Riding a motorcycle at night can bring about a state of grace not possible during the daylight when the highways and streets of the world are choked with traffic. The open roads, empty corners and relative lack of the four-wheeled guided missiles riders deal with regularly can allow one to genuinely enjoy the ride for itself.
The primary issue with this: Darkness, or lack of light. Motorcycles are small, especially viewed head-on, when compared with automobiles, and this means that they can be difficult to see at night. Most only have one headlight and only a few employ running lights and large, reflective elements.
Motorcycles are also more vulnerable than cars and trucks; the rider is out in the open, exposed to the world. This fact makes it even more important for a motorcyclist to ensure that he or she be seen, out of the simple need for self-preservation.
What every night rider needs is to be visible to all road users. Given that the rider makes up a large portion of a motorcycle's profile on the road, outside of painting your entire bike in electro-luminescent paint, the operator is where passive visual conspicuity can be improved most significantly.
To this end, here are ten highly suggested gear and apparel items which every rider should employ in their pursuit of being as safe - and as noticeable - as possible when out on two wheels at night. In this guide we cover the following reflective gear for motorcycle riders:
- Motorcycle Reflective Helmet
- Motorcycle Reflective Jacket
- Motorcycle Reflective Vest
- Motorcycle Reflective Pants
- Motorcycle Reflective Riding Boots
- Motorcycle Reflective Gloves
- Motorcycle Glove Liners
- Motorcycle Night Eyewear
- Motorcycle Reflective Backpack/Luggage
- Extra Protection
- Motorcycle Rain Gear
Motorcycle Reflective Helmet
When riding a motorcycle at any time of day, the motorcycle helmet is the most prominent piece of gear a rider wears. It is, of course, important that the helmet protects your head from the elements and impacts in the event of a crash, but it should also stand out. Bright colors, busy graphics and high-visibility elements are all far better than a flat black lid at night. Select a helmet which will garner attention from the motorists around you and your conspicuity will be very much improved.
Additionally, ensure that any helmet you buy has a clear or enhanced vision face shield so that you can see others as well as they can see you. That shield should also be new or at least scratch-free; at night, a scratched shield will scatter incoming light and make it difficult to see. Also, remember that the temperatures drop at night, so warmth and anti-fog attributes will aid your ability to ride safe.
Motorcycle Reflective Jacket
Aside from the obvious features any rider needs in a jacket - protection, comfort and maneuverability - a rider who takes to the roads at night will absolutely benefit from using one which is bright and easily seen. Select a jacket which fits your needs and wants, and then purchase it in a color or pattern which will call attention to you in the dark. Many models incorporate retro-reflective materials, some more than others, and there are several available in various "neon" high-visibility colors.
Like the helmet, take care to choose a jacket which will keep you comfortable in the night's cooler temperatures. Liners - both standard and heated - and the ability to seal out the incoming air are good for this.
Motorcycle Reflective Vest
Depending on just how cold it does get at night where you live when you are riding, a vest can serve as either primary or supplemental apparel. When it is warm, a protective under-suit will allow a jacket to be replaced with a vest. And when it is cool out, the vest can be worn on top of a riding jacket.
At U.S. military bases worldwide, soldiers are required to wear mil-spec vests for the purpose of safety. These are usually in neon colors and many make use of extensive retro-reflective materials, making them perfect for nighttime conspicuity. As with most of what the military develops, these have now become widely available to the public. Given their intended purpose, you cannot go wrong employing one of these to stay visible.
Motorcycle Reflective Pants
The riding pants you select for night riding must have the attributes that you would normally find in a pair - comfort, durability, flexibility and protection - in addition to any special features they may possess for night riding. For higher visibility pants, you will find fewer models than what is available to cover your torso, as what a rider wears on the legs is not as prominent as a jacket, but many options remain. Trousers which are good for nighttime riding come in lighter colors and will have retro-reflective piping at minimum, though some will have larger panels along the backs and outside of the legs.
Since few pairs of riding pants are specifically designed for the dark hours, simply selecting a model in a brighter color which contrasts with the motorcycle's paintwork will help to set the rider apart and aids visibility. And, don't forget about the weather. Ensure that the riding pants you choose keep your bottom half just as happy as your upper body.
Motorcycle Reflective Riding Boots
Riding boots and shoes can actually help alert others to your existence more so than riding pants, at least from the side of the bike. Many models are equipped with reflective and retro-reflective properties and are available in bright colors or with multi-hued patterns. Footwear is a significant expense, so manufacturers get more creative with their offerings. Night riders can use that to their advantage by selecting footwear which truly stands out against the darker area around the foot pegs on a motorcycle.
Your choice in footwear should first be based on what you would ordinarily look for in this gear, and then selected based on its visibility enhancements. You will want something which fits, protects your feet and keeps them comfortable in any and all conditions - even at night.
Motorcycle Reflective Gloves
Riding gloves are produced in a wide range of designs, styles and colors, so finding a pair well-equipped for riding at night is not much of an issue. You will want a pair which meets the usual criteria of comfort, protection and usability, of course, so your options remain extensive since almost all meet that standard for most people. For the darker hours, select a pair which incorporates features such as retro-reflective piping or panels and bright colors or patterns.
You will also want riding gloves which keep your digits warm as the temperatures fall, so a good pair should be capable of handling this transition without leading to discomfort. Glove liners are also available which can add multi-season capabilities to almost any riding gloves, though they do nothing for being seen.
Motorcycle Glove Liners
Motorcycle Night Eyewear
The need for eyewear may be precluded with a full-face motorcycle helmet, but some riders will choose to wear a helmet lacking a face shield or may need or want supplemental vision protection. In the former, with an open-face or off-road style helmet, your options include both goggles and glasses, and with the latter - when adding to the protection of a full-face lid - glasses are about your only choice since that is all that will fit inside.
Goggles and glasses are both also widely available items which come in many forms. For night riding, the best option is a pair of either with a clear or amber lens. The clear has an obvious purpose in that it will not block any incoming light, and the amber lens is designed to enhance contrast and improve low-light visibility. Both types are good choices for riding when the sun is behind the Earth.
Motorcycle Reflective Backpack/Luggage
Apparel is not the only option available for making a rider more visible at night. A backpack, hydration pack or messenger bag may also aid in this. If the pack is equipped with retro-reflective parts and is available in a bright color, it should be very helpful in alerting other road users behind you that you are there.
Before making a purchase, in addition to the features you require for a pack, ensure that whichever of these you select will not interfere with the operation of the motorcycle or cause you any discomfort.
Wearing additional protection while riding at night is not about visibility, it is simple safety. Since being out on a bike in the dark makes a rider more vulnerable to a run-in with another vehicle, it is wise to ensure that you are as armored as you comfortably can be. Essentially, any extra protection you select for night riding will be the same as you would choose for riding in the bright sunlight - select that which will supplement the protection already present in your nighttime riding gear which is non-restrictive and is suitably rated for its intended purpose.
Wet weather motorcycle riding gear is a smart idea for a night rider as, in some regions, the atmosphere enjoys turning on the spigot when the sun goes away. Planning for this eventuality will keep your riding enjoyable and provide peace of mind if the weather cannot make up its mind.
Rain gear is worn over your normal riding apparel, so visibility is of utmost importance when choosing what to buy. Neon bright colors and extensive use of retro-reflective materials, both of which will help other road users see you, are both common in this segment. Simply keep in mind the generally accepted features a waterproof garment should possess and choose an item, set or suit that will make you impossible to not be seen. For additional selections, please see our Motorcycle Rain Gear Guide.
As anyone who rides a motorcycle knows instinctively, riding at night does present dangers unknown to those who ride only in the light of day. It requires a rider to be more cautious. Many in the rider training industry, who are specialists in educating riders on how to prevent crashes, suggest that night riders slow down compared to daytime speeds, lengthen the distance between themselves and others on the road, and all of them highly recommend that bright, reflective apparel and gear be used in the darkness. As they say, "the better you are seen, the more likely it is that others will see you." It's simple logic.
Outfitting the rider for this purpose is the first and best way to go about this, so look carefully at the items you find here and select those which fit your riding style, the weather you will likely face, and that which you can afford.
The final decision on which apparel and gear will work for your situation is ultimately up to you. Being seen, however, has two players - the rider and the people with which he or she shares the road. Make sure that you get that which will make it impossible for others to NOT see you and you will have a much better chance at having that perfectly orchestrated and invigorating nighttime motorcycle ride.