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Have you ever replaced your motorcycle's headlight bulb?

Be ready before the electrical gremlins bite

Here's the scenario. You just started a five day trip, you're 150 miles from home or any major city and you just finished lunch. As you turn over your bike your riding friend tells you your headlight is burned out. Now what?

It should be simple enough to pull out a spare light and be on your way in five minutes, but that's hardly ever the case and here's why.

Ask yourself these three questions:

  • Do I know what size replacement bulb I need?
  • Have I ever attempted replacing my headlight bulb before?
  • Is it easy to do?
  • Bikes being what they are these days, these three questions open up a can of worms.

    Photo: Changing the high beam in this Honda can be easy, accessing the low beam is another story!

    In the old days (25 years ago) most motorcycles had bucket headlights and utilized H4 size bulbs. Today that's just not the case. There are a myriad of light bulbs in use now and they all can't be purchased at the NAPA store in Nowhereville, Idaho. Do you know what replacement bulb you need? If not, you might consult your owners manual which may, or may not, give you a clue.

    Does the manual tell you the procedure for replacing a burned out bulb? It may, but then again, it may not. These are all things you want to figure out when you're at home, not in the middle of a trip. With so many bikes wrapped in bodywork these days a bulb replacement isn't always all that simple. Especially when you consider that many bikes have not one, but two and even sometimes four different bulbs in the headlight chamber. Each may require an entirely different procedure of reaching around inside, removing body work and possibly even using special tools to get to the area.

    If you've never replaced your headlight bulb(s) before, give it a try at home. Allow yourself an hour or two to get to where the bulb is, remove it and take it to the dealer or auto parts store and attempt to purchase a replacement bulb and install it. The results can be very surprising.

    Real life scenario. I have two bulbs in my headlight chamber. One for low beam and one for high beam. This typically means they are of the H7 configuration. My low beam burns out. Getting to the high beam bulb was easy, but accessing the low beam bulb required removing body work and feeling my way through the procedure as I could not actually see behind the headlight housing. And I got to figure this all out in the middle of Hood River, Oregon during a five-day trip.

    Once I got the bulb out, I took it to the Napa store to see about the replacement. No go. While the light had a two prong H7 configuration, the prongs were configured wider to fit an H4 plug, or so it appeared.

    I flipped the low beam and high beam bulbs and limped back home on one bulb.

    I then called my dealer and asked what kind of bulb I needed since the owners manual on my 2002 model bike makes no mention of what size bulb to use or how to replace it. They told me H7. Didn't sound right to me so I drove over and looked at the bulb they recommended. It was indeed an H7, buy my bulb was slipped into a conversion adapter made by Stanley (like the tool company) that converted it to use with the H4 plugs the manufacturer had used on the wire harness. I needed to slide the H7 out of the adapter for replacement. What a learning experience this all was.

    The dealer wanted $18 for a replacement H7 bulb , the auto parts store wanted $11. I told the dealer of the price difference and they made good on the auto parts store price.

    Another friend found her replacement bulb would cost $68 to purchase new at the dealer and it could not be purchased at an auto parts store. Her husband did some research on the internet and found out he could bend the prongs on a standard H4 bulb and bingo, it would slip right into position and work fine. The H4 cost them $9 at the auto parts store. He purchased two and saved her $120 by doing a little research.

    Finally, locate a place on your bike to store a spare bulb, purchase one and get it stored on the bike. And while you're at it, you might as well go through the same machinations with your rear tail light, blinker light and fuse set. Learn how to access all these areas, get your spares together and be ready when a bulb burns out.

    Here's a little tip. The 20 watt halogen lights that come on the Kisan Brake Light Deceleration Warning Unit take up 1/3rd the space as a standard 1157 bulb and are simple to replace.

    Now, what's the story on your bike? If you don't know, then it's time to find out - before the electrical gremlins show up.

    Patrick Thomas/Summer 05


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