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Installing a Headlight Modulator for Safety

This article courtesy of the Naval Safety Center Smart Ride 2011 Magazine. Please also check out their website, the Naval Safety Center.

BY PETE HILL, CMC Safety Division Safety Engineer

Recently, I decided to add a headlight modulator to my bike. For those not aware of this technology, a headlight modulator is installed in the power supply to your headlight and makes the intensity of the light fluctuate during daylight hours.

The reason to install a modulator is that it increases the visibility of the bike to car drivers. Having your headlights on during the day used to mean you were either a motorcycle, or in a funeral procession. Since the advent of daytime running lights on cars, the single motorcycle headlight does not stand out like it once did. The modulator is a game changer in this area. This device improves visibility any time the motorist has a frontal view of the motorcycle – for instance, the driver in oncoming traffic who is making a left hand turn, a driver pulling into traffic, or a driver moving in the same direction who may potentially change lanes into the path of a motorcycle. In the latter situation, riders should consider a lane position that maximizes the motorists’ probability of seeing the headlight in their side mirrors.

Modulators are a legal lighting accessory in all 50 states. While it may appear that they are alternating between high and low beam, they are actually only alternating the intensity between about half to full intensity of the high or low beam setting.

There are different features and configurations that are offered with modulators. All modulators include a photocell that turns the modulation feature off at dusk, which is a DOT requirement. You cannot change the setting of the photocell but can influence its operation by where you place it on the motorcycle. The instructions for mine recommended placement in a position pointing downward to protect the cell from the elements. I installed it pointing downward in the cowl above the speedometer/tachometer cluster. Because it does not receive direct sunlight, it turns modulation off earlier than if it were aimed at the sky.

Another feature the user can control is whether the modulation operates on high beam, low beam, or both. I set mine to both, which means during daylight, the headlight modulates regardless of whether the beam is set on high or low. Some riders may prefer to limit modulation to the low beam only or high beam only. My modulator allows the rider to toggle the modulation on or off by rapidly switching between high and low beam, returning the headlight to non-modulated operation. This feature is helpful if you need to aim the headlight or measure its normal operating intensity. Another feature is an interconnection to the bike’s horn that causes a rapid modulation of the light when the horn button is pressed.

The advertising and literature on modulators do not hype this aspect, but I believe one characteristic of headlight modulation that helps get the attention of motorists is that it mimics the modulation of headlights installed on many law enforcement vehicles. The fluctuating intensity gets the motorist’s attention and the first association may be that there is law enforcement following. It may prompt him or her to put down the Big Mac and hang up the phone. Regardless, anything that helps motorists see a bike is a good thing.

The module I bought costs about $60. These can be obtained on the internet or from your local bike shop. Bike shops may charge $100 or more to install, depending on the size and complexity of the hookup. Soldering connections costs more in labor but is preferred over using crimp connections that come with the kit.






















Installation is a fairly easy process for the rider, and step by step instructions are included. If you do not want a certain feature (like the horn-triggered modulation or high beam modulation) you simply do not connect those wires. Some modulators are larger than others. My unit is about the size of a matchbox with six twelve-inch wire leads. I mounted it up and under the console cover of my Pacific Coast 800. I did the installation in conjunction with replacing the windshield. Getting behind the plastic can be a challenge. Cruiser riders may want to select smaller modules if they want to install them inside the headlight housing.

Amazon link to Headlight Modulators