Some thoughts on night riding – part two

Blog post posted on 27/04/20 |

Concluding his thoughts on night riding, this week’s blog is from Derek McMullan, IAM RoadSmart Chairman and passionate life-long motorcyclist with his advice for those planning and preparing for a night ride.

For motorcycle commuters, freewheeler riders and maybe a few others throughout the year, some night-time riding is inevitable. So how is it different?

Despite the fact that most motorcyclists tend to stay off their bike when it’s dark, collision statistics show that the incident rate increases and resulting injuries become more severe. 

While we must all continue to follow the Government’s advice and make only those trips that are essential until the social distancing rules are lifted, what are the risks and if we either choose to, or have to, ride at night what should we be doing to control those risks?

  • It gets colder at night, even in summer.  Make sure you have appropriate clothing to keep you warm and dry.  Any discomfort is a distraction, the more you ride with it, the more distracting it becomes.  Appropriate, well-fitting kit, makes its contribution to keeping you safe.  Heated clothing and/or hand-grips might be useful.
  • High-viz and/or reflective clothing is more important at night: generally it makes you more conspicuous but it is particularly helpful in moving traffic where our single, generally lower-power head and tail lamps may get lost among all the twin lights of 4-wheeled vehicles.
  • Recognise that we humans are “hunter-gatherers” so we’re meant to be out gathering food during the day and sleeping at night.  While we can amend that pattern with some success we are still not physiologically suited to the small hours.  If you choose to, or have to, ride well into the night be aware your concentration will be compromised.  Short breaks to get some movement and perhaps a caffeine shot or two will help but only in the short term; don’t rely on it too often.
  • A large meal before any ride is not a great idea as it predisposes us to “sleep it off”.  If you need to eat, light snacks are advised.  More important is hydration – the first effects of dehydration are reduced concentration and fatigue.  Water is best; I know you won’t be drinking alcohol but it and caffeine products dehydrate us.  Don’t be tempted to skip the drink to avoid the toilet break.
  • Signals work don’t they?  A qualified yes: you’ll see trafficators, you’ll hear any audible warnings, but, for example, the subtle cues you might pick up in daylight hours from a drivers’ head movement will not be available at night.  Likewise if you were to use arm-signals at night don’t count on other traffic correctly interpreting your intention.  Unofficial road signs are rarely illuminated (mud-on-road, that sort of thing!).
  • In queues maintain an escape route, a gap in front and the ability to move left or right. Keep an eye on following traffic in case they don’t see you and keep your brake-light illuminated until you are sure they are slowing down behind you.
  • We position on the strict priority of Safety, Stability, View (SSV) but mostly we talk of positioning for view.  At night think before adopting the default position for view – can you get an advantage in view given that it’s dark?  Also, how does “position three” near the centre-line affect your safety at night?  If you’re the only traffic it’s probably OK but if you find yourself in a stream of traffic your single headlight is just where a four-wheeler’s offside headlamp would be – don’t melt into that other traffic too much. In particular avoid leaving an inviting, just-big-enough, gap in front if you are in position three and “cloaked” by four-wheeler lights: for impatient joining traffic it is just too good a recipe for a SMIDSY – Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You.
  • Review the Highway Code and/or the Know Your Road Signs booklet to make sure you know all the carriageway markings which can warn you of hazards, slip road entry/exit points or simply mark out which way the road goes.

By Derek McMullan, Chairman, IAM RoadSmart
You can read the first part of Derek’s blog here.