Sometimes riding a motorcycle can become a little sketchy, bad weather is one example but another is definitely riding a motorcycle at night.
Many of us avoid riding at night as we just don’t need to, or if we do, it is a rare experience where maybe we stayed out later than expected, covering long distances such as on a motorcycle camping trip and riding in the dark can’t be avoided.
Some bikers though ride all year, in all weather, day or night, particularly those of us that commute to work on our motorcycle.
Night riding comes with an extra risk.
Some are amplified versions of the same dangers experienced in the day like other road users’ visibility and others are more applicable to riding during the later hours such as an increased risk of drunk drivers.
So, we have pulled together all the information you need to ensure you can ride as safely as possible at night, whether it’s a one off or part of your regular routine.
Let’s get started by identifying the hidden dangers of riding at night.
Dangers of Riding a Motorcycle at Night
The fundamental problem with riding at night is obviously a lack of light.
Everything is different once you can’t see clearly, obstacles that are obvious in the day are harder to see, animals/people in the road are harder to spot etc.
Motorcyclists, pedestrians and cyclists are all more at risk of serious harm and even death than car drivers due to the lack of protection when they are out and about.
The Insurance Information Institute states “In 2019, motorcyclists were nearly 29 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a crash per vehicle miles travelled.”
So it is important to be aware of the dangers because knowledge is power, and there are steps you can take to help avoid disastrous situations.
Here are the key dangers for motorcyclists riding at night:
The most obvious danger is that when the dark sets in, visibility is going to be limited. This has a double-sided effect for bikers, both of which increase the level of risk.
In the dark other road users may struggle to see a motorcycle, and the riders ability to see will also be reduced. Neither of these situations are great.
A serious hazard is being dazzled by headlights.
Modern headlights can be very bright and at night when the road is dark, suddenly getting covered in bright light can be distracting and dangerous.
Additionally many motorcyclists have a tinted visor on their helmet which is great for riding in the day in the sunshine, but when dusk ushers in the night, the tinted visor can make things very dark and limit visibility if you don’t have a transparent one to switch too.
As soon as the light begins to fade and darkness engulfs the road, you begin to rely solely on your headlights, and street lighting to be able to see; sometimes you encounter roads with limited or no street lighting and all you have is the range of your headlights.
As great as modern headlights can be, they still have a limited range.
So, potholes, changes in the road surface, debris, oil, water etc. all pose a significant hazard at night as you can encounter them quickly with less time to have seen them in advance than in the daytime.
Animals running out in the road are dangerous for motorcyclists at all times, but even more so at night when they are significantly more active.
They can come out of nowhere from the side of the road, and while some may keep on running across the road, some stop and freeze. Either way, if a bike hits any animal at speed it isn’t going to end well for either party.
Unfortunately drunk drivers are a risk at all times, but common sense applies in thinking at night when the bars start to close is when they are most likely to be on the road.
When the roads are quieter later in the evening, someone with poor judgement may deem it safe to get behind the wheel and drive home.
Alcohol will affect their ability to drive, affect their vision, likelihood of spotting a motorcyclist or anyone else on the road and the consequences can be disastrous.
Another serious issue with alcohol was recorded by the NHTSA with their 2019 Traffic Fact Sheet:
- “In 2019 motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes had higher percentages of alcohol impairment than drivers of any other motor vehicle type (29% for motorcycles, 20% for passenger cars, 19% for light trucks, and 2% for large trucks).
- Forty-two percent of motorcycle riders who died in single-vehicle crashes in 2019 were alcohol-impaired.
- Motorcycle riders killed in traffic crashes at night were almost three times more frequently alcohol-impaired”
Not only is riding at night a risk with other drivers being drunk, but clearly there is an issue among some riders drinking and putting themselves at higher risk than other road users.
An underestimated risk of riding a motorcycle at night is drowsiness.
If you have been on a long ride or at work all day and are riding home, you are going to be tired. It is only natural but the dark can exasperate this feeling and cause you to become drowsy.
The consequences of which are obviously serious when you are riding a motorcycle and fall asleep.
The best weapon you have against the dangers of night riding is to learn how to use your in-built night vision.
Your eyes adjust to the dark when they settle, so while your sight is impaired it isn’t completely useless.
Make sure you take some time before riding if you are stepping out into the dark from the light to let your eyes fully adjust before just setting off for a ride. This adjustment period will help you be ready for your journey.
The absolute best thing to be aware of is to avoid looking directly at any sources of light, particularly any headlights or street lights on the road.
If you look to the outside edge of the road instead of directly into oncoming headlights your eyes shouldn’t be too dazzled and you can keep your line in the centre of the road safely.
Also, you should use the length of both your headlight beam and others on the road to watch out for road debris and potholes etc.
Treat the light as an extension of your vision, using it as guidance for distance and where it is safe to travel and where it isn’t.
Be aware that slowing down will give you more time to assess what is ahead of you in the dark and therefore more time to react if need be.
Absolutely essential to obtaining optimum riding visibility at night is to keep your visor clear, clean and free from scratches.
Any water, dirt or bugs on your visor is going to impair your vision and this gets amplified at night. Water will reflect the lights on the road causing your vision to be blurry, so it is important to keep this as clear as possible.
Further to which a scratch in a visor can also cause lights on the road to reflect off in different directions which can be distracting and dangerous.
If you are planning to ride in the dark therefore make sure your visor is up to the task.
Alongside adjusting your eyes let’s take a look at some key tips for night riding.
7 Tips for Riding Safely at Night
Reduce Riding Speed
Whenever you are unsure about something when you are riding a motorcycle just ride slower, it is the best and most sensible thing to do.
You don’t need to over-react and slow things down to a snail’s pace, but just pull back more than your normal riding speed.
This will allow you a few extra seconds to assess your situation, look out for obstacles in the road, check out your surroundings and prepare for the next bend etc.
By reducing your speed you are also giving other road users more time to see you, it isn’t a guarantee but taking your time instead of speeding by in a flash should allow them to spot you from a distance and adjust if needed.
Only ride as fast as you can see ahead, that way you aren’t going to ride ahead of yourself and be caught short if there is an obstacle or animal in the road ahead. I find that if I stick to the speed limits when in darkness I’m riding within myself.
Don’t Look Directly Into Headlights
We have mentioned this, but it is important so we will mention it again!
Avoid looking into the headlights of oncoming traffic, just don’t do it, it will make your journey a lot easier, less scary and stressful on your eyes.
Don’t Indulge In Risky Behaviour
As tempting as it is when the road is clear to blip the throttle and go hell for leather, it is a mistake that may mean you won’t be able to ride again.
Biking during the late hours is full of risk, therefore it should be done with caution and patience exercised.
While the road may be empty of other vehicles there is no guarantee that there isn’t a deer ready to run across your path, or a broken down vehicle obstructing the road around the bend.
Roads in darkness are not the place to pretend you are the next Rossi, save it for a day at the track.
Use a Clear Visor for Night Riding
If you normally ride with a tinted visor and are planning a night ride, then make sure you have a clear visor with you to switch out for the later hours journey.
Any helmet visor whether with a colour tint or not, is designed to reduce/change the amount of light that passes through it.
In darkness you need as much light as you can possibly get to ride safely and so a clear visor is the absolute best way forward.
Experience and Preparation
If you have never ridden during nightfall, but you are planning a trip or due to start commuting late, then you should gain some experience first.
Try going around your neighbourhood during nightfall, just going slowly and on familiar roads to start with.
This way can adjust to the different style and all the new hazards you face as a motorcyclist.
Slowly you can extend your rides and try different roads to build your confidence.
You should also add some additional bits to your riding gear as essentials.
If you were to break down on a country road with no street lights, you need to be able to make yourself visible, so a powerful torch is a good idea.
High Viz reflective strips on your clothing and bike is a good way for other vehicles to spot you.
It is generally colder after nightfall so be prepared to dress accordingly with thicker jackets and gloves.
Make sure your phone is fully charged up and you are able to contact someone if you need help.
Check Your Lights and Make Yourself Visible
Is your motorcycle headlamp powerful enough, does it illuminate the road far enough ahead that you are comfortable?
If not, then maybe think about swapping them to some brighter LED lights that are great for riding after dusk and will be powerful enough to light up the road safely for you.
If night riding is going to be a regular occurrence you might even want to consider an adaptive headlight.
If you plan on doing a lot of night time riding an adaptive headlight can make a big difference
- Beam follows your lean so lights up corners
- Works on both low and high beam
- Eliminates dark corners
- Fills road with light up to 1500ft ahead
Also check your rear lights and turn signals, can other road users spot you from behind and see your brake lights and turning signals or should these be upgraded too to something more substantial?
When out late you want to be as visible as possible to those around you, so throwing some extra high viz on won’t do any harm.
Stickers for your motorcycle, helmet, reflective tape for your jacket and legs are all solid choices.
You can even get reflective strips for your wheels and underglow lights for the body of the motorcycle.
You may feel more like a rolling Christmas tree than a motorcycle but surely that is better than not being seen at all?
Avoid Alcohol and Drugs
It is so simple and yet as we pointed out earlier bikers are more likely to be in an accident as a result of alcohol use.
Just avoid riding after drinking or taking drugs.
It doesn’t matter how much or little you have consumed, the fact is your judgement and riding ability will be further impaired at a time when riding is already more hazardous than it is in the daytime.
Don’t become one of this year’s statistics, it isn’t worth it.
Riding a motorcycle is amazing and those of us that ride do so largely because we love it but sometimes it becomes a necessity and riding at night may fit into that box.
By following the tips in this post, you will be able to make safer choices for night riding and stay the right way up on the road.
Lastly, riding in a group at night or with a buddy, is always good fun and as long as you still ride sensibly, it will mean you are also more visible on the road and your visibility will be increased.
Overall, get out there, be safe and have some fun.