How To Aim Your Motorcycle Headlight

Headlight aiming explained.

Pretty soon nightfall will interrupt our sunshine-filled riding hours. And while you spent the summer using your headlights to alert other drivers and attract insects, during the winter months you actually need to see something. Aside from the obvious fixes—do you have a good-quality bulb, are the lenses clean?—take a moment to be sure your headlights are aimed correctly. You'd be amazed how many motorcycles we encounter whose headlights are either searching for nightcrawlers or probing the heavens for intelligent life.

What Kind Of Adjusters Does Your Motorcycle Have?

Aiming your motorcycle headlight is simple, but you need to understand what you're adjusting and where to aim the beam. Take a look in the owner's manual and then peer around the headlight area to understand what the manual says. Generally, headlight adjustment hardware falls into one of three categories: a big knob or nifty electric switch that adjusts the beam for you; smallish but exposed knobs; and the devilishly hidden, hard-to-use screw-type adjusters.

A screw-type adjuster on this motorcycle headlight makes it easy to aim without having to maneuver a thin screwdriver into a bodywork gap.
Probably the easiest kind of headlight adjuster to use, a common Phillips screwdriver will adjust this headlight.Photo: Motorcyclist

Bucket headlights normally pivot around the mounting ears, and have a small setting apparatus, usually below the beam. This is among the easier-to-use types; turn the screw clockwise to lower the beam.

A toolless motorcycle headlight aiming knob makes fine-tuning of your headlight simple.
Some motorcycle headlights have toolless adjustment knobs that make the process of adjusting its aim simple.Photo: Motorcyclist

Then you may discover your bike has exposed adjustment knobs that make quick changes easy. In this case, turning the headlight adjuster clockwise moves the beam upward. There is another adjustment, seen just inside the lower edge of the fairing, that moves the beam left to right.

This motorcycle headlight has a screw-type adjuster, but it is hard to get to, requiring you have a long, skinny screwdriver.
This screw-type adjuster works like the other one listed, but is a pain to access and requires a long, skinny screwdriver to turn.Photo: Motorcyclist

Finally, some bikes have buried adjusters. The idea here is that you're supposed to stick a thin screwdriver up through some piece of bodywork and into the small socket. The teeth of the screwdriver will engage the metal wheel. Turn it one way and the headlight beam moves.

How To Adjust Your Motorcycle Headlight

So how are you supposed to aim the beam? A lot of riders simply adjust until the light startles oncoming drivers—and then back off a half turn. Believe it or not, there are official recommendations.

First, find a flat piece of ground and aim your headlight at a wall or your garage door.
Step one: Place your motorcycle 25 feet away from a wall or garage door on flat ground.Photo: Motorcyclist

To aim your motorcycle headlight, find a flat patch of ground with a white or light-colored wall at one end. You may have one of these right there at home—your driveway perhaps. Place the bike 25 feet from the wall or garage door.

With your bike level, take a measurement from the center of your headlight to the ground.
Step two: With your bike level, take a measurement from the center of your headlight to the ground.Photo: Motorcyclist

Have someone sit on your bike or chock your wheel and measure from the center of the headlight to the ground with the bike level.

Mark your measurement on the wall or garage door, and then 2 inches below that.
Step three: With the measurement you just took, mark it on the wall or garage door, making another mark 2 inches below that.Photo: Motorcyclist

Now go over to the garage door and mark one line at the same height above ground, and another 2 inches lower. Use a carpenter's level to draw a horizontal reference line.

Check your motorcycle headlight aim against the marks you made. The highest part of the low beam should be on the lower line.
Step four: With your motorcycle headlights on, see where the highest part of the low beam falls. If it’s above the bottom line, then aim your headlight down with its adjuster.Photo: Motorcyclist

Switch on the headlights and mount the motorcycle. The low beam's upper cutoff point should rest right on the lower line. Because most bikes have combined high- and low-beam reflectors, setting the height (and checking to see that the beam is centered along the bike's long axis) is about all there is to it. But if you have separate high beams, make the center of the high beam land on the upper line.

That's it! Button everything up—don't leave that screwdriver poking through the fairing—and enjoy autumn knowing you're ready for the dark, short days of winter. Brrrr.