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WINTER FEATURE: How to ride safely and be seen at night time

Riding at night presents a whole new set of challenges
Riding at night presents a whole new set of challenges
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Tuesday, 12, Nov 2013 02:16

by Rob Day

Winter riding presents a whole new set of challenges for motorbike riders, not leas the dwindling amount of daylight hours to ride in.

With this in mind, MotorbikeTimes has been getting some top tips on riding after dark from Suffolk Advanced Motorcyclists's Rob Day, who is a National Rally excursions veteran, with plenty of experience of 500-mile night rides.

Night riding is not difficult but it is different and presents challenges, even for riders of an advanced ability.

There are many things to consider before you venture out in the dark: firstly its always colder at night except on those odd rare occasions mid-summer when its pleasantly warm, so you need to be dressed accordingly, remembering that the longer you are out the colder you will get.

Don't forget to chuck on a reflective tabard to give you extra visibility in the eyes of other road users as well.

Secondly, know your journey time. The colder you get your body will try to keep the core alive by shutting down the extremities i.e. your pinkies and more importantly, the ability to concentrate.

Next you should realise that most of what you apply during the daytime with regard to roadcraft goes out of the window.

Got a light?

You won't be positioning for a view, especially when its pitch black. You can only see as far as your headlight dip or main beam lights up. The answer to this is as for any hazard when you can't see, reduce speed.

So you will be going slower, you may have on extra layers and you are far better off using the centre marking lines as a guide to where the road is going and not using the nearside verges, as they tend to disappear or deceive at night.

You can use hedge and tree lines to give you a clue to direction on a moonlit night but to a lesser degree than during the day.

Rear lights on vehicles in front can give a really good idea what's happening up ahead, but don't follow them too closely, you don't want to follow a car through a hedge, after all night-time is when cars etc. mostly go through hedges.

Headlights coming the other way can be a good indicator but be careful of the late dippers, don't retaliate unless you cannot see at all.

Never assume a single light is another bike, as there are lots of vehicles out there with only one light working and you won't know if it's nearside or offside.

Try hard to not look directly at oncoming headlights, as the light can be spread by dirty or scratched visors and even more so if it's wet, foggy (not good) or even snowing (not good either).

Fog and snow can disorientate a motorcyclist very quickly at night if you happen to be unfortunate enough to be caught in that situation.

Make sure your headlight is adjusted correctly and if it is you still need to be aware that suspension movement can blind oncoming traffic or send the wrong signal if it's mistaken for a flash when you go over bumps.

If you carry a passenger at night you will almost certainly have to re adjust your headlight and the extra weight will cause suspension movement to be increased and give your light even bigger highs and lows.

Most modern bikes have reasonable headlights, so you should work with what you've got, there are many brighter options out there, extra lights, high-wattage bulbs and high-intensity bulbs.

Headlights on a lot of particularly high end vehicles can be way too bright, which could be blindingly distracting to other road users or allow their drivers to drive beyond their night driving ability.

It's nice to be able to see as much as possible but there is a limit, so remember it's not really a rally section with no-one coming the other way. As an alternative, extra lights can give wider nearside vision.

Assume the position

Try not to follow other vehicles too closely as your bouncing headlight will be a grim distraction, you should be able to judge where you beam extremities are and keep them below the vehicle in fronts rear windows.

This gives you a good reasonable safety gap as well, depending on the speed of the traffic.

As with daytime riding, a decent safety gap is crucial because at night there are lots of wild things running around that have no road sense. The most serious of those are likely to be deer, foxes and badgers.

If you are unfortunate enough to hit one of these solid muscle, unlit critters you will almost certainly be thrown off, and in most cases the offending critter will gather its senses and run off leaving you in a very vulnerable position i.e. laying in the road in the dark (not good).

Remember good observation is just as important at night, it may not be as far-reaching as your daytime riding but high levels of concentration coupled with reduced velocity can give you equally safe riding.

Night riding is one of motorcycling's great challenges, but it is there not just to be endured but to be relished.

To find out more about Suffolk Advanced Motorcyclists and how you can join, visit their website.

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