Motorcycle Night Riding – Tips for Staying Safe
How To Stay Safe When You Ride At Night?
Plenty of research has been done looking into motorcycle safety. You can find enough stats to scare you away from your bike forever on Wikipedia’s Motorcycle Safety page. These are some of the spookier statistics:
- According to the U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, Motorcyclists are 35 times more likely to die in a fatal accident as drivers of other types of vehicles.
- According to a national study by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, motorcyclists under the age of 40 are 36 times more likely to be killed than automobile operators in the same age bracket.
You will find precious few statistics on night riding specifically; however, it should be obvious that riding at night is more dangerous than riding during the day.
Riding a motorcycle at night is a lot like driving a car at night, except you have less than half as much rubber keeping you on the road. And your “windshield” is much smaller. Even if your ride of choice is a Honda Goldwing, you’re still less visible than a Toyota Camry on the road. Where a car has fenders and bumpers separating its driver from traffic, you have little more than your wits and your limbs doing the same job when you’re on your motorcycle. The stakes are a lot higher. You need to be a lot more careful. You need to know what you’re up against and take steps to protect yourself in order to stay safe when you ride at night.
This will come up again, but your “contact patch,” the little patch of tire touching the pavement or asphalt, is what keeps you from flying off the road when you ride your motorcycle around a corner. It’s not obvious at first, but your bike has less than half the rubber on the ground as your car – even though it has exactly half as many tires.
Why is that?
It’s because your bike leans through corners. Your car’s suspension is designed to keep your tires straight up and down when you drive around a corner. Your bike’s suspension does no such thing. Your motorcycle’s tires are designed to rest on their “fat spot” when you lean your way through a corner.
What does this mean for motorcyclists?
It means you need to be more careful. Regardless of what kind of motorcycle you ride, it’s capable of hair-raising speeds around corners. That doesn’t mean you have to put all of your bike’s grip to good use, especially at night, when you might not be able to see the road and its hazards as well as you can during the day. It pays to slow down when you ride at night. We’ll talk more about this toward the end of the article, but the first thing you should do when you ride at night is SLOW DOWN.
We swear by “ATGATT,” and we think you should, too. What does ATGATT stand for? It stands for All The Gear, All The Time. All the gear means all the gear. It means wearing a helmet, leather gloves, an abrasion-resistant jacket and pants, and a good pair of riding boots every single time you leave the house on your motorcycle. A road racer wouldn’t dream of going out on a hot track wearing anything less than a one-piece leather suit, armored boots, a back protector, gauntlet gloves, and a good helmet with a sparkling clean visor. For some reason, many motorcyclists think it’s OK to head out on the street – with all of its hazards, including cars and debris on the road – wearing significantly less gear.
It’s not OK.
It’s not safe.
You shouldn’t ride your motorcycle during the day without gear, let alone at night, when visibility is significantly reduced.
It’s not your visibility you should be worried about. You have plenty of control over how well you see at night. You can take steps to ensure you can see as well as you possibly can:
- Ensure your visor is clean by wiping it down with Windex and a paper towel
- Get your eyes checked
- Make sure you’re wearing the right corrective lenses
Your family will thank you after you finish telling them the story about how Bambi ran out in front of you and lived to tell his family about it, too.
You need to be able to see and see well if you’re going to ride your motorcycle at night. By the same logic, everyone else on the road needs to be able to see and see well, too. But you have absolutely no control over other people’s eyes, windshields, and judgment. How can you protect yourself against people who are too lazy to keep their windshields clean or too distracted to see you?
All you can do is assume nobody on the road can see you and ride accordingly. This is how I ride all the time, even during daylight hours, but it’s at least twice as important after the sun goes down. I never, ever assume someone else can see me. The stakes are too high when I’m riding my motorcycle. If I assume they can see me, and they hit me because they can’t, the consequences are bigger than a fender bender. Like every other rider in the world, I don’t like missing out on my life because I’m laid up in the hospital after someone hit me on my motorcycle.
Even if it’s someone else’s fault, I don’t want to have to deal with it. I don’t want to deal with missing work, with being hurt, with having to think about my family worrying about me when they get the news that I went down. That’s why I assume nobody can see me when I’m on my motorcycle, and why I ride accordingly.
Making yourself more visible
Although it’s a good idea to assume nobody can see you when you’re riding your motorcycle, there are steps you can take to make yourself more visible to other people on the road. Your nighttime gear should be covered in reflective tape. You can buy gear with reflective tape or add it later. Depending on the law where you live, you may want to consider modifying your headlights and brake lights, making them flash when activated by installing a modulator.
If you hang out with a lot of guys who ride, and you should given a huge part of motorcycling is social, you’ll hear stories about how motorists are attracted to flashing lights, especially when they’re drunk and driving at night. The story usually involves a person who installed a flashing light on his bicycle and was hit by a drunk driver attracted by the flashing light. As a motorcyclist, you have to be riding too slow to be safe in order to have a driver attempt an unsafe pass on a 2 lane road, drunk or not. The flashing light on the rear end of your bike, assuming it’s legal where you live, goes a long way toward making sure drivers know you’re in front of them.
Maintaining your bike
We don’t often consider basic maintenance a safety measure, but we should. Compared to a car, your motorcycle is a finely tuned machine. The torque-specs on its fasteners are lighter. Depending on your choice of bike, the engine itself may be a load-bearing part of the frame. Compared to a car, your motorcycle makes a ridiculous amount of power for its weight.
That’s what makes it so much fun to ride!
The stakes are high enough during the day. But they get even higher at night.
Let’s say you’re coasting to a stop at night, using the engine to do most of the braking, when your chain snaps because you went all summer without checking its tension. Your bike lurches forward, and you dive on the front brake before you run into the F-150 stopped at the light in front of you. But it’s night time! Remember? You fail to see the patch of gravel on the road and tuck the front, falling down before coming to a stop underneath the F-150. If you’re lucky, you can use your bruised ego to help you pick your bike up again and call someone to tow you home. If you’re not so lucky, your family will get some very, very bad news about you.
If you don’t have the skills or the tools to maintain your bike by yourself, make sure you budget enough money every year to have it done for you. Motorcycles aren’t as good at staying shiny-side-up when they break as cars are, so make sure your bike is in tip-top shape before you ride it. You should have a pre-ride checklist, on paper or in your head, and you should treat riding your bike more like flying a plane than driving a car by using the checklist to make sure everything is safe before you ride.
I’m not joking – SLOW DOWN!
“Faster and faster… until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death.”
Hunter S. Thompson
You probably ride a motorcycle because you like to go fast. You like to go fast because it’s thrilling, because it makes you feel like you’re cheating death. As motorcyclists, going fast makes our hearts race, and that’s exactly what makes riding a motorcycle an exciting way to get around. But the #1 thing you can do to stay safe at night on a motorcycle is slow way, way down!
You can’t see as much at night, including road debris that will bring you down faster than a banana peel in a Warner Brother’s cartoon. You see even less when you’re going faster than you should be going. You need to be even more careful if you ride a custom bike because there’s a good chance your bike can go fast enough to outrun your headlamp if you bought it from an aftermarket retailer!
How could you possibly outrun your headlamp, given the speed of light is really, really fast?
Let’s do the math.
At 80 miles an hour, you’re screaming along at about 120 feet per second. If your headlight is just bright enough for you to see 120 feet in front of you, that gives you 1s to react to objects as they come into your field of vision. Even if you have reflexes fit for the drag strip, you will take at least 0.5s to react, leaving another 0.5s to do something about what’s happening in front of you. I don’t know about you, but I want more than a half a second to cheat death when I’m riding my motorcycle at night. That’s why I slow way, way down.
Adjust your attitude
Motorcyclists aren’t known for being cautious. If we were that cautious we would all trade our bikes in for Volvos and call it a day. Popular depictions of motorcyclists paint us as revolutionaries, renegades, and criminals who care as much about other people’s safety as we do our own. Very little, at best.
There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots. If you ever get a chance to hang around a group of motorcycle racers, you’ll find they often refer to themselves as “pilots” instead of “riders” or even “racers.”
That’s because they recognize the dangers inherent to what they do, and they take steps to mitigate those dangers. A racer’s #1 job is to go fast. His #2 job is to conduct himself in such a way that going fast is as safe as possible, both for himself and his fellow racers. As a responsible motorcyclist, it’s your job to take a cue from pilots and racers who make it a point to stay safe when they push the limits of their bodies and machines.
As a motorcyclist using public roads, your #1 job is to stay safe regardless of what time of day you ride – for yourself, your family, and your fellow motorists. If you haven’t already, it’s time to stop pretending like you’re invincible and start adopting an attitude concerned with safety and caution. Your future depends on it, and your family will appreciate the fact that you have stories to tell about riding your motorcycle instead of crashing it.