Motorcycle Riding at Night
Statistically, it is far safer to ride a motorcycle than it once used to be. Vehicle technology, safer road systems and a higher level of skill required to passing driver / rider tests all contribute.
It’s not all gloom though because riding at night can not only be fun, but can be made as safe as possible, often with a few enhancements made over your daytime riding skills.
Many of these can be quick and simple checks and changes that can make a significant difference to riding safety. Let’s take a look at safety advice and tips for riding a motorcycle at night.
Visibility and being seen is one of the most effective and affordable safety aspects of night time riding on a motorcycle.
Your vehicle lights are the single most important riding aid for enabling you to see and for you to be seen by other motorists. Before any journey, ensure all lights and manufacturer fitted reflectors are clean and free from any faults, plus ensure windshields and helmet visors are clean and clear of smears. If possible carry spare bulbs on journeys. Bulbs tend to get dimmer as they age. If you are a regular rider, change your bulbs around every year.
To increase your maximum visibility and to reduce the risk of dazzling other road users, ensure your headlights are correctly adjusted. Reduced visibility due to improperly adjusted headlights can leave a motorcyclist vulnerable to shorter a stopping distance and hazards such as potholes, wet leaves, branches that may not be seen in time to react. Adjusting headlights varies to each bike and specific information can be obtained from your vehicle owner’s manual.
- Hi-visibility Gear
Looking cool in black leathers on a black motorcycle is one thing, but it’s not going to make you particularly visible in the darkness. Most car drivers tend to look out for others cars or larger vehicles whilst driving, often leaving the motorcyclist as a last thought on the hazard radar. This is also an issue in well lit urban areas at night as the short distance between a motorcycles dual headlights, or the single headlamp can easily get lost among the many other lights.
Hi-visibility reflective jackets, helmets and bike tape will significantly increase your road presence. Hi-visibility wear is great for being seen during the daylight, but isn’t particularly effective in low light conditions, which is where reflective gear should be used. A combination of hi-vis and reflective jackets and helmets can be used along with reflective tape that can be stuck to the motorcycle. Placing the tape on areas furthest from from the headlights gives the impression of a much larger vehicle at night.
It would be ill-judged to assume that because a motorcycle is lighter than a car, it can stop quicker. Although it’s certainly possible, there’s many factors that determine how fast a motorcycle will come to a stop. Without getting into stopping distance figures, it’s important to remember the rule to ‘not outrun your headlights’ and to only ride as fast as you can see. Moving at a higher speed than the time it takes to react to a hazard appearing in your headlights (thinking distance) and the time it takes to brake (braking distance) is a catastrophe waiting to happen.
If you’re new to riding a motorcycle at night, you’ll find dealing with other vehicles dazzling lights hard to deal with. It takes practice, but remember to never look directly into oncoming headlights as it will leave you temporarily blind after. If a vehicles lights are bright, slow down and if necessary stop. If you believe that they are on full beam and have not dipped, do not retaliate by putting your lights on full beam.
Always use full beam where appropriate to maximise your visibility ahead. On a left-hand bend dip earlier as your lights will glare anyone coming round the corner earlier. On right-hand bends you are more likely to be dazzled by oncoming traffic. Take these considerations into account when approaching bends.
Dealing with the Wildlife
Nighttime brings out certain animals that we tend to see far less of during the day. Hedgehogs, foxes, rabbits, deer, they can all pose a hazard to the motorcycle rider. These hazards can be reduced by keeping your speed down, but avoiding country roads may benefit.
You may find that nighttime riding may become a little monotonous due to the quieter roads. This monotony combined with the time of night may make you more sleepy than usual. If you feel yourself getting tired and paying less attention, pull over, take your helmet off, get some fresh air and refresh yourself.
You’ll also be dealing with other road users who may be tired and paying less attention than usual. At night, increase your following distances from other road users and avoid weaving between traffic where possible.
Riding in a vehicles mirrors blind spot is a perilous undertaking in the best of lighting conditions. Risks are increased at night with tired drivers perhaps not checking their blind spots and with a motorcycle less visible, it’s best to avoid these hazardous areas unless absolutely essential.
Defensive riding is the ability to continually scan the environment for potential hazards, allowing you to predict potential or actual hazards and to avoid, stop or slow down before a situation occurs. Any good motorcyclist will be actively practicing defensive riding during the day, though hazards at night are potentially increased significantly. Riding at night will include hazards less severe during they day time. Defensive riding skills must be enhanced and concentration levels kept at peak levels to include:
- Being less visible to other road users
- Headlight glare from other vehicles
- Being more cautious to avoid vehicle blind spots
- An increase in tired drivers paying less attention
- Possible drink drivers
- Cyclists without lighting
- Nocturnal animals in the road
- Ability to observe road hazards with reduced warning due to reduced visibility (potholes, gravel / mud patches, slippery white lines in the wet etc)
We all see less at night due to a reduction in light. For some however, low-light conditions can result in blurry vision and slow reaction times in dealing with light and dark situations. Night blindness can affect anyone due to a variety of conditions. If you suspect your eyes are taking too long to adjust between light and dark situations and are generally struggling to see in low-light conditions, have your eyes checked.
Remember also that no matter how good your eyes are, it takes time to adjust from light and dark condition. If leaving a light environment to ride at night, allow a few minutes for your eyes to adjust before riding.
Riding at night means your pupils will dilate to allow for more light to enter. Dilated pupils also reduce your ability to focus between near and far objects, which is why it’s important to keep your riding speed down at night. Bright street lights and the headlight glare from oncoming traffic will make your pupils constrict to allow in less light. After the light source has passed, it takes time for your eyes to adjust making it difficult to see the road. Try and predict these light sources and adjust your speed accordingly.
Benefits of Nighttime Riding
Nighttime motorcycle riding may come with a few extra hazards and fill some riders with dread, but it is often a pleasant experience too. Some riders actually prefer the peaceful roads with less frantic traffic to deal with. It can also be seen as a challenge to increase your defensive riding skills to make you a better, safer rider.