What about the new extra-bright headlights?

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There are many options for brighter-than-standard headlight bulbs out there these days. We'll be looking at what a few studies and some of our club members have to say about them.

We are talking, generally, about bulbs that are in the "bright white + 50%" category. People looking for bulbs with a blue or yellow tint should look elsewhere, because they have been proven to be of lesser quality. Also, this article does not concern HID headlights. In order for HID to work correctly, the reflector has to be designed to work with the bike. No one makes such a thing for the Ninja.

Links: "85w from a 55w bulb" - not a good idea and HID conversion - not good either

Bulbs under consideration here include, but aren't limited to, Sylvania Silver Star, Osram Silver Star, GE Nighthawk, and Philips Vision Plus.

There are varying opinions on whether these bulbs are worth the extra cost. The cheapest way to replace your headlight bulb is to go down to your local auto parts emporium and get a name-brand, regular, non-fancy H4 halogen bulb. They'll cost less initially and last longer. But many members of the club report that they can see better with one of the new generation of lights.

This Consumer Reports review of five newer bulbs concludes that they make no real difference in how much you can see on the road. This is in direct contrast to nearly everyone on the board who has used them. Board experience has mostly been with Sylvanias and Philips.

Another critical source is Daniel Stern Lighting. He's a lighting consultant, and he has some bulbs that he recommends more highly than others. His main complaint with the superwhites is that many of them just don't last very long. His favored brands are Narva RangePower+50 , GE Night Hawk, Philips Vision Plus, and Osram Silver Star. His testing found little difference between samples of those four lights. His complaint with the Sylvania Silver Star is its short bulb life. (Osram and Sylvania are the same company, but the bulbs are quite different.) It would seem, from member reports, that 3-6 months of constant daytime high beam use will burn out the bulb. However, as one member put it: "I'm worth the 20 bucks."

These bulbs will probably make riding at night more enjoyable for you. They may not last as long, but it'll only cost you $20 to find out.

Another option is PIAA Xtreme White Plus H4. They're rated to draw 60/55W like a standard H4 bulb but supposedly put out light equivalent to 110/100W. They give more light on the road, but the bulbs are $50 ($75 for 2 from PIAA Direct) and have fairly short lives. The Silverstars are almost as bright, last longer (although not as long as the stocker) and cost a lot less.


The short story: Get bulb number H4. H4 has been used in motorcycles since the early 70's and is designed to handle the bouncing that's omnipresent on the front end of a bike. Bulb #9003 has essentially the same specs, without the robustness of the H4. If you'd like to read all about the legal differences between 9003 and H4 bulbs, you can see the Candlepower site.

Where to buy

Light bulbs are usually bought locally. While there are a few places on the web that sell some of the harder-to-find ones, most of the big bike parts houses don't even carry them.

The following information comes mainly from manufacturers' web sites. Its accuracy will come and go. Also, not every store will carry every model or size, even of a line that they usually carry. You may have to order, depending on geography and many other things.

  • GE Nighthawk: Fred Meyer, Wal-Mart, Ace Hardware
  • Sylvania Silver Star: (#H4 ST) AutoZone, Kragen/Checker/Schuck's, Pep Boys, Advance Auto, Wal-Mart
  • Philips Vision Plus: AutoZone, K-Mart, Pep Boys, Wal-Mart
  • PIAA: Any dealer that sells through the Tucker Rocky Catalog (most of them), PIAA direct, or at a dealer you can find in the PIAA Dealer Locator.
  • Power Bulbs is a UK company that sells quality bulbs at very good prices. Shipping is FREE on all orders to anywhere in the world, using Royal Mail first class post. Delivery times are 5 to 14 working days outside the UK. There is a toggle at the bottom of every product page where you can change the prices for the site into Yen, Euros, Pounds, or Greenbacks (sorry, Canadians).

Most people think that this is a good upgrade. It should make you more comfortable and safer in your nighttime riding.

Another good way to get brighter lights is by making sure the maximum amount of power is getting to them. You can read about this at the Electrical Connection and Eastern Beaver.