Riding Right: Night Riding

How to be safer in the dark

By Susan Rzepka Orion

Its never more important to see and be seen than it is when you ride at night. Here are several important considerations for safe riding after the sun goes down:

When youre out for a spin after dark, your headlight is your best friend. It allows you to see whats in front of you, but it only goes so far. Your headlight illuminates the road only a short distance ahead. The road beyond the headlight is still dark, and you may not be able to see hazards in your path. If something in your path of travel requires you to stop or swerve, youre going to need enough room to execute that maneuver. So increase your space cushion at night, the space between you and other objects. If your stopping distance exceeds the distance you can see with your headlight illuminated, you are overriding the headlight. So keep your speed under control and take it slow when you ride at night.

Night riding speedometer
Night Riding can be unlimited fun, but there#39;s often a limited view of the road ahead.

You can certainly increase the distance you can see ahead at night by employing your high beam, using the headlights of other vehicles on the road, and relying on street lights. Of course, you should check the operation of your lights before every ride. And dont forget your turn signals. Not only do they communicate your intentions, they really get attention at night to help make you more visible to other roadway users.

Night riding reflective jacket
Which jacket is more visible at night? Notice the glow from the reflective piping on the jacket hanging on the left.

Reflect Yourself
What you wear at night makes all the difference. Dark clothing, a favorite for cruiser motorcyclists especially, could mean big trouble after dark. Bright, reflective clothing is more visible to other drivers who wont see you in your black leather because you blend in with the dark of night. If you are going to wear a dark jacket, choose one with built-in reflective piping by ScotchLite, or add reflective tape, stickers or patches to your personal gear. The back of your helmet is a great place to add a reflective sticker. You will also be more visible at night when you don a halo or reflective vest.

Pack extra clothing, too, if theres a chance youll be riding at night. Temperatures drop in the evening, so be sure to pack extra clothing to accommodate the cooler temperatures. Layering is always best when it comes to riding.

WRN Tip When Caught in the Cold Unexpectedly:
A thick newspaper works great as an extra layer underneath your jacket.

Night riding reflective stickers on motorcycle
Reflective stickers added to the saddlebags reflect back against approaching headlights from the rear.

Light up your bike with aftermarket lights and reflective materials. Modulating brake lights, which flash when you come to a stop, really get the attention of the car behind you at night. Consider adding a light bar to increase your sight distance as well as your visibility to oncoming traffic. (Check your local laws for limits on the number of lights you can add.) The back of your motorcycle, with its little red tail light, is not easy to see at night. Add reflective stickers to your bike, bags, or backpack to increase your visibility from behind.

Night riding tail light
Your motorcycles little red tail light doesnt do much to increase your visibility from behind.

Night and Day
Dont take the little things for granted when you go out at night. Little things that dont bother you much during the day, like small defects, scratches, or dirt on your windshield, face shield, and glasses, will adversely affect your ability to see at night. Clean your shields and your clear glasses with warm soapy water; rinse and dry with a non-scratching microfiber cloth. Leave your tinted visors, goggles and sunglasses at home, or pack them in your saddlebag in a soft, scratch-free wrapping or case.

Night riding gravel
Gravel, potholes and other road hazards are still out there, and they come upon you much more quickly at night.

Remember, everything out there during the day is still there at night. Its just that they are a lot harder to see. Gravel, potholes and other road hazards come up on you a lot more quickly when you do not have the advantage of scanning well down the road like you can during the day. And watch out for animals, who are often most active at dawn and dusk. If you live in an area where deer are prevalent, look for your headlight to light up their reflective eyes. Continually scan the sides of the roads in heavy deer areas. If you see one deer coming, theres often another right behind. So slow down, and enjoy the nighttime ride.

Susan Rzepka Orion is a certified MSF RiderCoach and Riders Edge Instructor who loves to ride, write, and help others who want to do the same. You can find her on the road on her Yamaha V Star 1100 Custom (for now) or on the web at WritingWays.com.

Related Articles
Top 5 Road Hazards for Motorcyclists
Riding in the Rain
Space Cushion Riding

8 thoughts on Riding Right: Night Riding

  1. WRN, I love your articles and research related to all motorcycle enthusiasts. Keep up the amazing e-journaling.

  2. If in a wooded area, keep an extra eye out for deer and other critters, since they can pop out quite unexpectedly! Once, on a cold, dark night in California riding with a buddy rushing to get to our hotel, we came around a corner and at least 20 deer were right in the middle of the road! We slowed as fast as we could and thankfully the deer made way for us at the last minute, but we could just as easily have hit them.

  3. When riding with a load, we’ve started folding the reflective mesh vests over the back of our loads with the wide tape in the middle. We’ve noticed that other vehicles are slowing sooner as they come up behind us at night or at stop signs. We started doing it in the daytime, too, and are getting more courtesy for lane changes, etc. in high traffic areas. Great article. Great reminders and tips. Thanks!

  4. The comparison photos were great. Thanks!

  5. Thank you for the excellent input. I have not been riding long so I appreciate the tips!

  6. A light bar on the front of your bike is one of the best safety items you can place on your bike for day or night driving. When a car is at a stop sign, the driver looks up and down the road before pulling out. A single light on a bike doesn't register in a person's mind. Three lights, as with a headlight, plus the two headlights on the lightbar, registers “car coming” to a car and they stop and pay attention – unless they would pull out in front of a car, too.

    License plates also are made by several manufacturers that are loaded with LED lights. Some are even made incorporating turning signals. If you think they can't see that tiny red tail light, they can see that even-smaller turn signal light!

    Even though it may seem dorky, and not “cool,” the yellow and orange mesh vests with reflective tape, are extremely visible – night and day.

  7. I haven't had to ride at night except in well-lit areas. Need more reflective tape and lights on my bike. Thank you for the article. Very informative.

Scroll to Top