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LED Lighting - the wave of the future

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My quest for lighting began when I was asked to join a 25 hour team for a race in October. While I have raced for years at the local and National level, I have NEVER raced or ridden at night, and the prospect was both exciting and uneasy at the same time. First up, I needed some lights worthy of going fast.

I currently have two bikes in the stable, a 2008 KX450 and a 2007 KTM 525, both potent off road weapons, but I prefer the short stroke/close ratio that the KX450 offers, as well as the stiffer MX suspension, so began my quest for lights. I quickly found that, as many of you may already know, adding race lights to a KX450 is simply impossible.

My object was to have at least one light on the bike, and one light on my head. In addition, since my KX is charging challenged, it was clear that I would be packing batteries. No problem, battery technology has come so far in such a short time, carrying two batteries (one for the bike and one for the helmet) was not a problem.

I was aware of two primary players in the off road lighting world, but when they offered no help, with one company having no interest in even talking to me because I ride a KX450, I went in search of a different solution.

In a web search, I stumbled onto Cycleclops Motosports. I contacted them, and to my surprise, received a phone call from Daryl, the owner. We discussed my problem, and he began to talk about the new 10 Watt LED lights his company was offering. Seems his is the only company offering the 10 wall LED units, but since this is such new technology, I was skeptical.

After about 10 emails and about 5 phone calls, Daryl offered to send me a pair of LED lights, complete with battery, charger and handlebar brackets to test. OK, now I know this guy is for real, as he has enough confidence in his product to let me give it a try. Since there is not much information yet on LED systems, it seemed a good way to start the information ball rolling.

Since I was skeptical of LED performance, Daryl priced a Solstice spot for the helmet, and a HID flood for the bike, as I expected this would be my final package.

The first thing you notice when it’s time to install is how small these little LED lights are in comparison to the HID lights.

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They are made of cast aluminum, and I swear you could drop these things from 15 stories and barely scratch the finish. The quick disconnect mount is made of aluminum as well, but the handlebar mount is plastic. I thought this might be a weak link, but in talking with Daryl, these little mounts are bull strong, and used by several different off road lighting companies. They have also proven their durability in years of racing.

First up, was where to mount the lights? Since I was just testing, I didn’t want to change a bunch of stuff, so mounted them on the bars.

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I know, I know, my bike is DIRTY…

As you can see, I have mounted the lights well out from the center of the bars. I would have preferred to mount the lights on each side of the top clamp, but since this is just a test, we should be fine. You will also notice that the lights are cocked at an angle. Different lights will throw a specific beam pattern which would make this type of mounting undesirable, but with the LED lights, the beam does not have a discernable left/right or top/bottom pattern, so mounting on angles does not impact the performance of the light.

Battery mounting was next on the list, and I chose a nice secure location under the seat.

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Daryl provides the new Li Poly batteries, and these things are small, small, small. I was easily able to zip tie the battery behind the (clean) filter. The battery also has two leads so you can “stack” the batteries up for longer battery life. I asked Daryl if he could create a female/female plug that would allow me to use this second lead to charge the battery without removing the seat, I believe a worthwhile product addition.

So, there’s the setup, simple and clean, but what about performance. The first ride was with two friends who are not only veteran night riders, but multi-year 24 hour racers. As you might expect, these guys have lighting figured out, so when I arrived with my little LED lights, I got some ribbing.

On rider uses a HID helmet light from another vender (SCMR16), along with a HID bike light. This was the setup I was going to model before Daryl talked me into trying the LED lights, so this was going to be an awesome test.

The second rider was running the same Solstice Helmet light I was using, two MR11 lights, and a stock headlight.

Since we had two different Helmet lights in our group, we compared the different designs, and the Solstice is clearly a cleaner, more durable package. If you just visually compare the two, you can see how the SCMR16 does not conform to the helmet well, while the Solstice is molded to the contour of the top of the helmet. This is important when it comes to snagging branches and limbs in the woods, as unlike the SCMR16, the Solstice has no lower edge to allow branches to grab, which means less ducking and dodging, equaling with lower risk on the trail.

In addition, whoever thought that putting the off switch next to the battery on the SCMR16 that is tucked neatly in your backpack should be flogged! Oh, that switch will never get damaged, but it will also never get used on the trail, as it is impossible to get to without removing your pack. This means that when you stop, you get to continue to chew up battery life. Nice, guys, nice. Apparently, this is a known complaint, but not one that deserves much attention, so will probably never change.

In comparison, the Solstice switch is right on the back of the light. When you stop, just reach up and hit the button, and all goes dark. When you are ready to go, hit the button again, and the light kicks to life. In addition, the Solstice is made of molded rubber instead of stamped aluminum like the SCMR16, so the Solstice is an almost indestructible design.

Now, let’s talk about beam. The Solstice shoots further, period. I have no idea why, it just does. In fact, when we turned only the Solstice and SCMR16, and brought them together out front, the Solstice overpowered the SCMR16.

Now for the LED lights. Sitting in a row, we each turned our lights on, then off, one at a time to compare. Then, we turned two lights on at a time to see which light would overpower the other. In the end, the dual LED system was the best package, overpowering the HID Flood and (no surprise) the stock headlight.

But, wait, we then tested the dual LED system against the MR11 dual helmet lights. Let’s just say if you are looking at the MR11 lights, stop looking, as they are no match for anything in the group except the stock headlight.

The LED lights get me to about 50 yards with clear view, so peripheral vision catches all the trail junk, roots, rocks, etc, while the Solstice HID spot allows me to scan far ahead for the stuff that can kill you…like moose running through the woods. Geez, couldn’t they hear us coming?

For single track riding in the trees, the dual LED setup is the ticket, as I found myself ignoring the HID helmet light. This is because the dual LED system throws such a wide beam with the right diffuser installed (these come with the lights, and are easy to swap, so you can see well around corners.

I also spent time riding with only the Solstice HID helmet, and quite frankly, was a disaster, as the beam is too narrow and shoots too far ahead to be of much value. In fact, if I had to choose between the two systems for woods only riding/racing, I would simply buy the dual LED system, and forget about the HID helmet light. I know, this is contrary to the wisdom of the past, but remember, I said if I had to make a choice for the woods, most commonly dictated by the amount of money you have to spend.

If you have the money to get both, you have the ticket that will allow you to keep your speed at max through an entire event. I am opting for both, as I ride both woods and open desert, so need to be able to hit high speeds through the deep whoops for long distances.

I also played quite a lot with beam pointing on the two LED lights, and found the best method was to point the beams so they converge in the middle at the distance desired in front of the bike. I have mine converging about 35 yards in front of the bike, and will be testing different distances in the future, but this seemed the hot setup for the trees in Washington. More open terrain will require convergence further out, but this is easily adjusted in a few minutes with the LED setup.

As for that HID Flood that I originally ordered? I swapped the order for the dual LED lights, as they are simply better than the single HID Flood for my desired terrain.

Here is the website for Cyclops http://www.cyclopsmotorsports.com/productsLights.html

Now let’s go riding…NIGHT riding.

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Welcome to the world of night riding. I've been doing it for years, and have done the 24 Hours of Starvation Ridge for the last several years.

Darryl is an awesome guy to work with and his Cyclops lights are great. He provides all-night support at the 24, and so does Trail Tech.

I've been running dual Trail Tech MR16 HID spot lights, one on the helmet and one on the bars, since they came out. They use the exact same bulb as the Cyclops Solstice, and are just as bright (unfortunately they're a little too blue but they're made for the medical industry, not night riders). I'm sure the LED lights work great for tight woods, but they simply don't have long enough throw for high-speed riding (you'll see that for yourself soon...). The MR16 spot bulb works pretty darn well, but last year I took a lap with an 8 inch HID race light, running on two Lithium battery packs for 4-5 hours, and that is the ticket for the high speed stuff. I prefer the Baja Designs version, as the bulb is yellower than the Trail Tech and gives better depth perception, and the bulb/ballast are made by Osram Sylvania, who make the best HID lights in the world (found on BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Porsche, Lamborghini, etc).

As for helmet light mounting, I much prefer to mount the light on the side of the helmet by my jaw. That way it doesn't get torn off by branches or a mild get-off, or by the doorway of the barn in the 24 hour race at 3am (remember to duck if you try to jump the hole in the floor).

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Rigid Industries is really pushing the limits with LED stuff for off road. They even have a couple teams throwing out their HID setups to run full LED stuff instead. And they have a very cool setup for dirt bikes -

http://www.rigidindustries.com/product_p/rgdac10mt.htm

They also have a smaller setup being developed that will mount to your handlebars.

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be extremely careful with the lipo batteries. If you mess up the charging, they will explode and when I say explode, i mean they go up in a ball of flame. You have to use a special battery charger and I hope that is how they are being charged. I use them in RC airplane applications and have first hand seen one explode. You don't want that. If you ever see one of your batteries start to puff up, get rid of that sucker fast and replace it. Im confident that the person who setup your system is using the correct charger, but just want to make sure.

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I can't speak for any particular mfg, but LED lighting in general kicks ass when compared to incan for near-field tasks/use. I define near-field as stuf we need to see in our respecive fields of vision from a moving vehicle.

I just did my first night ride w/ LEDs on my mountain bike and it has opened up a whole new world - I'm a "morning person", to put it mildly, and I don't mind riding alone, and w/ these lights, I now can be out in the early AM and miss the "crowds" plus see some animules (usually when you're right on 'em - climbed up the arses of (2) pork-e-pines the other day!) and get home barely after my kids have eaten breakfast!!! I got up @ 3:30 Monday and figured "I might as well try these babies out in the woods right now", so I went and rode. 1700+ calories later, I was done and headed home @ 8:45 am.

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No way would I use this 300 lumen system on a fast moving motorized vehicle, but my point is that LEDs have come forever forward. There are much more powerfull LED systems out there. The quality of light thru LEDs is killer; no rings, etc. Just white light. They do get hot though.

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be extremely careful with the lipo batteries. If you mess up the charging, they will explode and when I say explode, i mean they go up in a ball of flame. You have to use a special battery charger and I hope that is how they are being charged. I use them in RC airplane applications and have first hand seen one explode. You don't want that. If you ever see one of your batteries start to puff up, get rid of that sucker fast and replace it. Im confident that the person who setup your system is using the correct charger, but just want to make sure.

Ditto...my Dad had his entire lipo charging station for his RC planes go up in

flames in his garage.

Thankfully, he knew the risk and kept the stuff sitting in the middle of the

garage on a tool cart...otherwise, the garage would have gone up in flames.

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Ditto...my Dad had his entire lipo charging station for his RC planes go up in

flames in his garage.

Thankfully, he knew the risk and kept the stuff sitting in the middle of the

garage on a tool cart...otherwise, the garage would have gone up in flames.

The current batteries used in commercial Helmet light applications are circuit protected. unlike your RC car or a/c batteries.. PCMs are in place to prevent any issues..Although the new breed of LEDs are good they are no where close to the out put of the MR16 HID products available threw Cyclops or Trail tech.

Edited by off road rider

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