Touring Tip: Be a Safer Night Rider

Aug 09, 2017 View Comments by

A rider’s risk factors increase once the sun goes down. To avoid an accident, it’s important to see and be seen.

Here are some tips for avoiding road hazards at night:

  • Keep a Clear View: In low light conditions, wearing sunglasses or having a tinted shield on your helmet further diminishes your already restricted ability to spot road hazards.
  • Check Headlight Adjustment: Changing load conditions on a motorcycle can alter where the bike’s headlight falls on the road. Make sure the headlight on your loaded bike is adjusted properly before it gets dark.
  • Upgrade Your Headlight Bulb: If your bike’s headlight puts out a relatively weak beam, upgrade it with a more powerful bulb. Always carry an extra one and know how to install it.
  • Add Auxiliary Lights: There’s a reason why most bikes set up for round-the-clock Iron Butt events have additional lights mounted on them: they’re riding long hours, often at high speeds, in the dark, and must have more illumination than is provided by just a headlight.
  • Use Your High Beam: Whenever there’s no oncoming traffic, shift to your high beam. This will help you spot hazards farther down the road and peripherally.
  • Don’t Deer Me: If your route leads through wooded or rural areas, assume that deer will be present and ride accordingly: slow down, ride in the left one-third of your lane (when there is no oncoming traffic), keep fingers resting on the front brake handle and clutch, and be alert to potential hazards materializing suddenly from the roadside.
  • Protect Your Night Vision: If you stare at the lights of an oncoming vehicle, your pupils will constrict and dramatically reduce your night vision. Focus instead on the white line on the shoulder until the vehicle passes.
  • Position Your Bike Defensively: If you’re following a four-wheeled vehicle at night, your ability to spot and react to road hazards is reduced. If you’re riding in the middle of your lane and the vehicle ahead straddles something in the road, you’ll be lucky to spot it in time to take evasive action. However, if you follow that vehicle’s left rear tail light, you’ll know if there’s a road hazard in your path, because the vehicle will likely swerve to miss it. And a few tips for increasing your visibility at night.
  • Be Reflective: Aside from the reflectors that came with your bike, it’s a good idea to add reflective material to your saddlebags, rear fender, and riding gear. It’s also advantageous to have reflectors affixed to your helmet, because they’re closer to the line of sight of other drivers and more easily seen.
  • Add Auxiliary Lights: In addition to helping riders see better, auxiliary lights also make it easier for them to be spotted by others, including pedestrians, who otherwise may step into your path. A triangle configuration composed of the headlight and two lower mounted auxiliary lights will help others better estimate your distance and closing speed.
  • Avoid Blind Spots: Staying out of a car or truck’s blind spots is critical at night. Position your bike so you and your lights are clearly visible in the rear view mirrors of other vehicles.
  • Signal Your Intent: Riders should always use their turn signals for turns and when switching lanes.
  • Augment Your Brake Light: Install a device that causes your brake light to pulse when the brakes are applied. There are also lights that can be mounted on the rear of your helmet; these receive a wireless signal when brakes are applied. Several manufacturers offer these products.
  • Do a Once-Over: It doesn’t do much good to have headlights, tail lights, turn signals, and auxiliary lights if they’re not all working. So check them before it gets dark.One final tip: because riding at night is inherently more dangerous, just don’t do it unless circumstances demand it.

Text and Photography: James T. Parks


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