Riding your motorcycle at night, under a starry or moonlit night-sky is another amazing experience of motorcycle riding. However, being that your vision is really the only sense you can rely on to judge the road ahead; you need a few extra skills for this environment. A few after dark adjustments in your motorcycle operational behavior will ensure your safety, comfort and total pleasure on any night ride.
Night Vision Seeing the Road Ahead – Not So Easy
There are a small percentage of the receptors in your eyes made for low-light perception. At night or in darkness, your pupils dilate and any intense light, (i.e. automobile headlights) will set all the receptors off. This creates a blinding white light. As the light dims your pupils dilate (grow larger) to then take in more light.
For a motorcycle rider, dilated pupils mean a reduced ability to change your focus between near and far objects. So while riding, it’s likely you’ll experience “blinding” by oncoming headlights – and even streetlights.
Furthermore, once the vehicles headlights have passed, your eyes will take time to readjust to the dark. This again makes it difficult to see the road. In heavy traffic your pupils may never adjust. This is due to the fact that your gaze must constantly alternate between light and dark.
One solution to avoid this is by looking slightly away from oncoming headlights. This tends to help for a short time but in the end you may have to avoid riding at night to ensure your safety.
Fifteen Tips For Safe Night Riding
- Clean Your Motorcycle. Make sure your headlamp, tail lights, turn signals and windscreen (if you have one) are clean. You’ll see the road better as well as be seen.
- Helmet Visor. A scratched visor or goggles can cause you a lot of trouble at night and may even impair/ distort your vision. An anti-fog visor is also a big advantage as the night air tends to be cooler and will easily fog. Try to double-check the condition of your visor before.
- Don’t Over-Ride Your Headlamp. This occurs when your total stopping distance exceeds your sight distance. Total stopping distance includes the time it takes to perceive a hazard, react to that hazard, and the time it takes the bike to come to a stop. Not seeing far enough ahead means that hazards can lurk beyond the beam of our headlamp.
- Be Seen, Visible and Recognizable. Drivers react to something they see in four steps:
A) Detect something.
B) Identify something.
C) Decide how to respond.
In order to shorten response time in the first three stages above, it’s important you’re recognizable in time. Reflective gear and reflective tape make you more readily visible to others. Observability is one thing; recognition is as important.White reflects five times stronger than red, but red means danger. Red and white are used for stop signs and railway crossings. Red seems brighter to the human eye than it really is. Use either of these colours at night placing reflective stickers or tape on your helmet, jacket, /vests – but also your motorcycle to reduce the chance of collision.
TIP: where possible, stay in the middle of your lane. Here you are most visible. Staying close to the shoulder side of the road you may become less visible mixing in to the glow of streetlights.
- Avoid Being Blinded. Avoid looking directly at oncoming vehicle lights. Instead, look to the shoulder of the road or the side of the lights as they pass.
- Use Your High Beam. As much as possible – and as long as you don’t hinder other traffic – make use of your motorcycle high-beam. This allows you greater visibility and will prevent you from tiring as quickly from eye strain. You’ll see further ahead and be able to respond quicker to changes in the road surface.
- Use the Vehicle Ahead to Assist You. Where possible while using a proper following distance/ space cushion, ride behind a vehicle taking advantage of it’s often broader and brighter view of the road ahead.
- Animals. Wild animals are more active between dusk and dawn yet depending on where you are they can be active at any hour. Be especially careful when passing through woodland areas. You can often catch the reflection of deer, moose and other animals by catching the reflection in their eyes. Slow down during these hazardous areas and be prepared to stop quickly. Animals are unpredictable and one of the major difficult to control -threats to motorcyclists
- Avoid Fixation On The Road Ahead. Night riding can be monotonous and tiring! You might even start imaging things in the shadows. Things which aren’t really there. Make sure you always look around, scanning the road and not just staring ahead.
- Ride Awake; Take Breaks. The monotony of a night ride can create fatigue especially as riding in the dark requires high concentration. Take frequent short road side breaks to keep alert.
- Allow For Slower Reaction Time. Buffer in more time to react as with the darkness around you’ll have minimal warning. Slow your speed and prepare at approaching adjoining side-roads and intersections. Be aware of night dangers – reckless and weary road users are, children etc.
- Adhere to Posted Speed Limits. Riding faster increases your reaction time to navigate road obstacles or maneuver around things in your path. Reducing your speed gives you more time to make the right decisions followed by the right inputs to your motorcycle.
- Watch Your Diet. With the high demands of your attention and alertness to road you’ll be using up your energy at a faster pace. A good dinner or meal plan is important to ensure you sustain your energy. Eat well and hydrate well.
- Mind Your Age. Older adults may be just as good at riding in the dark as younger riders, but keep in mind that vision often decreases as we age; especially at night.
- Drunk Drivers. Nighttime is party time! That means be extra aware of drunk drivers. According to statistics more than 16 percent of weekend nighttime drivers are driving under the influence.
Riding your motorcycle at night is exciting and provides a very different and pleasurable motorcycling experience!
As the risks are higher than during daylight hours, simply take precautions practising the tips above. Foremost, decide for yourself whether or not to ride at night or to keep riding in the dark.
MOTORESS director, Vicki Gray is a basic and advanced motorcycle instructor – certified for over 25 years. She is a motorcycle licensing examiner and has instructed, examined and licensed riders for European and North American road racing schools.