How to choose hi-viz motorcycle gear
So many people wear hi-viz clothing now your best option isn’t necessarily to don a yellow vest. We look at other colour options and the types of hi-viz motorcycle gear that will get you seen by other road users.
With a shiny ‘cyclops’ headlamp and blazing red taillight, you would expect a motorcycle to be highly visible to any other road user. Sadly, as SMIDSY statistics show, car drivers, cyclists and pedestrians seem to have a canny knack of managing to miss these clues and regularly walk, swerve or drive straight into motorbikes.
So, there is an obvious argument for its use. But what’s the best option for maximum safety?
Many reports have concluded that the actual colour of a motorcyclist’s jacket isn’t as important as making sure the jacket (or the whole rider) stands out from the background they are riding against. Given that we can ride against a multitude of different background even during a short commute, short of dressing like a unicorn, there is no single solution colour wise.
Fluorescent colours react with the sun’s ultraviolet rays, giving them a neon-like glow. Because of the prevalent use of white, the obvious brightest colour, on cars, vans, advertising posters and much else, a fluorescent object will stand out far more from the street’s furniture and other road users.
There’s no doubt that fluorescent yellow against a dark background stands out. The problem is, that’s how everyone else thinks too.
If you want to stand out, consider avoiding yellow hi-viz; at least in busy built up areas where they are likely to be many other people wearing the same colour. On many streets now you’ll compete with builders, street sweepers, delivery drivers and many cyclists. Orange suffers from the same problem, but to a letter extent. Many people argue that yellow stands out less in bright light too. To ensure you get noticed, go for a fluoro pink vest, making sure it has reflective strips for greater visibility at night.
In fact, reflective strips are a good idea on high visibility wear even if you only ride during the daytime – 2.7 million people in the UK are colour blind to the red-green spectrum. Strips still give you some chance of being seen by these people.
Yellow does have its place though. Being the brightest of the fluorescent colours, it’s possibly more easily seen from a distance, so could be better in countryside environments, especially against darker hedgerows.
Once the sun’s ultraviolet rays have disappeared over the horizon so has the maximum effectiveness of any fluorescent colour. This is also true in foggy conditions, where ultraviolet rays struggle to penetrate past the top layer of the fog, instead being reflected back by the water droplets.
At night it is the reflective strips that are picked up in other vehicles’ headlights. Some of the fluorescence may also be picked up, but if you want to be sen in a city, avoid yellow hi-viz as it can disappear under street lights using sodium bulbs (the vast majority).
Studies have shown that, in low-light conditions, reflective strips are more visible to other road users simply because they are less common, again because of the prevalent use of hi-viz wear due to HSE regulations.
The truth is you don’t necessarily need a vest, and in some respects, straps are more visible to drivers. At the risk of indulging in cod psychology, when a driver sees a motorcyclist in a plain yellow vest they are as likely to think ‘labourer riding a bike’ as they are to think about your safety. Straps, on the other hand, may do more to remind the driver that you are wearing hi-viz, not because of a HSE regulation, but because you want to be seen.
Straps that cross the back are less commonly seen and are therefore arguably more likely to register with the viewer, even taking into account the smaller surface area.
Fluorescent helmets are increasingly becoming more popular and have the added benefit that the viewer is more likely to make a connection between the item’s purpose – protecting another human being’s head – and the fact you are wearing it. This is another vote against the ubiquitous HSE yellow vest.
Brightly coloured helmets also stand out when you’re wearing a backpack. Even if you have gone down the fluoro pink with zebra strips vest option, it’s rendered next to useless when you put something on your back.
The options here are to buy a fluorescent backpack (limited availability in 100% waterproof materials) or put a fluorescent cover over your standard rucksack.
Hi-viz on the bike
You can, of course, add hi-viz stickers to your bike, although you’ll be at risk of accusations of being a wannabe cop or blood biker. For that reason alone, if you are going to put strips on panniers or top boxes, keep them minimal – just one strip caught in another road user’s headlight will make sure you are more visible.
Please, leave the blue and yellow strips to the professionals so that drivers can tell the difference and make way for the people who may have a job to do.
You might have noticed that we’ve managed to avoid the subject of those ‘POLITE’ hi-viz vests some bikers choose to wear. You can see our thoughts on this here.
Get yourself sorted:
Wear pink hi-viz with reflective straps. If we can get the UK biking population to wear nothing but pink, I’ll win a £10 bet in the office.
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