Silver Wheels Cycling Club, Inc. 

Bicycling For Recreation, Fitness, Fun, Learning and Advocacy

 

Can You See Me Now?

Visibility, as used herein, refers to the ability of other roadway users to see and recognize a bicyclist on the road, in a variety of situations. This article will not approach illumination (lighting) on the bike other than from a visibility perspective.


Day Time Visibility


One would think that a motorist driving along would naturally be able to see a cyclist on the road. After all, here you are going along on a vehicle about five or six feet long and you are about two feet wide and about 6 feet high, often wearing something very colorful. How could a motorist NOT see you?


Actually, they probably do at first, when you are a ways off ahead. But then you slowly become part of the background and blend in with the environment. That’s when your visibility has been lost. The motorist then “loses sight” of you and, as the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind.” Literally. This is especially true when the roadway is flat or a slight downhill and you are doing more coasting, with no visible motions.


Here are some points that may help you to become more visible to drivers during the day:

  1. Wear garments that clash with the environment. In summer, the environment on the road includes dull gray, black and green, maybe some white. You can stand out from that color base by wearing bright colors of red, orange, yellow, blue, and anything other than the dull, drab colors of the roadway. Fluorescent colors work well to add visibility to your presence. Watch the first video to see why chartreuse is a popular jersey color. Black shorts is a practical exception.
  2. Keep pedaling. Researchers have found that drivers more easily identify a biker as a biker when he is pedaling. [Just do a search on the Internet for ‘cyclist visibility research’ and you’ll find many sources.] A cyclist is identifiable by the up and down circular motion of the pealing action. Anything you can do to add visibility to that action will help. This reinforces the use of bright colored socks and shoes. Continued pedaling when you are nearing an intersection is also an excellent way to subtly let a motorist know you are there and that you probably are going straight through the intersection (bikers stop pedaling when approaching for a turn). Our second video will talk about these points. 
  3. When in doubt, wave. If you have any reason to wonder if maybe that driver does not see you, add a friendly gesture to his experience. This added motion will cause them to look your way.
  4. The question of lights during the day. There is some validity to using lights - headlight and tail light - during daytime riding. That little blinky in the rear does little to identify you as a cyclist except from a distance and especially in a shaded area. The blinking light does little to add to your visibility up close - where a motorist might hit you. Up close, your visibility is more dependent on your lane positioning, the colors you wear, and the amount of biker-motion you exhibit. But farther away, at 500 or more feet, and especially in the shade, that blinky might help.


Night Time Visibility


We include this even though very few Silver Wheelers actually ride after dark, and those who do seem to be pretty well prepared. But for those who do get caught on the road at sundown or later, here are some points to consider:

  1. There’s a reason Stop Signs are reflective. Every driver realizes that when his lights shine on a certain shape and it reflects back in a certain way, he knows that is a Stop Sign and he needs to respond accordingly. We are not talking about fluorescent garb here - we mean materials with the capability to bounce light back toward the source. Bikes are required by law to have a front white reflector and red rear reflector. For riding in dim light - when cars will have their headlights on - you can add to your own identity by having reflective strips on your jersey - front and back and down the sleeves, using a larger rear reflector, reflective adhesive patches can be added to your helmet, bags or even your frame, and reflective materials can be added to your shoes.
  2. The moving object catches the eye. Just as with day time visibility, the same goes for reduced light times. Drivers identify a biker by the pedaling motion. Anything you can do to aid that identity will help. Socks, pedal reflectors, ankle and wrist reflectors, tights with a reflective strip down the outer seam are all easy to use options.
  3. Lighter colored clothing is still better than darker. Logic tells you that a pale yellow jersey will be more visible than a dark blue one in dim light. Perhaps this is a good place to use the vernacular DUH! A little common sense can go a long way here. Check out the two videos below for more about clothing choices.
  4. Light up! State law says you must use a light when operating at least a half hour before sundown. A headlight must be visible for 500’ and so must a red tail light. We’re talking about only for visibility purposes, not the ability for you to see ahead. To blink or not to blink is a vexing question, with members in both corners willing to argue - or ignore - facts and notions. While a flashing light might increase your visibility, it might also add to a driver’s irritability. Here are some points about lights: Research has pointed out that slower flashing lights are more acceptable than fast blinkers. If riding with a group of cyclists, flashing lights are not a good idea - the leaders see all these bright lights in their mirrors which is very irritating. Helmet lights can help in making you more identifiable as a cyclist. 
  5. Lane position is still critical to visibility. When visibility becomes reduced, you still need to ride out in the lane at least a couple feet from the edge. And in narrow lanes you still need to assert yourself in the middle of the lane to keep from being squeezed off the edge. 

Visibility is the responsibility of the cyclist - it is your job to be sure you are as visible as possible to other roadway users. Never assume drivers can see you - make sure they do!

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