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10 tips on how to be a better night rider

Night rider learner submission

Not many motorcyclists purposely go out for a ride at night, but it’s exhilarating and we should do it more often to brush up on our skills just in case we are caught out still riding after sunset.

One of the joys of riding is isolating yourself in a bubble of mediation. These cocooning feelings of isolation are heightened in the dark where your vision is restricted to a tunnel of headlight-lit road.

However, a recent Monash University Accident Research Centre report says that the odds of a more severe injury crash outcome are almost a third higher in dark conditions.

Even twilight and early morning have their dangers with a 12%  higher crash risk.

There are hidden dangers out there in the dark and you need to arm yourself with special skills to survive.

Here are our tips for surviving and enjoying being a night rider:

1 Vision

Obviously your vision is restricted at night. So make sure you clean your visor and/or windshield very carefully. What may look clean in the daylight could be dazzling and blinding when a car’s headlights hit it, so remove all those smears. Clean with a dedicated cleaner, but make sure you wipe it all off. If you can dim your instrument lights, that will prevent distracting glare on your windscreen and visorNight rider

2 Yellow glasses

Some people swear by yellow-lens glasses, saying they restore the three dimensions that become flat in headlights, reduce glare, improve contrast and give you better depth perception. However, be very careful of adding any tint to an already dark situation! If you wear prescription glasses or wear goggles, you can ask for an AR coating (AR stands for anti-reflective or anti-glare). Otherwise, don’t wear glasses unless you have no visor.Yellow galsses night riding

3 Lights

Aiding your vision is a decent spread and depth of headlights. If your standard headlights are not up to par (and they too-often aren’t), you can supplement them for more powerful units or even a brighter bulb (halogen, xenon or LED). But be aware that some people don’t see as well with these white lights. Also, be aware of the laws regarding modifying headlights. There are also different laws in varying states about adding auxiliary driving or fog lights. Usually they have to be attached to your high beam switch only and/or be on a separate switch. Fog lights can only be used legally in foggy conditions.

4 Cornering

Headlights are focussed straight ahead, so when you corner, you illuminate the outside of the corner, not the apex where you want to go. The BMW K 1600 has lights that turn into the corners and there are others such as KTM which have LED lights that light up the inside of the corner when you turn. You can also now buy aftermarket lights that illuminate the inside of a corner. But if you don’t have these, be aware that all corners at night are riddled with blind spots. So don’t use all the corner as the apex and exit could be covered in gravel, oil or water.

J.W. Speaker 8790 adaptive cornering headlights
J.W. Speaker 8790 adaptive cornering headlights

5 Road surface

Which brings us to the road surface. Normally you scan the road surface for gravel, oil and diesel spills, water, sewer covers, potholes, bumps, ruts, etc. At night, you may not see them until it’s too late, so ride as if there are obstacles up ahead.

6 Adjust your speed

Consequently you should slow down to a speed where you can stop within the reach of your headlights. Would you ride with your eyes closed even for a few short seconds? Well, if you ride too fast to stop within your lights’ reach, then that’s exactly what you are doing!Night rider

7 Be seen

You and your bike will be more difficult to see at night, especially if you wear black leathers and ride a dark bike. We are not advising you wear hi-vis clothes as these can actually dazzle and transfix drivers’ attention. However, a bit of reflective 3M tape and stitched items on your gear and your bike will draw a bit of extra attention. Make sure your fork and tail reflectors are cleaned and that your lights are cleaned and working properly. It’s also important to move around within your lane as your headlight will attract a bit more attention from other traffic. Never ride in another motorist’s blind spot.

8 Riding style

Because you are unaware of what is on the road ahead, you should treat the road surface as if it is wet. Check out our tips for riding in the wet here. The main tip is to be smooth – brakes, throttle and steering.

9 Pillion adjustments

If you have a pillion, it may change the level of your headlights which could dazzle other motorists. You may think that should not concern you, but if an oncoming motorist is dazzled, their natural reaction is to flash their lights at you which dazzles you! If another motorist does flash their lights, don’t look directly at them. Stare down at the road that you can see. You might even like to put your hand up or use your helmet peak (if you have one), to veil their lights.Night rider

10 Livestock, wildlife, insects and pedestrians

If you think roos are difficult to spot in the daytime, try night time! And it’s not just wildlife you have to watch out for, but also stray stock and stray pedestrians dressed in black and staring at their mobile phones. At least animals will look at your headlights and you will spot the reflections in their retinas, so be on the lookout for those little spots of reflected light. Bugs are another nighttime animal hazard. They are attracted to your headlights and will smear your visor and windscreen, so take some baby wipes or visor cleaner and a clean rag.

  1. Beware long haul trucks especially if there is fog they won’t slow down and can be quicker than you through some bends so they can be on top of you before you realise.
    A low layer of light fog can hide all sorts of nasties from pot holes to dead Roos
    Yellow tinted glasses do help they also help prevent dazzling from badly aligned headlights

  2. The idea that yellow lenses improve night vision was disproved many years ago.
    In fact, any glasses can be specially problematic at night. As the light from oncoming traffic hits your sclera (the white bit of your eye) it reflects on the inside lens. Anti reflective coatings on the inside of your glasses (some coatings are on the outside only) will help reduce this effect.
    For that reason, contact lens are better (for most short/longsighted folk) than glasses. They are generally better for peripheral vision, too. Of course, contacts have their own issues, with some people suffering glare and image flare with contacts. And bad astigmatism is not well handled by contacts.
    The two key issues I would draw your attention to is headlight aim, and directing your vision.
    Most bike shops have a chalk line drawn on a wall somehwere that they use to aim headlights. That’s OK for the gross adjustment, but it doesn’t work well on the road, where the rider will alter that attitude of the bike as will speed and other factors like luggage.
    The only way of fine tuning headlight aim is on a dark road, preferably with a contrasting gutter. I know that urban light pollution makes roads like these hard to find, but it’s worth pursuing finding one.
    If possible, line the bike parallel to the kerb and adjust the aim while sitting on the bike. Once you’ve made the adjustment, ride the road on low and high beam noting the distance that your headlight illuminates.
    The biggest trap for less experienced riders is a tendency to look at an oncoming vehicle.
    When another car, bike or truck approaches you, force your vision away from the oncoming vehicle to the most illuminated section of road you can see. This will reduce glare, and in particular less the dazzle effect that can persist for several seconds after the other vehicle has gone.
    Other than that, a great article, Mark.

    1. Re yellow tint glasses.
      If they’re a noticeably heavy tint they can reduce the amount of light you see and make things worse.
      I need glasses for astigmatism mainly I have some glare sensitivity so all my glasses have an anti reflective coating as well as a UV filter. I work with computers all day and between them and fluorescent light my eyes would get really tired and sore until I had a yellow tint added. It doesn’t make things look yellow although it does alter the Sade of some colours and I prefer not to wear them when eating, night driving is also more pleasant with them, I have used untinted glasses but prefer the light yellow tint as it does improve some visual aspects that I think out way the small amount of light lost. They improve contrast so you can tell objects from the background easier and they take the edge off badly aligned or illegal HID headlights. I have seen some so call Amber night driving glasses that have a fairly dark tint the tint I use is about a tenth as dark about equal to a centimetre of beer left in a clear glass.

  3. Dan, I think your advice to not wear safety glasses at all at night is a dangerous view. When an insect strikes your eye you will immediately be blinded in one eye and also your basic instincts will make you raise at least one hand to defend the attack on your vision and at a minimum loose control of your motorcycle. The thought of wearing contact lenses and being struck by a beetle made my eyes water.

  4. Hi there, responding to your section about Animals / Livestock. I live in Brisbane and last May I rode to Sydney overnight to see my first Grandchild, stayed a couple of days & rode home (overnight) again and all I collided with was a grasshopper (a good run). At the end of the following month, June, I was riding home at around 7.45pm on a Thursday night in suburban Brisbane along Centenary Highway which has a speed limit of 100km, when I noticed the only car up in front of me go off road onto grass verge and chuck a U-turn, move forward then it seemed to move in reverse. I slowed to around 75-80km while flashing my headlights, then all of a sudden when I was approx. 50mtrs from car a 350 to 400kg Stag Feral Deer with full Antlers and his head higher than my Apehangers appeared less than 8ft in front of Me. I had enough time to duck my head and think this is it, the handlebars saved me as when I hit him straight into his right shoulder and leg (witness account) the bare came back a bit and made the Stag fly over me and I landed on my back and skidded down the road.
    Apparently it’s a common place for these Ferals and the Police are sick of calling Brisbane City Council all the time and nothing happening, as in fix Animal fences along that part of road, place warning signs, or even turn on their big Digital Warning signs above the road.. The culling process isn’t working it’s to slow and the Deer are severely Overbreeding.
    So to Yourself and Your Readers, while you Ride through Brisbane anytime Day or Night please be careful because they blend with surrounds so well you don’t see them till its to late.
    I’ve written heaps of letters to try and get things happening before someone or a few people are killed, and that’s not to far away unfortunately.
    Cheers from : DEER KILLER,.

    1. Hi Kevin,
      I live in the area and am familiar with the deer problem.
      Rode right into a pack of about a dozen of them near the golf course. Luckily I missed them all.
      Then there’s the huge roos near the Wacol jail.
      It’s worse than being in the country!

  5. A new friend of mine loves to ride their motorcycle, and I thought that perhaps it could be a fun thing we could do together. In your instruction, you mentioned that you should always wear very visible clothing when on your bike, so that other drivers and riders can see you no matter what time of day. I’ll have to find a bike that really stands out, so that this isn’t an issue for me at all. Thanks for the read.

  6. I appreciate you pointing out that cornering might be a bit dangerous as the headlights are focussed straight ahead, and sometimes you don’t see where exactly you go. I am new to riding a bike, and I do not even have one, but I would like to ride it as safely as possible when I have it. Now I am aware that all corners at night are riddled with blind spots so I will make sure to be extra attentive.

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