After seeing the front fairing of the new 2012 Ducati Superbike 1199 last week, we idly speculated that the design included an LED (light-emitting diode) headlamp, as no bulbs or projector assemblies could be seen in the housing. Another tip-off were the slats in the headlight housing, which can readily be seen, and look very similar to the setup used by Audi on its R18 TDI Le Mans race car. Getting a few tips from our loyal readers, and following up with several of our sources, we can confirm that the new Ducati Superbike 1199 will use a completely LED-based headlight system — the first production motorcycle to use such an assembly.
There are several advantages for Ducati to switch to an LED system, with the biggest three being size, energy, and heat. LEDs are super efficient, and can produce a similar amount of light for a fraction of the energy used in halogen bulbs, with virtually none of the heat (RSV4 owners take note). While that factoid has the geek factor, what’s perhaps the most relevant to motorcycles is the size factor. LEDs don’t require bulky ballasts like HID systems, and they don’t require large and heavy housings like the more commonplace halogen systems.
Instead, it is a simple matter of setting up the circuit to the light-emitting diode (this actually isn’t that simple from a technical point-of-view), and securing the directional light source with the right vector. This makes the Superbike 1199′s headlight assembly not only super-compact (we hear it’s about an inch thick), but also super-light (less mass than two cups of espresso and one gelato — stracciatella if it makes a difference). If you were wonder how the 1199 lost 20 lbs over the 1198, this would be just one of many major areas where the bikes can trim some fat (the lack of a traditional frame probably helps too).
The issue with LEDs has always been the output in lumens, and the fact that LEDs only emit one frequency of light, making true-white LEDs virtually impossible (true white light is a mixture of all light frequencies). While there’s been some interesting research in that latter issue, which goes way beyond the scope of this article, the light output from LEDs has increased in leaps and bounds over the past 10 years, with prices dropping dramatically as well. With companies like Audi proving the technology under the rigors of the race track, we stand on the verge of major OEM adoption of LED headlights in the car industry, and with this news see Ducati being the first-mover in the motorcycle industry. Neat stuff, and better yet, no Bothans were injured while collecting this report.