The Secret Sanctuary of Riding After Dark
“I’m not gonna let them catch me, no, not gonna let them catch the midnight rider…” -Allman Brothers
There is a group of motorcyclists in our area, known as the Night Riders, who enjoy carving up the country roads outside of town after sunset. I hear them many warm, spring-summer evenings, their sport bikes howling through the darkness, engines revving, clicking up and down through the gears as they slice their way along the curvy blacktop that snakes around our north Georgia home. Sometimes I just stand outside and listen, trying to count how many there are, guessing which roads they are running- and occasionally, wishing I were riding with them.
Riding at night is an altogether different experience than daytime riding. Most riders shy away from riding after dark, and for good reason: nocturnal critters crossing streets, limited sight distances, glare from oncoming headlights, diminished visibility to automobile drivers, just to name a few. Yet for those willing to venture out into the dark, the rewards can be palpable: less traffic, cooler temperatures, dancing shadows, crickets chirping and frogs croaking, a dome of stars overhead, at times even the glow of moonlight filtering through trees.
For its numerous risks, night riding definitely yields many rewards. The times I get out and ride after sundown awaken in me sensations not often experienced in the daylight hours- a heightened awareness of my surroundings, a more intense focus, the feeling of being completely in tune with the bike, and even a peace and solitude in the silence and dark. I recall the time my friend Mike and I were approaching Tucumcari, New Mexico on a cross-country adventure we were riding. The fading light of day was still barely visible beyond the town and the mesas. The canopy of sky as we descended westward off the Texas high plains blended from bright orange, to red, maroon, then purple, blue, and finally black behind us, with a brilliant full moon rising over our right shoulder. Words cannot describe the beauty, the awe, and the tranquility of those moments. It was mythical, dare I say divine.
A ride last summer begun just after dark, as the fireflies began to twinkle. Photo by Rob
Of course, night riding holds different requirements than daytime riding. Better illumination is a must- the addition of running lights, higher quality bulbs such as halogens or those manufactured by PIAA and other brands make for improved vision and visibility. Wearing reflective gear at night is essential as well. Sporting all-black leathers in daylight may look “biker cool”, but “it’s better to be seen than viewed” at night. Riding with armored jackets and pants, helmets, and even vests with reflective components enhance visibility, as does adding reflectors to your bike on both sides and rear. I wear a reflective vest over my Sedici jacket when night riding, and I even added reflective rim striping around both wheels on my old Triumph Sprint.
Riding at night demands different actions as well on the part of the rider. While it might be advisable to “ride high” i.e. running high beams during daylight hours, by switching to low beams for oncoming traffic nocturnally, we not only demonstrate common courtesy towards our 4-wheeled counterparts, the switch telegraphs to oncoming drivers that you are indeed a motorcycle approaching, and not some “Popeye” cager running with only one headlight burning.
Make sure your windshield and face shield are clean, clear, and free of scratches, smudges and streaks. Oncoming headlights can create confusing glares, so keep them spotless. A practice I’ve integrated into my night riding is to look toward my right outside lane line when an oncoming vehicle keeps it’s brights on me. This saves me from the flash of temporary blindness a glance into high beams can give. When at traffic lights, another good habit is to tap your brake lights a couple of times as vehicles approach from behind, to insure they mentally register the motorcycle they are closing on at the light.
The old Triumph Sprint 955 ST, about to venture out into the gathering dark. Photo by Rob
When riding with a group at night, slowing the pace is advisable. If there are obstructions or incidents ahead, each rider in the group will need more time and space to react. Increasing following distances is important here as well. I’ve seen too many videos on the web of rider groups blasting down streets at night at reckless speeds, zipping in and out of traffic, until an obstacle suddenly appears in front of the group, and the result is a tangled pile of twisted metal and broken bodies. Slow it down, spread it out.
I actually relish riding at night. I enjoy watching my headlights dance off the trees out in front of me, shadows stretching and changing shape as I ride by. The times my beams have bounced light off little eyeballs on the roadsides have caused me to slow my pace, not only to ride safely by, but to try and catch a glimpse of night creatures not often seen in daylight. The time a little red fox stood almost at attention beside the road as I cautiously rode by him in north Georgia, the evening Mike and I rode through the night west of Oklahoma City under a vast canopy of stars to make a KOA campground before 10pm, blasting up and down SR-60 over Tampa Bay after dark astride the captivating MV Agusta Superveloce, even the harrowing experience of outrunning a tornado that touched down a mile behind me as I was throttling for home one wet, stormy night- experiences that are forever etched in my memory. All because I’ve been willing to venture out into the abyss of dark, as a night rider.
“Fear not the darkness, but welcome its embrace.” –from Assassin’s Creed
“Arise, and fear no darkness.” –King Theoden, Return of the King
*Cover photo: riding back and forth across SR-60 over Tampa Bay on the 2021 MV Agusta Superveloce. A magical night. Photo by Rob
*Story first penned for my friends at Born to Ride.