There are a variety of different headlight bulbs on the market, including various attachments, wattage, and colouring. Getting the correct bulbs is essential to keep your bike road legal and preventing any damage to your headlights and wiring.
As every rider knows, checking your headlights is a vital part of any pre-journey check. If you’re planning a longer journey, it’s best to keep a spare set of bulbs with you, in case you should need them during your trip.
Another reason you may want to change your headlights is if you feel they aren’t bright enough. There are plenty of bulbs out on the market you can use as replacements, but how do you know which one’s are the best and which ones to avoid? We’ve put together a brief guide to help you understand each type of bulb and how to find out which type you need.
If you’re unsure which bulbs fit your headlights, it is best to consult your bike manual. This way, you can avoid installing an incorrect variety which may have the wrong level of wattage. Having incorrect bulbs can damage the wiring or headlamp reflector, so always check if you’re unsure.
Some of the most common headlight bulbs for motorcycles include H1, H4 and H7 bulbs. These are high-intensity discharge halogen bulbs and emit an extremely bright light. Bikes may need two bulbs for a dipped beam and main beam or a single bulb which has both filaments.
These are a single filament halogen bulb. H1s use 55 Watts (W) at 12 Volts (V). This bulb is for bikes which require two single filament bulbs. H1 bulbs each have their reflector, and you need two; one to operate the full beam and one to operate the dipped beam.
These give off a very bright light. H4 bulbs are a dual-filament halogen bulb that uses 60 or 55W to 12V; they contain two filaments to switch between full and dipped beam. Although they can be bought in various colours, you will need to stick to white for your front lights to remain road legal.
Contain a single filament. Unlike H4 bulbs, H7 types have a 2-pronged attachment and will fit different bulb sockets.
Understanding what kinds of bulbs exist may seem a trivial matter, but they are an essential safety feature on your bike and must always be in full working order. Not only do your headlights help you see the road ahead in dark conditions, but they also allow other road users to spot you (and we all know bikers are much more difficult to detect than other larger vehicles). There are 4 main types of headlight bulbs to consider:
Most bikes are fitted with halogen bulbs at the time of manufacture making this type of bulb a lot more affordable. Some LED and HID bulb manufacturers will claim halogen bulbs aren’t bright enough but don’t be fooled. Halogen bulbs can be bright, and most motorcyclists have no problems being seen or navigating along dark roads.
Very similar to the Halogen bulbs above, but Xenon bulbs use a mix of Xenon and Halogen gases. The Xenon helps the bulb emit a crisper, brighter and somewhat blue-looking light. Different manufacturers use a different ratio of gases to give their headlights a distinctive beam.
If you have Light Emitting Diode (LED) lightbulbs in your home, you’ll probably know they use less energy and have an exceptionally long life compared to halogen bulbs.
LED lights also emit a much brighter beam thanks to their ability to use more power than standard halogen bulbs. LED lights are not generally used for motorcycle headlights which makes them a lot harder to find. Don’t be fooled by online listings that state an LED bulb is a direct replacement for your halogen bulb.
The chances are that the LED lights won’t work with your bike’s headlamp reflectors and the throw of the beam will be very poor, sometimes dangerous.
The latest innovation in headlight technology, High-Intensity Discharge (HID) lights can be found on newer vehicle models and appear to emit a crisp blue-ish white beam of light. If you’ve ever travelled down the road on a dark winter’s night and been dazzled by oncoming traffic without a full-beam, it as probably a car with an aftermarket HID conversion that caused it. They are very bright in comparison to other bulbs.
For older bikes you’ll need to fit a conversion kit, which is more costly and more complicated than just a regular bulb replacement. If you want to modernise the look of your bike with a crisp blue light, try fitting a regular bulb that contains Xenon gas instead.
If you want to convert your headlights to a modern HID variety, you need to make sure you stay within the law. The Highway Code Section 4 No. 114 states “you MUST NOT use any lights in a way which would dazzle or cause discomfort to other road users, including pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders”.
In summary: it is not permitted to convert an existing halogen headlamp unit for use with HID bulbs. The entire headlamp unit must be replaced with one designed and approved for use with HID bulbs, and it must be installed in accordance with the rules stated above. For more information, click here.
Bulbs manufacturers are continually improving their designs and offer a variety of options across the board. The following bulbs have great customer reviews along with high test scores by RiDE magazine:
Philips Racing Vision +150%
Available in various styles, with up to 150% more brightness than a standard halogen. A high-quality bulb with ECE homologation.
Osram Night Breaker Laser
One of the brightest halogen bulbs produced by Osram, the Night Breaker Laser has 150m longer beam and 20% whiter light for a modern look.
Bosch Plus 90
With up to 90% more illumination for better visibility, the Bosch Plus 90 emits a strong, long, intense white beam.
If you want a cheaper option, Halfords offer various styles of halogen bulbs, which are re-branded BikeIt bulbs. They offer most versions, like this H4 variety with 150% better vision.
You may have noticed we often mention ECE certified products in our articles; this is because we like to choose products that are safety tested and certified for safe and legal use within the EU. Headlight bulbs are no different. If your bulbs blow, try to avoid buying cheap bulbs on eBay or using generic, unknown brands. It is likely these bulbs haven’t been adequately tested for the level of safety and could damage your bike or end up causing an accident.
It’s also worth mentioning that most LED bulbs simply won’t work as a halogen replacement. The light won’t be strong enough and even though lots of eBay listings state that the bulbs will work, the chances are they won’t. The bulbs might be bright to look at but they won’t have enough throw and won’t work with the reflectors built into your headlamp to throw the beam in the right direction. Avoid.
Making sure your bulbs are correctly fitted is vital to ensure your bike remains road legal and your lights remain lit when you need them. If you’re lacking confidence, you could always take your bike to your local garage or a Halfords, they’ll fit your bulbs for you for under a tenner a bulb.
If you’re a bit of a DIY nut or wish to save a few bob, you can always do it yourself by grabbing a screwdriver and follow the following steps:
Make sure your bike is stable; prop it up with your kickstand, stand or get someone else to hold the bike steady for you while you work.
Loosen the screws that secure your headlight; the best way to find out which ones are correct is to consult your bike’s manual as all models are different. Make sure you have a tray to collect the discarded screws, so you don’t lose any in the process.
After removing any covers, carefully disconnect the existing bulb by holding onto the base and applying pressure here. Do not grab the glass, or it will break.
Insert the replacement bulb and reconnect any covers before reattaching the headlight casing.
Hopefully, we’ve provided you with some insightful background information and given you the confidence you need when shopping around for your replacement bulbs. Remember to check your manual before changing your headlights to make sure you get the correct style and if you’re considering switching from halogen bulbs to LED or HID, consult with your local garage and follow the laws on lighting requirements.
What are your recommended headlight bulbs? Let us know!
Do they make motorcycle-specific headlight bulbs?
Yes, some manufacturers like Philips and Osram do. They are the same fitments as car bulbs but they have been tested to a stricter standard (a greater amount of vibration for a longer duration) to withstand the sort of abuse a motorcycle headlight bulbs get. The construction of the housing varies slightly on a motorcycle-specific bulb to withstand the vibration.
You can always fit car or generic headlight bulbs and they’ll work perfectly well. However if you want peace of mind that your bulb is going to last as long as possible, look out for motorcycle-specific packaging from the major headlight bulb manufacturers.
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