Watch Out for the Cheap Stuff – “Value” is Subjective in Some Cases

So three days ago, a friend of mine called me to ask a question about his bike and one of the “upgrades” he had done a month or so ago. Now, it’s not important what the bike is (it happens to be an immaculate Virago from a dozen or so years ago), but what is critical is that my partner cheaped out when it came time to upgrade his headlight and was trying to figure out where he went wrong.

Now, I’m not going to jump on the “Everything not made in the U.S. is crap” bandwagon, but his “projector headlamp kit” was atrocious. He’d had to modify the case to fit, run jumper wires and relays, and in general, cobble together a system that – you guessed it – didn’t work. While it may be “cool” in some circles to have an odd-colored LED running your license plate light, depending on reverse-engineered knockoff materials from abroad to light your way down the highway on a dark night is asking for a one-way trip to the Motorcycle Memorial Park in Wisconsin.

What was the result? A few cooked wires, a blown fuse, and a charred bit of insulation, but we both know that if it had happened at a different time and place, he wouldn’t have come home at all.

Virago Motorcycle - Customizing Your Bike

There are two takeaways in this story – the first is simple – buy the best you can afford or else wait until you can and the second is just as simple – know how to do the upgrade you are doing.

For a long time, I wouldn’t touch brakes on cars, trucks, or bikes. I had no problem putting go-fast parts and shiny stuff on for one simple reason: If I somehow screwed up the install and the bike didn’t run, I still couldn’t crash it. On the other hand, when it comes time to stop? You have to be able to stop!

It’s no different in this scenario; without a prospering functioning headlight – one whose cone is properly centered on the road and whose output is proper for the electrical system – you are on the side of the road walking or in the back of the ambulance.

We ended up cutting out the affected wiring and soldering in the right stuff. In order to actually “upgrade” his light output, we also installed a heavier-gauge wire, cleaned his grounds, and checked for resistance and voltage drop through the actual circuit. With all that done, we essentially installed a very similar, but brand new, standard bulb and the illumination, current draw, and beam spread was as good as anything I’ve seen from a stock system.

One of the things that continue to draw us to bikes and riding them is the chance to customize what it is we ride. That’s been a fact of life for as long as the internal combustion engine has been rolling on two wheels, but when you decide to do that, you also need to ensure that you are doing it safely and the improvements you are making actually are improvements – not impediments. Remember, safety standards are standards for a reason, and when you are the smallest vehicle on the road, every safety you can use to your advantage is one that can save your life.

Be safe out there!

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