If you ride for any length of time eventually you will have a headlight fail, it’s a common occurrence. Let’s just hope that it’s not in the middle of the night as you are making your way home. If you’re lucky, it’s just your low beam because it stays on all the time. I have made it home in this situation using my high beam, and yes, perhaps I was pissing some folks off in the opposing lane, but I arrived safely. If you have one beam still working, and it’s dark, waste no time in getting off the road, the other could fail at any time, so go home!
Safety Tip: I have caught two burned out headlights in my driveway before leaving on a ride. My procedure while warming the bike up is to run a check on all of my lights. I check the headlight, both low/high beams, turn signals, and, I check that both hand/foot brake light switches function. With my previous Victory, I had lost my brake light bulb four times. It’s not something that can happen with my Cross Roads since it has LEDs in the tail light and turn signals, but, that’s no guarantee they will function, a switch or relay can always go bad. So every time, without fail, before I ride, I check, and for your safety, I suggest you do the same.
Ok, your headlight’s out, so what to do? Take it to the dealership? Fix it yourself? My suggestion is go for option number two, here’s why. 1. Most, if not all motorcycles have easily replaceable lighting components. 2. Except for a few rare cases, what you need can be purchased at a local auto supply store.
Here’s a case in point. I like reading Cycle World magazine, the writing and photography is always world class. In particular, I enjoy the technical articles, (naturally) and their “long term” test bike reports. I recently read a report on the Harley-Davidson “Switchback” model. In the article they comment on paying to have a broken headlight repaired, $150.95 for parts, and $110.00 labor, a total of $260.95 USD! Yikes! The Cycle World report mentions the light catching a rock, so I can assume the reflector/lens assembly was toast. I found it on line for $109.00 USD, if there were other parts damaged, I guess the parts charge could be considered reasonable. The issue I have is with the $110 labor charge for what could be at the most a thirty minute job. I have looked at the exploded diagram of the Switchback head light, and there is nothing to it that would prevent repairs with a few simple tools. Most likely the reflector was a proprietary Harley item, so it’s a given you would have buy that part at a dealer. But, as for the labor charge, I can find better uses for my money, thank you!
I’m always looking for a story opportunity for The Biker’s Garage, so when I do any work on my bikes, the camera comes out. Fortunately, I have photographed replacing both types of common headlights, sealed beam and halogen bulb.
Editor’s note: The examples used here are my motorcycles, with your motorcycle, the work should be similar, but may not be exactly the same. The parts I have linked to fit the Victory models mentioned, but may not fit your particular bike, it’s always best to confirm a part fits before you buy it.
Replacing a Sealed Beam:
These guys have been around since 1940 or so. You’ll find these on lots of bikes in different sizes and shapes. Here’s how to figure out what you need, and replace your light.
The head light on my 2003 V92 C croaked one night while I was coming home. It checked out fine that morning, so I can only assume it failed during the day at some point. Only fifteen minutes from home, I made it back on my high beam, and the next day I dug into getting it fixed. The first step, pulling the lamp.
After removing the outer trim ring, it was easy to remove the screws holding the lamp retaining ring in place.
Helpful tip: Get ready to catch the sealed beam, most of the time it will fall out on it’s own, so don’t be a butterfingers and drop it on your front fender. Speaking of front fenders, it’s a good idea (if you can remember) to layer some towels over it to protect your paint if you do drop something.
Only remove the trim ring screws, there are others that effect the alignment of the headlight. You will find them typically at the top or bottom of the headlight “bucket.” They should not be tampered with, or you’ll have a fun time trying to put it right again.
Once the retaining ring is off, move the sealed beam forward and free it from it’s connector. If it’s like mine, it might be corroded, and a little stuck, so gently wiggle it loose.
Once you have the sealed beam bulb removed, it’s time to see what you have. Look for the maker’s marks on the bulb body.
The headlight for my V92 C was the very common seven inch size. I was able to search on line and find it easily, it’s used on many vehicles, including Jeeps. Since it was such a popular size, there were many options other than a sealed beam bulb. I could upgrade to the slightly better Sylvania H6024 ST SilverStar, a HELLA Vision Plus, which is a Halogen bulb/reflector conversion, not a sealed beam like the Sylvania. If I wanted to go with a custom look, there were options to do an Angel Eyes Style LED Projector Headlight, which cost only slightly more than the HELLA conversion, or a GE Nighthawk 7″ Round LED Headlamp, which was the most expensive of the choices, but certainly the most heavy duty.
Since I wanted to get back to riding the next day, I chose to just visit my local auto parts store and pick up a direct replacement, the Sylvania H6024 XV XtraVision.
It was a pretty decent headlight to begin with, so I didn’t mind going with it again, figuring I could upgrade later.
Before you plug the new bulb in and install it, put a little Di-Eletric grease on the bulb’s prongs, it cuts down on corrosion and will make a better connection.
Once you have it plugged in, just slip the sealed beam into the housing.
When you are setting it in, be mindful of the alignment notches on the headlight bucket, corresponding tabs are built into the sealed beam, that’s where they go.
Put the retaining ring on.
Button it up.
And you are done, simple. This job, without my shooting time involved, would be about fifteen minutes tops.
Replacing a Halogen Bulb:
This is just as simple as replacing a sealed beam, with only minor differences. A halogen bulb screws into the back of a reflector assembly, most of the time this consists of headlight lens attached to a reflector. Depending on the configuration it can have one or two openings for halogen bulbs.
Mine was of the two opening type, and once my headlight cover was off, the bulb was easy to remove. Getting access to your bulb may not be as simple, it’s always a good idea to consult a manual for the proper way to service your model motorcycle.
They come out with a twist, and go back in the same way, the bulb is locked in place by tabs.
Just so I could keep track of my connector, I laid it on the top of the reflector shell. Looking closer, I discovered Victory had labeled it so there was no way to confuse it with anything else. (points to Victory on that one)
Since my bulb was only a single filament, the male connector was only a two wire.
It plugs in to the bulb’s female socket, notice the slot in the center of the connector, it will only fit the bulb one way. This is to make sure the polarity is correct when the bulb is plugged in.
Just like the sealed beam bulb, all the information I needed to buy a replacement was easy to find.
The H11 halogen bulb is widely used in the automotive industry, so I had many options for replacement. It comes in many color temperatures, the most popular is 6,000K, or, as it’s sometimes called, “Crystal White,” which has a hint blue in it. There were also HID Xenon conversion kits available if I wanted to upgrade to a brighter HID setup.
Since I had only one bulb out, I went with a standard 5,000K bulb, often referred to as “Pure White.” At the most it was 25 minutes to make a run to the parts store and come back with an exact replacement.
When you are putting the new bulb in it’s a good idea to lightly coat the connection with light coat of Di-Eletric grease. Coating the sealing surfaces is not necessary since the Weather Pack connections are self-lubricating silicone and keep out moisture pretty well.
Helpful tips: Be careful not to get any grease or fingerprints on the new bulb, it can seriously shorten it’s life. If you do get the bulb dirty, use a soft cloth soaked with alcohol to clean it. When inserting the bulb, make sure it’s fully seated in the reflector by turning it until it stops, and that both sides of the connector locking tabs have clicked into place.
The new bulb was in place and buttoned up in less time than it took to go get it.
Replacing a burned out sealed beam, or headlight bulb is a easy fix that anyone can do with a few simple tools. In many cases, it takes less than twenty minutes. Where bodywork is involved, as with a sport bike, the length of time may be longer, it all depends on how good the access is to your bulbs. Again, I would recommend consulting your model’s service manual on the proper procedure to remove and replace any components.
Helpful Tip: I carry the tools needed to change my headlight bulbs with me. Since they are a common type, I can find them almost anywhere. If I lose my headlight, a quick stop at an auto parts store will have me back on the road in no time.
Words By: Terry Cavender
Images By: Terry Cavender