Night Riding in Malaysia & Thailand

Motorcycle touring in Malaysia & Thailand can be tricky in the day and more so if you plan to do it at night. Here you'll find some pointers that will help keep you riding another day should you decide to take up touring under the moonlight.

1. Getting enough rest.

Night riding requires a lot of concentration. Judging distances, straining your eyes to see what's ahead, adapting to the different road environment and being one step ahead of other road users by knowing what they'll do next, will take a lot out of you. So unless you plan to be driven by adrenaline, get enough sleep prior to the night ride. Take half a day off to do so if need be. Sleep late by watching a couple of VCDs or finishing a good book or better still, wash and polish your bike, the night before so that you can sleep in the day before the ride. Getting well rested is very very important. Imagine what will happen should you doze off for just a few seconds at a cruising speed of 150 km/h at night...

2. Getting prepared.

Needless to say, all preparations for a day ride, pertaining to riding gear and bike maintenance, also apply for a ride at night. Go to Preparing for a Ride for details on this.

3. Tips for the road.

Try to avoid trunk roads or poorly lit/marked highways. Trunk roads are usually not lit and has few reflectors to mark its course. Riding on them at night is very dangerous and more so when you're faced with oncoming traffic with headlamps glaring at you just a couple of feet away.
Sandy patches and oil slicks around corners are almost impossible to see until its too late, while rain will end the ride.
Stick to the major highways and keep the trunk roads for day trips.

Use reflective clothing or riding gear. Put on reflectors or reflective stickers at the rear end of your bike. Make yourself very visible to other road users. Being able to see you will allow them to react accordingly.

Know the route you plan to take. Remember the designated fuel stops and rest points. Signs are not always visible at night, so slow down and use your highbeam should you come across a directional sign.

Keep your eyes opened for rubbish and debri lying on the highway at all times. The wedge of a spent watermelon will spell disaster while a plank may mean imminent death. Be alert for such killer litter and maintain a speed that will allow you to react safely when you see them.

There will be instances when oncoming vehicles have their highbeams on as they pass you. This will drastically affect your vision and judgement.
Slow down and shift your eyes to the left side of the road. Avoid looking directly at the vehicle. Do not close your eyes and try not to highbeam back. Just concentrate on what's in front of you with your peripheral vision until the vehicle passes.
A good idea would be to wear anti-glare glasses on night rides. These are glasses with yellow tint lenses. It will reduce the glare from oncoming vehicles' headlamps, allowing you to look in front without much irritation and distraction.

Stop regularly. Try not to go more then 1 and a half hours without stopping for a rest. During the rest stops, take "Red Bull" or sweets to keep yourself alert for the next stretch. Intense concentration for long hours is very demanding.

Do not overtake from the left. There's a good chance the other motorist will not be able to see you. This includes using the breakdown lane. Breakdown vehicles parked along this lane are sometimes not marked with reflective pylons and are never lit.

On the road, slow down when you are about to overtake a vehicle. Make sure its safe, signal and before you pass, horn or flash your highbeam so that the vehicle in front knows you are about to overtake. Do not take for granted that with your headlamps on and signals blinking, the vehicle in front will know you're overtaking.

There will be instances when trucks and cars cut into your lane while you're overtaking. You may have honked or highbeamed but these things still happen. Apply your brakes and let them overtake.
To do this effectively and safely, you will have to overtake at a speed at which you will be able to apply your brakes suddenly without skidding or highsiding.
Once you're sure the vehicle in front is not coming into your lane, accelerate and pass as soon as possible. Go in slow and get out fast.

Be on the look out for motorcycles, cars and sometimes even trucks without tail lights! Yes, they do exist on the highways! If you're not alert and going a little too fast, you might just ram right into the rear end of one of them.

Do not stop on the road shoulder unless your bike has broken down. Small bikes use that lane all the time and if you're not well lit and conspicuous, one of them or even a car or a truck might plough into you.

Stop when it rains. Your vision will be impaired drastically, roads will be slippery, braking becomes almost impossible, road markers are no longer visible and the glare from oncoming vehicles become blinding. Worse of all, other vehicles will find it difficult to see and react to you too!
When it rains, go slow and head towards the nearest exit, R&R or motorcycle rain shelters (usually located under bridges and flyovers along the highway). Wait for the rain to stop or come to a light drizzle before proceeding.

Some stretches along the highway become foggy in the early hours of the morning or on cold nights. The fog can be very thick sometimes. Stay calm, slow down and use your highbeam or fog lamps. Visibility can even drop to just a couple of meters, so keep an eye out for parked vehicles and objects that may just appear right in front of you.

Stop when you become sleepy. Take a short nap or rest for a while. Never force yourself to keep going, thinking that its just a couple of kilometers away from the next stop. This will only mean dying in your sleep. Alert your buddy you're going to stop so that if you're riding in a group, the others will know that you're OK.

There will not be much in the form of law enforcement on the highways at night. The reason for this is obvious. It's stupid to speed and ride recklessly at night, so not many people do it! Ride at a comfortable speed, this will be different to one that you're comfy with in the day, and observe all laws of staying alive on a motorcycle.

Personally, I find there's nothing more exhilarating than cruising along a stretch of open road on my bike, in the cool of the night with the moon watching on, as I take in each mile freedom has to offer. But freedom at night comes with a price. Develop the right riding style and attitude and you'll find as much fun riding under the moonlight.

Have fun and ride safe always!

The above is based on my personal riding experience and those of other bikers. Please feel free to send me more tips or experiences so that myself and others will learn from them.