As bike commuters, we learn early and are reminded often that high visibility and bike safety go hand in hand.
For many of us, that means strapping a set of lights onto our bikes at night, and taking every opportunity we can to over-communicate our position through voice, direct eye contact, and signaling.
But visibility is a problem we need to be aware of day and night, and lights alone won’t keep us safe.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the challenges bike commuters face staying visible on the road, as well as some solutions you can implement today to ensure that you stay out of harm’s way.
Yes, you should always wear your helmet when you ride a bike, regardless of where you’re riding. That’s obvious for all of us that want to preserve our brains.
And when we ride our bikes on public roads, we should feel the exact same way about visibility. Here’s why:
Ok, let’s just go ahead and get this one out of the way first because sadly, it’s one of the leading causes of distracted driving, which claimed 3,142 lives in 2019 alone according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Some quick statistics from the National Safety Council may (or may not) surprise you here:
Which means that as concerning as those numbers are, they’re likely even worse than we know.
For many of us, the obvious solution is to do everything we can to make sure drivers couldn’t ignore us if they wanted to, but what would you say if we told you drivers may see you well in advance and still fail to react?
We’ve all seen some terrifying examples of distracted driving, and the thought of a driver in the car coming up behind us being halfway through both a cheeseburger and a text message is enough to keep many cyclists up at night, but did you know that even if an attentive driver sees you they may still fail to act?
In a 2019 study on driver psychology by the Australasian College Of Road Safety (ACRS), researchers found that even when a driver is looking right at you, their brains may fail to “perceive” you as a person, which can cause them to go on driving as if you weren’t there at all.
The phenomenon is referred to as a “Look-But-Fail-To-See” (LBFTS) crash, and it’s just one more brick in the wall between you and bike safety, whether you’re commuting daily, training for your next race, or are just out for a fun ride around the city.
Being seen by drivers is great, but being seen early by drivers is even better.
According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, a driver traveling just 30 miles an hour needs over 100 feet to recognize a potential obstacle and come to a complete stop. That distance grows to over 300 feet by the time a driver reaches 60 mph.
Add to that number the fact that the NHTSA also found that the average behind-the-wheel text requires a driver to divert their attention for a full five seconds, during which time they will cover the length of an entire football field with their eyes completely off the road. That’s another 360 feet, which means that the gear you choose to wear needs to be highly visible from over 600 feet away to keep you safe.
Many of us will recall when we first started driving that finding ourselves in traffic behind a bicycle or two was an unexpected and often annoying experience.
It isn’t until we start cycling ourselves that we become more aware of bicycles or motorcycle on the road when we’re behind the wheel.
The same could be said for cyclist behavior.
While many of us quickly become well-versed in cycling etiquette like how to properly pass a cycle on the road, how many drivers do you think have spent even a fraction of the time you have learning how to properly share the road with their two-wheeled counterparts?
Yet another reason why we cyclists need to be as proactive as possible about our own safety and visibility.
Aside from wearing a helmet and any other gear that protects us from injury in the event of a crash, the most valuable piece of safety equipment a cyclist can have in his arsenal is one that prevents a crash from happening in the first place.
Fundamental biking skills and safety knowledge play a huge role in preventing crashes, as does a well-tuned bike with good brakes.
But unfortunately, even the most well-protected, highly-skilled cyclist still has to worry about the factors they can’t control: The motorists with whom we all share the road.
And that‘s where visibility becomes our first line of defense.
Regardless of how bright it may be outside, riding a bicycle on the road is an inherently dangerous activity.
While the behaviors of motorists are largely outside of your control, there are a few common-sense steps we believe every cyclist should take to ensure they are as visible as possible to everyone on the road.
There are some awfully strong opinions out there about wearing fluorescent colors as a fashion statement, but when it comes to bike safety, there’s no debate about the importance of fluorescents.
Workers on construction sites wear fluorescent yellow safety vests for the same reason hunters in the woods mix bright orange with their camouflage: Fluorescent colors aren’t common in the natural world, so our brains are more likely to pay attention to them when they enter our field of vision.
Which is exactly the reaction we want from motorists when we’re riding on public roads.
Yes, even during the day you should have some degree of lighting on your road bike.
There’s a reason that daytime running lights (or DRLs) have become fairly standard equipment on cars in the past decade: They increase visibility, and therefore safety.
While the lights on our cycles will no doubt be less effective on bright sunny days, they don’t hurt our likelihood of being seen either, and they significantly improve our visibility on cloudy or overcast days as well.
At a minimum, we recommend running a flashing, rear-facing light whenever possible for the same reason we all use our brake lights 24/7: Drivers will take notice.
Whether you like to get an early start, or often find yourself commuting home on your bike after the sun sets, chances are most cyclists will spend some amount of time riding after hours.
In addition to riding with increased awareness and caution, we recommend the following for nighttime bike safety.
While fluorescent colors are your safest bet during the day, they achieve their brightness by reflecting ultraviolet light, which means they’re dependent on the sun’s rays to be effective from a safety standpoint.
That means that even the loudest matching set of gear you can find won’t do you any good in the dark, and a separate solution is needed.
For many of us, that means we need to add enough lighting to both the front and rear of our bikes to make sure we’re visible from every angle.
And while a good headlight attached to your bike will help you see the path in front of you, ultimately the lights we install on our bikes themselves are for the visibility of others, rather than our own vision in the dark.
For this reason, it’s also a smart move to go ahead and add a helmet light to your gear as well, which will not only make you more visible to motorists, but will also make sure that you can see in the direction you’re looking rather than just the direction that your bike is pointed.
Your second layer of protection when you ride at night is the use of highly-reflective materials like 3M Scotchlite on as much of your clothing and gear as possible.
Special attention should be paid to making sure reflective material is used on the feet and ankles and again around the knees.
These areas are crucial because the human brain is more likely to recognize what is referred to as “biological motion” or the unique movements of the human body in motion.
By making the parts of our body that are constantly in motion while pedaling reflective, we increase our chances of being seen and recognized by motorists at night by up to 40% according to research from Queensland University of Technology.
Now it’s also worth mentioning that the same study found the most effective use of reflective clothing combined the moving parts noted above with an upper-body reflector like a vest or windbreaker, so keeping your torso as reflective as possible should always be part of any bike safety strategy at night.
While the best practices above will go a long way in ensuring you’re as safe as possible on the road, all the fluorescent colors and reflective material in the world won’t do you any good if you ultimately wind up covering it all up with a typical backpack or messenger bag.
And that’s what brought us to design the bike and motorcycle commuter backpack Riderbag™ Reflektor35, a lightweight 35L backpack that combines high-visibility for the day, and full-reflectivity for the night, all in a waterproof package that is perfect for bike or motorcycle commuters of all disciplines.
The Rider Bag Reflektor35 is also a laptop backpack with plenty of space for your change of clothes and includes:
Prevention is paramount, but because accidents do happen, we even built the Reflecktor to accept an internal armored back protector, which further enhances your safety by absorbing impacts and redistributing the energy away from your spine.
Our bags allow you to carry all of your essentials along for the ride on your back without masking the visibility of your upper body from motorists.
Check out our full range of reflective bags in a variety of eye-catching colors today to make sure you’re visible and safe whenever and wherever you choose to ride.
It wasn’t so long ago that an electric bike was a rare sight, and a novel one at that. Fast forward to present day and just about every major manufacturer on the planet has thrown their hat in the electric bicycle ring. And we mean everyone.
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