Motorcycle Headlamp Research

Single headlamp configurations that are centered on a motorcycle provide little assistance in marking the outside boundaries like a passenger car or truck headlamps.  The dynamics of a motorcycle will cause the performance of the headlamp to differ around turns or corners, since the motorcycle must lean into a turn. Kineticorp’s team of motorcycle accident experts explored the limitations of the headlamp beam patterns of nine motorcycle headlamps.  

Publication Introduction:

A 1982 study by Olson and Abrams on headlamp performance of motorcycle headlighting systems, found that the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Instructors surveyed in the study “regarded motorcycle headlighting as inadequate” [1]. Specifically, those surveyed indicated “a need for more illumination in the foreground area and to the sides of the lane”; basically, the entire area that a headlamp might typically illuminate. As Olson and Abrams point out “Many motorcycle headlamps do not have the output of an automotive headlamp, and most motorcycles have but one headlamp.” An additional problem with the performance of motorcycle headlamps, is due to poor aiming. As Sturgis [1975] examined, improvements in the standardization of the aiming of headlamps is greatly needed [2]. With only one headlamp, and variability in the aiming, the illumination from motorcycle headlamps is a particular problem. The size and shape of the motorcycle has a large influence on the design of the headlamp systems. Because of the limited width of the vehicle, generating a beam pattern on the roadway from two headlamps is not as effective on a motorcycle as it can be on an automobile. The number of headlamp assemblies on the motorcycle may be limited to one, and the lamp housing may be smaller in size, limiting some of the technology available to a standard automobile, where the lamp assembly can protrude farther back into the hood area. Not only can these limitations reduce the amount of illumination on the road that would assist the motorcycle operator at night, it can make it more difficult for other drivers to recognize a motorcycle and judge its approaching speed. Gould et al., 2012 found that “The extent to which observers struggle to accurately judge motorcycle speed based on a solo headlight in nighttime conditions is rather alarming” [3]. The importance of a motorcycle’s headlamp illumination both for the operators’ visibility of objects in the road and the visibility of the motorcycle to other motorists is articulated in the research. The paper presented here measures the performance of nine motorcycle headlamps that represent a wide variety of motorcycle styles and headlamp design types. In addition, the performance of the headlamp on the roadway and the shoulder was evaluated. The motorcycles tested represent standard, sport and cruiser models, and the headlamps tested include Fresnel-sealed beam, reflector optics, and projector optics. Figure 1 shows a sample of some of the headlamps tested.

Full Publication:

To be published in SAE 2018


William Neale, Nathan McKelvey, David Penecost, Dan Koch

Related Case Studies, Content & Research:

SAE 2017-01-1413 – Video Analysis of Motorcycle and Rider Dynamics During High-Side Falls
SAE 2015-01-1422 – Validation of Equations for Motorcycle and Rider Lean on a Curve 
Electric Energy, 2015 Issue 2 – The Role of Vehicle Crash Data Recorders in a Motor Vehicle Safety Program
Collision Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 1, 2014 – Analysis of Motorcycle and Rider Limits on a Curve
SAE 2017-01-1366 – Comparing a Timed Exposure Methodology to the Nighttime Recognition Responses from SHRP-2 Naturalistic Drivers
Collision Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 3, 2016 – How Accurate Are Witness Distance Estimates Given in Car Lengths?
SAE 2007-01-4232 – A Method for Determining and Presenting Driver Visibility in Commercial Vehicles

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