Light it up!
Up until a few years ago, about the only off-road motorcycle racing I
knew of which involved riding at night was the Baja 1000, and maybe
a select few west coast events like the 24 Hours of Glen Helen. Most
of these were held on fast, open courses where 20 pounds worth of
huge lights mounted to the triple clamps didn't really slow a guy down
too much. For woods riding, however, this kind of weight isn't real
attractive, especially having it mounted high on the bike and attached
to the same parts as the handlebars. Here in the Midwest, we change
direction often, and some of us lack the defensive lineman physique
needed to manhandle a couple million candlepower worth of
illumination. So, rare was the event which involved tight woods and
night riding.

However, lighting technology has progressed rapidly in the last 10
years. The lights are smaller, lighter, and brighter. We can now strap
30-watt HID lights to our helmets and see 100 yards ahead of us.
Batteries are compact and more powerful, too. A pair of batteries, each
the size of your average TV remote control, can run those 30-watt
HID's for probably more hours than you have the energy for. With
these advances in technology, it's now possible for the average rider
to strap on some lights and extend his riding activities well into the
evening. Night races have popped up all over the country, with the
most publicized woods event in recent memory being the Red Bull
Last Man Standing. Now the Perry Mountain Motorcycle Club in
Georgia has a 24-hour race, and the Hillbilly Riders in Southwest
Missouri host a 100-mile endurance event which involves a night
portion.

I had never thought much about night riding until I stumbled across a
thread on
KTMtalk.com about "next generation" LED lights. To that
point, my only experience with LED lights was a battery powered
trouble light for the garage and a handlebar mounted light for a
mountain bike. Neither, I felt, was very effective. The color of the light
was too blue and the output too weak. When the KTMtalk guy raved
about the new 10-watt LED's, I was skeptical....very skeptical. But I
couldn't see much bias in his writing and he was pretty honest about
its capabilities (i.e. they aren't Baja 1000 lights, but are excellent
inside the woods). With the Ozark 100-miler approaching in November
2009, I decided to light up the 250XC in case I were to qualify for the
night portion of the race.

After much research, I ordered three lights from
Cyclops Motosports:
an Orion headlight, producing a combined 70 watts from a pair of
halogen bulbs; a 10-watt LED helmet light; and an identical 10-watt
LED for mounting on the handlebars. I ordered the Orion not so much
for night riding, but more for making the 250XC enduro legal should I
chose to race enduros on the bike. The helmet light is powered by a
small but potent 12-volt lithium-polymer battery, while the handlebar
mounted light is powered by the 250XC's 12-volt battery.

All that I'd read about night riding made clear that the directional views
provided by a helmet light is absolutely essential. Bike-mounted lights
illuminate where you're headed, but not always where you need to go.
Helmet lights also tend to reduce bouncing light, since your body and
head naturally smooth things out.

What I wanted was a combination of both: one stationary light to keep
things illuminated drectly in front of me, and a helmet light to show me
where I should be heading.
wiring the bar-mounted LED
light to DC current in the
KTM's electrical system. The
bike's wiring harness
delivers AC, which is fine for
halogen but not so much for
the LED's. A supplied cord
was long enough to tap into
a spare DC terminal on the
starter relay in the air box.
Starter relay: the thicker, all-yellow wire is the
positive lead for the handlebar- mounted LED
light (dark brown is ground; relay terminal has
been pulled away from its housing on the plastic
battery holder for better photo ops).
Another nice touch is the inline switch on the cords for the LED lights.
It's an easy-to-see blue button with a blue LED that indicates when
the cord is sending power to the light. On the helmet light, this is
helpful in preserving the 6-hour capacity of the battery. One push of a
button and you can easily turn off the light when you're stopped along
the trail, trying to figure out where the hell you are. The cords
themselves are also high quality and appear to be mostly waterproof.
They snap together nice and tight, and they're thick enough to take a
beating.

Wire It Up!
So how did I make it all work? Well, let's begin with the bike-mounted
lights. For starters, I rigged up the Orion headlight. It's probably not
Fortunately, the fact that the KTM comes with a battery pretty much
guarantees that somewhere you'll find direct current. After some
experimentation, I found what I needed in the starter relay terminal. It
has an unused positive terminal that just happens to be inline with a
10-amp fuse. I didn't worry too much about the light drawing straight
off the battery, since it doesn't take much juice to power the LED light.
For the higher-powered HID lights, though, this isn't something you'd
want to do. In those cases, the Cyclops experts recommend a stator
upgrade which generates 100 watts of DC at idle. That
The mount plate swivels from side
to side, while the bar clamp allows
for vertical aim adjustments.
Orion Halogen Lights: two
for the price of one!
Electric starters on the
KTM's required the need for
stators with more power
output. My previous KTM's, a
1999 300EXC and a 2002
300MXC, came with the
Kokusan 2K-2 stator (40
watts). The 250XC has a
100-watt Kokusan 2K-3
stator, which is nice because
By time I was done wiring
and mounting the lights, I
probably added 4 or 5
pounds to the bike. The
headlight isn't super heavy
for what it is, nor is the LED
light, but all together they
put some weight on the
handlebars. How noticeable
The first thing you notice about the light is its size, especially when
compared to its output. These things are small, but bright! The output
is so intense that I can't look into the beam without hurting my eyes.
The outer shell is all metal, so it's hard to imagine that these could get
destroyed too badly. When not in use, the light and its wires
disconnect easily. Since the lights are powered directly from the
battery, the LED can be turned on when the engine is not running.
Hard to say how much of an advantage this is, but it might be nice
when parked along the trail and need some extra light.
that is depends on the rider. For me, I can't tell much difference in
handling or turning effort. But that's just me.

Helmet Light!
After installing the bike-mounted lights, it was time to move on to the
helmet light. This is where battery technology comes into play, and it's
pretty dang cool. Even though it's possible to wire helmet lights into
the bike's electrical system, I don't know why anyone would want to.
Fall off the bike, and what happens? You're now in the dark. Today's
lithium-polymer (Li-Po) batteries are compact, but don't let that fool
you. Combined with the low power needs of LED's, these batteries
can hold their juice a good long time. Cyclops claims one battery can
power a 10-watt LED light for up to 6 hours. Even though I cannot
imagine riding for 6 hours in the dark, the power is there if I ever need
it.

A cool feature of the Li-Po batteries is their ability to be "stacked"
together to increase capacity. Each battery is hard-wired with two
connectors. Match up the male and female ends of the two batteries
and you've now got enough power to run a 10-watt LED for up to 12
hours! Stacking is probably more useful for higher powered HID
helmet lights, such as the 30-watt models that can run for two hours
on a single charge. In endurance races, these lights would probably
require stacked batteries if you don't want to constantly be charging
them during the race.

Mounting the light to the helmet can be done in two ways: stick-on or
strap-on. The stick-on mount has a curved surface that conforms to
the contour of the helmet and is designed to mount to the top of the
helmet. Double sided tape keeps it in place. The strap-on mount
wraps around the chin area of the helmet, using Velcro to put the light
lower and to the side. From what I read, I don't think Cyclops was too
crazy about the strap mount
(they still think a top mount
is best), but in response to
customer requests, they
provided the strap-on
anyway.
Above: strap-on.
Below: stick-on.
A little duct tape will hold the strap in place.
Darkness!
So how does it all work? Well, so far
I've only ridden in the fields around my
subdivision. I didn't qualify for the night
portion of the Ozark 100 race in
November 2009, which was probably ok
since I had neither the energy nor the
abilities to ride without sunlight on those trails. Once the LED lights
are aimed where I wanted them, they are pretty impressive in their
output. For fast, open riding, HID's are clearly better, but I think these
will be just fine in the woods. At the Ozark 100, I brought the helmet
light with me while watching riders in the night portion, and it really
does light up the woods. Two of these will be just fine, I think.

Update: Winter 2010
When I began serious testing of the light setup, winter was fast
approaching. I'd already decided to winterize the KTM, so snow
became a way test my cold weather and nighttime equipment at the
same time. At this point I must admit I chose a questionable method of
testing all of this equipment. The snowmobile trails crisscrossing
Northern Illinois were an irresistible  temptation. After consulting with
my sled-fanatical neighbors, I was basically told: a) I was crazy; b) I
would be the only dirt biker anywhere on the trails, and c) because of
this, nobody would probably care. The first two were pretty much
correct; the third turned out to be erroneous.

Anyway, my 6 weeks of testing revealed several facts about the light
setup:

  • The halogen lights are far overpowered by the LED's, so most of
    the time I rarely used them. Also, they compete for power with my
    grip warmers. I'd rather have warm hands.
  • The helmet light helps me see where I need to go, while the bar-
    mounted light shows what's straight ahead. In the woods, this
    setup is just fine. In open fields, however, I could use more
    distance. The Baja-type racers use HID lights for this reason -
    when flying through the desert and warp speed, you need to see a
    hundred yards ahead. The LED's give me about 100 feet. It's a
    quality 100 feet, but sometimes I would like more.
  • Battery-powered lights are a definite advantage when stopped on
    the trail. The engine stops, but the lights keep shining. When
    you're searching for a bolt in your fanny pack to replace the one
    that had been securing the seat, the helmet light is indispensable.
  • The small-gauge wire connected to the battery relay eventually
    started to break. It was replaced with a larger wire.
  • The velcro strap on the helmet requires a little duct tape to keep it
    stable.
  • Have not tested the full capacity of the Li-Po battery, but so far 4
    hours is no problem.

The LED's have accomplished what I set out to do, though: get in
more riding time. In the winter, I can come home from work and take
my sweet time in preparing to ride. If I want to ride at midnight, so be
it. The lights have opened up a whole new universe of riding
opportunities.

Update: November 2011
I finally got my first chance to race-test the lighting system at the 2011
Ozark 100. I qualified for the night portion of the race and put this
setup to the test. The lights worked exactly as I hoped they would.
The trails were fairly tight, so I didn't need a very long or wide beam of
light. What I did need was the ability to point the light in the direction I
was looking. The helmet light was perfect for that. The handlebar-
mounted light showed me the direction the bike was heading. The
Orion halogen headlight didn't put out a tremendous amount of light,
and I could probably have left it off. The race was very muddy, and
the headlight got pretty covered with mud.

I would recommend this setup for anyone riding at night in the woods.
If you're looking to ride 70 mph through open fields, HID's would
probably be a better choice.
it can handle headlights that are reasonably bright. Case in point: the
Orion dual-halogen headlight. Cyclops sells this moderately priced
headlight with a wiring harness and a hi/lo beam switch. The wiring
harness replaces the kill switch and also preserves the stock headlight
connection. I'm not sure what this connection would be used for - grip
warmers, maybe? Cyclops made the wiring about as easy as can be,
thanks in part to its excellent instructions. If the Orion had been the
only equipment I was adding, it would have been a 30-minute job. The
headlight shell fits nicely with its rubber straps and has two options for
fitting onto the fender pegs. It also comes with an integrated cable
guide that keeps the brake line on the back side of the shell. And to
top it all off, I think it looks pretty cool.

I did have the larger bulb burn out on my after about a 7 or 8 enduros.
A replacement bulb did not fit exactly, but a little Stichnoth
engineering made it fit.
way, the engine is powering
the lights, not the battery.

A couple of crimp connectors
later, I was ready to route the
wires under the tank and to
the front of the bike. This is
also fairly simple, and made
even easier with the
connector on the end of the
supplied wires, which plugs
right into another cord that
goes into the LED light. If
there's any downside to the
Cyclops package, there is
almost
too much length of
supplied wiring to work with.
I could probably have run
the wires back and forth
across the bike and still had
plenty of length.
In the KTMtalk review and discussion,
there was universal agreement that the
Cyclops guys were outstanding to work
with and always eager to help. This
shows in their attention to the hardware
that came with the LED lights. Both
lights contained mostly the same
hardware. The main difference was the
really necessary for night riding, since
the LED's overpower it, but it does
provide some backup light, just in case.
The Cyclops package includes a wiring
harness and bar-mounted Hi/Low beam
switch that also replaces the kill switch.
The harness leaves the stock headlight
connector free for whatever auxiliary
power you desire. However, both of
these connectors produce alternating
current. That's fine for the Orion's
halogen bulbs, but not as desirable for
the LED's. They prefer direct current, so
I searched for a DC source on the
250XC.
helmet light came with a battery and a charger. The lights could be
stuck to the top of the helmet with double-stick tape, side-mounted to
the helmet at the chin area with a velcro strap, handlebar mounted on
just about any diameter of bars, or bolted flush to a flat surface.

Every conceivable idea I had for how to make all of this work to my
satisfaction was covered with what came in the package. For example,
while experimenting with various  positions for the bar-mounted LED
light, the plastic bar clamp for the mount fit fine on the inside of the
handlebars, where the diameter is largest, but were too big where the
diameter was smaller next to the grips. Then I saw a couple of rubber
inserts inside a bag of parts, and
presto!, all was good. Same goes for
Editor's note: this page was developed in 2010-11...a
long time ago, in terms of LED lighting advancements.
These were my thoughts at the time.