A few tips and advice for venturing the night safely.
With the clocks going back and winter breathing down our necks, come shorter days and earlier nights.
Riding in the dark can be thrilling: cooler nights, fewer road users and less traffic result in a more isolated ride. But with the darkness comes new hazards; with less daylight, visibility drops, temperatures dip, fogs and frost start settling in...
Whether you intend to ride at night or not, it's not always avoidable during autumn/winter, so it's better to be prepared if you haven't stored your bike away yet.
To give you a helping hand, we’ve compiled a list of tips and advice from our experts at Infinity Motorcycles to help you ride in the night safely.
Make your motorcycle more visible
The number 1 rule for riding at night safely is rider visibility. Whilst fewer motorcycle crashes occur at night, the main cause of those that do happen is a result of drivers not seeing you.
Here's what you can do to increase your visibility.
Wear reflective motorcycle clothing
Most of what drivers see is the rider, which is why it’s important you take into account your visibility on your bike at night.
For roadworkers, the primary method for increasing your visibility is by wearing clothing with reflective panels or garments labelled “3M”, which can also be found on the exterior of most modern motorcycle garments.
There is a common misconception that wearing Hi-Viz yellow or orange increases your visibility at night, and while it draws a road user’s attention, it doesn’t reflect light and at low light won’t do much to improve your visibility as wearing any other colour.
The retroreflective 3M panels on garments such as jackets, vests and neckwear are made from a silver cross weave that is designed to reflect light back at its source and light up when illuminated by headlights on the road.
Add reflective tape
Another step you can take to improve rider visibility is applying reflective tape to your bike. Whilst this is a permanent fixture that won't do much during the day, reflective tape acts as an independent light source at night to make other road users aware of your location that works alongside your rear lights.
The majority of road users will either be in front or behind you, so we recommend applying tape to the front of your forks, to the edges of your panniers and any piece of your bike that sticks out at a distance.
You can also apply reflective tape on your wheels for increased side-on visibility (plus it looks insanely cool!)
Make yourself heard with a loud exhaust
You could do more than be making yourself be seen, than making yourself be heard. Your bike exhaust is a great indicator for letting drivers know whether you’re approaching, nearby or up ahead.
Though your neighbours might not appreciate it on a Sunday evening, unleashing the glorious sound of your bike will make other road users aware of you and will make them more cautious about their actions.
Increase YOUR vision
Obviously, your own vision is equally as important as whether other road users see you. Here's what you can do to prepare.
Clean your headlights
Your headlights are your primary source of visibility when riding in darkness, so ensuring they don't fail on you is essential.
Most headlight bulbs are quoted to last between 400 - 600 hours on maximum output, so if you ride regularly ensure you change them before they start to dim and fail on you. Other factors such as bike vibrations, outside weather, temperature and age can also affect the bulbs, so check them regularly. If possible, bring along spare bulbs when you head out.
Over time your headlight lenses become subjected to wear and tear. Sunlight, dirt and everyday grime can fog your headlight lens and leave them cloudy, yellow and scratched.
Even a thin layer of dust can reduce the amount of light your bike emits – this can be fixed with a quick wipe of your lenses with a cloth and water. Motorcycle helmet visor cleaner works great in a pinch when out exploring too.
Clean or change your visor
Just like how a dirty headlight will reduce light, a dirty visor reduces your field of vision. Whether it's dirt caused by rain, bugs or anything else, give it a spray and a wipe down.
A good visor cleaner and microfibre cloth work great in a pinch when you’re on the move. Ridding your visor of dust, mud and insects allows you to keep visibility up during your ride.
Stay away from the dark-tinted visor
Also, consider putting away your dark-tinted visor for the evening: it’s not worth the risk. A darker visor is ideal for filtering through sunlight on a race track: while they may look cool, you need all the light you can get!
As for other tinted visors, a yellow visor can help during low-light riding at dusk, but riders that don’t want to swap out their visor from day to night should consider a photochromic visor that adjusts to light levels throughout the day.
Consider upgrading to an anti-fog visor or pinlock
Your visor will inevitably fog up when the temperature dips, when it starts to rain, and if you breathe heavily; at best it’s an annoyance – at worst it’s incredibly dangerous. Using an anti-fog insert or visor will prevent your vision from being obscured, allowing you to focus on your surroundings.
For more information on Anti-Fog Pinlocks, you can read our Everything You Need to Know article here.
If you plan on using a regular visor and droplets form on your visor on your ride, try tilting your head so the airstream removes them.
Winter motorcycle maintenance
Cold conditions can put a heavy toll on your machine, so you need to ensure your bike is safe to ride and ready to handle winter riding. Frost, road salt and slippery riding conditions can all result in an early trip to the great scrapyard in the sky,
Read on for tips to ensure your bike is ready for winter riding, or click here for our comprehensive guide.
Check and change your headlights
If you’ve cleaned the lenses but you’re still finding your headlights are dim, you might need to change the bulbs. While you could use standard incandescent bulbs, switching to LED lightbulbs or installing an HID kit can amplify the amount of light while reducing the amount of energy it takes to power it.
Just make sure they are properly working and adjusted correctly. In fact, tertiary fog lights are very effective at lighting up dark corners when cranked over and turning corners.
Ensure the headlights are correctly aligned and adjusted. Bulbs should all work and the switching equipment should function properly. You should also make use of your high beams, more so on country roads and long stretches of road with no oncoming traffic.
Use the correct tyres for the job
Your motorcycle tyres are vulnerable to cold weather conditions, especially if you don’t own the correct tyres suited for winter.
We recommend a pair of silica-based sport-touring tyres, as these can withstand temperatures below 10 degrees without dipping in quality. Dunlop Roadsmart 3’s are an excellent choice, and so grippy they are fitted to the bikes at the Ron Haslam Race School.
If you already own the right tyres, make sure to check their condition for tread depth and ensure they are not just road legal, but that you can put your trust in them for use over long distances: winter is a harsh mistress.
Protect your bike
Speaking of road salt, not only does it corrode the brakes but throughout winter your bike is defenceless to road salt. A good coating of ACF-50 will protect your pride and joy throughout the season, so spray a good amount all over your bike (except your brakes) to prevent the like from corroding the shell of your bike.
Maintain your brakes
Your motorcycle brakes are also susceptible to the effects of the winter.
Exposed brake callipers are especially vulnerable to road salt and can corrode easily, so ensure these are well-maintained and checked frequently. (Please note: we do not recommend spraying ACF-50 aerosol on your brakes, as this will affect its performance.)
Soften your bike’s suspension
Consider adjusting your bike suspension should you decide to ride a motorcycle in the winter.
The colder months make roads slippery, and a firm suspension can reduce your bike’s grip on the road and overwork your tyres during the season. Adjusting your settings for a softer suspension will allow for better traction and peace of mind while you ride
Correctly store your bike away
You put your bike away for the evening, you need to take into account the colder conditions. Ensure you park up indoors if and when possible, you never know how the weather will turn in the morning, and leaving your bike in the snow or frost can do some real damage for freezing up.
A trusty bike cover will also protect you from the elements and ensure your bike is protected from any grime, frost or hail. You can browse our range of motorcycle covers here.
Ride smarter: Techniques for riding in winter
The weather affects your physical and mental condition, how your motorcycle handles and how far you can see. Assessing the weather and anticipating its effects are central to your observation and riding plan.
When weather conditions reduce visibility, you should reduce your speed and regularly check your actual speed on the speedometer., Always be able to stop within the distance you can see to be clear.
On unlit roads switch your headlights to the main beam and dip them if you enter a built-up area, if there are other road users or in heavy rain, snow and fog as falling droplets will reflect glare from a headlight on a full beam.
Dip your headlight to avoid dazzling oncoming drivers and a driver in front – this is especially prevalent on sharp right-hand bends and steep inclines. Dazzling other users will cause the retinas of their eye to be bleached and the effect can last moments afterwards, leaving them unable to see for a short while – dangerous.
If you are dazzled and suffer temporary blindness, stop and wait until your eyes re-adjust.
Stay out of blind spots
This advice speaks for itself, but your road position is as important as any other method of visibility. If a driver can’t see you in their rear or side-view mirror, you don’t stand a chance, even less so at night. Drivers tend to drive more dangerously at night, with less traffic and the more open road leading the way for “boy racers”.
Slow your speeds down
“During winter, braking distances can increase up to ten times” suggests the RAC. While it's natural advice to slow down during the winter, the combination of night riding should make you a more cautious rider.
Only ride as fast as you can see. Reducing your speed gives you more time to react to things like drunk drivers and potholes, allows you plenty of time to stop, and makes you more easily seen by other drivers.
Allow an extra safety margin, as your ability to assess the speed and position of oncoming vehicles, is reduced at night.
Increase your distance from other vehicles
When you can’t see clearly in front of your motorcycle, following distances needs to be greater than they usually are.
While you can stop far faster than most vehicles on the road, many things can happen quickly during the night riding hours. Add a few extra seconds for reaction time for a potential problem will far outweigh getting there a few minutes later because of traffic or a need to ride slower.
Using other vehicles lights
You can get information from the front and rear lights of other vehicles. For example, the sweep of the headlights of vehicles approaching a bend can indicate the sharpness of the bend, and the backlights of vehicles in front can give you an early warning to reduced speed. There are other times when intelligent use of the information given by lights will help your riding,
Be more alert
You should constantly scan between the horizon and your mirrors. Position your mirrors so that you can just use your eyes to see what’s behind you and not have to turn your head to look around you.
Reflective studs and markings are a good source of information about the road layout at night. Roadside marker posts away reflect your headlight and show you the direction of a curve before you can see where the actual road goes/ Generally red markers are on the nearside and white markers on the offside.
Cat’s eyes indicate the type of white line along the centre of the road. Generally the more white paint in the line, the greater the number of cat’s eyes. They are particularly helpful when it is raining at night and the glare of headlights make it difficult to see. Centre lines: one cat’s eye every other gap. Hazard lines: one cat’s eye every gap. Double white lines: twice as many cat’s eyes as hazard lines.
Take more breaks if going on a long journey:
Night riding is tiring because it puts extra strain on your eyes and your body wants to slow down as night draws on. If you are having difficulty keeping your eyes open, you are a danger to yourself and other road users; find somewhere safe to stop and rest until you are alert enough to continue safely. Allow for more stops on a long journey at night to allow for additional fatigue.