November 27 2012 by Jason Fogelson
I know plenty of fellow riders who will do anything to avoid riding in the dark, and for good reason. First of all, any problems being seen during the daytime can be even worse at night. Second, it's more difficult to see obstacles and hazards. Third, it's generally colder and less comfortable to ride at night.
I deal with these challenges, and continue to ride.
I make sure that my bike is conspicuous in the dark. I have upgraded my bike's lighting system, and I've added a reasonable amount of retroreflective conspicuity tape to various surfaces. Some owners go overboard with the lights, turning their bikes into parade floats. You don't have to go that far, but it's a good idea to take a look at your bike in the dark from a distance to see what it looks like from the front, from each side and from the rear. Would you notice your bike out on the road? If not, add some lighting or more retroreflective surface.
I also make sure that my riding gear is easy to see in the dark. Some riders choose brightly-colored gear. You've seen them riding around in lime green jackets and orange helmets. I'm safety-conscious, but I'm still a little bit fashion-conscious as well, and I have a hard time wearing a motorcycle jacket that is any color other than black. Thankfully, technology can help. Many jackets, like my Harley-Davidson FXRG Leather Jacket, are constructed 3M Scotchlite Reflective Material piping and taping on the sleeves, greatly increasing visibility.
If that's not enough visibility for you, Harley recently came out with a line of High-Vis gear, including the Men's Illumination 360 Functional Jacket, which appears black in most circumstances, but reflects light from all angles during night riding. Perhaps the best compromise is a high-vis safety vest. Toss this into your saddlebag, and you'll be ready for unexpected night riding or foggy conditions.
I change my riding style after dark. The first and most important change is to slow down. I make sure that I'm not overdriving my headlights -- I want to be able to change direction or stop my bike when I detect an obstacle in the road ahead of me. If I'm riding at 80 miles per hour with headlights that throw an effective beam of 100 feet, by the time an obstacle is visible in my headlights, it will be too late to avoid it. Slowing down is the best solution. It also gives other vehicles more of a chance to see you coming, and to avoid hitting you. Good plan.
Wildlife can be a big hazard when you're riding after dark. Deer are especially bad news for riders, as they're big, fast and totally unpredictable. Just because a deer is standing by the side of the road doesn't mean that it won't suddenly decide to dart in front of your bike. And then, they might freeze in the headlights, or they might reverse direction -- you can never tell. The best strategy for avoiding a deer collision while riding at night is to slow down, which gives you and the deer more time to act. I also try to follow another vehicle -- not too closely or unsafely, just a loose following distance. Then, I can use the headlights on the car ahead of me to increase my visibility. I try to avoid riding during the dusk or dawn hours, which is when deer are most active on the roadways. Wait until dark or full light. And if you notice a lot of deer activity in the area, stop riding. Better late than dead, I always say.
With all of these hazards and precautions, why do I like to ride at night anyway?
I love riding in lighter traffic situations, and there are generally fewer cars on the road at night. Getting out on the road with no other vehicles around, I feel like I'm riding in my own little cocoon of light. The sound of my engine is mesmerizing, and I float above the road as if in a dream. My senses are alive, as I scan the environment for input. Every nerve tingles, and I feel completely alive and present. It's just me and my motorcycle, flying through space.
That's why I ride after dark.