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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.