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It's Time To Be Seen

Updated on February 24, 2011
See Me at Americade
See Me at Americade | Source

To Be Seen

Motorists who have survived being struck by a train usually say, “I didn’t see it coming.”  Since this reflects pure stupidity, lack of attention, or both, I realize that there is no protection from this type of driver.  If they can’t see a train--which last I knew, runs only along clearly defined tracks—they’re not going to notice a motorcyclist. 

Last year at Americade two women had a vendor booth where they were promoting driver awareness of motorcycles.  I thought it somewhat strange that they choose to preach to the choir at the world’s largest motorcycle touring rally so I stopped to talk with them.  They were very impassioned about their mission and I wholehearted support their efforts, but when I brought up the subject of motorcyclists not being visible on the highway a blank looked crossed their faces.  I’d utterly confused them!

Often – far too often – when riding up the highway I encounter a situation where the motorcyclists ahead of me disappear against the backdrop of traffic.  Sometimes this is in the glaring light of day, but usually it is at dusk or when riding into the sunset.  Black jackets, black helmets, and one small taillight blending into the dark shadows of the cars they follow.  I’m often clued to their presence only when their bike moves into the middle of the lane exposing one of the rear taillights of the car they are following.  Now I know there’s at least one motorcycle ahead of me.

Another situation is when a parade of bikes is stopped at an intersection.  The group as a whole is obvious, but where the last pair of riders is positioned may not be so clear.  There are dozens of red lights up ahead and this reduces spatial recognition even for other approaching motorcyclists, to say nothing of an inattentive driver with sunlight glaring on the windshield who is trying to manage a cup of coffee while text messaging.

You can’t control the driver who is managing their office while driving and you can’t force the driver who’s blocking your way to move faster.  What you can do is make yourself more visible to others on the road.

The women at the booth had never considered that motorcyclists have a responsibility to make themselves more visible!  Their focus was on driver awareness and it was to this that they blindly focused their finances and efforts. 

I explained why rider safety instructors wear those ugly reflective vests.  I certainly notice a difference in the actions of drivers when I’m wearing my Hi-Viz yellow Darien jacket and when I’m wearing black leather.  Without going into the scientific details of visual perception, people notice a flashing red light much quicker than a constant one.  So put a modulator on your brake light to cause it to pulse (as if you were braking) while you’re sitting at a traffic light or intersection.  Highly reflective tape (one type is black until headlights strike it) doesn’t have to cramp your style on either your bike, jacket, or helmet.  LED lights or driving lights create a recognizable definition for oncoming motorcycles.  My experiments with these show a dramatic difference in driver response, especially regarding their pulling onto the highway in front of me.  LED side markers for turn signals, a second brake light mounted on the top case, and even reflective tape on the heels of boots all make a difference in visual identification and spatial definition.

The two women immediately understood and embraced the idea.  Increasing driver awareness is critically important, but it’s a two-sided coin.  First we have to take the responsibility for protecting ourselves.  It’s time to be seen, as well as heard.


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