Saturday 29 November 2008

Night Rider's Guide


Riding in the night calls for an additional set of skills to meet new contingencies and to make allowances for the reduced visibility. This month we shall elaborate on riding in the night and what contingencies to look out for.

Oncoming traffic is heralded by headlamp glare. Flash ahead to warn of your approach and dip your lights to see better and avoid blinding oncoming drivers. Vehicles on the inside of a bend create dazzle before the lights of a vehicle on the outside.

In the past few editions, we have focused on riding in the wet and making the best of terrible road conditions. In this edition we will focus on riding in the night, which demands adjusting to a whole new set of conditions. Riding in the night not only restricts your visibility but your visibility to other road users is also reduced. Your judgement of speed and distance is drastically altered by both incomplete vision of other vehicles and the inability to judge perspective and dimensions from roadside objects.

A solo motorcycle as it passes behind an obstruction, can be overlooked by another road user stationary at a road junction. Even though you are wearing a reflective jacket, if you are physically out of view you will not be seen by others and will not enter into their consideration and judgement, at least not until it is too late.

Electrical system faults usually become apparent at night. Check equipment regularly and correct any faults before onset of the rains.
While riding in the night, seeing and being seen should be your number one priority. Start right at the basics; check your lights, never assume that the lights are all in order. Check them thoroughly and regularly. Terminals can get dirty, wires can work loose and nothing is more dangerous than all the lighting blacking out on a dark or dimly lit road. Even a dirty headlamp lens will cut down the limit of your visibility to other road users. A motorcyclist has less excuse for not noticing a lamp failure - and more reason to rectify it. The efficiency of lenses can deteriorate imperceptibly with the daily build up of road dirt and the resulting decline in light value may go unnoticed. Also another reason for you lazy bums to clean your bike - a clean machine is not only a more reliable machine, as defects are discovered as matter of course during regular cleaning. Also shining paintwork and metalwork will reflect surrounding light. If your bike has side-mounted amber reflectors, keep them clean and if you don't have them, install them.

At over 100kmph the main beam will not illuminate the braking distance. Readjust the beam when carrying a load or passenger.
Set up headlamps correctly, always bearing in mind that a pillion passenger will alter the line of your lamp beam. Remember that on a bumpy road, particularly on lightweight 100cc machines, the headlamp can bounce up and down quite considerably. Always set a dipped beam to cut in well to the near side to save others the discomfort of being dazzled.

Whatever message you want to convey, never flash your main beam into the face of other road users. A dazzled driver becomes disoriented and may quite rapidly collide with you or any other road user. This kind of discourteous behaviour is commonly observed among road users in our country and should be avoided. Also never take another driver's flashed signal for granted. The lights may have been switched on by accident.

Ride so that you are not shielded from view by your close proximity to other vehicles. Keep out from the kerb to improve your vision ahead and avoid the risk of colliding with a suddenly opened car door. Remember that you are less visible at night and make allowances for it.

Don't pass another vehicle until you can see the road ahead of it. Flash a warning before overtaking. Headlamps, particularly a motorcycle light that is high enough to blind drivers easily, should dip to the near side.

Ever been dazzled by the lights of oncoming vehicles? The trick is never to look straight into oncoming headlamps. When traffic is approaching, always dip your headlamps and look away from the glare of oncoming headlights. Stay in from the centre of the road. The vehicle may have an overhang that obstructs your part of the road or it may be hiding a vehicle running with only the near side lights on. This is particularly important when the road is narrow. There is no point being angry about unlit vehicles, loads or road obstructions, simply be alert enough to avoid them and stay alive.

Expect to be dazzled by the lights of vehicles approaching over the brow of a hill, on a bridge or undulating roads, whether they are on main beam or dip. If a driver refuses to dip, slow down and look away - to the near side preferably. Don't try to out-dazzle him; he may have badly adjusted lights which are already dipped and which he could flash with blinding effect.

On an unlit road, always momentarily dip your headlamp as you approach a bend or corner. This will enable you to detect the glare of an approaching set of headlamps. This early warning could be denied if your main beam has outflared them.

Always dip the headlights on the approach to the brow of a hill. If the main beam shines into the open sky ahead and is bounced back as a white glare, and vision is lost.

Remember to read every cue at night. Take nothing for granted. If you cannot see, don't go. If you are not sure of the situation, don't go. Never ride into a position from which there is no visible exit. Never overtake when you cannot see what is in front of the vehicle to be passed.

That's it for night riding. In the next edition we shall look at the importance of and how to be conspicuous at all times. Till then happy riding and don't forget that helmet.

[Author: Sirish Chandran] SourceClick here for subscription November 2001

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