Research shows that cyclists drastically overestimate the distance at which they are detectable by motorists. Unless we’re actively doing something to increase our detectability, we may not be seen at all. And that’s an alarming reality. But there are simple steps we can all be taking to stand out. The following guidelines were developed using research conducted by students of Clemson University’s Perceptual Awareness department. The ABC of Awareness – Always on, Biomotion and Contrast – are presented here in a 'good, better, best' hierarchy. Using daytime running lights is a good way to be noticed, but a combination of daytime running lights, highlighting your body’s moving parts and choosing gear that contrasts with the environment is the best option. The more of the ABC you practise on every ride, the more you’ll stand out.
Cycling has taken some of its best cues from the automotive industry. We can thank cars and motorcycles for suspension and disc brakes, for instance. These days, cars come as standard with daytime running lights because cars with DRLs are less likely to be involved in a collision. Applying that logic to bikes is a no-brainer. But not all lights are created equal. Even lights designed for superior brightness may not be particularly effective during daylight hours. A true DRL has a specific focus, flash and range. Without these three things, you just have a light.
The brain has identified ways of protecting itself, beginning with its uncanny ability to recognise a biological form with only a few clues to the form’s shape. In other words, we’re really good at seeing ourselves. This isn’t something that needs to be taught – it is an instinctual perceptual phenomenon called 'sensitivity to biomotion'.
On a bike, the unique up and down pedalling motion is what makes you recognisable as human. At night, highlight your feet, ankles and legs with products that feature reflective materials. During daylight, wear fluorescent socks, shoes, covers or warmers.
Fluorescent is effective for cyclists during daylight because it helps us stand out from the surrounding environment. But without the sun, fluorescent clothing is no more effective than darker clothing.
It’s amazing that it takes a team of highly trained vision experts to remind us all of this simple fact: you can’t see a damned thing in the dark.
When it comes to clothing, fluorescent works during daylight. At night, reflective is what makes you stand out.