Low-Light and Night Motorcycle Riding Safety Tips

2015 Harley-Davidson CVO lineup at night

Even though the days are finally getting longer as we slowly swing back toward summer, wherever you live in the northern hemisphere, the hours of darkness will still take up more of your potential riding time.

That means on those days when you can get out and ride, there is a greater likelihood that you will spend at least a part of the ride in low-light or night riding conditions.

During the height of the summer months, a moonlight cruise on a balmy night has a special sort of appeal and can be one of the most memorable motorcycle experiences you’ll ever have. Unfortunately, night riding presents a special set of hazards and requires specific strategies to counter them.

Of course your bike has lights and you use them all the time, right? That’s strategy number one, but there are other things that figure into safe riding under those conditions. Let’s have a look at top strategies for safer riding at night and in low-light conditions.

2015 Ducati Multistrada S Headlight1. Lights and action:

Dirt and bugs caked on the headlight can materially reduce how much light you have out front so making sure all your bike’s lights are working, are properly aimed and have clean, intact lenses is critical.

Carry spare bulbs and the correct lighting circuit fuses in your pack—finding a place to get those items after hours can be tough particularly out on rural rides. Consider upgrading the bulb in older bike lighting systems. Halogens, other bulb or even LED options may be available to upgrade from older style sealed beam or incandescent units and throw a lot more light, depending on the make and year of your bike.

Check brake and turn signal lights to assure they are working properly, as well. Keeping the bike’s side-facing reflectors intact and visible is also important to being safe after dark. Reflective tape can be added, as well that do a lot to improve the visibility of the bike to other motorists.

2. See and be seen:

High visibility and light-colored riding gear can make the rider more visible to other riders and drivers. In low and fading light or foggy conditions, fluorescent colors seem to glow by absorbing short wavelength light not visible to the human eye and re-radiating it as long-wavelength light the human eye can see.

Jackets made with fluorescent colors in combination with retroreflective materials in logos, stripes or piping can make a rider highly visible at long range in another vehicle’s headlights. While you’re at it, don’t forget to gear up — boots, stout riding pants, gloves, jacket, helmet, eye protection, and maybe a little of the CE approved impact protection here and there, too.

Rider and Motorcycle Set for visibility3. Be visionary:

Those dark wrap-around sunglasses or that slick,but dark reflective helmet shield that work great at high noon can be potential contributors to disaster late in the day or after dark. Have a back-up plan for maximizing your vision with clear shatterproof riding glasses and/or clear helmet shield for the long ride home.

A photochromatic shield may also be an option. If you ride with a windshield and actually look through it instead of over it, keep that windshield clean, as well. Even a moderate sized bug splat on the windshield creates a view obstruction covering square feet of area down the road.

Any roadside hazard — like a deer, coyote, raccoon or dog poised to kiss your front tire — can be difficult to see in broad daylight; seeing them after dark requires giving yourself every advantage you can. Lots of wildlife becomes more active after dark, so seeing those critters at the roadside in time can make all the difference.

How critical that can be to safety is reflected in motorcycle crash data reported here in Wisconsin for CY 2012: 69.9 percent of motorcycle/deer crashes resulted in death or injury to a motorcyclist. That compares to only 13.6 percent involving automobiles.

4. Lose speed, not control:

Highway speed driving with anything after dark is more risky than it is in the daylight hours, but on a motorcycle high speed alone can erase the positive safety effects of everything else you may do. The answer is simple; keep your travel speed down on the straights and even more so in the corners.

Stretch your following distances with other vehicles — the other drivers can’t see as well, either, so unexpected things looming in the headlights are more likely to cause them to panic stop. On roads that are unfamiliar this becomes a critical factor; an innocent decreasing radius corner that is simply fun to carve in daylight can fool you past the fog line and into the trees after dark.

2015 Ducati Scrambler at Night5. Absolute sobriety:

Driving any motor vehicle with booze or any other intoxicants on board is inviting disaster; riding a motorcycle at night under those circumstances defies common sense. Yet, motorcycle crash data from here in Wisconsin proves it happens.

There were 233 alcohol-related motorcycle crashes in Wisconsin in 2012. Of these, 191 or 82.0% occurred between 4 p.m. and 4 a.m. In 2012, 603 motorcycle crashes took place in the state of Wisconsin during hours of darkness and at dusk or dawn, resulting in 28 fatalities and 574 injuries.

So, while crashes after dark or in low-light conditions accounted for only 23.6 percent of the total number of motorcycle crashes in Wisconsin in 2012, they resulted in 25 percent of the fatalities and 22.7 percent of the injuries. These numbers are somewhat surprising given that the vast majority of recreational riding miles take place in daylight hours.

So, if you’re going to be a night rider, even for a relatively short distance, slow down, gear up, stay straight and enjoy the ride safely because there will always be more great day rides, too!