Riding a motorcycle during the day means dealing with numerous hazards, such as distracted drivers and pure traffic volume. Night riding trades a few of these hazards for new ones. You may not have to deal with many other motorists on a lonely B road after midnight, but there is a much higher probability that any car you pass has an intoxicated, sleepy or texting driver.
You also run a higher risk of meeting deer and other wildlife on the road in the night-time. The best way to ride safely at night is to increase your bike’s visibility. Having a better view of the road ahead will help you identify and prepare for potential hazards. And the gear that makes it easier for you to see also makes it easier for you to be seen.
The most effective way to increase your visibility at night is to get brighter lights, and more of them. Your bike’s OEM lighting was designed to meet minimum EU safety requirements which satisfies the manufacturing process. This leaves a great deal of room for improvement.
You could replace your halogen bulb if it’s getting old and dim with brighter bulbs which are now available, but if you’re looking for an improvement rather than a replacement, you also have the option of upgrading to an HID headlight or an LED headlight. Either option will give you improved visibility at night. In the case of an LED setup, you will also see a decreased load on your motorcycle’s electrical system, which is never a bad thing.
Light modulator system have been seen as a good option for alerting fellow motorists in the daytime. But before you count on this as your one solution for night-time visibility the DfT say these are not permitted in the UK, but apparently nothing has been written in Law to make these illegal (If anyone can shed light on this please write to the Editor :- editor@L-A-M.org so corrections can be printed in Progress, thanks, The Ed)
You could also consider mounting additional lighting on your bike. Auxiliary lights won’t necessarily make you more visible from the side or the back, but they can do wonders for your forward visibility. Marker lights can put some extra illumination all around the surface of the bike.
There are two main types of auxiliary lights:
1. Fog lights 2. Driving lights
They are anything but interchangeable, so to decide which is best for you, ask yourself what you want your headlights to do.
“Fog” lights have a wider dispersal pattern, which will help you identify side-of-the-road threats such as wildlife and the occasional late-night jogger. With a dispersal pattern of 35 degrees, they won’t focus light in a way that will extend the viewable road surface beyond the reach of your stock low beams.
"Driving" lights have a more focused dispersal pattern, so you can see further down the road ahead of you. Driving lights have a dispersal pattern of 20 degrees, so they are designed to “throw” the light down the road, helping to supplement the reach of your high beams. No matter which way you go, check your bike’s owner’s manual and battery specs to make sure it can handle the extra draw.
Marker lights contain LEDs, so the extra power required to keep them lit should be a drop in the bucket for your overall power needs. Some sources suggest that creating face-like patterns will help improve your fellow motorists’ recognition.Marker lights can be placed on the sides and rear of your motorcycle, which can increase your visibility to motorists beside and behind you.
Keep Your Bike Clean
All of these fancy new headlights and reflective surfaces won’t shine as brightly if they are covered in a layer of dirt or mud. Keep your bike clean to keep it visible.
Apply Reflective Tape
Adding reflective tape to the boundary surfaces of your bike is a good way to increase your visible footprint. The top of your windscreen, saddle bags and wheels are excellent options for placing reflective tape. In addition to adding forward and rearward visibility, the rims and bags are perpendicular surfaces, so motorists approaching the intersection from your side will be able to see you cross their field of vision.
The reflective tape doesn’t have to be an eyesore in the daytime. You could get grey tape to blend into your rims, or you could get a colour that compliments the colour of your bike . It won’t stand out during the daytime, but it will shine brightly in a car’s headlights at night.
Panniers and top cases are handy for storing stuff, but they are generally black. Obviously, black bags won’t contribute to your night-time visibility. If you have the choice, look for bags in brighter colours or bags that have reflective elements built right into them. As a last resort, you could add reflective tape to the bags so they can help make you more visible.
You also want to make sure your bags aren’t actively detracting from your visibility. As you hang the bags on your motorcycle, take notice of whether or not they obstruct any existing lighting on your motorcycle. If they do, there is a chance they haven’t been installed improperly.
Be Prepared and Carry a Torch
Heaven forbid, but if your bike breaks down, you want to make sure you aren’t sitting on the side of the road in the dark. If your issue is electrical, the bike’s lights aren’t going to be on. Then what? Have a torch on hand to help you fix your issue and let people see you when your bike’s lights aren’t functioning.
Not a single LED on a key-ring, but rather the highest-rated compact torch you can fit into the bike’s on-board storage or a head-light. Check it every few weeks to make sure it still works, and keep some extra batteries with it. Keeping a torch as a back-up won’t do you any good if it doesn’t work, either.
Make Yourself More Visible
You have just about as much surface area as your motorcycle does, so even if you were to spray paint every exposed surface of your entire motorcycle with fluorescent paint, you’re still only reaching half of your visibility potential.
We also don’t recommend dressing head to toe in black clothing for a night-time ride. Making yourself more visible is just as effective as making your bike more visible.
Wear Reflective Gear
The options for reflective riding gear have exploded in the last few years. These days, if you want to be seen on your bike at night, you don’t even have to go full-on safety vest.
There are plenty of fashionable options that include inconspicuous reflective accents and stripes. If you are concerned with how you look in your riding gear, you still have options that will help keep you safe at night.
Of course, you can find a safety vest that will fold up small enough to fit in your pocket if you prefer to go full stealth black during the daytime.
Helmet designers have also found creative ways to incorporate reflective colours and materials into attractive helmet designs. Whether it’s glow-in-the-dark paint or actual LED lights, your helmet can be an integral part of your visibility gear.
While on the subject of helmets, it’s worth noting that you don’t want to be using a tinted visor at night. Either install an adaptive visor or have a clear visor on hand to swap out, if necessary. Keep your visor clean, too, as dust, smudges and scratches will make it more difficult to see at night.
Don’t Ride Alone
What’s better than one bright headlight? Three, four or five bright headlights! Ride with a group if at all possible. With your headlights combined, your entire group will be easier to see.
Safety in numbers!
Not only does this make it easier for other motorists to see you, but it will provide more coverage and brighter illumination of the road in front of you, so it will be easier for you to see what’s coming too.
Ride a More Vividly Coloured Bike
A black bike looks awesome, but it’s next to impossible to see at night. You don’t have to you avoid dark plastics or accessories, but it’s something worth considering if you do a lot of night riding. If all things are equal and you have the opportunity to choose a brighter colour, it may arguably benefit you at night.
Use your high beam, indicators and brake light. A human’s brain is designed to be attuned to changes in the environment, so we tend to ignore the tail-lights ahead of us when they aren’t doing anything. Using you indicators, brake light and high beam helps to alert other drivers to your presence and also your intentions. This may seem painfully obvious, but modulating your lights will make you more noticeable to surrounding motorists, even on a subliminal level.
Do make sure you pay attention to your own surroundings. You alone are ultimately in charge of your personal safety. And while some dangerous situations are unavoidable, the best way to survive one is to avoid it in the first place. Stay out of other motorists’ blind spot. Maintain a safe following distance and be mindful of your lane position. Don’t ever put yourself in a position to rely on someone else’s decision making skills.
This article is about being seen during the night time, but it’s worth mentioning how helpful it is to be heard. Adding lights to your motorcycle and riding down the road like a travelling carnival should be enough to catch the attention of your fellow motorists, but in the event that it isn’t, be prepared to make your presence heard. Just a quick note on establishing an auditory presence out on the roadway:-
Don’t expect Loud Pipes to Help Make You Heard. This is counter-productive, dangerous and untrue. The only people who can hear your loud pipes are behind you, and the vast majority of threats are going to come from the front. Do think About a Horn Upgrade
You do still have options for beefing up your auditory presence in a helpful way, though. Motorcycle manufacturers don’t put a lot of design and manufacturing effort into finding the perfect horn.
Consider swapping in one of several air horn alternatives:
If you need to get someone’s attention and they can’t see you, they’ll definitely hear you.
Other Safe Riding Tips
This goes hand in hand with the age-old advice to never drive faster than you can see. At night, you can’t see nearly as far, so it makes sense that you would want to go slower. Give your fellow motorists time to process you, and give yourself more time to process your surroundings.
Increase Following Distances
In general, if we’re riding in the dark, it means we’ve been up all day. In addition to normal physiological reactions to darkness, the fatigue of simply being awake all day and into the night is enough to slow down our reaction times. So…….
Not only should you reduce your speed, but you should also increase your following distance. This gives everyone additional time to react should a dangerous situation develop.
All of this advice can be boiled down to two words …. Be alert.
Pay attention to the situation and know your limits. If you are getting tired, find somewhere safe to pull-up and take a break to wake up.
Everyone will agree that night-time riding is riskier regardless of how well prepared you are. Sleepy, distracted and potentially intoxicated drivers make your journey an unpredictable string of potentially dangerous encounters. That said, a little preparation will go a long way. So too will extra focus and alertness on your part.
Modern motorcycles are meant to look cool in the daytime and comply with the minimum thresholds set by the EU.
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