Sorry if you've been surfing over here lately looking for new stuff and not seen any. I'm amazed at how the weeks speed by. Sometimes work takes extra hours. There's kind of a give and take flow to that. My posting activity will reflect the high and low tides of my vocational pursuits, I'm afraid. I've also spent a little more time just tuning out everything but time with Katie. There's a leadership retreat I'm attending this weekend. Our training season starts the weekend after that. So I'm stocking up on time with my sweetie.
Seems like I've been spending a lot of time riding in the dark, lately. Those of you with quick wits and sharp tongues just hold on, there. That first sentence doesn't refer to my mental state. Dark means the absence of daylight. Mornings start early for me. I need to leave home at 6 AM to be at the office by 7:45. We're moving to a larger location so there's been a lot of office time, lately. Isn't it amazing how much stuff accumulates on shelves over time? With the official sunrise time being 7:45 and the sunset happening at 16:55 there's not a lot of daylight for the commute. The good news is that we're gaining around two minutes a day. That means we'll have 35 minutes more daylight by the end of January. The not so good news is that there's still a lot more riding in the dark coming up.
Riding in the dark presents its own challenges. I know I'm not telling you anything new. There are a few things to be concerned about, though. I thought I'd share a couple while they're on my mind.
Communicating to other drivers is critical. One area where we're seeing riders have problems is in getting rear-ended by cars. It's a problem in the daylight, too, but more so at night. Here's a look at the back lights on Sophie. Of course, if I was on the bike you'd see my retroflective vest, too. At least the part that isn't covered by the trunk.
I'm sure Sophie would be embarrassed if she knew I was displaying her rear end on the blog. It's for a noble cause, girl! The point isn't really so much about being visible. It's about how well other drivers can gauge the distance between us and them. A single tail light doesn't help at all with the subject of perspective. You may or may not have thought about this point. Two lights spaced farther apart such as on a car help provide perspective. When two lights look like one, a driver presumes that the vehicle is farther away. Seeing one tail light presents the same picture. Most drivers won't pick up right away on the fact that this is a single track vehicle and may be closer than it appears.
That's really a side point. I rambled a little. Here's the thing I should have gotten to sooner. Why do bikes get rear ended? It's not because they're capable of slowing more quickly than a car. It's the way riders slow down that puts them in a bad spot. Think about how you slow down if you're not in a hurry. Engine braking from downshifting, isn't it? Brake lights never illuminate. Drivers don't expect this. All they know is that suddenly the bike is much closer than it was just a bit ago. Their nasty habit of tailgating adds to the problem. Whether we respect the abilities of drivers or not, we have to talk to them. Flash the brake light as a communication tool. It's a great idea at any time but even more so at night. Talk to traffic clearly and early.
The other thing on my mind has to do with the headlight. Specifically, not over riding the headlight. What does that mean? I can't ride over my own headlight, can I? No, I'm talking about not riding faster than what we can see and react to in the headlight beam. We need to be able to stop within our sight distance. Most riders are guilty of over riding the light. Here's some interesting things to think about.
We know that generally the speeds at night should be lower. Just how low? Here's a picture I took Tuesday night in a parking lot. It gives you sort of an idea of how far the light beam extends.
The way the headlight beam is adjusted on Sophie, it extends about 160 feet. There's enough light to sort of illuminate things farther out but I can't readily identify them out there. Don't get hung up on specific details. Your results may vary depending upon the bike's light. There's also ambient lighting from streetlights, other vehicles, etc. For this journey put yourself on a country road where the only source of light is on the front of the bike.
What speed would you be riding at to be able to stop within your sight distance?
At 60 mph you'd be covering 88 feet per second. On a non-ABS bike it will take you about 177 feet to stop. That's based on our extensive on-bike research done in conjunction with the State Police. We needed to come up with standards for our high speed police motors training. If Sophie's light beam extends 160 feet there's no way I'd stop in time even if my reactions were instantaneous. So that's too fast.
At 40 mph you'd be covering 60 feet per second. Your stopping standard would be 79 feet. Isn't it interesting how much an extra twenty miles per hour increases the stopping distance? By the way, the stopping standard is based on situations with decent traction. Not the icy roads we've had around here the past few mornings.
Let's go back to 60 feet per second and the 79 foot stopping distance. That's just about the breaking even point. If my reaction time is one second I've travelled 60 feet. Add 79 feet for stopping and that puts me at a total distance of 139 feet. That gives me a tiny bit of cushion but not much.
What I want you to take away from this is an increased awareness, I guess. Riders shouldn't be paranoid. That wouldn't be healthy. Remember, though, just because you're not paranoid doesn't mean that people aren't out to get you! Seriously, there's so much that I see riders taking for granted. So few understand what really goes on with motorcycle dynamics. What they don't know can literally hurt them. It makes me feel better to try to share what I've learned. Hope you all don't mind when I take a detour from stories and put on the trainer hat. I always presume that riders would prefer to be excellent rather than just competent if given the chance.
Here's a bonus question.
What clues will you have that you're over riding your headlight?
I'll put the answer in the comment section later. Although I'm pretty sure you'll get it pretty quickly!
Miles and smiles