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Chapter 12 - Fuses, bulbs and fireworks

Kym Liebig

Fuses, bulbs and fireworks

Bulbs. Globes. Lamps. Whatever you call them, most bikes have at least a few of them, and they are arguably little miracles. A delicate part that normally costs small change but goes an incredible distance. Ride for hours on a potholed road or along a dirt track with corrugations that turn your eyeballs to jelly and your suspension takes a hammering for sure. But the real wonder is that we can safely take it for granted that those tiny filaments in your headlights and indicators will hold up, too. They better, because next time you indicate to make a turn, your life might depend on it.

Today many bikes are switching to LED’s (light emitting diodes) to take care of the roles taken by bulbs for many decades now. That’s a good thing – LED’s are usually brighter and even more reliable than incandescent filament bulbs. They probably just about qualify as maintenance free. For instance, if you have an LED brake light, in the unlikely event it should fail you will most likely need a whole new part rather than a single LED. But let’s not forget about the humble bulb just yet.

Bulbs are still usually found in headlights, often found in indicators and sometimes still live inside taillights and brake lights, too. Because they can and do fail, it’s worth doing a ‘walk around check’ once a week or so to check that everything is working as it should. And if it’s not, well, it pays to know how to replace a bulb. (You old hands stick with us here, okay? This is for the ones who are new to this!) Being prepared to deal with a failure starts with knowing exactly what you’re dealing with.

If you have a full compliment of brain cells and a screwdriver, taking a look at your indicator bulbs is easy. Generally, the lens attaches to the body of the indicator housing with a fastener or two and you’ll be left staring at the bulb. Gently twist it anti-clockwise for a quarter turn or so. Most bulbs use a bayonet fitting method that’s not all that different from common household bulbs. Once you have the bulb in your hot little hand, read the code printed or stamped onto the metal collar – it will general include voltage, wattage and possibly a product code. The best way to know you’re buying the right spares is to take a bulb into your bike shop and ask for a couple that are the same. It’s good to have spares – and to carry them.

Tail and brake light
As another potentially life-saving light, these are increasingly being taken over by LED’s. How can you tell? If you peer into your tail light, operate the brake pedal or lever and are instantly dazzled half senseless, chances are you have LED’s in there – those babies are bright. If you suspect bulbs, and how to remove the lens from the light isn’t immediately obvious, have a look through your bike’s owner’s manual and set about dismantling it so you can identify the bulb or bulbs inside.

Be forewarned that this can be fiddly, a bit tricky and potentially costly if you get it wrong, so you might choose to leave it to a pro. If you’re feeling lucky, start by taking a look at your owner’s manual for tips on how to remove the bulb or bulbs. You will very likely also find the bulb type listed in the manual, saving you the need to remove yours to find out. Of course this info might be online, too. If you are still keen on removing a headlight bulb, take a sec to get into your happy place…

…and stop.

Headlight bulbs are usually of the halogen type. Two facts are important here. Firstly, you must make sure that when you replace a headlight bulb, you seal the housing up just as it was, complete with sockets and rubber boots in order, or your headlights will become fishbowls next time you ride in the rain. Secondly, well…you can’t touch the bulbs. Yep, you read that right. Halogen bulbs burn so hot that if you touch the glass part of the bulb, a trace of oil from your skin can cause a temperature spike as it cooks off, breaking the glass instantly. Obviously any oil or dirt from your bike, clothes or tools can do the same. So keep everything very clean and touch only the metal socket or prongs of the bulbs as you work with them. Pay close attention to spring clips, sockets and how everything fits. It pays to take your time.

Carrying spares
In case of emergencies it is a great idea to carry a couple spares of the bulbs your bike might need. How you do this is up to you. Use your imagination perhaps wrap the bulbs in tissue or bubble wrap and then stash them in a small container or box in a handy nook on the bike, perhaps under the seat. It’s best to keep halogen headlights in their original packaging. Stashing these spares on the bike is a good way to be sure they are there when you really need them, rather than in that bag you left at home. 

The most important factor here is that you know where your bike’s fuses are and what a dead fuse looks like. Check your manual for fuse locations – there might be more than one location on the bike where they live. Locate your fuse box or boxes and first check that these have spaces for spares – many do. Fuse boxes are usually clearly marked as to which fuse controls what function. Most bike fuses are ‘blade’ type units with two prongs, colour coded plastic bodies and the amperage printed clearly. If you gently extract a fuse you can usually see a small loop of metal material running between the two prongs. Often, if the fuse is blown, you’ll be able to see a break or melted spot in this material. 

Fuses are tough so carrying spares is easy. Don’t be tempted to mix and match amperage ratings. Shoving any old fuse into a socket can put expensive electronics at risk. 

If out of the blue your bike won’t start, the dash won’t light up, you can’t hear the fuel pump priming or everything is just plain stone dead, checking your fuses is a good place to start. 

As always, if any of this has you scratching your head, be smart and get a pro onto it.  

Summing up
Good fuses and bulbs help keep you moving and safe on the road, too. Knowing where they all are, regularly checking them and carrying spares goes a long way towards helping you feel prepared. There is nothing funny (or legal…) about not having a fix available and knowing you have to call for a trailer or risk riding home with an indicator out or worse, no brake light. It’s simply something no rider should ever risk. 

Until next time, enjoy the ride!