“I’m scared to ride in the dark,” is one of the chief concerns we hear, even from riders with a few years under their belt. You shouldn’t be, here’s how to ride a motorcycle at night, safely.
Once the sun goes down, it’s not just your vision that decreases, so does that of everyone around you. Check out our article, Eight Ways To Make Your Motorcycle More Visible for advice on helping other road users see you.
The Danger With Darkness
With reduced vision, it becomes much harder to spot hazards, judge corners and plan ahead. And planning ahead is essential for safe riding.
Making matters worse, nighttime brings additional hazards for the motorcyclist: drunk drivers, animals in the road and decreased temperatures.
After the sun goes down, many rural routes also become nearly abandoned, meaning help from a passing motorist becomes even less likely.
If you’re heading out into the night, you need to keep all those factors in mind. Here's what you can do to make sure you stay safe.
Increase Your Vision
To increase your vision, make sure your headlights are properly adjusted. First, consult your owner’s manual for instructions; this could be as easy as grabbing a big round headlight with your hands and twisting up and down or could involve removing fairing pieces and twiddling screw adjusters. Every bike I’ve ever encountered has had some sort of adjustment.
Once you’ve figured out how to do it, go find a dark, level parking area with a big, uncluttered wall in front of it. Park 100 yards or so from it, sit on your bike in your usual gear, making sure your weight is taken by the suspension, giving it its normal sag. Now, alternate between high and low beam. Low should illuminate the area between your bike and the wall, high should hit the wall from the ground up. Spend time adjusting your headlight, then hopping back on your bike until you achieve the proper setting. Out on the road, pay attention to your illumination and make sure you’re happy with it. If you aren’t, tweak it a little further.
It sounds obvious, but make sure you’re keeping your headlight lens clean and free of moisture or other occlusions. A little dirt, dust or condensation can have a major impact on the efficacy of your headlight.
You should also check to ensure your headlight bulbs are relatively new. They grow dimmer as they age. As a rule of thumb, replace yours every year or so, if you’re riding regularly.
Want to upgrade your headlight? Brighter bulbs are available for most reflector-type lamps. Just stick your bike year, make and model in Google, followed by a “headlight upgrade” or a similar search term. For instance, here’s a ton of advice on upgrading the headlight on a Monster owned by RideApart staffer Sean MacDonald.
If you have a projector-type headlight, you can perform an HID conversion relatively easily, but you will need some knowledge of working with electrics. Consult an owner’s forum for model-specific reviews and recommendations.
Aftermarket auxiliary lights are probably the most effective (and expensive) upgrade though. This Baja Designs kit for the Triumph Tiger 800, for instance, costs $680, but takes advantage of the latest LED technology to add 3,600 Lumens. You can’t get brighter than that.
Address The Dangers
A car coming at you on a dark road with it’s high beam on? Focus your vision on the white line painted on the road’s right to avoid being dazzled. It tracks the path of the roadway, so you’ll be able to follow the corners and track the line.
The headlights of other vehicles aren’t just a distraction though. Following another vehicle? Look ahead into the area illuminated by its headlights to see further ahead. You can also look out for approaching vehicles; their headlamps will make them apparent much earlier than during the day time. They can also silhouette potential obstacles and hazards, allowing you to identify and react to them sooner.
Late at night, be aware that the prevalence of drunk or otherwise impaired drivers will increase. Do all the bars in your area let out at the same time? Avoid the road for the hour following that period. Always be on the look out for drivers behaving in an unpredictable manner and give them plenty of room. And, always keep them in front of you; you can control your special relationship with another vehicle if it’s in the front, not if it’s in the rear. Be especially careful at redlights, stop signs and at an intersection, where impaired drivers are known to speed through without stopping. Flash your brake lights while stopped, keep your bike in gear, look in your mirrors and be ready to move out of the way if you spot an approaching risk.
Animals are even less predictable than drunk drivers. They can leap from brush at the roadside at the last second, giving you no time to take evasive maneuvers. On a bike, even an animal the size of a raccoon or possum can cause you to crash, while deer and moose can be fatal. The trick here is to be aware of what animals are prevalent in your area, become familiar with the places you can expect to encounter them, then be on watch for them. Slow down, it’s the best way to ride safer.
In mountainous areas or even out in the desert, you can expect nighttime temperatures to dip deeply below daytime temperatures. Ride somewhere during the day and you may be sweating, while at that same place at night, you could literally be freezing. In 50-degree temperatures, a 55 mph wind blast will make it feel like it’s 25 degrees out. Check weather forecasts and prepare accordingly. A pair of silk glove liners, a balaclava and a windproof jacket liner stashed in a bag, pocket or under a seat can be a huge help.
With the road less populated, you should also prepare to fix any common mechanical problems yourself. Attach a small LED flashlight fitted with a lithium battery to your keychain or stick one in your toolkit. Quality lithium batteries have a 10-year shelf life and provide more illumination while LED lights require no bulb replacement and are more rugged. I carry a Maratac AAA on my keychain; it’s brighter than a three D-Cell MagLite.
If you have Halogen lights, also carry a spare bulb and everyone should have spare fuses and a fuse puller in their tool kit. You can’t ride at night if you don’t have a headlight. A taillight bulb is also a good idea.
Because you’ll have a harder time spotting debris, your chances of a puncturing a tire increase. If you have tubed tires, install Slime in them right now, it’ll help prevent punctures. If you have the more common tubeless items, carry a can of Fix-a-Flat. It’ll get you rolling again in 60 seconds; much better than fiddling with a puncture repair kit on the side of a dark highway with cars speeding past. You can fix your tire for real when you get someplace safer.
For purposes of not getting mown-down by an 18-wheeler, be especially careful to stop somewhere well off the road and, if possible, illuminated. Leave your lights on if you’re anywhere a car could veer off the road and hit you, just be aware of battery life.
Still, the best safety advice we can give you applies during the daytime too: only ride as fast as you can see. Always be able to come to a complete stop or to take other evasive action within the distance you’re able to see ahead. That way, should a deer leap out or a drunk driver veer into your lane or if you suddenly spot a patch of gravel, you’ll be able to avoid that hazard rather than hit it.
Ride Brighter: Baja Designs Squadron Lights
Ride More Visibly: 8 Ways To Make Your Motorcycle More Visible