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Iron Butt Association
May 17, 2017
    Tech House         Archive of Wisdom         > HID & Auxiliary Lights <         Fuel Cells         Exhaust Rules    

HID & Auxilary Lighting

While many newcomers to Endurance Riding believe an auxiliary cell is the most important LD farkle one can do to one's bike, that's not quite the case. It can be argued that lighting enhancement is the single most important LD modification you can do, and the driver behind that premise is safety. It doesn't matter how much fuel you can carry if you can not see the deer early enough to avoid a mishap.

Motorcycle endurance riders, by definition, do a lot of night time riding. Good light output is key to good night vision, which is extremely important traveling in known deer country. We will examine three general paths towards enhancing the light output of your motorcycle:
  1. Upgrade your factory (stock) headlight bulbs
  2. Install auxiliary lights
  3. Install an aftermarket HID system
What follows also are some general observations and considerations regarding auxiliary light systems that we have learn over the years.

1. Upgrading current system

Historically, motorcycle headlight design and output have usually proven themselves sub-optimal for serious night work. However, modern-day motorcycle light systems have come a long, long way. The highly developed reflector housings of machines such as the Honda ST1300 and Yamaha FJR1300 are something to behold. The new Honda Gold Wing GL1800 has set the de facto standard for exceptional factory lighting: four (4) 55-watt H7 bulbs put a tremendous amount of lumens on the road.

For older machines, the first and most economical option is to replace the standard H-4 bulb with a known high-quality equivalent. The PIAA Xtreme White series, the Sylvania (Osram) Silver Star series, or Philips Vision Plus series, are all outstanding bulbs.

An alternate upgrade option is to install a bulb of higher wattage. Some amount of care must be used here to ensure the electrical system can handle sustained use of these bulbs, and perhaps just as important, to ensure the lamp housing can handle (over time) the increased amount of heat generated by the higher wattage. Current generation Hondas and BMWs, for example, can generally handle these bulbs if all connections are free from corrosion. Note that some benefit is derived from augmenting the ground wire directly to the frame.

If the bulb wattage is significantly higher that stock, then experience dictates that the entire wire harness should be upgraded as well, and the circuit appropriately fused and relayed. An example of a bulb fitting into this category would be the Philips 100/130 ceramic-based H4 Ralley bulb.

2. Auxiliary light systems

Adding auxiliary lights is the next step to improved night riding. At this point, two separate considerations must be evaluated: the lights and the mounting. And then, the third and most critical operation can be addressed: proper looming and routing of wires.

Wiring and Looming

This is presented as the priority item. Regardless of the expense and labor of installing and mounting the lights, wiring and looming will determine how effectively everything else works. As a general rule, one should solder all connections. However, modern "environmental" crimp connectors, when used with a proper, professional crimping tool, can also provide a reliable and solid connection. Still, soldering is generally considered to be the preferred method.

Routing wires out of harms way may take extra time, but pays significant dividends. Avoid any area that may pinch wiring between two points, for example the frame and the fuel tank. All wires are to be loomed; nothing betrays an amateur job as quickly as exposed wires. Heat shrink tubing provides a sano method of looming wires. When properly routed and tie wrapped, the loom should not be obvious or exposed to the exterior of the motorcycle.

Mounting The Lights

The best position for driving lights is as high as possible to the eye level of the rider and as far forward as practical. So done, full utilization of light is possible and the lights' ability to provide discernible contrast is enhanced. On the BMW K1100LT series, for example, mount the lights to the fairing in proximity to the mirrors. The underside of the fairing is reinforced for police lights. This places the lights to the inside of the mirrors, and slightly higher than the mirrors themselves, out of harm's way. Placing the lights forward precludes reflections caused by the light striking motorcycle parts before continuing down the road.

For the ST1100, the Ron Major PIAA brackets are without equal in their clean, rock-solid design and placement. They are designed by the late, distinguished Iron Butt veteran and renown ST1100 engineer Ron Major. Ron specifically designed these brackets to securely affix the PIAA 910 Projector Lamps to the ST1100's lower mirror bolt, solidly in the frame.

For Gold Wings, we have seen an excellent bracket designed to mount the PIAA 910s just above the mirrors, affording the ability to cast their beams far down the road. PIAA brackets for the BMW K1200LT and Yamaha FJR1300 are also commercially available.

We have seen many good creative mounts that were home fabricated, some from steel, but the majority from aluminum. Aluminum is easily bent as needed and when powder coated is aesthetically acceptable. Some excellent aluminum castings are also available. The main concern is that the mount precludes any flexing.

Which Lamp To Use?

The vast majority of seasoned Endurance Riding veterans favor the PIAA 910 series. There are many bulb wattage options for this light. These products are well made and have a small frontal area. Keep in mind that a motorcycle has a very high drag coefficient. Some lights increase drag dramatically and can reduce gas mileage to the point that auxiliary fuel is a requirement! The PIAA 910 is an advanced design that utilizes a projection beam that affords increased distance over the H-4 high beam and an increase (downrange) peripheral view.

There are other auxiliary lamps on the market, but few can match the "output vs size" properties of the 910 lamp. Still, if you are determined to find an alternate lamp, endeavor to avoid large diameter driving lights (5" to 7" or more) due to mounting difficulty, wind drag and exposure to impact damage.

3. HID light systems

HID lighting systems have become increasingly popular among the Long Distance Riding community within the last few years, and for good reasons. The ability of HID lighting to cast light far down the road and to the sides is unequalled by any modern halogen lamp system. Obviously, this power comes at a price - until recently, HID light systems were very expensive indeed. While they are still not inexpensive, HID technology has advanced significantly in recent years and has helped reduce its price considerably.

The HID bulb uses an arc of light similar to high intensity stadium lighting. Unlike stadium lights, however, this new lighting system uses extremely high voltage (18-25 thousand volts) to initiate the arc so that no warm up time is required. It produces a light measuring 4100 degree Kelvin compared to 2800 degree Kelvin produced by a typical halogen filament lamp. The results are a daylight white/blue light that produces more than 3 times the amount of lumens as compared to halogen light, while consuming only about 50 watts of power (35-watts for the bulb, 15-watts for the ballast). Once the bulb is up to full brightness (about 1-1.5 seconds), the controller then provides a steady 90 volts to maintain the arc.

HID Facts/Benefits:

HID bulbs do not use a filament like halogen bulb, rather, it creates light by zapping an arc between two electrodes. This arc excites xenon gases, igniting metallic salts. The product of this reaction is intense white light. HID has power consumption of approximately 3.5 amps constant draw compared to approximately 10 amps drawn from a standard halogen light bulb. HID bulb life is an average of 3000 hours compared to the halogen's 750 hour life, and is not effected by vibrations or rough road conditions.

HID Installation Issues:

There are two factors that are extremely critical to proper HID utilization: focal point, and aiming.

Focal point: When we say "focal point", we refer to the exact horizontal/vertical positioning of the bulb filament as it resides in the reflector housing. It is CRITICAL that the HID bulb's "filament" (part of the bulb where the arcing occurs) be in the same exact position that the stock factory bulb's filament resides. Failure to achieve this proper focal point results in a significant decrease in light output performance. Most of the better HID aftermarket kits either have adapter rings to achieve proper focal point, or alternatively, the base of the HID bulb has been modified to replicate the base of the stock motorcycle bulb (H4, H7, H3, etc).

Aiming: HID lighting is extremely strong. Proper headlight aiming takes on a whole new meaning when you're talking about HID lighting. It is absolutely essentially that your headlights be aimed correctly. This can not be emphasized strongly enough. On small, two-lane country roads, improperly aimed HID headlights can be extremely hazardous to oncoming vehicles. Motorcycles that afford on-the-fly headlight adjustment from the cockpit, such at the Honda ST1100/ST1300 series, can mitigate this problem by allowing fine-tuning of the headlight aim as conditions/bike loading dictate.

Experience has shown that in the case of HID lighting, one can slightly lower the aim of their headlamps from factory settings and still realize massive improvements over halogen systems, while at the same time eliminating potential problems to oncoming traffic.


We hope you find the above information useful in any decisions you make to enhance the lighting on your motorcycle. As always, one should use care in adding any accessory to one's motorcycle. It is your responsibility to ensure your motorcycle operates safely at all times.
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