Here is a great look at some of the newest things out there for lighting. Obviously it does not include everything available, particularly the newest Squadron LED from Baja Designs. The technology is changing quickly, but there are some great options out there for practical LED lighting now. The pricing is reasonable and they should be very durable. The photos really show some of the subtle differences in the light choices. Chilly
By Gordon White
In preparation for the annual Halloween 24 hour race at Starvation Ridge in South Central Washington this year, I thought I would do some light testing. The 17 mile course was a lot of nice “grass track” type conditions, which chopped out quickly, broken up of course with a canyon or two, some rock gardens, a good rock hill and a few short sections of farm road. The winning average speed was 33 MPH and our old geezer team averaged 24 MPH.
This is our second year running in this race. My bike is a 2009 KTM 300xc-w, that I think puts out a total of 110 watts, 70 watts of AC power for the lights and 40 watts of DC power to the 3 AH battery.
This time I was going to go better prepared for the night sections. My friend Kurt Forget at Black Dog Cycle Works (blackdogCW.com) suggested I try a pair of the Rigid Industries D2 driving lights. These are a very small unit and Kurt has designed a lower triple clamp bracket that puts a light below and on each side of the existing headlight or number plate.
After a lot of field testing, I decided to run two separate lighting systems for reliability. I used a Baja Designs headlight/number plate combo with a halogen H4 hi/low bulb on the AC system, on the DC side I had a pair of Rigid D2 driving lights but could only use one at a time as my bike’s limited DC output wouldn’t support both. I also had a Trail Tech 2½” HID helmet light for a 3rd independent system. The total combination system worked well.
After the race Rigid released some new equipment and I was able to borrow some 8” lights and decided to do some comparison testing. I tried some light meter testing but found that this didn’t always tell the whole story due to the difference in light patterns and color characteristics. We finally just settled on a written evaluation and photos. All photos were taken at F5 for 2 seconds. A big tractor battery supplied the power so there was no draw down.
These are old school and relatively inexpensive. They work on either AC or DC and can have both high or low beam in one bulb, allowing a quick recovery if one burns out. The light is very yellow compared to the rest of this group. My bike will pull these at an idle with very little dimming.
Baja Designs Headlight/number plate unit, $96
This unit uses an H4 Halogen car type bulb but does not put out as much light due to the smaller reflector. This comes with a 55/60 watt bulb and is the only light in this test to have Hi/Lo capability. Several people had recommended the Sylvania Silver Star bulb as an upgrade. I tried one but could not detect much improvement on overall quality. Still, this is a very suitable set up for riders who only occasionally need lights. Replacement bulbs are inexpensive and easy to find.
Trail Tech 8” halogen, 55 w, H1 bulb, $275
This light has good distance but is almost a spot and needs side lights to fill in. Although, as you can see in the photos, our test light was not a huge improvement over the Baja Designs light. I would have liked to have seen it configured for the H4 Hi/Lo bulb but that may have reduced the distance. Its light is also yellow.
Trail Tech 8” HID, 42 watt, DC only, $515
This unit has more distance by a small amount than any other light in this test, but does not have much beam width. It projects a bluish light. This type of light is the current standard in Baja racing.
The downside includes:
All of the LED lights in this test are from Rigid Industries and were supplied by Black Dog Cycle Works. They are about 3” square, lightweight, sealed units, almost indestructible, have a 50,000 hr. bulb life, a lifetime warranty and are made in the U.S.A. Larger size lights are available for different truck and UTV applications. They produce a bright pure white light. Colored snap on covers are available, including a fog lense. The manufacturer claims they work from 9 to 36 volt, but in my test they seem to work well down to 8 volts, a real advantage on weaker systems.
Rigid D2 driving: 6 bulb, 28 watts, DC $199 ea
This is a good all around light, excellent beam width and good distance.
Rigid 2X2 flood: 4 bulb, 15 watt DC $109 ea
This light doesn’t quite match the D2 above but it’s low cost and low power consumption make it a great value. It has a wide beam useful for tighter riding areas.
Rigid 2X2spot: 4 bulb, 15 watt DC $109 ea
This has better distance than the D2 and any other light in this test except the 8” HID perhaps, but it is a narrow beam.
Things are changing fast. The new LEDs are cheaper, more indestructible and require less electricity than the currently dominating big HIDs. The Rigid 2×2’s we tested are greatly improved over the ones I tested a few months ago. One of our team is giving up his 8” HID and going to run a combination of three Rigids for reliability, indestructibly, and visibility of course.
As for me, my main concern is reliability, so I want to stay with a dual AC/DC system. I’m going to run the Baja Designs with an H4 Hi/Lo bulb on the AC side. These lights automatically come on when you start the engine. On the DC line I will run one D2 driving and one 2×2 spot. These will have to be turned off and on each time. My bike won’t pull both on a full-time basis, so I’ll just have to run the spot when I hit a road stretch. Yes, I know I could upgrade my charging system.
Thanks to Kurt Forget at Blackdogcycleworks.com for equipment and photography and Don Noble at Mays Honda, Sandpoint, ID for equipment and advice.
If you would like to get a better look at these pictures, you can see them in higher resolution at this link. It really helps to show some of the subtle differences between the different combinations.