Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Art of Safe Riding - Night Riding

Nighttime is not for motorcycles. Ideally, that is. But we must ride after dark usually out of necessity. And vision or lack of it lies behind it all. The very things that make a motorcycle so competitive during daytime, like being able to weave and bank through traffic and turns, destroy it at night. The headlights that normally permit fair vision upto hundreds of feet when straight and upright, suddenly dive into the ground as you bank into a turn, providing no more than a dangerous 30 feet or so of vision. During a turn, a bike leans and so the light has to dip and you loose vision in front when you need it the most.

At night, always concentrate on the inside line. If turning left, focus your attention on the left edge of the road; if there is a boundary marker at the edge, concentrate on the white line. When turning right, fix your attention on the center dividing line; if you are on a multi-lane road, your attention must be fixed on the white line denoting the right boundary of your lane. Generally speaking, nighttime riding is good for taking it easy, so slow down and pay more attention to the road in front of you. Riding at night also requires a greater degree of concentration, and that means fatigue sets in earlier. Blinding lights from the front will obliterate anything from your sight in your path. Going slow allows you more time to scan the scene, as well as makes for softer landings in case of a mishap. Never look directly into the headlights of the oncoming traffic. This prevents you from being blinded by the glare, as well as overcomes the human frailty of being drawn towards it like a moth to a flame. Look to just the side of the light, then down directly to its side, at the road in front of you, then ahead of the spot and then down the road. Follow the same routine while returning to the side of the light, only do it in reverse, i.e. up ahead the road in front of you, then the road at the side of the light. That is the triangle. Finally, always make it a habit to slow down to a comfortable speed, treating every condition as a blind one.

Moreover at night, depth perception is all but lost. The visual factor of perception is lessened because what we see is often reduced to a silhouetted contrast rather than layers of subjects in depth. Silhouettes are always flat, thereby losing the valuable factor of the third dimension. Hills that are miles away merge with the trees nearby to become one. On a curving road, a short bush on the side and a dog in the middle confusingly merge to become one. So, the rider usually hits what he doesn't see.

Strangely though, riding in the mountains at night is easier than during daytime. Oncoming lights do not blind the rider; the traffic shows up from a good distance away and blind corners no longer remain blind for vehicles with working lights. And the surrounding scenery is no longer a distraction as it was during daytime since at night it is simply not visible. In the hills, a headlight that has a wide spread is anytime preferable to one that is bright but highly focussed.

But whatever the conditions, never try to outpace your headlights. Ride at a speed from which you can stop within the distance that your lights show up. Remember to keep your headlight lens clean, it's surprising how restricting a dirty lens is for the beam. When passing opposing traffic resist the temptation to look at the other vehicles lights, just gaze down to the near-side of the road.

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