I was a mad keen car fanatic before I discovered bikes. And, around the time I got around to getting my licence, I was mad keen on car rallies – heck I had stood by the road in Kiama in 1968 and watched the London to Sydney Marathon field grind through town on thir way to the finish line in Sydney. And, if you’re gonna be into rallying, the one thing your car had to have was lights’ right? I mean the rallies back then were REAL rallies, all competed on gravel forestry roads and at night-time, none of this asphalt, daytime made-for-TV pussy stuff.
So my early cars had lights and lots of them. This regardless of the fact that none of them had a charging system capable of supporting the long-term usage of the lights, no, that was irrelevant.
And, when I discovered bikes I discovered pretty quickly (scarily-quickly in fact) that motorcycle lights were even more diabolical than their 4 wheel counterparts were AND they only had one of them. Standard fitment was a 55w incandescent sealed beam unit similar to what was fitted to the cars of the day. So, fitting an extra light (or more) was something that most of us did. Quartz halogen headlamp inserts were just coming into vogue and they were expensive but I had my old QI driving lights left over from my cars so. Some people managed to do these modifications cleverly and elegantly, but I was a braniac not an engineer so my fitments always tended to be effective but far from pretty.
As you can see from the photo at the head of the article, my 500/4 wore a Raydot 55w QI driving light and did so until I fitted the bikini fairing. I was never able to figure out how to have the fairing AND the driving light but the bike did have one for a while. Now, of course, at this stage I was doing heaps of night-time riding. Not only was I regularly riding to and from Denman in the Hunter Valley (up the Putty Road and back) to visit my brother but also I was returning in the evening hours (especially in the winter) from race meetings in Sydney. I could just about get home before dark from Oran Park provided I got away straight away when the racing finished but, hey, who wants to do THAT? But riding home from Amaroo Park, another 75 minutes further north, meant that I was always getting home in the dark.
The CBX550 had a much better light and, from then on, I never fitted any auxiliary lights.
The VFR750 had really good lights, now quartz halogen and two of them. Perversely, as bike headlights became dramatically better, my amount of night riding decreased quite a bit. I still did pretty much the same sorts of miles but, as I got older and more circumspect (look it up) I started limiting my time out on the road at night time. I was always pretty happy with the VFR lights but it wasn’t until I bought the 800 that I realised what a huge leap forward lighting technology had taken in the 4 years since 1994 and 1998. The 800 lights are awesome but they don’t get used very much as I don’t ride at night much any more.
There are have been a few exceptions, the most notable being the return trip from Toowoomba a couple of years ago. Having gotten away from the race meeting much earlier than expected, I was toying with the idea of heading straight through to home. I was pretty fresh and the distance was only 1000kms or so. I was confident I could do it so I got the hammer down and made really good time for about three hours. But the further I got into the journey and, as darkness fell, my resolve began to do the same thing. The road WAS deserted and I WAS making sensational time but the spectre of what may be lurking just around the corner, even WITH my lights boring into the night, started to play on my mind. I lasted another half hour or so and it didn’t take any persuasion for me to pull into the motel at a little highway town and hole up for the night!
Motorcycle lights are sensational these days so it amuses me exceedingly to see tyros asking on various forum threads and on social media about how to “improve” their bike’s lights. Xenon bulbs, HID kits, you name it, they’re happy to vandalise their machines in the search of that elusive extra “bite”. It’s funny, however, that, in my experience, the more “farkles” that you add to your bike, especially electrical ones, the more items you introduce that can, and probably will, fail. Safe to say that I reckon the manufacturer knew what was best for the bike and that, unless there is a very significant reason to change it, it’s best to leave it alone and ride accordingly.
So, for the amount of times that I ride at night these days, my stock headlights will do just fine, thank you.