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Six Secrets to Riding at Night

By David L. Hough

Once in a while you choose to ride at night. Maybe you’re still a few hundred miles short of your destination when the sun sets, or you want to make a night-time transit to get to a rally in the next state tomorrow morning. Obviously, the big problem is not being able to see what’s happening. It’s important to keep your lights working correctly to be prepared. And it won’t hurt to have extra reflectors and lights on the back of the bike, and large reflective panels on your riding gear. It’s important to stay hydrated, and insulated from the colder night air.

1. Use clear eye protection to maximize your low-light vision. If you normally use a tinted faceshield in the daytime, carry a clear shield with you, so that you can switch for night riding. If your faceshield has an anti-fog insert, remove it, to avoid extraneous reflections. Clean your eye protection at every rest break, using warm, soapy water, to remove bug splatter without scratching the surface. If your faceshield is scratched, it would be wise to replace it before riding at night.

2. Take frequent rest breaks to help stay alert. Your brain is programmed to fall asleep when it gets dark. If you start to nod off while riding, take a break as soon as possible for a short “power nap.” A cup of coffee is fine, but drink the coffee just before your nap, to help you wake up. If a rest area appears safe, lie down on a picnic table wearing your full gear, and nap for 15 or 20 minutes. Endurance riders often take a snooze sitting in the saddle with the bike on the centerstand (the “iron butt motel”). If a short nap doesn’t refresh you, that’s a clue you should scrub the ride, find lodging and get a good night’s sleep.

3. Learn to shift your focus from an oncoming vehicle to the white fog line at the right edge of the road. If you focus on the lights of an oncoming vehicle, the chemical change in your central vision will leave you blind for several seconds after the vehicle passes. Focused on the fog line, you will still be able to see the situation in your peripheral vision, and when you refocus your central vision on the road your eyes will be adjusted for the darkness.

4. Separate yourself from commercial trucks. It’s very difficult for a truck driver to keep track of a motorcycle in the mirrors. Change speed as necessary to avoid riding alongside or immediately behind a truck. If a truck passes you, drop back to give the driver room to pull back into line. Avoid riding in the center of the lane, to avoid oil and fuel dribbles and loose debris. Be aware that truck tire treads (“rubber alligators”) are known to separate and fly off into traffic. A steel-belted truck tread can do serious damage and injury.

5. Watch for drunk drivers between 11pm and 2am, especially on weekends. Your risks double during those hours. If your travel plans allow, avoid riding through big cities at night. Separate yourself from any vehicle that is wandering in the lane or changing speed erratically. And never, ever consider drinking an alcoholic beverage yourself before or during a ride. Alcohol degrades judgment, vision, and hearing. About half of motorcycle fatalities are linked to alcohol.

6. Be aware of the situation, to avoid confrontations with crooks, weirdos, and funsters. Never allow another vehicle to pace you. While you are pulling into a gas station, rest area, or café parking lot, scrutinize the people and vehicles already there. If something doesn’t seem right, just keep rolling and find another place to stop. Carry a few dollars and a credit card in an outside jacket pocket, to pay for fuel or snacks. Keep your main wallet in an inside pocket.


The Good Rider- by David HoughDavid L. Hough ("huff”) is a veteran motorcyclist and journalist, with more than a million miles of riding experience over 48 years. Dave was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 2009 in recognition of his efforts toward improving motorcyclist skills and knowledge. He is the author of several highly respected skills books, including Proficient Motorcycling and The Good Rider, available from store.soundrider.com

The author and Sound RIDER! are willing to grant permission to reprint this column at no charge for educational purposes by clubs and non-profit organizations including the military. Contact sreditor@soundrider.com for more details, full size photos and a full transcript of this article.


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