Night Riding: Friend or Foe

Riding at night can be the experience you want it to be

It’s not uncommon to hear riders saying that they ‘never ride at night’ due to their understandable fear of riding in the dark. Even experienced riders suffer from the same affliction but sometimes avoiding night riding altogether isn’t a practical solution to the problem. You never know when you might need to ride at night so it’s a useful skill to have.

night riding

Despite the numerous dangers, you can safely ride at night providing that you take the right safety measures and if you’re aware of the potential dangers out there. Obviously, your vision will be impaired but that’s only a danger if you make it a danger, the real problems are the other variables on the road, including other motorists, unexpected obstacles like animals, road debris, and the condition of the road itself.

You may find yourself stranded out in the middle of nowhere with no lights or a flat tyre or you may find yourself dealing with unruly traffic and drunk drivers; either way, it may not be the most pleasant of experiences but if you follow these simple rules, you’ll be able to enjoy riding at night to the max, with few worries or distractions.

While riding at night isn’t always avoidable, being safe at night comes down to one critical thing: visibility.


Maximising your vision means maximising the range of your headlights; when your bike came from the factory, the headlights were positioned in the standard way but it would be unlikely that your riding position, matched with your height is the same as the factory specification, so it’s time to open your owner’s manual and learn how to adjust your headlight. If you’ve got a nice exposed headlight, you might just have to push it up or down a bit but if your headlights are embedded in fairings, you may have to get the screwdrivers out and play around a little.

night ridingArmed with the knowledge of how to adjust your headlight, you need to find yourself a nice dark place to adjust it in: ideally, a large un-illuminated car park with a decent wall around it is what you’re after. If you can park about a 100m from the wall, that’s perfect; sit on your bike as if you were riding it and watch where your beams fall. The low beam should light up the area between your bike and the wall, whilst the high beam should illuminate the wall from the bottom up. Keep on adjusting until you find your ideal setting, remembering that you need to sit on your bike after each adjustment to really make sure it’s correct. Take your bike for a spin and if you’re still not convinced, try adjusting it again until you’re fully satisfied.

While you’re adjusting your headlights, make sure that your lens is completely clean; this includes road dirt, insect corpses and moisture – these little obstructions can become huge shadows in the dark and you certainly don’t want that.

If you’re playing around with your headlight, it may be worth considering replacing the bulbs too. It’s good to replace them every twelve months, especially if riding at night is going to become a common occurrence in your schedule.

Other Traffic

night ridingOther traffic can be a real pain, especially the oncoming kind that prefer to ignore your presence and leave their high beams on. The best solution to this scenario is slow down and follow the painted white lines, or the yellow line on your left until the car passes you; you should be able to see them without being dazzled and it’s a much safer alternative than guessing which way the road goes!

You can use the OV’s (Other Vehicle) main beams to your advantage but only if you’re following them though; as you’ll be sitting higher than the car in front, you can use their main beams to see further ahead, either to spot oncoming vehicles or to spot potential hazards. The sooner you can see them, the safer it is for you. Do keep your distance from that car in front though!

The main problem with night riding is that when the sun goes down, people like to go out and enjoy themselves and this means that you may encounter a drunk driver. If you know that closing time is coming, it might be wise to avoid the roads that the bars and clubs are on, just in case a drunk driver pulls out on you unexpectedly or if a plastered pedestrian fancies crossing the road without looking or opening that door without a second thought. If you find yourself following a drunk driver, make sure you stay behind them: if you’re in front then you might want to turn off from the road altogether, it’s much safer when you can see what’s going.

Unexpected Road Users

Fortunately, the SA isn’t famous for goats and cows inside city or town limits, but that doesn’t mean that a stray dog won’t be a problem. Animals are incredibly unpredictable and night time is when they’re most active, if one strays into your path then you may not have enough time to swerve or brake effectively. If in doubt, slow down; many country/rural roads are equipped with warning signs, especially if they’re home to larger creatures like sheep, cows and goats. Be especially cautious near wildlife reserves and areas known for animal activity. Smaller animals are just as dangerous, so be on your guard. The phrase “brace for impact” jumps to mind.

night riding

Dress Appropriately

Although other road users are a hazard, you may be a hazard to others if you haven’t taken the right precautions. Ideally, you’ll want to be wearing a Hi-Vis, reflective jacket or have reflective or fluorescent strips on your jacket and helmet. The same goes for your bike; the more visible you can make it, the safer you’ll be. Many motorcyclists argue that they shouldn’t have to wear all their high-visibility gear and that car drivers should be more observant; while that is true, it’s much safer to swallow your pride, wear the jacket and arrive at your destination in one piece rather than dead in a ditch. True?

night riding

Clean Your Visor

One thing to also keep in mind with your visor is that needs to be kept clean. Use a simple cleaning solution with a cotton or microfiber cloth to prevent micro-scratches on your visor that over time can cloud the visor and distort your vision. Hairline cracks in your visor could dazzle you when hit by light of an oncoming vehicle.

Be Prepared

If you don’t want to wear a Hi-Vis jacket, then you should at least bring one with you. If you have a breakdown you’ll want to pop that on to let other vehicles know where you are. In the event of a breakdown, you should try and move your bike off and away from the road edge before trying to locate the problem.

It’s always wise to travel with a few key items at night and they include a key-ring style torch, a little tool kit and your spare bulb and fuse kits. A lot of guides recommend bringing everything with you, including the kitchen sink but a lot of it isn’t practical to carry around with you. What we recommend is a good roadside recovery service that will sort you out, whatever the weather, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You should be able to suss a fuse by yourself but if all else fails, phone a friend or the AA (members only). If you have your Hi-Vis vest on and a torch, they should have no trouble finding you either.

Never ride, especially at night, without some sort of ICE system, be it a helmet sticker or the famous ICE-TAGS. You don’t want to end up in a crash, solo or multi-vehicle, without proper aids or notification systems.

Ride as Fast as you can See

And then there was the question about speed… In short, you should ride as fast as you can see. Never override your main beam. If you can see the road in front of you, then you can ride at a reasonable speed but you must keep in mind that in the dark, hazards can appear from nowhere.

Ride at an appropriate speed in relation to your vision. With that in mind, you should be a lot safer riding at night.