Let there be light: Best motorcycle headlight bulb upgrades

Best motorcycle headlight bulbs
Best motorcycle headlight bulbs

Like many components on your motorcycle, the headlight bulbs are designed to do an acceptable job while mass production techniques make sure they are as cheap as possible. However, also like many of the components, if you spend a little money on uprating them, it can have a huge effect on their performance and your safety and enjoyment of your ride.

Of course, we are talking about regular, halogen-style bulbs here. Bikes that come with LED lighting already installed – an increasing number nowadays, thanks to their low weight and power consumption combined with excellent performance – won’t need to be or can’t be upgraded except with additional lighting.

We’ve based prices here on a replacement H4 and H7 motorcycle headlight bulbs, which includes both dipped and main-beam units in the same unit. However, the same principles apply if you have separate dipped and main-beam units.

The best motorcycle headlight bulbs

Rrp: $33.00

Price: $29.00
Tested by Adam Binnie for six months, 1,000 miles."I've used these bulbs in my cars in years gone by and have always been pleased with the extra light they throw out. The headlight on my Triumph Daytona is (how to put this kindly?) not exactly brilliant, and I was hoping a bulb upgrade would sort it out.

"Promising 150% more light and a range of 150m, these Osram bulbs talk a good game. While I can't quantify the amount of extra light they produce, I can say my headlight is noticeably brighter and whiter at night, with a longer beam that enables better distance-vision.

"The box is a bit tricky to open though, I'd recommend doing so indoors over a carpet or sofa rather than on your driveway, as the bulbs have a habit of ejecting themselves if you're not careful."
  • Quality
  • Value
Price: $25.99

This bulb from Osram claims to be the bluest legally approved halogen light, so it should penetrate well into the darkness. Its colour temperature is 4200K and it does produce white light with blueish tinges to the edge when looking at the bike. Its performance is good, with excellent penetration close to the bike and decent illumination further ahead.

This motorcycle-specific bulb is quoted to last longer than comparable car bulbs, with a prominent 10G logo on the packaging. It is also quoted to give out 130% more light and in testing, it was slightly whiter than the standard halogen bulb. Performance was reasonable, with a bias towards illumination provided closer to the bike for picking out the edges of the road.

Another from Bosch, this time purporting to produce 120% more light out onto the road. Like the +90 variant, there is no quoted light colour temperature although it produces a noticeably whiter light than the +90 sibling. Penetration into darkness is good and it gives a similarly useful spread of light.

Seal of Approval - We've tested this product and have found it performs well

Another from Osram designed specifically for bikes, the X-Racer should stand the rigours of motorcycle use and be vibration resistant. The colour temperature is quoted as 4200K so it produced a bright, white light with a blue-ish tint to the edges of the beam and it penetrates well into the darkness. Comes in a two-pack with the spare in a helmet-shaped holder and was also given a Recommended triangle by RiDE.


How do headlight bulbs work?

‘Normal’ headlight bulbs produce light by passing a current through a wire which is encased in a glass vial, filled with gas – normally though halogen uprated bulbs may use Xenon – to help prevent the wire degrading. The current causes the wire to glow and this produces light. However, it also produces a huge amount of heat, meaning that they aren’t very efficient.

Traditionally, the light produced was yellow in colour and the amount of light, measured in Watts like a normal household bulb, was limited to 55W for dipped headlights and 60W for main beam units. However, replacement bulbs not only purport to offer a greater amount of light emitted for the same power, but they also change the colour of the light to aid vision at night.

Light ‘colour’ is expressed as a temperature, in Kelvin. Normal halogen light bulbs emit yellow-ish light – so-called ‘warm white’ – at around 2400K while sunlight is 6000K. Most LED bulbs and those that promise a brighter ‘white’ emit light at around 4000K and on the road, this can penetrate further into the darkness, giving you valuable extra vision when you need it most.

How do I replace my headlight bulbs?

Most bulbs are supplied for cars, so you get two in a pack which gives you coverage for some time if your bike uses a single bulb though there is a selection of motorcycle-specific bulbs included as well. However, be aware that uprated bulbs may not last as long as traditional ones, thanks to their improved performance.

A word on LED replacement bulbs. Generally, these tend not to work particularly well as they don’t produce a properly defined beam pattern and as a result, tend not to illuminate the road properly.

They can work well to make sure you are seen by other traffic – they throw out a mass of undefined light at the front of the bike – but that lack of concentration means that they generally won’t illuminate the road and can be worse than having no lights at all.

About the author: After qualifying as a mechanical engineer, Jim Blackstock began working on magazines in the early 1990s. He remains passionate about product testing to ensure readers know what products offer good value and why. He relishes torrential rain to see if riding kit keeps water out and an hour or two to tinker on a project bike in his workshop.

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