Let's talk LIGHTS!
What do you know about motorcycle auxiliary lights setup? Are you sure you are maximizing your investment and seeing all you need to see?
It's a UFO, no, it's a plane, no, it's a semi-truck, no, it's a... bike?!
We've all been there, cruising down the road minding our own business, just to have a first-degree encounter with an electrical powerplant of light on two wheels.
I'm not here to talk trash about that choice; I'm here to say that all that light might not be helping as much as you think, and to give you some tips on how you can maximize your light investment.
I will not be talking about LED vs. halogen, nor if you should be looking for watts or lumens to weed out marketing stunts.
No, today, we are here to talk practicality and to explain how the best light system in the world will do nothing for you if it's not correctly adapted to your needs.
TYPES OF LIGHTS
It's not the first time I'm writing about lights, so if you want some information that will not be in this article, please give my previous one a look; however, one topic needs to be brought back, and that is, types of lights.
I'm sure it will not come as a surprise for many, but lights aren't solely defined by size and power, but also, and potentially more importantly, defined by their light pattern.
This means it's vital to know how those patterns look and their use before spending your money on something we don't need.
Driving lights are designed to aid your high beam headlight illuminating roadsides, making them more visible.
These lights are standard equipment on all bikes, and sometimes a simple lamp upgrade can make a huge difference in visibility.
Many new models are now coming stock with LED lights, and to those, little to no upgrade is necessary for most cases.
A floodlight can have a beam spread of up to 120 degrees, and it can illuminate a larger amount of space with the same wattage and lumen output as a spotlight, but more on spots in a bit.
Some bikes come stock with floodlights, and due to their widespread beam, having them in your light kit can be a tremendous help in seeing roadsides better.
E.g., If you are riding in places with cliffs or deep ruts by the sides of the road, this kind of light can be a tremendous help and worthy upgrade.
A spotlight casts a narrow beam of light, usually no wider than 45 degrees.
This means that spots are meant to show you what's ahead, far ahead.
If you are riding desert or locations where the terrain is on a general note flat(ish), a spotlight will play a huge part in helping you know what is coming in the distance, giving you time to prepare.
Fog lights are intended to be mounted below the headlights and project a beam pattern which is very wide horizontally and narrow vertically, usually called a cut-off.
These kind of lights are many times confused with floodlights, and understandably so.
As an incorrect rule of thumb, fog and floodlights tend to be mounted in the same location, as many brands don't properly disclose specs, making it very hard for most riders to distinguish them.
The trick is in the vertical cut-off.
A floodlight in the fog will tend to make everything so bright that driving becomes harder with the light on, as opposed to driving with it off.
Fog lights are designed for foggy conditions, and although they can be used in other situations due to their extremely wide horizontal pattern, it shouldn't be confused with other kinds of lights.
Having different patterns means that you can do as many combinations as you want and need and that there is nothing wrong with bikes using a mix of both flood and spotlights, for instance.
Some manufacturers will even have different patterns within the same light set, so keep that in mind when researching your setup.
Reference: Image from bajadesigns.com with a kit using both driving and fog patterns in one set.
HOW TO SETUP LIGHTS
Revision made, it's time to hit the nail in the head and talk about motorcycle light setup.
Lots of lights with many different light patterns doesn't mean you will be using your lights to their full potential, so knowing how to set them up is key for proper usability.
If you do mainly road, a good setup becomes a bit more trivial, but if you are doing off-road than this becomes vital for proper night riding performance and safety.
When off-roading on anything over gravel roads, you will start to find holes, elevations, or difficulties like logs or boulders that will force you to have a more active driving style, and that means your bike will jump around.
When doing so, if your lights aren't properly set up, you will lose track of where you are heading, and that screams danger.
Let me exemplify.
On a typical setup, one tends to add lights to the front of the bike - regardless of their type for this explanation - creating a pattern dispersion similar to this one.
However, this is extremely restrictive as it doesn't allow you any visibility when the terrain gets choppy.
Let's take a simple up and downhill combination using this setup.
Although you will be able to see the top of the hill, you will not have decent light illuminating the downhill, meaning you have no idea if there are ruts, logs, water, or a cliff on the other side.
Off-set the light direction between your auxiliary and main lights, as shown below.
I believe we can all agree that this works a lot better; however, it is not enough.
Changing the light direction in this fashion will indeed allow us to see the downhill in front of us, but it does nothing if we introduce a new obstacle, a downhill followed by an uphill.
As it happened in the previous example, this light pattern will allow us to see where we are, but it will do nothing to show us where we are going.
This means that to maximize our safety, we need to offset our auxiliary lights from the main beam and between themselves.
Make no mistakes. A setup where the auxiliary lights are offset amongst themselves will drive even the least OCD of us into madness.
It will look absolutely ridiculous on the highway and make you the laughing stock of your friends, still, when the going gets tough, the laugher tends to stop as the quest for your advice rises.
I tend to leave my lights as is, but if you are struggling to keep your sanity, you can always set your lights straight to give your OCD peace of mind once you reach road sections.
There is no point in buying the most expensive set of lights in the world if it is pointing to a different place than the one you need to be looking at.
Be smart, do a self-audit to figure out what kind of terrains you will be using your lights in, and adjust them to your needs, as this is something no marketing add will ever tell you to do.