I've mentioned in my EVD threads that I'm working on improving the lighting on my scooter, but the XM3500 is built on the same body, so this discussion should apply pretty equally to both vehicles. Lighting is a very important tool for safety in traffic, and it also helps a bit when riding at night. My priority is 'be seen' more than anything else, but seeing the road better helps too.
So, let's start with a quick inventory, and then see what can be improved.
For headlights, we've got a pair of 35W/35W halogen bulbs. These are a HS1 standard, which is a low-wattage variant of the H4. The same bulb is used for both high/low beams, it's got two filaments in slightly different locations. High beams are not brighter, they are just aimed higher on the road.
Some info on the bulb is here: Bosch India. You can order replacement bulbs online from Candlepower Inc. The standard car/motorcycle bulb for headlights starts at 55W, so we're definitely hurting here. But, on the good side, we've got two headlights, and both are always on, so it could be worse.
For brake/tail lights, we have 3 bulbs, and they are a very standard 5W/25W 1157 bayonet mount bulb. These are 5W for tail lights, but they jump to 25W when you hit the brakes. This is a common bulb for car usage, and we've got 3 of them in a good arrangement, so we're in pretty good shape here.
So how do we make this better?
The biggest collision risk a motorcyclist faces (and presumably a scooter as well) is from a car turning left across your path. The second biggest risk is from someone pulling out of a driveway or side road into your path. One of the best tools to prevent both of these is called a 'Headlight Modulator'. This is a device that alters the output of your headlamps between 100% and 20% at a rate of 240 cycles per minute. It's technically modulating, not flashing, but it's very good at attracting the eye. Other drivers will notice you more rapidly. Federal Law makes such devices legal in all 50 states, as long as they follow specifications. I've ordered modulators from Comagination before, Kisan is also popular. But, they don't make a modulator with a plug for HS1 bulbs.
So, how can we make this work? Here's my current plan: I found a 45W/45W H4 bulb at Candlepower Inc. It should fit into my current housing, and the plug will fit nicely into a headlight modulator. It'll also be something like 30% brighter, which will help at night. The bad news is that they'll draw an extra 10W each, so I need to make sure the bike can handle a 20W increase in power draw. I don't think I'll melt the plastic housing for the lights, but I don't want to blow a fuse while riding, especially if it's dark out.
So, let's look at the tail lights again. They work fine, but there is a massive 75W power draw when you hit the brakes. The DC-DC converter must be able to handle 70W for the headlights and 75W for the brake lights at the same time, so we have 145W total to work with. Let's replace the tail lights with LEDs, and free up some wattage for use up front. LED brakelights also have the advantage that they illuminate faster, which might give the driver behind you a few more milliseconds of reaction time to hit their brakes.
There are lots of choices, but most LED brake/tail replacement bulbs are actually dimmer than the incandescent they replace. We don't want to do that. You also need to get a bulb that illuminates the reflector housing as well as shining the light out the back. I found the 'Eagle Eye Tower' from Autolumination, and it seems to be a good choice. (Top of the page, get the 1157 in Red). Randall at R.Martin says the've got some replacement tail bulbs for our scooters, but I haven't checked those out yet.
While we are working on brake lights, there is one other thing to add. Cars all have a center brake light, it only comes on when braking, so it's never mistaken for a tail light. Since our bikes always have the tail lights on, a car behind us might not recognize the increase in brightness from our brake lights. My solution is Hyperlites. They flash when you hit the brakes, are very bright, and don't draw much power. You can get them as simple brake lights, as brake/tail lights, or even brake/tail/turn lights. They come in modules of 8 or 16 LEDs. I now have a set of two 8 LEDs flashing brake lights, set to go constant after 5 seconds. I mounted them on the bottom of the cargo rack, so they are at the top-center of the tail light cluster.
Between the LED brake/tail lights and the Hyperlights, I figure we draw no more than 20W when braking, rather than 75. That gives us at least 50W of extra power to play with, so lets go back to the front of the bike.
What else can we do up here? Driving Lights.
One of the problems that motorbikes have is a narrow profile. This makes us harder to see, but good lights help fix that. But the real problem is that a driver can't judge how far we are and how fast we are moving. Normally, a driver can detect the change in size of an approaching object, and this change gives a strong clue to distance and speed. A narrow motorcycle, especially the types with only a single headlight, don't provide as strong a signal. We've got two headlights, which is good, but someone might mistake us for a car that is 10x further away, since our lights are dim and close together.
On my gas scooter, I've installed a set of Motolights on the front forks. This provides a great triangular light pattern, as well as extra light on the road. That triangular pattern is pretty much unique to motorbikes, and it gives an excellent cue for distance and speed. Motolights are extremely nice, but they are somewhat expensive, and normally draw 35W each, 70W total. Other options?
The Hyperlight guys now have something called Hyper-whites. A pair of 16-LED modules with bright white output, only 3W each. These aren't going to add much to road illumination, but they are going to make you more visible, and they are going to help form that triangle to define the shape of the bike. I'm probably going this route, but haven't placed an order yet.
I did find another option, and that's an HID (xenon) light. HID provides very efficient illumination per watt of power. But the HID replacement bulb kits are only legal for off-road use in the US, partly because the light comes from a different section of the bulb so the light distribution changes significantly. But what about HID driving lights mounted on the forks? Most HIDs are going to draw 35W, which is above our budget, but then I found these: Trail Tech HID MR11. They consume 13W each, but have the brightness of a 35W halogen bulb. They are going to be around $120 each, and I'll need to figure out how to mount them, and what wires to tap into for power, but they are tempting.
Ok guys, this has gotten pretty long, but I figure you'd benefit from my research. Thoughts? Alternatives? Discussion?