A Tale of Two Light Bulbs
When Otus was built the incandescent light bulb was the standard technology. In 2019 LED light bulbs are the brightest option but LED lights aren't plug and play on Airheads. I started the conversion of Otus' incandescent bulbs to LEDs at the 2015 MOA rally in Billings, Montana. I did some Googling along with a bit of trial-and-error and ended up finding the bits to complete Otus' LED transformation at the 2019 MOA rally in Lebanon, Tennessee. It probably didn't need to take 4 years to complete this project but somehow it did. There are a couple of fun options describe here and a complete parts list at the bottom. I'll describe all this front-to-back, but that's not how it played out from a timing perspective. Regardless, please enjoy my telling of Otus' journey to becoming incandescent-free!
It Was A Dark and Scary Night
Apologies to Edward Bulwer-Lytton - it wasn't a stormy night but it was very dark and I was afraid I might run off a poorly marked road.
Way back in 2015 I rode Otus to The Top 'O The Rockies Rally in Paonia, CO and then on to the BMW MOA Rally in Billings, MT. Along the way my group rode through Yellowstone Park to see Old Faithful. We had a bit of a wait getting into the park and got stopped a couple of times - once due to traffic and another time due to a Bison wandering the road (that was an impressively big animal!) so we got to Old Faithful late in the day. After Old Faithful did its thing we decided we wanted to find a hotel for the night rather than pitch camp. The park had a room available, but it was about an hour ride from Old Faithful. The time and distance wasn't a problem but we'd be riding after dark. Again, not normally a problem but there are a couple of things to keep in mind when riding through a park like Yellowstone. First, there are no street lights - probably because of those animals wanting to be able to sleep. The other thing we found out as the sun was setting, there was no reflective paint strip on the shoulder of the road. Either the road had just been re-paved or they just don't paint that stripe. Either way, this one hour ride with an incandescent bulb made for a dark and scary ride. I knew that Otus' next modification was going to be an LED headlight.
After registering at the Billings Rally and setting up camp, I went straight to the vendor area and started looking for an LED headlight. As it turns out, the type of light bulb used in my beloved Airhead is the very common H4 bulb. There are several H4-replacement LED bulbs but the first vendor interested enough to talk to me got my business - Cyclops. Their headlight was a direct plug-and-play fit, and it lit up the night! I highly recommend this bulb! This light helps me see and be seen!
LED Parking Light
The little bulb in the headlight reflector had proven difficult to find. I searched all the websites claiming to carry all the LEDs I'd ever need, but I couldn't determine which LED bulb I needed to replace that little incandescent bulb. I parked that in the back of my brain hoping some day I'd figure it out. "Figuring it out" turned out to be asking the correct person the correct question. This year I was fortunate enough to attend the BMW MOA Rally in Lebanon, TN. It was a glorious ride there and back, and being there with my Airhead friends was a lot of fun. It was even more fun than anticipated because at Airhead Central I ran into Kat and Paul - the people behind KATDASH - and asked them if they could help me with an LED Parking Light bulb. They had the bulb I was looking for, and for only $4.00. That wasn't all I bought but this bulb is central to this part of the story, so now I'll show you the pictures!
LED Turn Signals
I am NOT an electrician but I am a fairly stubborn researcher and question-asker. Those two skills allowed me to get the help I needed to make LED turn signals work. What I came to understand is that LED bulbs don't act like incandescent bulbs when it comes to relays. The stock turn signal relay in Otus did not work when I put LED light bulbs in the front and back turn signals. Nothing happened when I turned on the left or right turn signal. Through trial and error I learned that I could run LEDs in the front turn signals OR the back turn signals, but not in both. I figured out that I needed a relay that would work with LED turn signal bulbs fore and aft, but I wasn't able to find a relay that plugged into Otus' stock turn signal relay plug. I wandered around the Internets looking for an answer but couldn't find a definitive answer. Like the LED Parking Light bulb I pushed this to the back of my brain and let it cook.
This question also came up when I talked with Kat and Paul of KATDASH at Airhead Central in Lebanon, TN. Guess what? They have a solution! A relay, a set of instructions, and a four-pack of LED turn signal bulbs and Otus now features functioning LED turn signals. Oh, and after a couple of minutes of thinking I connected the relay without chopping up the stock turn signal wiring. The stock turn signal relay has four pins. The replacement relay has three pins. While I don't plan on going back to the stock relay and lights - Otus is a war horse, not a show pony, so there will be no concourse judging! - I hate cutting stock wiring. Rather than chopping and crimping the stock wiring I made a few mostly color-correct jumpers from the new relay to the stock relay fitting. These work great and keep all the stock wiring intact. I'm pretty happy with this solution. Check out the pictures for more details.
LED Instrument Cluster Lighting
This is perhaps the neatest part of all the LED upgrades. Advertised as "Modern solid state LED lighting for for BMW R bike motorcycle gauges" the KATDASH system is just that. With this kit I no longer need to futz with tiny incandescent bulbs mounted in a flexible circuit board. Oh, and I can actually see what the gauges are telling me. If you own an Airhead this is a must-have upgrade. Even though Otus is a 1977 R100/7 I ended up needing to order the Slash 6 kit. The web site describes how to select the correct kit and the instructions were well done. The upgrade took minutes and the results are great!
LED Tail Light
Like the KATDASH instrument cluster solution, the tail light solution was simple and elegant. I chose the Motorrad Electrik Beacon 1 kit for Otus. This tail light kit is genuinely plug-and-play and makes me feel more confident when it comes to being seen - which is especially important when stopping! Check out the pictures to see how simple this is to install!
The parts listed here were selected because they work for my 1977 BMW R100/7. I used a combination of research, expert advice, and trial and error to complete this Airhead LED conversion. As some will assert, and I agree, I'm no expert. If I were an expert this probably wouldn't have taken the better part of 4 years to complete.
Review their website for the replacement bulb(s) that appear to work best for your machine. The one I bought 4 years ago has since been updated so what you see in my pictures won't match what's available from their website. Just remember - you're replacing an incandescent H4 bulb so let that guide your selection.
Parking Light Bulb
BRIGHT white LED for your Parking Light Socket
The fun fact about this bulb - shipping it twice the price of the bulb. Unless this is the only thing you need add the additional KATDASH bits listed below!
LED Turn Signal Relay + Bulbs
Electronic Turn Signal Flasher Relay Kit for 1974 - 1980 Airheads
Note the year range for this kit! If you have a post 1980 Airhead check out the information on the KATDASH FAQ page.
LED Instrument Cluster Lighting
KATDASH Airhead Instrument Lighting
This is KATDASH's bread and butter product and they know what they're doing here. As far as KATDASH is concerned the 1977 R100/7 is a Slash 6 when it comes to the instrument cluster. I had an email conversation with the company about what to select and they were very helpful. If you're not sure what you need send them an email. They'll point you in the right direction!
LED Tail Light
This is another year-specific part so review this page before making your purchase.
1 thought on “Airhead LED Conversion”
Fantastic, thanks for sharing your experience and all the links! Last sumner I bought a pretty much stock ’76/’77, R100/7 that could definattly use help in the lighting area. (I remember when the Halogen H4 was a huge improvement over the standard incadecent lamp in my BSA!) .
Thanks again, I will try and follow your footsteps! PS please forgive the typos..