Do you like riding your bike when darkness falls? Insidebikes asked experienced road tester and racer Adam Child to give us his best tips to keep you safer and smoother when night falls…
The clocks have sprung forward, we’re venturing out after work and making the most of the extended light. But all too often, even in the middle of summer, we can get caught out and find ourselves riding home in the darkness. That second, final, brew and extended chat in a mate’s garage went on a little too long, so when you eventually open the garage door you discover total darkness. We’ve all done it, but don’t be fazed by riding at night. Some riders prefer it and in 24 hour World Endurance Racing some professional racers actually ride faster and smoother in the dark. Here’s our guide to making the most of riding at night and more importantly keeping safe, you never know you might start to like it. I do.
Reflect a bit:
The current Euro 4 regulations require all new bikes to have orange side reflectors. It’s something that has been a requirement in America for years and although they are not a legal requirement for older bikes, they are a good idea. If your bike is pre- Euro 4, then it’s worth adding some side reflectors or reflective stickers. The can be subtle and in keeping with the bikes design and style. Spotting a stationary bike from the side at a junction at night can be hard work, and this is a cheap and easy way to help you get seen by other road users.
Ideally you want to avoid excessive suspension travel at night. Braking heavily pushes the headlight into the ground, and rapid acceleration does the opposite. Try to be a little smoother at night. If you’ve added a pillion, luggage or both, you might want to add some pre-load to the rear suspension. This will not only improve the handling but should also prevent from the rear from ‘sitting down’ too much. Adding weight to the rear, forces the shock down and the front slightly up, this means your headlight is higher than it should be, causing problems for oncoming motorists and meaning that they are not throwing light where you need them to. Adding pre-load will help reduce the amount the bike sits on the rear shock, especially under hard acceleration
Unexpected hazards and animals come out at night and are strangely attracted to your headlight. Pheasants, owls and even foxes, I’ve had near misses with them all at night. In town, drunks and taxi drivers are your worst nightmare. Ride through most major cities late on a Saturday night and its comical as drunken zombies wander the streets with no road sense what so ever.
When you ride fast at night, it can give a greater sensation of speed, like you’re in Star Wars, but you should only be riding as far as you can see. You wouldn’t ride fast in the fog, but you would at night, when visibility is the same – why? Don’t get carried away, you’re not Luke Skywalker.
Scratches will distort your vision at night, especially oncoming headlights. All too often I see bikers wearing old helmets with badly scratched visors – change them. A new visor can be as little as £25 or under, it makes a huge difference, especially at night. You wouldn’t wear scratched glasses for reading, so why use a scratched visor?
Also, make sure you wear a clear visor (or at least have one with you) if you think there is a chance you’ll be riding home in darkness. A dark visor is a strict no, no at night time.
Cat eyes are like a guide dog; they are there to help and give you a hint as what is to come. They not only give you an indication as to which way the road twists and turns, but also if it’s legal to overtake. Don’t forget motorways have different coloured cat’s eyes, red on the hard shoulder, amber on the outside lane and green on slip roads.
Riders always tense up when they’re nervous, try to relax and enjoy the darkness. Ease off the power, relax on the bike, loosen your grip and chill out. There’s usually less traffic at night, enjoy the fuss free ride home. Some 24 hour world endurance riders ride just as fast or faster at night, these are the ones who have a smooth natural style. Try to the to do the same. Think smooth and relaxing.
It still might not be perceived as being fashionable, but it’s important to be seen; florescent or reflective clothing really makes a difference. Some motorcycle clothing has built in reflective strips even gloves and boots, but I’d still advise a reflective vest or waistcoat. If you don’t want to wear one in the day time, store one under your seat which you can always whip out for diminishing light conditions.
Keep your headlight clean for obvious reasons. Most garages will have a simple sponge and water; don’t forget to clean indicators and brake lights at the same time. Also check your bulbs from time-to-time, both high and low beam.
It can be hard, but try to avoid looking directly into oncoming headlights. I know it’s tempting but if you think the oncoming headlights are on full beam, don’t flash back as you may dazzle them and cause momentary blindness; simply reduce your pace to a safe speed and avoid looking directly at the oncoming vehicle. Look towards the gutter rather than the central white line.
Obviously it’s harder to spot potential dangers at night, therefore use all your senses and look out for clues. Sometimes you can smell a storm or rain before you see it, use your sixth sense. You can usually smell diesel before you can see it, adjust your speed accordingly.
For example, just because you can see a car in the distance it doesn’t mean the road is straight, there may be a hidden dip or turn. The same rule applies for overtaking, if you can’t see a clear and safe overtake, don’t guess. A broken-down car, or tractor without tails lights can be hiding in a dip or around a blind corner.