This article was originally written (and since then, expanded/edited numerous times) because someone asked about the left-hand switch of BMW Airhead motorcycles if using higher powered headlight bulbs. He did not understand why the existing stock headlight relay would not automatically eliminate wear on the switchgear. The simplified reason is that the stock headlight relay does not do what many think it does, at least on most, especially later, Airhead models. Variances of his question have come up many times, often on the Airheads LIST, but also on various other forums, and even for other BMW models.
It is important to know that the main purpose of the stock headlight relay FROM 1978 is to turn off the headlight, leaving the dash lights and rear running lamp on, during the time the starter motor is cranking the engine. The relay turns off the headlight during cranking, and that’s all.The stock headlight relay from 1978 also does not do theswitching between high & low beams. NOTE that the high beam flasher (‘passing lamp’) function remains, due to a green wire from the ignition switch, as a separate circuit. The headlight relay may or may not turn off the headlight, during engine cranking, depending on year, model, & country shipped-to. On some Airheads, the high beam flasher button (‘passing lamp’ function) MAY be available with the ignition off. It is a matter of where the green-colored wire goes to. It is easy to move a green wire at the ignition switch, and thereby have the ignition be ON, but the headlight OFF, in the PARK function, but there is more to this, and this is not the point of this article.
Using additional relays to control higher-powered headlamps (stock is 55/60 watt) is a must; although some have gotten away with not doing so for some time. Note that the left bars switch assembly is fairly expensive. It is not designed to handle high-powered headlamps, and it would have been, …perhaps, …better if a relay had been used by BMW to handle all the current flow to the low and high beams. This is not difficult to accomplish, and such as the Eastern Beaver kit does it. With that kit installed (or, your own two relays), the bars light switch(s) would only pass current to the extra relay’s COILS. This means that using accessory relays will reduce wear on the left switchgear even with the stock headlight; and usually will increase light output slightly due to a more direct current path from the battery to the relay. This increases the headlight voltage to closer to battery voltage….another way of saying this is that a more direct power path reduces wire and some switching losses.
Sources for appropriate relays are any auto-parts store. However, www.EasternBeaver.com sells complete plug and play kits for your motorcycle, and they may even still have a version with a modulator if you wanted that.