Scan the picture at the top of this article quickly. What jersey would you rather be wearing on roads full of distracted drivers?
Riding in Daylight
About ten years ago a good friend of mine confessed that he always wears a fluorescent yellow jersey when he rides his bike. At the time my collection of jerseys included – like many of you, I’m sure – an assortment of team colors and charity ride commemorative tops. I felt that, well, hi-viz yellow is kinda’ dorky. I didn’t tell my friend that, of course. But I remember the conversation like it was yesterday, and it started me thinking.
Then about five years ago another friend described his observations concerning jersey color during a cross-country ride from Seattle to Miami. He noticed that in a group of riders a mile or so up the road, the only rider he could always spot was the one in hi-viz yellow. The rest, in various team kit colors, might as well have been wearing camouflage. Road-camo he called it. That conversation convinced me.
I’ve been buying nothing but hi-viz yellow jerseys ever since. I still have some road-camo jerseys, and I still wear them when my hi-viz yellows are dirty, but I wear the yellow whenever I can, and I’m tossing the older jerseys as they age.
I also found a deal on a six-pack of bright yellow socks (six pairs, twelve socks, Pearl Izumi if you must know). I wear these socks exclusively when I ride. I think that my yellow-clad ankles bobbing up and down provide a strong association with the concept of cyclist in the minds of drivers. I also like to think that this association will cause a driver to avoid me rather than run me down. What do you wear when you ride?
Riding in the Dark
Fluorescent yellow is great in daylight, but at night it just looks sort of gray. You need lights and reflective surfaces when it’s dark.
Retroreflective material is that silver-looking stuff sewn into the seams or in patches on some clothing. It’s amazing stuff. Try taking a flash picture at night of someone wearing a patch of retroreflective material. You can’t. The stuff throws so much light back at you that it ruins your exposure, leaving everything else in darkness.
Reflectivity is great, if the car/bike/runner/hog/deer hurtling toward you has lights. If not, there’ll be no light to reflect. You need active lighting. Red in back and white in front seem appropriate. I’ve no data to back this up but I believe this color choice helps orient you in others’ minds as approaching or receding. I don’t know what the hogs and deer think.
You also need a headlight to be able to see where you are going. Hogs and deer don’t wear reflectors. There are lots of affordable rechargeable lights available that will throw enough light to see and be seen. I like at least 400 lumens in front and 100-200 lumens in back. Once you’ve made the investment in rechargeable lights, why not run them in daylight too? Most of these lights will run for many hours in flash mode, and they’re bright enough to garner attention even in sunlight. Did you notice the headlight in the picture?
Taillights, in my experience, are highly directional. Be sure yours is aimed towards the rear, maybe slightly left (slightly right in England?) and level. If you clip your tail light to your seat bag or clamp it to a seat-stay, there’s a good chance it is pointing to the ground or up into the eyes of the rider behind you, and not back down the road. Do this: Lean your bike against a post or something, turn on your taillight, and walk back about 100 feet. What do you see? Move left, right, up, down. Adjust your light so the brightest action is where a driver would be sitting as he approaches you.
Are you safe because you look like a construction worker in hi-viz yellow and you’re all lit up. No, you could still get hurt in a number of ways. But at least you’ve greatly reduced the chance of someone looking down at you on the ground and saying “Sorry, I didn’t see you”.