Should motorcyclists be seen and not heard? Today we look at survival tips for sharing traffic jammed roads with many distracted drivers.
by Mark DT
The riding season is just getting started in many parts of North America. Motorists are more distracted than ever before, and having a few strategies to get noticed by the texting cager in the next lane will help you stay safe. Most motorcycle schools will tell you to ride as if you are invisible. One my best riding friends, who has spent years on the track told me when I was getting started, “ride as if everyone out there has it in for you”. Is he paranoid or prudent?.. I’ll let you decide.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not part of the brethren of “loud pipes saves lives” riders. Usually because motorcyclists that profess a love for loud pipes are often the same that believe that helmets are dangerously restricting their vision and are best left at home, and skin is best protected with bad-ass tattoos. So while yes loud pipes will obviously get you noticed, they are not scientifically proven as the best way to help you be noticed and avoided by other drivers.
Let’s start the riding season by focusing on how to ride safe, and avoid being invisible to other motorists. Here are our tips to ensure that you are always seen by others on the road when out on your motorcycle.
Personal Protective Gear – think bright.
I won’t argue with anyone that says a neon yellow motorcycle jacket is not as cool-looking as a vintage black one. However, I can live with giving up a little of the perceived cool factor when the statistics bear out I’m much safer and more likely to be seen by other motorists when I’m wearing bright-colored gear. In fact, a study conducted in New Zealand found… “Drivers wearing reflective or fluorescent clothing had a 37% lower risk of crash related injury than those who were not wearing such materials”
So save the all black gear for touring on the quiet back roads. When you are riding in a sea of distracted commuters, put on a bright motorcycle jacket that will get other the drivers immediate attention. If you still can’t stomach the thought of riding in anything but a black jacket, consider getting a high visibility vest to wear over your existing gear for the daily commute, and hide the vest away in your tank bag when you walk into the coffee shop.
Looking at the picture of my wife and I you can see that for the most part we practice what we preach. My wife’s motorcycle is a black Ninja 250. Until recently she always road in all black gear. What surprised me was how hard it was for me to sometimes see her when the sun was glaring in my side mirror and she was following me in formation. If I had a hard time spotting her when actively looking, I could only imagine what excuses a distracted driver could come up with for not seeing her. Now with her bright helmet and jacket, she is far more visible at all times of day on the road.
Don’t forget your helmet color choices matter. Bright is best.
Here is a case where my wife Anne has made a better choice than me. A bright white helmet gets noticed faster by drivers than a dark one. Once again the statistics bear this out. According to the same New Zealand study sourced before…“Compared with wearing a black helmet, use of a white helmet was associated with a 24% lower risk..”
I’ll admit I don’t like the look of plain white helmets, but there are plenty of light-colored and white helmets with decent graphics that will be far more noticeable to drivers than a stealthy matte-black one. My wife found a really nice ECE rated helmet that is both white and stylish. You can see from the picture above how much better it stands out from my own black and white helmet.
Additional Lights. Yes good supplementary LED lights help you be seen by drivers.
Two of the most popular articles on Farkle My Ride so far deal with adding some good quality LED lights to supplement your existing lights. If you haven’t read the articles yet, you can read them here and here.
If your motorcycle has a single low beam light, adding a pair of daytime running lights will change the conventional light pattern seen by drivers to a more triangular shape that will get their attention. You can see what I mean if you look at my motorcycle in the photo to the right. I have both LED’s on at low brightness, with just the low beam on. This is ideal when riding towards traffic either day or night. It lights the road and lets you be seen, without blinding or distracting traffic facing you.
When that doesn’t work, a quick flip of the high beams glares an additional 6000 lumens of light! All without the need to have a loud screaming exhaust. The below two pics show how dramatic the effect is. Remember, this should only be used to prevent an accident by momentarily alerting a motorist to your presence, not as tool to blind others when feeling road rage.
Still looking for other ways to make you and your motorcycle more noticeable? Reflective tape is a solution that works well for night riding. It can either be sewn into your riding gear, or attached on your motorcycle with self adhesive tape. Done properly it can look really good too. Clicking the below pictures will take you to Amazon.com to find either the sewn in or self adhesive style reflective tape.
Ok… Now I’m dressed like a nerd, and my bike’s lights can signal approaching airplanes. What about my riding skills? How should I ride so I will always be seen by other drivers?
If you have never attended a riding school, take an advanced riding clinic. You might be surprised at how much you learn. This is the ideal way to have a professional instructor guide you to being a safer rider, and helping you break some bad habits you may have picked up over the years. Advanced riding clinics are offered across the country and are both a fun and rewarding way to improve your skills quickly. An added bonus is taking these courses will sometimes reduce your insurance costs as well. Ask riders in your local area for referrals of what schools they like best and why.
An inexpensive place to start your journey to being a safer rider would be to read David Hough’s Proficient Motorcycling. I believe this might be the best book out there for riders looking to improve their riding skills. You will be a safer rider for having read and applying the knowledge gained from this book. I make it a point to re-read it each spring before the riding season really gets started. I consider it my own personal rider skills spring tune up session. A few evenings with this book beats the heck out of whats on TV most nights. No matter what your experience level, this book has something for all riders.
Fine I’ll read the book, what can I do while riding on my next ride to be seen better?
[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]you must make a conscious effort to minimize being in any drivers blind-spot[/pullquote]
Like I said earlier, ride as though you think you are invisible. This means that you must make a conscious effort to minimize being in any drivers blind-spot. This means staying out of the center lane in traffic whenever possible. Taking the appropriate position within the lane you occupy so that other drivers will see you. Finally realize that if you cannot see the drivers face in the mirror of their vehicle, then they can’t see you. Therefore when you can’t see their face, reposition yourself laterally within the lane, or by backing off so that you are no longer invisible. Couple these smart practices with wearing good high-vis gear and adding decent lighting to your motorcycle, and you will have substantially reduced the risk of not being seen by other motorists on the road.
We’ve searched the internet looking for deals on high visibility gear. Check out these deals from Motorcycle Superstore, Chaparral Motorsports, and Cruiser Customizing.
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