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Headlight Upgrade

Does the ST1100 need a headlight upgrade? Well, the twin headlights on the ST1100 are good, but not great. The more light you can project down the road, the better (as long as you don't inconvenience other drivers of course!) In an attempt to be more noticeable when filtering* I installed auxiliary driving lights but there's still room for improvement.

(* Filtering is a form of overtaking to make progress past stationary or slow moving traffic by riding between the lanes. In some countries it is illegal.)

I decided to upgrade my headlight bulbs to 80/100W H4 halogens. This was a bit of an improvement but they didn't last long. In fact, one of the bulbs failed on my way to work. It's lucky there are two headlights! Er, yes. Guess what... the other bulb failed on the way home. I completed the journey using the H3 55W auxiliary driving lights only, and when I got home put the original 55/60W headlight bulbs back. I now carry spare bulbs as part of the toolkit!

Changing the bulbs can be done without removing any panels, but it is a fiddly job. You should be careful not to touch the glass of a new halogen bulb as the acids in your skin will etch the glass under the extreme heat produced, shortening the life of the bulb.

I purchased some brighter Ring Ultra Xenon bulbs and installed these. They have made some improvement to the lighting but I'm still not 100% satisfied.

Another way of getting noticed is to install a headlight modulator, which causes the headlights to "pulse".
(Unless you live in the UK. According to the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 Part II:

  • 13.-(1) Save as provided in paragraph (2), no vehicle shall be fitted with a lamp which automatically emits a flashing light.

    (2) Paragraph (1) does not apply in respect of-
    (a) a direction indicator;

    (b) a headlamp fitted to an emergency vehicle;

    (c) a warning beacon or special warning lamp;

    (d) a lamp or illuminated sign fitted to a vehicle used for police purposes;

    (e) a green warning lamp used as an anti-lock brake indicator; or

    (f) lamps forming part of a traffic sign.


HID Conversion Kit

So, what about HID headlights as a headlight upgrade?

HID (High Intensity Discharge) lights are becoming increasingly popular. Their ability to project light a considerable distance down the road and to the sides is unequalled by any halogen bulb.

Although the price is still fairly high, the advancing technology means that using these for a headlight upgrade is now less expensive than it used to be.

Unlike a normal halogen bulb which has a filament (which by the way is subject to breakage through vibration), a HID bulb uses an arc of light caused by extremely high voltage (up to 25000V). Once the bulb has reached full brightness this voltage drops to around 90V to maintain the arc. No warm-up time is required. A standard halogen bulb will draw around 10A of current, much more than the HID which uses around 3.5A. The light produced ranges in temperature from 4100K upwards (compared to the 2800K produced by a normal halogen bulb) which is why HID bulbs have a blue/white light. They also consume less electricity; whereas a normal halogen bulb uses 55W, HID lights use approximately 35W for the bulb and 15W for the ballast, a total of 50W.

As far as bulb life goes, HID bulbs should last a great deal longer than standard halogen bulbs.

Proper headlight adjustment is essential if fitting HID bulbs in order to prevent dazzling oncoming vehicles. Fortunately the ST1100 headlight aim is easily adjustable.

However, once again our good intentions of seeing clearly and getting noticed are stymied. According to the UK Department of Transport:

The Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989 regulate the situation in the UK. Under these Regulations, HID/Gas Discharge/Xenon headlamps are not mentioned and therefore they are not permitted according to the strict letter of the law.

They then go on to admit that there are of course new vehicles which sold with HID headlamps, but these don't count because they comply with European type approval regulations, and it just wouldn't be cricket if the UK refused to register such a vehicle here.

But as for after-market HID headlamps, this European-type approval isn't relevant because it's not for a new vehicle.

A work-around is then offered, whereby the entire headlamp unit must be approved to ECE98. This of course can only be done by the headlamp manufacturer. Once your brand new headlamp unit has been fitted (should you be able to find one, of course), your troubles aren't over. It must have wipers of some sort for cleaning, and it must be self-levelling. Also, the dipped beam must stay on when the main beam is used.

They then conclude that converting an existing headlamp unit to use HID bulbs is not allowed.

Update, 2021: There has been no change in the above yet despite Brexit.

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