Don’t Be Kept in the Dark – Learn the Correct Way of Riding at Night

The safest way to ride in the dark is to imagine you’re invisible, now with that in mind, how are you going to correct it?

We’re going to start off with your motorcycle. The first thing you need to do is make sure that your lights not only work but also work at full capacity. If you ride regularly, then the battery should be discharging its current and being recharged by the alternator.

If you don’t, and especially if you have any alarm or immobilizer fitted to your bike, you may need a battery tender. These keep the battery in top condition by feeding it with a trickle charge.

Riding at Night: Lights

Ok, that’s the power source taken care of, now for the next in the chain of command, the lights. Even if your bike is brand new, don’t assume the headlight is adjusted correctly. So, sit on the bike and with the lights on, switch between high and low beam to see where they fall. If necessary, look in your owner’s manual for the section that covers adjustment.

Now is also the time to check the lens. Now I know you’ve been saving those squished bugs as a badge of honor from your last road trip, but clean them off. They may look small, but they reduce your lighting area. Don’t forget to check the tail light, brake light, and the indicators too.

You should also make sure your horn is working too. Everything from drunk partygoers to suicidal critters may jump out at you, so make sure you can give them a warning blast.

Obviously, this will depend entirely on your make and model, but almost every bike on the street can upgrade their lights and horn with aftermarket alternatives. Do some research online, join and see if you can go brighter and louder.

Riding at Night: Reflectors

I know it’s stupid and 100% vanity fed, but I don’t want my bike to look like a presidential cavalcade outrider. I do though,  think it’s a bad idea giving car drivers any excuse to pull the ‘I didn’t see you ‘ card. So on the back of your bike, even small reflectors attached to the license plate can make a difference.

We’ve all seen baggers with so many running lights they look like a carnival float, but running lights can be subtle too. There are plenty of small LED marker lights and light strips out there that can be used to great effect. You can tuck them away in all kinds of places, hiding them at the back of the engine or even under the frame. They won’t give you any extra visibility on in the dark but are perfect for marking your presence on the road.

Something I also do if I’m packing luggage for a road trip is call in at my local home décor center or safety clothing store. Hi-vis industrial clothing can be cheaper than specific gear. I usually buy a couple of hi-vis straps and wrap them around whatever bag or roll is at the very back of the bike.

Plus of course, if you’re packing for the road, make sure nothing falls or obscures your tail light or indicators. And depending on whether you’re carrying a pillion or just lots of kit, you may have to adjust your headlight again.

Unintentional on your part, but car drivers who think your headlamp is glaring in their rear-view mirror on purpose, do the strangest things, like suddenly hitting the breaks just to get your attention.

Riding at Night: Reflective Clothing

The final word on riding apparel,  the correct thing to do here is to buy clothing with reflective material. Jackets, trousers, helmets and boots all come with varying degrees of low light visible patterns and textiles. These range from the subtle to the entirely fluorescent. It may not look cool, but neither does a backless hospital gown.

Ok, so we’ve taken care of the bike and our clothing, so now the important thing to consider is how we ride in the dark. If you’ve ever taken a motorcycle training course, or even read a book on the subject, you should be familiar with riding defensively.

Defensive riding doesn’t promote trepidation in a rider or make him or her scared to make a move. What it’s designed to do is get you used to reading the road, looking further ahead, rolling the throttle off and covering the brake as a precaution rather than a reaction, or even giving it a big handful of throttle to get clear of a dangerous situation. Do this often enough, and it becomes second nature.

Riding at Night: Defensive Riding

Defensive riding is one of the key survival strategies for riding at any time, but especially in the dark. It’s a fact, there is less traffic around at night, almost 75% less in fact, which is good. What’s not so good are the statistics that come with it, like over half of all vehicular fatalities occur at night and 15% of all weekend night drivers are DUI.

This information isn’t meant to scare you, just make you very aware of who you’re sharing the road with, so stay frosty.  How are your eyes by the way? Have they been tested lately? If your vision is good, fine, if not make sure you wear the right glasses and get the lenses treated with an AR (anti- reflective) coating.

On the subject of glasses, if like me you thought wearing driving glasses with amber lenses increased your nighttime vision, then we were both wrong. A forensic survey on vision and highway safety, found yellow tinted night-driving lenses are of no benefit whatsoever. Apparently, they are also hazardous, as they reduce the speed at which your eye recovers from headlamp glare. That’s mine on the way to the dumpster.

Riding at Night: Headlight Glare

Glare from oncoming vehicles is a major issue for a night rider too. When it happens, avoid looking directly into the beam. If it’s obvious they’re on high beam, flash them once with yours, that’s usually enough to make them realize.

If the same happens with a car behind and their beam is glaring in your mirrors.

Angle them, so it’s shining directly back to let them know there’s a problem.

Oncoming headlights can be a bonus too though, as they can silhouette potential problems on the road.

And if you live or are riding through an area with lots of critters, headlights reflect right back from their retinas, so keep a look out for those two small specs of light at the sides of the highway.

So in a nutshell, here’s what we need to be aware of for safer riding at night-

  • Your battery needs to be in A1 condition.
  • Lights, indicators, brake lights and horn should all be working.
  • Upgrade lights and add marker/spotlights.
  • Wear high vis clothing and add reflective strips to bike or luggage.
  • Ride defensively and be vigilant.
  • Don’t look directly into oncoming headlights

Lastly, always carry a small LED torch, if you have to stop or breakdown, it’s essential. Riding in the dark is nowhere near as scary as you imagine, in some cases, it can even be very rewarding. Just make sure you are as visible as possible, are extra vigilant and only ride as fast as you can see.