|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.
|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 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
|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
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
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.
|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
way, the engine is powering the lights, not the
|The mount plate swivels from side to side, while
the bar clamp allows for vertical aim adjustments.
|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
|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 that is depends
on the rider. For me, I can't tell much difference in
handling or turning effort. But that's just me.
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
|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.
|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.
|A little duct tape will hold the strap in place.
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 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.
|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
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.
|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 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-