Standard low-beam motorcycle headlights are next to useless in dark corners, so this week we've been playing with an aftermarket gadget that sorts the problem out. J.W. Speaker's Model 8790 Adaptive Low Beam LED Headlight fires up additional angled lights as you lean your bike over, to fill in the blind spot you get when you're cornering in the dark, and hopefully a kick in the backside for manufacturers that have been selling us rubbish headlights for generations.
The very first motorcycle apparently popped up in Massachusetts in 1868, effectively a rickety bicycle with a coal-fired steam engine strapped between its wheels.
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By my count that means the motorcycle industry has enjoyed one hundred and forty-eight long years of development. Today's rider no longer has to vent steam through a cheerful crotch-whistle (although this might be a nice option on some recent Aprilias) and yet some fundamental problems remain that just boggle the mind.
The headlight is an excellent example. Bikes lean over as much as 50 or 60 degrees when they go around corners – we can assume this much is understood by manufacturers, because they give us nice rounded tyre profiles to do it with. The headlights tilt with the bike, being fixed thereto, and thus part of the rider's vision is plunged into darkness. Here, look:
You're not blind everywhere, mind you, just in the bit around the corner exactly where you need to look. The opposite side of the road that you're not hurtling towards is lit up beautifully. Nice, but not what you'd call survival-focused.
How many manufacturers have moved to address this problem in the last century and a half? Exactly one. And while BMW's adaptive headlight is a brilliant technical solution that does a superb job, it's only available on a handful of high end touring bikes.
Which is why I was excited to learn about this aftermarket gadget: the Model 8790 Adaptive Low Beam LED Headlight.
Model 8790 Adaptive Low Beam is a terrible name that tells you nothing. It should be called the Cornering Headlight, or the Smart Headlight, or the Balance Beam, or something altogether more exciting. Names aside, it's a simple retrofittable LED headlight unit that fits straight into a standard 7-inch headlight bucket, and that provides extra light to fill in the gaps when you lean a bike over.
This is done by lighting up a series of extra LEDs angled further up the road as the bike tilts. Hence the busy-looking front facade.
In order to test it, I enlisted the help of my local cafe racer society. If anyone was going to have a 7-inch bucket, surely it'd be those cafe guys, with their upturned collars and whitewall tires, and grinder sparks constantly reflecting in their aviator sunglasses. Sure enough, a fellow called Tunch soon rolled up with a nice 2008 Bonneville and an adventurous spirit.
We were both pleasantly surprised to find the 8970 extremely easy to fit. Pop old headlight out, pop new one in, hook up the H4 connector and the park light wire and Bob's your milkman's brother.
This was not the last of the surprises; when you first turn it on, 8970 runs through all its lights in an exuberant test pattern that would serve nicely as a bush disco ball at an outback rally.
Enough jiggery-pokery, how does it go?
And so to the riding. In a straight line, both regular and high beams are fine. Tunch estimates they're roughly the same as the Bonneville's stock lights, with a bluer tint and quite a narrow high beam.
Leaning it over, the adaptive effect of the 8790 is very noticeable. Each cornering LED comes in as a wedge of extra light above the level of the standard horizon beam. Where the BMW solution is seamless, this one announces its presence. I don't think that's a bad thing.
Riding it back to back with a regular headlight, you can clearly see a lot more, although I did notice the effect being a bit stronger on the left hand side of the bike. Presumably as we're testing a UK/Australian version this is a deliberate choice to be kind to oncoming traffic. There's no question I was comfortable going quicker and could see further up the road with the extra vision this jigger provides.
It's a nice, simple system – and I'd like to see it go even further. The highest additional beam on each side only angles up about 30 degrees from horizontal, and I think another 10 or 15 degrees would be helpful. Then again, 7 inches is a common Harley size, and 30 degrees might be more than enough for the cruiser crowd. I'm kidding lads, don't hurt me. OK, hurt me if you can catch me, how about that?
But still, it's a fifteen-minute retrofit that's well-made and effective. It takes up less space in the headlight bucket than the standard Bonnie light, giving Tunch extra room to hide unsightly wiring and illegal drugs, and its LEDs have a lower current draw than a standard H4 bulb, making him less likely to run his battery flat if he accidentally turns his key too far and engages the annoying park light mode that manufacturers add to your ignition in order to boost battery sales.
Tunch also thinks it looks cool in matt black – I'd tend to agree. It's a unique and detailed look, and the startup disco routine is certainly an attention grabber.
The Model 8790 is selling now, retailing for around US$800 globally, which is very expensive for a headlight. But then, no other aftermarket headlight lights the way around corners for you. There's a smaller 5 3/4" version coming in the next few months. If either of those fit your ride, and you do any miles in the dark, I'd say it's well worth checking out.
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