The darkness sweeps beside me, broken only by the single headlamp and the glow from the gauge cluster. Traffic disappears and the Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 seems a bit more eager thanks to the cool night air it’s inhaling. Sometimes I become so accustomed to the sensation of riding a motorcycle I fail to take a moment to enjoy it, especially when you ride nearly every day, 12 months a year.
On this evening, I knew I’d run out of daylight while attending a big bike night 50 miles from home. Rather than being discouraged, I relished the long, dark ride back up the mountains — for I am a night rider.
Lots of motorcyclists avoid the darkness or the rain for valid safety reasons. I completely understand. My choices are mine, and I respect other riders their choices, be it gear, helmets or riding conditions. For me, the feeling of rushing through the night air following a snaking yellow line shimmering in the headlight beam never fails to elicit an inner joy. Your senses heighten. Your awareness sharpens when much of the landscape vanishes into in the inky void.
My café racer has me enthralled as we reach the plateau, but the little Enfield’s riding position wasn’t designed for comfort. Halfway home I spot the irresistible glow of blue neon piercing the blackness. I rest my stiffening back for a while as I admire the Art Deco design of a propane dealership. It’s a Wednesday night in a small town, and I haven’t seen another motorcycle since leaving the bike event. It’s the solitude of night riding that also attracts me. Even lone rides during the day have you waving to other riders and interacting with the brightly lit world around you filled with motorists. The night highway is often yours alone.
There’s always the increased chance of a deer darting out when you’re a night rider. I try to stick to main roads in the dark since those lightly traveled backroads may also seem welcoming to four-legged creatures at this hour. The enjoyment lost by taking the bigger roads is made up for by the thrill of a moonlit ride.
I first discovered my love for night riding decades ago as a fearless newbie on a 600cc Yamaha. That youthful folly somehow stayed with me even as my riding experience and choice of proper gear matured. I tend to go to bed a lot earlier these days, but on those evenings when the sun calls it quits before I’m ready to go home, the night holds no terrors for me. I can almost taste the night air as I hum along through the darkness with a willing motorcycle beneath me and cone of light showing the way.
As an all-season rider living in the temperate rainforest of our southern Blue Ridge Mountains, I also find myself caught in that “liquid sunshine” on a regular basis. Rain, like darkness, often scares riders away. I see them huddled beneath bridges and dashing for the nearest restaurant when the skies open. I learned a long time ago to pack some rain gear in the summer, wear full waterproof gear in the cooler months, and just enjoy the experience. The sensation of rain splashing all around you also serves to make your senses and reactions more acute. I feel more alive riding in rain or darkness than I do just motoring along on my daily commute.
The key is to respect the bike, respect the road and relax. The bike doesn’t care that it’s dark or wet. You don’t have to either.
Michael E. Gouge