Riding a motorcycle can be an exhilarating experience. The feel of the wind, the roar of the engine, the freedom of the open road – it’s no wonder so many people are drawn to motorcycles. However, riding a bike also comes with risks. One of the critical factors in staying safe on a bike is being able to see clearly – and be seen by other vehicles on the road. That’s where motorcycle headlights come in.
The Importance of Motorcycle Headlights
Motorcycle headlights serve two critical purposes. First, they allow the rider to see the road ahead clearly, even at night or in poor visibility conditions like rain or fog. Spotting obstacles, debris, animals, and other vehicles early gives the rider more time to react and avoid potential hazards. Second, headlights make the motorcycle visible to other motorists. Most motorcycle accidents involve a car, SUV, or truck that didn’t see the bike before turning or changing lanes. Bright headlights that stand out can help prevent those deadly collisions.
For these reasons, well-functioning headlights are an essential component of motorcycle safety. Experts recommend periodically inspecting your headlights to ensure they are correctly aimed and emitting an intense beam. Dim, dirty, or misaligned headlights dramatically reduce visibility and should be remedied immediately. Don’t take the attitude of “they look fine to me” – ask a friend to observe your headlights at night from their car and give feedback. Little adjustments can make a big difference.
Motorcycle Headlight Types
There are a few main types of headlights found on motorcycles today.
Halogen bulbs used to be the standard for motorcycle headlights. They produce light by running an electrical current through a filament inside the bulb, which heats up and glows to make light.
- Inexpensive to purchase
- Bright light output
- Short lifespan
- Fragile filaments prone to breakage
- Generate a lot of heat
LED (light emitting diode) headlights have become popular in the past decade. LEDs produce light through semiconductors rather than heated filaments.
- Long lifespan – can last up to 10x longer than halogens
- Energy efficient – use less electricity
- Run cooler than halogens
- Compact size
- Fast activation time
- More expensive upfront cost
- Sensitive to vibrations
HID (high-intensity discharge) headlights produce light by sending an electrical charge between two electrodes through xenon gas. This generates an intense arc of light.
- Very bright, crisp light
- A whiter light colour improves visibility
- The most expensive type of motorcycle headlight
- Require ballasts to regulate voltage
- Take a moment to warm up when activated
So which is best for your motorcycle? There are excellent options in each category. Consider your budget, riding needs, and aesthetic preferences. An LED or HID conversion can significantly improve visibility over standard halogens. Make sure to research regulations – some headlight upgrades require different housings or projectors to ensure the beam pattern is not blinding to oncoming traffic.
Headlight Beam Patterns
Motorcycle headlights are designed to concentrate the light in specific patterns optimised for illuminating the road ahead. Here are the most common beam patterns:
- Low Beam – Asymmetrical beam aimed slightly downward to light the road directly ahead without blinding oncoming traffic and used for everyday riding.
- High Beam -Symmetrical, powerful beam that spreads widely in all directions to maximise visibility. It should only be used when no other vehicles are present, as it can be blinding.
- Fog Lamps – Designed with a wide horizontal beam spread to illuminate the roadside shoulders and ditches. Helpful for cutting through the fog.
- Driving/Passing Lamps – Extra lights mounted low on the motorcycle to supplement the low beam and improve visibility without blinding others.
The best headlight setups include low beams for regular use, complemented by high beams and supplemental driving/fog lamps when conditions warrant it. This provides visibility where you need it most while being courteous to other motorists.
Properly Aiming Your Motorcycle Headlights
Improperly aimed headlights that are pointed too high can blind oncoming drivers, while lights aimed too low do little to illuminate the road ahead. Refer to your owner’s manual for specific instructions on adjusting the aim. Some tips:
- Park 10-15 feet from a wall in an empty parking lot.
- Measure the distance from the ground to the centre of your headlight, then make a mark on the wall at that same height.
- Turn on low beams and observe where the brightest part of the beam lands – it should be slightly below your mark.
- Use adjustment screws or shims to redirect the beam centre up or down.
- Always recheck alignment after any front suspension modifications.
Taking the time to aim your motorcycle headlights properly maximises their effectiveness while allowing other motorists to see the road. It’s a quick adjustment that boosts safety.
Riding a motorcycle comes with risk, but prudent equipment checks and brilliant riding can reduce that risk substantially. Investing in high-quality headlights designed to illuminate the road and make you visible is one of the smartest moves a rider can make. Stay safe on the road by closely monitoring your motorcycle’s headlights. You’ll see and be seen on even the darkest highway with the correct lights.