Saturday, January 12, 2008

Night riding.

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



Bryce said...

Illumination is what we call it!

Now have done more than my share of
automobile rallies, mostly 40 years
or more ago. So for me it was a Volvo
544 and later a Datsun 510, both with large Cibie 7 inch diameter lamps on
the front and a 5 inch one on the rear for reverse moves. They could really kick out the light, didn't stop trees from jumping out at us at night though.

On the 1981 Goldwing figure night riding means bright lights, and in particular long-range lights, the two don't always go together.
The measly supplied 45/65 bulbs have always to me been useless. Early on rewired the headlight feeders to accept a brighter light, 90 watts low, 120 watts on high. Good to see stop signs at a quarter mile. And ditto for other objects.

There is one disadvantage to said
lights, the power supply is poor on
the early wings. Three hundred watt output at 4000 rpm into a 20 amp battery. Solution is to make some
changes. Try and run on high power
in a lower gear thus increasing the rpm. And also install a second pair of driving lamps under the fairing. I use five inch circular
lamp shells, rewired with relays
so when they are turned on they are
really bright H4/100 watt bulbs.

The beams of the lamps are set to cross about 40 feet out from the
motorcycle, so the right lamp lights up the left side of the road, ditto the opposite for the left lamp. I run these only when running the main or dipped beam
is on the main headlamp. Have found
generally because the lamps are
not straight ahead, they don't
bother on coming vehicles. However if oncoming vehicles insist on high
beams, then turn on the single high beam, they turn down their lights pretty quick..
These days there those PIAA lamps
which can be installed to provide
a so-called triangle of safety.
Also the wing is have the rear lamps changed top LED's.
In my case
it is a matter of constructing a circuit board and installing the appropriate LED's. Side marker
lamps for the last two years have been LED's and have been very reliable. LED's also reduce the amperage required to operate lights on a bike.

As to Dan's comments about Sophie from the rear, he needs some form
of retro-reflective stripes on the
bags. Preferably on the peripheral
edges. Let somebody else light
up the backside of the motorcycle!

BTW my Honda Civic has the standard headlamps installed, and a set
of outboard lamps are installed
in a similar manner as the motorcycle, however the point of
interference is about 80 feet down the road. Hence these lamps, although a high output lamp have little glare as they aimed to cross
well out from and away from the source. And they only get used on rural roads and simialr. Bambi and two legged critters often like to hide
in the foliage along side roads.

Krysta in Milwaukee said...

"What clues will you have that you're over riding your headlight?"

The most obvious one I can think of is being surprised by something you didn't see in time. Hopefully it's only a pothole, not a car dead in the road.

Anonymous said...

I would say an obvious clue to over-riding your light at night is not being able to look through a turn far enough on a twisty road. Objects can be that much more hazardous when leaning the bike, and the ABS on the interceptor won't help me much in a turn.
As to the comment about modifying the lighting with bulbs & wattage, etc... I can't fully agree. While some auxilary lights are funtional, a lot of vehicle owners go overboard with the fog lights and HID's. Aftermarketers will try to make you think "you NEED this to be safe..." I'm more inclined to stick to OEM. Just my 2 cents... -Dan

irondad said...

So far I haven't installed any auxiliary lighting. I've got a friend who has PIAA's on an ST1300. They seem to work fine without being too much. I try to avoid being rude but it would be fun to burn the paint off an offending vehicle!

You got it. A rider's always being surprised. Whoa, I didn't see that! Yikes, I didn't realize the corner was that sharp! Nicely done.

Not seeing through a curve is part of being surprised. You're exactly right. As to extra lighting I tend to agree with you.

Take care,


Krysta in Milwaukee said...

Gee, and here I thought it was going to be something more esoteric. Tricky, even. ::sigh:: Keep on teaching, Dan. Eventually you'll get through even to us dim bulbs. ::grin::

irondad said...

Sorry for the letdown. I try to boil things down to their simplest element. Guess it helps me understand them better!