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Shootout – Dual Sport Lighting Kits (part 2)

(NOTE: Once again I jump the gun. Due to popular demand, I've decided to go ahead and publish this before our copy editor has had a chance to give it the once-over. Please ignore any and all stupid spelling and grammer errors.)

Ok, in Part 1 we covered some of the highlights. Now, in Part 2, we’ll get into some detail. As previously mentioned, we still haven’t got our hands on the Driven kit yet so we’ll cover the differences between the Baja Designs kit and the MSM kit (pictures of the DSC Driven Kit are included for visual comparison). For this comparison we’ll be using kits installed on two XR600s that started life as nearly identical bikes. Something to keep in mind is that none of the kits necessarily provide everything you need to be street legal. They basically provide the "electrical" piece, meaning the lights and horn. You may also need a mirror, DOT approved tires, and in some states a speedometer. You may also need to meet some noise level requirements. Another thing to keep in mind is that we are comparing a two-year old Baja Designs kit to a one-year old MSM kit. At this time, we are unaware on any major design changes to the MSM kit. However, we stopped by Baja Designs recently and got a preview of possible changes that are coming soon to their kit.

The Pieces

Let’s start up front. The Baja Designs kit come with an Acerbis HP headlight. The MSM kit comes with the Acerbis Vision headlight. These are two very different looking headlights. If the looks are going to matter to you, you better compare them. Also note that the Vision headlight includes a plastic "door" to protect the lens. In my opinion, the Baja Designs setup is more versatile, allowing the owner to easily switch headlight assemblies, depending on their needs. However, the MSM kit makes it simpler to remove the extra lighting, should you be inclined to.

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Baja Designs Headlight

MSM Headlight

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DSC Driven Headlight

Baja Designs provides two aluminum tabs to mount the front turn signals to the triple clamps, using the existing clamp bolts. With the MSM kit, the front turn signals come already mounted to the headlight assembly. For the rear turn signals, Baja Designs expects you to simply drill a couple holes in your year fender to mount them. MSM includes a couple aluminum tabs for mounting. Here it’s a real toss-up as to which setup is better. The MSM design leaves the signals a little lower and, perhaps, in a more prone position. The Baja Designs setup requires making modifications to the stock plastic. However, the signals seem to be less prone, and in my case slightly protected by my Dual-Star luggage rack.

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Baja Designs Front Signal

MSM Front Signal

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Baja Designs Rear Signal

Baja Designs Rear Signal

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Driven Taillight and Rear Signals

Both kits come with the same Acerbis tail/brake light assembly that include a mount plate for the license place and the required light for the license plate (making use of the tail light by using a clear portion of lens on the underside).

MSM integrates the ignition switch and high/low beam indicator into the headlight assembly, again making removal simpler. With the Baja Designs setup, the ignition switch is mount at the handlebars using one of the pinch clamp bolts. The location is more convenient but can be a tight fit especially if you have a speedometer also mounted. On one of our bikes we ran into electrical shorting problems because of this. To solve the problem we used three washers under the switch to reduce the angle that the wires had to bend. We haven’t had any problems since doing this. The high/low beam indicator is integrated into the ignition switch on the Baja Designs setup. Their new kit will most likely integrate the ignition switch into the high/low beam switch. There will be a separate high/low beam indicator light.

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Baja Designs Switch MSM Swtich
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Driven Switch Assembly

Baja Designs provides a mechanical brake light switch that attaches to the rear break pedal, though they may start making use of hydraulic switches that are available. They have an optionally available switch that attaches to the front brake lever. The MSM kit comes with a switch for the front brake lever, a rear brake switch is not available. Use caution with this switch, it’s fragile. We busted ours before it was ever installed.

As far as the other electrical components, they are pretty similar. The Baja Designs kit includes a F.E.T., which turns of the headlight when the bike is not running. This allows for longer battery life when the engine is off. With the new kit the F.E.T is replaced with the ability to manually turn off the headlight. Both kits replace the stock A/C regulator with a rectifier/regulator. This mounts inside the air box on the MSM kit and on top of the air box, under the frame, on the Baja Designs kit. The battery sits is in the same place on both kits, they both use NiCD batteries.

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Baja Design Battery MSM Battery

Both kits include a pre-fit wiring harness to hook everything up. A downside to the MSM kit is that none of the connectors are the same size as the stock connectors. This requires extra crimping to get a good connection. The Baja Designs kit uses the same size connectors as stock. Here’s a tip for you, when hooking up either kit, spooge some dielectric grease into each of the connectors to help ensure good connections. It also helps to keep dirt, water and rust out of the connections.

Generally speaking we have found the overall quality of the Baja Designs kit to exceed the MSM kit. In fact, we went through three voltage regulator/rectifiers from MSM before getting one that worked reliable.

The Instructions

Both kits come with installation instructions, including pictures. The instructions that came with the Baja Designs kit were more complete and included a schematic (necessary for troubleshooting problems). Both kits also came with instructions for dealing with the California DMV, along with the appropriate forms and relevant sections of the California vehicle codes. Again, the Baja Designs kit provided more detail including chapter and section information to point the DMV employee to the correct pages in their manual. A fair amount of humor is also included throughout the Baja Designs Documentation.

The Service

Overall, the guys at Baja Designs are great. They’re courteous and very helpful. Over the phone they successfully help troubleshoot two problems and promptly sent me a replacement F.E.T. when mine went south after a big crash.

On the other and, the people we dealt with at MSM were difficult to deal with and far from courteous. While, in the end and after several months, three or four new regulators and finally a replacement wire harness, we finally got the kit working correctly. It should be mentioned that George had much less trouble with his XR400 MSM kit but is also not overly impressed with the quality.

The Summary

When all is said and done, at this point we strongly recommend Baja Designs over MSM. While the MSM kit may have a few advantages, they aren’t worth the trouble or additional costs.

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