Last Saturday at my local Harley Davidson dealership it was “Dealership Day,” the monthly event when Harley Owners Group members gather to chew the fat and generally spend money!
It’s fair to say that the morning was decidedly murky, ok it was fairly wet and miserable, but although there were quite a few people in the showroom, mine was the only bike outside, everyone else had come by car! My big Ultra Limited looked every inch a working motorbike, covered in a layer of honest dirt, courtesy of the farmers of Cornwall who can’t keep their soil in their fields and the morning’s precipitation that had washed the muck everywhere, but at least we had ridden there!
I got talking to a couple of guys who were discussing their hatred of riding after dark or in low light conditions. One of these hardened bikers even confessed to once calling his wife out so that he could ride behind her car to get home when darkness fell! I must admit to having a disbelieving smile on my face to start, but it soon became painfully apparent that these two fellow riders had a real issue about riding at night!
My mind went back to an evening when I was riding my Ultra Limited, “Baby,” along the A39 Atlantic Highway near Hartland in beautiful North Devon. The sun was just starting to sink into the sea on the western horizon and the air was taking on that golden glow as a prelude to night.
In recent months I have certainly been doing my fair share of after-dark riding, but the conversation with these two chaps got me thinking.
I don’t have a problem with night riding, in fact I quite like it. I suppose that it is a function of some of the long distance riding that I do from time to time, you just have to deal with the conditions that present themselves to you out on the road.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love riding in warm sunshine as much as the next person; summer evenings being a particular favourite. I am not, however, one of those riders who get to the end of October, or even September, and declare that “the riding season” is over until the Spring! I ride all year round and as a result, I am by default, likely to spend some of the shorter days riding after dark.
So what’s the big deal?
Well, apart from being able to admire the scenery passing by, riding in daylight enables you “read the road” better; hedges, lamp posts, trees and buildings all point the way for you. Hazards are also easier to spot and in addition, you can see what the surface of the road ahead is like, avoiding pot-holes, drains and man-hole covers. There’s a lot to be said for riding in daylight!
After dark things get more difficult, your ability to see the road ahead declines, edges become indistinct as colour and contrast falls.
So how do we go about riding after the sun goes down?
Well, the first thing to do is slow down and just get used to the conditions. Keeping the bike more upright than you would do on dry daylight roads is a prerequisite and just basic common-sense.
Things are definitely different.
Unlike most other road users us motorbike riders only have one headlamp, not one on each front corner of our vehicle! I’m lucky with my big Ultra Limited, it’s fitted with Harley Davidson “Daymaker” l.e.d. head and auxiliary lights which are very good indeed, but still not as good as two, like on a car or truck. On my beloved Harls I can only liken the experience as looking down a drain pipe!
As in daylight, you should always be able to stop within the area that you can see to be clear; at night this is only as far as your headlight can illuminate, unless you are riding in an area with full streetlights. Where I live, night-time means black darkness as there are no streetlights at all, but bright moonlight can come in very handy especially when it shines on standing water.
There’s an old horse riding saying, “Sit deep, sit firm, sit relaxed,” that I find really helps when the unexpected little things happen; little things like when the rear wheel slips sideways for a micro-second going through a corner. It’s bad enough when that happens in daylight, but in the dark you swear afterwards that you slid sideways for yards and yards!
At night it’s important to keep your helmet visor or goggles as clean as possible, you need as much clear vision as you can get, so keep the air circulating to prevent misting up as well and if like me you wear spectacles don’t forget to give them a wipe too!
Glare is your worse enemy. A useful feature on my big Harley is the Satnav system night-time setting that reduces the display intensity and hence cuts light shining in the face of the rider, very thoughtful of those folks in Milwaukee! Approaching headlights can often dazzle the night-time rider, particularly when carelessly un-dipped or badly adjusted. Peripheral vision is important in this case and auxiliary lamps can greatly assist you here, I find them invaluable. You need to read all the available information about the upcoming road layout, white lines, reflective road studs (cats-eyes in the UK) and what other road users are doing, are all useful inputs.
Riding at night is tiring, it puts extra strain on your eyes and other senses, it’s hard work dealing with all those different inputs, in addition your body doesn’t function best after dark, nature is saying “go to sleep!”
If you are a motorcyclist, riding after dark is different, but not impossibly difficult. Go practice on roads that you know well in and in good weather conditions to start with, then spread your wings and ride.
If you don’t ride motorbikes, but come across a rider out there on the road after dark please remember it ain’t as easy as you’ve got it in your car!
“Keep it all out of sight, undercover of the night.”
Catch you all soon.