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10 Essentials For Riding A Motorcycle At Night

The night rider faces a different world. The streets are less crowded, the air is cooler, and the silence is almost deafening. In this environment, the motorcycle becomes more than mere vehicle – it is a lifeline, a fellow traveler, an escape pod capable of taking the rider away from the suffocating grind of the responsibilities revealed in the light of day.

Riding a motorcycle at night does have its advantages, but there are limitations. The central issue stems from the human eyes and their inability to see well in low-light situations. People see better when the sun is shining. Thus, at night, the rider has to worry about both seeing and being seen.

As motorcycle riders are not equipped with aluminum and steel crash cages or crumple zones, he or she is far more vulnerable than the driver of an automobile. The rider sits atop a bike, right out in the open, exposed to environment – the only barrier is the rider’s apparel and gear. Should a car driver not see a motorcyclist, things can go wrong very quickly.

The bike rider needs to be visible to all road users at all times. Depending on the model of motorcycle, there is often little more than a headlight, tail light, and some small reflectors to alert others of the bike’s presence. At night, with other vehicles around and lights spread all over urban and suburban streets, this is not enough.

For some guidance, assembled here are ten highly effective motorcycle additions which are designed to increase visibility, improve the rider’s sight, and make the entire experience of riding at night a safer and more enjoyable undertaking:

Achieving the important goal of conspicuity is actually rather simple in this modern age. Motorcycle manufacturers have extensive catalogs of OEM upgrades and the aftermarket is bursting with parts and accessories of all kinds which can assist in this task. It is all within reach for any bike rider who has need or want to stay out after dark.

Also, see our Reflective Gear Recommendations for Night Riding.

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Headlight

Every street legal motorcycle has a headlight; some are great, others need serious help. Many modern bikes make use of HID lighting, which works quite well and is significantly better than the standard halogen lights most motorcycles use. Almost without exception, the old-school lights can be upgraded to provide better lighting. Doing so will not only allow others on the road to see the bike better, but high-quality lighting also helps the rider improve his or her vision.

Headlight modulators are useful for the daytime rider, but they are not legal for riding at night. Thus, the night rider is left with only a few options. The first is upgrading the bulb used for the headlight to one which is brighter, an inexpensive, simple and quick exchange. Another path is to upgrade the entire headlight unit either using LEDs or a full HID lighting conversion, both of which are significant changes that will dramatically improve the bike’s visibility and the rider’s ability to see. Choose an upgrade that suits the bike make and model, and be sure the electrical system can power the new addition.

Good Headlight

Better Headlight

Best Headlight

PIAA H4 Extreme White Plus Bulb With 3-Prong Base - 60W/55W

BikeMaster HID Light Kit - White 6000K

Yana Shiki HID High-Low Light Kit - 8000K

Price: $49.99

Price: $64.99-$74.99

Price: $84.99

Features:

  • H4 Anti-Vibration bulb
  • Wattage - 60W/55W = 110W / 100W
  • Bright white light for easy visibility

Features:

  • Light output is 3 times that of a halogen bulb and 10 times that of a regular bulb
  • Plug-n-play installation
  • 6000K light "temperature" will give you the whitest light possible
  • Kit comes complete with a fused wiring harness, H.I.D. Xenon bulb, super slim ballast, relay and waterproof connectors

Features:

  • 3 times the light output from standard halogen bulbs
  • Lasts up to 5 times the life of standard halogen bulbs
  • Simple plug-n-play wiring
  • Halogen high beam in addition to the low beam
 

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Tail Light

A motorcycle tail light is often no more than a dual-filament bulb that may also be used for turn signals if a bike uses them as running lights. They are not very bright, and are prone to failure. Riding at night with only 12.8 volts of illumination to prevent another driver from running over bike and rider can be dodgy. Improving rear end visibility is simple and will result in a significant increase in a rider’s safety margin at all times of the day.

Many modern bikes use LED tail lights, a far better solution as they are brighter, while drawing less power, and stand up better to the abuse lights endure on a motorcycle, thus lasting longer. LED upgrades are available for virtually every bike and are usually a no-drama install. There are also tail light "flashers" which modulate the brake lights in a set pattern when the brakes are used; these are not legal everywhere, so check local statutes before buying. Finally, for some models of bike, additional lights may be installed which supplement the brake light and leave no doubt to anyone behind the rider that the bike is stopping.

Good Tail Light

Better Tail Light

Best Tail Lights

Yana Shiki Tail Light Integrator Kit

Lockhart Phillips LED Tail Light With Integrated Turn Signals - Clear

Competition Werkes Light Werkes Integrated LED Tail Light - Clear

Price: $54.99

Price: $79.99

Price: $94.99-$129.99

Features:

  • Kit makes your stock brake light also work as the turn signals
  • Use with or without stock turn signals
  • Easy installation
  • User option for PULSING brake light

Features:

  • LED tail light with integrated turn signals
  • DOT compliant
  • Auxiliary LED turn signals blink when making a turn
  • Includes license plate bracket for motorcycles that have them in the stock tail light

Features:

  • DOT compliant
  • Ultra bright LEDs are visible day and night
  • The LED matrix voids the need of ever replacing bulbs
  • Includes factory connectors
 

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Indicators/Signals

Turn signals, or indicators as they are sometimes called, are another area where improvements may be made. At night, communicating an intention to change lanes or make a turn takes on more importance. Both the rider and other drivers are helped when there are no surprises and intentions are clear when both have limited visibility.

Many of the same ideas which have been applied to headlights and tail lights work here too. LED upgrades are popular for the same reasons, and the simple brighter replacement bulb remains an available change. Supplemental signals are available for bikes which have the additional real estate on which they may be installed.

Good Indicators/Signals

Better Indicators/Signals

Best Indicators/Signals

Yana Shiki Universal LED Short Stalk Turn Signals

Lockhart Phillips Bracket LED Turn Signals

Rumble Concept Ghost Flush Mount LED Turn Signals - Smoke

Price: $14.99

Price: $39.99

Price: $54.99

Features:

  • Ultra bright LEDs
  • Available in Smoke or Clear with a black body
  • Sold in pairs

Features:

  • LP's surface mounted LED Brackets offer high visibility while replacing plate-mounted screws
  • Available in amber or clear lenses
  • Patented design

Features:

  • Replaces the O.E. front turn signals
  • Amber L.E.D.s covered by a clear waterproof lens for high visibility
  • No modifications needed due to its bolt-on style
 

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Light Bars and Fog/Spot Lights

Lighting the road ahead using a bright headlight works well, and it will suffice for many riders. However, there are ways to make it even better – helping the rider to both see and be seen. A thought usually only considered by cruiser, sport tourer and adventure riders, accessory front lighting can aid night riding safety.

Light bars are common on cruisers, but can be used on many other styles of motorcycle. They usually reside very near the bike’s headlight and act as additions to its purpose. Fog and spot lights are popular with riders of sport touring rigs and adventure bikes because they lay down light low on the road as well as make the motorcycle more visible. These can be found mounted to the lower front part of the frame, to engine guards or on the forks. The major concern with such accessories is whether the bike’s charging system and battery can handle the extra load; check your own bike to be sure adding additional current draw will not cause any issues.

Good Light Bars

Better Light Bars

Best Light Bars

Kuryakyn Tour-Pak Run-Brake Lightbar

Show Chrome Fog Light Kit

Cobra Lightbar - Chrome

Price: $109.99

Price: $109.99

Price: $259.99-$269.99

Features:

  • Super-Bright LEDs
  • "Run" and "brake" lighting to the rear of the bike
  • Chrome finish

Features:

  • Vast improvement on OEM cornering lights

Features:

  • Bright shine
  • Bolts on to the stock triple clamps
  • Easy installation
 

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Accent Lighting

Accent lighting started within the cruiser and touring community and quickly spread throughout the industry. It is simply additional lighting which can be located on just about any surface a motorcycle has free; running along the edges of saddlebags or outlining a faring, for instance. The aftermarket continues to innovate in this segment and the available options are so numerous that it can cause confusion.

When choosing accent lights, what a rider selects is up to personal taste for the most part. It is necessary to ensure that the motorcycle’s electrical system can handle the extra load, however, so read up to ensure it will work with the bike on which it is to be installed.

Good Accent Lighting

Better Accent Lighting

Best Accent Lighting

StreetFX Electropods Oval Light Pods

Show Chrome Pole Marker Light

Yana Shiki LED Flex Lite Kit 6X6 Tubes - Programmable

Price: $19.99

Price: $22.99

Price: $79.99

Features:

  • Illuminate your engine, tires, rims, steering column and gas tank
  • On / Off switch included
  • Weather and shock resistant
  • 6 Super bright LED colors available: Red, Blue, Purple, White, Yellow or Green

Features:

  • Chrome plated with illuminated multi-colored collar and solid color crown
  • Whip style base
  • Measures 16" from crown to base
  • Show Chrome finished mounting bracket included

Features:

  • 6 tubes, each 6" long
  • One wireless remote
  • One controller unit
  • 16 programmable color variations
 

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Reflective Accessories

The reflectors with which most stock motorcycles are equipped are usually determined by law and can only be called generous by people who have never seen them at night. Reflectors are an important part of nighttime visibility, especially if another road user is only presented with the side of the bike.

The market has many available options for improving the reflectivity of a motorcycle, but the most common are the tried, true and simple plastic reflectors. Should there not be any more room on the bike for those, turn to the wheels and add some reflective tape. The tape will not only make the motorcycle more visible, it will also add a neat aesthetic element for night riding.

Good Reflective Accessories

Better Reflective Accessories

Best Reflective Accessories

Chris Products Reflectors - 2-1/2"

Chris Product Mini Reflectors - Red

Pro Grip Wheeltape

Price: $3.99

Price: $3.99

Price: $15.99

Features:

  • Safety reflectors 2-1/2" diameter
  • Certified to meet DOT requirements
  • Available in amber or red
  • Available with stud and bolt backing or adhesive backing

Features:

  • Inexpensive customization
  • 4 piece set
  • Includes mounting hardware

Features:

  • Long enough for both sides of 2 wheels
 

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Luggage

Motorcycle luggage is another area of the bike where visibility may be increased. Adding new pieces or accessorizing those which are already installed aid in the quest to be seen. As most such products also increase available space for more lighting or more reflective accessories, using luggage to increase conspicuity may alter a bike’s appearance at night significantly.

For bikes equipped with saddlebags or a top case, there are many additional lighting and reflector options. Most of these are from the original manufacturer of the equipment, but the aftermarket also has its share. Adding luggage to a bike without it is more drastic, and is more expensive, but the change will be more dramatic. Ensure your bike can handle the addition of saddlebags or a top case, and be certain to select items which have plenty of visibility enhancements.

Good Luggage

Better Luggage

Best Luggage

GYTR Top Case by SHAD

TourMaster Select Saddlebags

Rapid Transit Division Tail Frame Bag - Black

Price: $95.95

Price: $119.99

Price: $189.99

Features:

  • Integrated handle for easy portability
  • Easy to use "Press Down" locking system
  • Includes a reflective panel for added visibility
  • 29, 33, 40, 45, and 50 liter sizes

Features:

  • Heavy duty, 600 denier Carbolex and 1680 denier ballistic nylon construction
  • Adjustable mounting yoke
  • Phoslite dark colored reflective piping provides nighttime visibility
  • Bags have removable neoprene layers

Features:

  • Wind/Water resistant 1000D nylon construction
  • Integrated Tail frame/Sissy bar mounting system
  • Waterproof garment bag included
  • Reflective stripe
 

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Exhaust Systems

The old thinking on exhaust was that, "loud pipes save lives," but this has proven completely inaccurate time and time again. The American Motorcyclist Association has it better - "Loud pipes erode rights." With sound laws being enacted all over, most of them directed squarely at the motorcycle community even though they are a tiny minority of road users, this has never been truer. What a night rider needs is a happy medium; enough sound to alert his or her presence when next to an enclosed vehicle, but not so much as it results in a citation, or disturbs the neighbors.

Finding an appropriate aftermarket exhaust is a process in which the rider must take into account cost, any performance gains, how much the new exhaust weighs, and whether it is road legal where he or she lives (California residents have very specific laws about this). In most cases, a slip-on is all that a rider will need to bring about a more distinctive sound, but some will want to opt for a full system to fully unlock extra power.

Whichever exhaust is chosen must be legally compliant and be designed specifically for the motorcycle to which it will be installed.

Good Exhaust System

Better Exhaust System

Best Exhaust System

Yoshimura RS-5 Slip-On Exhaust - Stainless Steel

Akrapovic Slip-On EC Type Exhaust - Carbon Fiber

Yoshimura R-77 Full System Exhaust - Stainless Steel With Carbon Fiber End Cap

Price: $364.99-$466.99

Price: $453.99 - $1326.99

Price: $543.99 - $874.99

Features:

  • Stainless steel trapezoidal shaped muffler sleeve and aluminum mount bracket
  • High-grade stainless steel mid-pipe
  • Unique carbon fiber cone-shaped end cap
  • Slip-on

Features:

  • Conforms to the strict EU regulations for street use
  • Noise levels are lower, but with recognizable Akrapovic sound
  • Oval-shaped slip-on canister with carbon fiber outer sleeve
  • Titanium material with slash-cut end cap style

Features:

  • Trapezoidal-shaped sleeve
  • Laser cut heatshield
  • stainless steel header and mid-pipe
  • Full System Exhaust
 

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Mirrors

Mirrors are all about seeing. There is little that a mirror can do to help you be seen. Riding at night is a two-way street and the rider needs to be able to see other road users so he or she can avoid running into or being hit by them – whether the other driver sees the bike or not, this is absolutely necessary.

Most motorcycles come equipped from the factory with good mirrors, but not all and a rider can always do better. Legal concerns aside (laws vary greatly from region to region), having at least one good, rear-facing mirror is a minimum for night riding. Select one which not only matches the style or purpose of the bike, but one which also allows a complete, unobstructed view of traffic behind.

Good Mirrors

Better Mirrors

Best Mirrors

CRG Blindsight Bar End Mirror

ST Machine Pig Spotter 2 Mirrors

Targa Adjustable Mirrors

Price: $49.99

Price: $99.99 - $109.99

Price: $109.99-$119.99

Features:

  • 6061-T6 aluminum CNC-machined billet construction
  • Extension elbow is reversible for left and right side mounting
  • CRG Blindsight bar end mirrors are 2" in diameter
  • Custom convex glass

Features:

  • More visibility with a 2.75" diameter
  • Four L.E.D. lights on each mirror can be used as running lights or turn signals
  • universal mounting system
  • Convex shape provides a wide angle of view

Features:

  • Aluminum mirror housing with black powder coat finish
  • Convex wide angle lenses
  • Clear mirror glass or blue anti-glare tint
  • Adjustable stem length from 100 mm to 130 mm
 

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Windscreens

Windscreens, like mirrors, are more for the rider being able to see at night. Smoked or tinted versions limit the amount of light which can get past them and to the rider’s eyes. Thus, having a clear windscreen is the best way to go if plans call for riding in the dark.

Some models of motorcycle will come from the factory with a windshield, and most are clear. However, if yours was equipped with a tinted shield, switching it out to a clear windshield for night riding is highly recommended. An extra windshield to change out depending on the conditions will work just as well as a permanent replacement, provided the process is quick and easy and the rider has somewhere safe to store the additional shield when not in use. For bikes which did not come with a windscreen, there are a multitude of aftermarket windshields available. Ensure that a windshield which will be used for night riding is clear, scratch-free and is installed correctly.

Good Windscreens

Better Windscreens

Best Windscreens

Suzuki Genuine Accessories Sport Touring Windshield - Clear

Puig Racing Windscreen - Clear

Zero Gravity Corsa Windscreen

Price: $79.16

Price: $89.99 - $179.99

Price: $99.99 - $109.99

Features:

  • Factory approved for the GSX-R
  • Polycarbonate windscreen is 2" taller than stock
  • GSX-R logo is screened on the inside
  • Custom molded sport-touring style

Features:

  • Made of high impact acrylic
  • 3mm thickness absorbs vibration at high speeds and offers resistance from cracking or scratching
  • Developed using information from wind tunnel testing
  • Double bubble design helps diminish the air effect on a rider's helmet.

Features:

  • Prevention and rehabilitation support
  • Bi-axial articulating hinge system
  • Carbon fiber and Kevlar construction
 

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Final Thoughts

Many motorcycle riders know all too well that riding in the darkness of night is more risky than riding in the sunlight of day. Not only does the night rider have to deal with the absence of the light, but he or she must also deal with sleepy, distracted and sometimes intoxicated drivers. All of this only serves to increase the need for a wider margin of safety, and the best way to achieve that is to be as visible as possible.

Of course, the standard maxims which are employed in any sub-standard conditions apply here – slow down, maintain larger following distances, use aggressive visual scanning techniques, and make sure to wear weather-appropriate, bright and reflective riding apparel. Taking that advice and adding some of the suggestions made here will go a very long way towards keeping any rider on the roads at night a fair bit safer.

The night rider must both see and be seen by those using the roads, and what is presented here is but one part to that. As long as the rider does everything possible to make it impossible to NOT be seen, riding at night will be much less dangerous and it will continue to be the escapist pursuit that many find it to be.

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Written By: JC Current

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