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3 Types of Motorcycle Headlight Bulbs That You Need to Know

May 20, 2024
types of Motorcycle Headlight Bulbs

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The stock bulbs you get with many motorcycles are not good enough. These bulbs often put out very little light forcing you to ride slower than necessary. Luckily, you can replace them with something better.

There are different types of light bulbs for motorcycles today. These cater to the needs of all kinds of riders whether you have the latest BMW or a vintage Yamaha.

Different types of bulbs operate and perform differently. In this article, we’ll give you an overview of headlight technology and why it matters before exploring the inner workings of 3 types of motorcycle headlight bulbs. We’ll also explain how to choose the best option for your bike.

Understanding Headlight Technology

Getting a bright headlight bulb seems like it should be easy. How hard is it to make brighter bulbs? However, headlight bulb technology has a few complications.

Watts, Volts, Kelvins, and Lumens

When buying new headlight bulbs, the four numbers you’re likely to spot are watts(W), Volts(V), Lumens(L), and Kelvins(K). 

Red and white sport bike next to red and white fuel pump.

Watts is a measure of the bulb’s power consumption, but it can also be used to estimate light output. Inefficient bulbs produce less light relative to the power they consume. 

The headlights on almost all motorcycles today are rated for 12 volts. However, there are vintage bikes that need 6V bulbs. 

Kelvin is the unit of the bulb’s color temperature. The higher the kelvin number, the bluer (cooler) the color looks and the lower the number the yellower (warmer) it will be. 

Finally, lumens is a measure of the light output from the bulb. Unfortunately, this figure can be misleading because it doesn’t always translate to better illumination from a headlight bulb. 

Practical Limits of Motorcycle Headlights

Motorcycles are relatively small machines so a typical motorcycle’s headlight system has little space. The bulb must physically fit inside the headlight assembly and may need a little extra space to keep the heat it generates away from sensitive parts.

Motorcycle Headlights

Bulbs that draw more power are brighter but strain the battery and the rest of the electrical system, especially when they exceed the manufacturer’s recommendations. High-wattage bulbs can melt wires or generate enough heat to melt parts of the headlight housing.

Legal Limits of Headlights 

Good motorcycle headlight bulbs are designed with legal requirements in mind. The light beam pattern from your motorbike must not cause excessive glare for other drivers and riders on the road.

Achieving a beam pattern that doesn’t cause glare can be harder with some bulbs. Poorly designed LED bulbs are commonly affected by this issue.

3 Types of Motorcycle Headlight Bulbs

There are 3 types of motorcycle headlight bulbs you can find today. These are halogen, LED, and HID bulbs. 

Halogen Bulbs

The halogen headlight has been the standard in cars and motorcycles for decades. Halogen bulbs are based on incandescent technology. There are other types of incandescent bulbs but halogens became the go-to solution for headlights.

Hand holding incandescent bulb

Incandescent bulbs emit light by heating a thin tungsten wire until it glows. Due to the filament’s high temperature, it oxidizes, i.e., burns out, when exposed to air. Therefore, the tungsten wire is enclosed in a glass bulb and surrounded by a vacuum or an inert gas. 

In regular incandescent bulbs, the tungsten filament gradually evaporates and is deposited inside the bulb. This lowers the lifespan of the bulb and darkens the glass. In halogen lights, the inert gas is mixed with a little halogen gas. 

The halogen gas reacts with the evaporated metal and deposits it back on the filament. This keeps the glass clear and increases the halogen bulb’s lifespan. These bulbs run hotter than other incandescents but are more compact. This makes them well-suited for compact systems such as headlights.

Advantages of Halogen Bulbs

  • They produce a beam pattern that doesn’t cause glare
  • They emit more light than other types of incandescent bulbs
  • Halogen bulbs are fairly cheap and common

Disadvantages of Halogen Bulbs

  • They produce a lot of heat 
  • The power consumption of Halogen headlights is very high compared to LED and HID bulbs
  • Durability is a lot lower compared to other bulbs
  • Their brightness is lower than similarly powered LED and HID bulbs

LED Bulbs

LED bulbs are the latest headlight bulb technology. The light emitted from these bulbs comes from solid-state light-emitting diodes. These produce light when an electric current passes through them. 

LED bulbs usually contain multiple LED chips in different orientations to mimic the light source of a halogen bulb. LED bulbs put out significantly more light compared to similarly powered halogens. 

Motorcycles with LED headlights

Motorcycle LED lights have long lifespans but require adequate cooling. They are manufactured with heatsinks and sometimes fans. This increases their sizes and may prevent them from fitting inside traditional headlight housings.

When used inside a traditional headlight unit, a good quality LED bulb is needed to ensure you get a good light pattern.

Advantages of LED Bulbs

  • A typical LED bulb is brighter than a standard halogen bulb
  • They are the most durable of all three bulbs.
  • They usually produce a white light which improves visibility
  • Smart features can be integrated with these bulbs because they are electronic devices.
  • LEDs light up instantaneously
  • They don’t have the fragile glass part like a normal bulb

Disadvantages of LED Bulbs

  • Aren’t always compatible with existing headlight housings and may not fit inside.
  • The beam pattern for the low beams may cause glare
  • They cost more than halogen bulbs.
  • Aftermarket upgrades may not be legal in some places

HID Bulbs

High-intensity Discharge (HID) bulbs produce light using an electric arc formed between two electrodes. Metal salts, xenon, and other gases inside the bulb aid this process. A ballast connected to the bulb provides the high voltage needed to start and maintain the arc.

High-intensity Discharge (HID) bulbs

The light output of HID bulbs rivals that of LEDs but HIDs have a shorter lifespan and require several seconds to reach peak brightness. The ballast is fairly large and many motorcycles lack the space to fit them during installation. 

Advantages of HID Bulbs

  • HID bulbs are some of the brightest available today
  • They last longer than halogen bulbs
  • They consume less energy than halogen bulbs while emitting more light.

Disadvantages of HID Bulbs

  • Cost more than halogen and even some LED bulbs today
  • They may not be compatible with all headlight housings and can blind oncoming traffic
  • They are less energy-efficient than LED bulbs
  • They need a few moments to light up which is not ideal in the dark.

Choosing the Right Bulb for Your Motorcycle

To get the best night-riding experience, there are certain measures you can take when choosing bulbs for your headlights. A few of these are explained below.

1. Prioritize Compatibility

Motorcycle Headlights

The headlight bulb you choose must be compatible with your motorcycle. There should be enough space inside the housing and the bulb should not need more power than is rated for your bike’s headlight unit. The bulb must also be capable of producing a correct low-beam pattern.

Motorcycles with CANbus systems need CANbus-compatible LED replacement bulbs to avoid certain errors.

2. Consider the Manufacturer‘s History

A bulb is only as good as the manufacturer. Issues with bulb durability, performance, and compatibility often arise due to poor manufacturing standards. To avoid low-quality products, look at a manufacturer’s history and whether they have a reputation for backing their claims.

3. Know the Law

The best headlight bulb will be useless if it’s illegal for you to install it. Check your local laws to see if you can install certain types of bulbs. Find out what makes some bulbs legal and others illegal.

4. Know Your Needs

Knowing your needs is the most important step in choosing a good motorcycle headlight bulb. You should know the type of bulb that fits in your bike and the maximum wattage recommended by the manufacturer.

Man repairing motorcycle using toolkit

You should also know the level of brightness and the color temperature you need from your bulb. The brightest lights in the market may not be what you need.


Getting a good upgrade for your motorcycle headlight bulb can be challenging. There are different types of bulbs including halogens, LEDs, and HIDs. Halogens may not offer much improvement but LEDs and HIDs may face compatibility and legal issues. 

HID and LED headlights provide the extra brightness most riders desire. When choosing these bulbs, you have to ensure their beam pattern is legal. Getting good quality LED replacement bulbs from a trusted manufacturer like Carlightvision helps with this.

Why Get Motorcycle LED Headlight Bulbs From Carlightvision?

The experts at Carlightvision have been developing high-quality LED headlight bulbs for over 15 years. We have formed a global network of clients and built partnerships with more than 100 brands. We have an active R&D department to help develop the best auto-lighting products and sell millions of units each year. If you need a manufacturer to supply you with great LED motorcycle bulbs, talk to us today.


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Hey there, I'm Mark Yang, Hope my blog posts can help you. I have been in the car light field for more than 20 years. So if you have any questions, I'm always happy to help you.
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