Twisted ThrottleBaja Designs
Black Dog Cycle WorksCyclops Adventure Sports
TouratechTrailTech

Author: Rob Dabney

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5 thoughts on “HID vs. LED Auxiliary Lights – Illuminating the Differences

  1. LED’s are great for auxiliary lights and really the only long term consideration. HIDs are a great option for modern motorcycle headlight conversion where hi-beam is operated through a shutter or separate beam. At less than $50 HID conversion is a great investment if you have a place for the ballast.

  2. I use Rigid lights, exclusively. I live in San Diego where we have a 12 month season and I ride a GS 1200 o and off road, regularly.

    I have found the the D-2s and the fork mounted light bar will turn night into day, when it counts. They were mounted by Black Dog Cycle Works and attenuated slightly so that I can see terrain changes off road and not melt the faces off of folks that I pass in oncoming traffic, on the street. The fork mounted light bar, lights up the turns BEFORE i even get close to them. Its amazing the confidence and safety you achieve when you can actually…see. Who knew?

    I’ve run other lights…. its Rigid or I’m not riding from here on out.

  3. didn’t mention range and light output color. As of today, HID still has the advantage in long range lighting and providing a light color that actually allows you to see objects. LED light coloring is far too blue which makes many objects (of any color) appear more and more gray the farther away it is. Color temps are usually anywhere from higher 5000K to 8000K and everyone who has used 8000K HID’s knows how useless they are at lighting the road. Some LED’s try to cheat by placing a yellowish reflective pieces on the LED or reflector, and the ones that do give a yellowish light that i’ve seen all do it by filtering which is an inefficient way around the problem because filtering means you’re losing light output that must be compensated for with higher output. It’s getting there, as we can see with LED stadium lighting, but there’s still a long way to go because acceptable quality LED replacements in general lighting needs is super expensive. $10 for an LED lightbulb that goes in a lamp. you could run an old cfl or incandescent for a very very long time at that price.

  4. Pingback: HID Opinions - Page 2 - Yamaha R1 Forum: YZF-R1 Forums

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