MOTORCYCLES - Riding at Night

Vancouver Island Motorcycle SchoolI do a lot of night riding, and with the days being as short as they are, I'm doing a bit more every week. At this time of year when it's dark on the island there is also a good chance it's going to be raining too, and if not, it's going to be cold enough that traction will be significantly reduced.

There are a lot of balancing acts that have to be done at night. The biggest and most obvious problem we have to deal with is visibility. Most times if there is no one else on the road and you can use your bright headlights visibility isn't much of an issue. There is of course the issue of fog which cannot be overcome by bright lights, but most times when you're riding there will be other traffic to deal with.

Night traffic really is just awful. Oncoming traffic sends light right into your eyes to such an extent that it can be completely blinding sometimes. One car here and there isn't so bad, by keeping up your scanning and making sure the road is clear and there is no wild life on the side of the road waiting to jump out at you in the times where the oncoming lights effect your vision makes things bearable.

Another helpful way of dealing with oncoming headlights is to move over to P3 so that you don't have the lights going straight into your eyes and can look straight ahead, past all the lights.

This is where the balance comes into play. I don't like being on the right side of the road when visibility is poor. There is always the issue of deer jumping out in front of you, and it's a much bigger concern after sundown.

So how do you balance the need to see around the oncoming lights and the need to have a buffer zone between you and potential wildlife? For me it really depends on how well I can see. If someone leaves their brights on, or there is a series of vehicles shining lights in my eyes, I'll move real close to the white line (if there is one) and slow down so that my eyes can adjust enough that I can at least see a little ways in front of me. The concern for deer is still there, and I would like to give myself more room to deal with them, but if I can't see anything at all, I sure can't see a deer to avoid it.

I also do my best to stay right in the tire tread of the four wheeled vehicles because little things that can hurt your tires and by extension, you, can be harder to see in the dark, but the odds of the path being cleared by other vehicles is pretty good. It's still important to keep scanning the road as you ride, but you don't want to spend so much of your energy on the road that you miss other things. You always need to be aware of the big picture, scan as much as you can, and do it aggressively because when you can't see as far down the road you need to compensate by quickly taking in all the available information.

Light reflecting off of a wet road, or refracting through falling rain can really have an adverse effect on your visibility as well. There isn't much you can do about that except for slowing down, or stopping.

The ambient temperature these days is low enough that after my hour long commute my tires are barely warm to the touch. Traction is noticeable reduced and the paint on the roads is no longer an annoyance, it's a hazard. For me, making a turn over top of a white arrow, or a painted crosswalk will almost certainly result in a slight slide, especially on a damp evening or early morning.

Pick your lines carefully though your turns to avoid paint, manhole covers, and leaves. It won't take long before the leaves are off the roads, but right now they are so bad that I don't even want to take the chance of riding a quite road simply because there's the chance that other vehicles haven't cleared a path through the leaves.

This article was contributed by Jeremy of Vancouver Island Motorcycle School

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