15. Be Visible: High Visibility Apparel and Accessories

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“Say you can’t see me?”

In an ideal world….

There would be no need for high-visibility apparel and accessories. There would be improved infrastructure, such as protected bike lanes. There would be no distracted drivers or pedestrians. And there would be so many people biking in every community that there would be a constant mindfulness about looking out for them.  (As the Scottish Parliament noted, the more people bicycling there are in a community, the safer it is to bike there.)

Meanwhile, this Castroville boy, Max, is hip to the fact that high-visibility apparel and accessories may sometimes be helpful.  Here he was biking with his father in downtown Salinas on the evening of the Kiddie Kapers and Colmo Night parade.

As mentioned in this guide′s tips on bicycling safety, and elsewhere on this site, many factors influence the safety of people bicycling. Among them:
  • Infrastructure improvements
  • Responsible behavior of people who bike, drive, walk, skate, or otherwise get about
  • Effective laws
  • Law enforcement
  • And simply an increase in the numbers of people who bike makes communities safer for biking too

However, even when the laws and your behavior are in your favor, being right obviously doesn’t guarantee your safety. That’s why many people who bike feel it may be worthwhile to also make use of high-visibility apparel and accessories.

Sources for High Visibility–Day or Night

This section includes photos and comments about high-visibility clothing and accessories, along with some resources on where to buy (including low-cost sources).  For night riding, also see tips on biking in the dark, which includes low-cost lights.

Below: High-visibility tape on my bike trailer adds to night riding safety. Below, I’d pulled over on East Alisal Street to chat with locals at the lavandería about bicycling resources, including información en español sobre las bicicletas.

Hi vis tape on bike trailer on Alisal St, East Salinas Oct 6 2013

Here’s Monterey Peninsula bike commuter dad Tim Meehan at dusk on the corner of Canyon del Rey/Highway 218 and Fremont Street in Seaside. This father (notice the child carrier at rear of his bike) doesn’t have precious cargo with him at this particular time. Nonetheless, he still wants to get home to his wife and children in one piece. He’s far less concerned about fashion than he is about doing anything that may help make him, and his usual cargo, more noticeable in traffic. That’s why you’ll usually see Tim, night and day, in hi-vis apparel.

“I’m hauling precious cargo–my daughters! High visibility clothes and accessories may help, so I use them.”
Above: Susan Ragsdale-Cronin, avid Del Rey Oaks bike commuter who has served as a volunteer on the Transportation Agency for Monterey County’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

Susan suggests that neon green is more visible then neon yellow.

You’ll see Jack Long (above, in Monterey) and his wife Janet Beal (with him below, on General Jim Moore Boulevard, Seaside) biking all around the county.

In the present world…

While bright apparel cannot ensure your safety, it may be worth considering when you’re sharing a road with cars, buses, trucks, and other motor vehicles. When you’re dressed in dark clothing, simply passing under the shade of trees can often make you seemingly disappear. That’s true on roads like this one, Monterey-Salinas Highway 68, where the scenic drive includes many such shady spots along the way—in addition to the hazards of typically heavy traffic on Hwy 68. 

Even this rider’s bright red sleeves help make him more visible than he’d be in all black or other neutral coors.29-May-2011-Big-Sur-003-1024x768

 

Below: A couple from Germany who were bicycle touring on Highway 1 north of Moss Landing. Their red and neon green colors help make them more visible.

Two photos below: I first met this couple, bicycling tourists from France, in Monterey. Later, I saw them biking north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1 in heavy fog.

Sylvie asked, “Can you see us in the fog?” 

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As I told Sylvie, their bright yellow bags were first visible, then their flags–although those flags weren’t so bright. Although road design and permissible speed limits for motor vehicle drivers do far more to improve safety, a high visibility flag is considered by many a helpful measure. In addition to checking local bike shops first, flags can also be ordered from many companies; see “where to buy” below. Consider which are truly high-visibility, versus simply decorative and not-so-visible.

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As this young rider knows, “It’s better to be looked over than overlooked.”  So make it fun!
Zachary Flint has his own unique way

of being highly visible on the bikeways.  His fun cycling clothes caught my eye.

“Yes, I think Zach has a good idea!”

Dressing in high-visibility colors, and using lights as appropriate for conditions, need not be expensive. Scroll down to “Where to buy.”

(Photo credit below, Ravi Kapur, KSBW.)

Flags

Bike flags may be especially helpful for bike trailers, recumbents, and other low-to-the-ground wheels.  See “Where to Buy” below for a variety of options.

Susan Ragsdale-Cronin on Fairground Road, Monterey, en route to her home in Del Rey Oaks.

Where to Buy

Bicycling Monterey is not specifically recommending any particular store or company. These resources are simply referred to for your convenience, to help get you started in doing your own research on where to buy.

Local bike shops: Most local bicycle shops throughout Monterey County carry high-visibility apparel and other safety gear, for example, Winning Wheels, 318 Grand Avenue, Pacific Grove; phone 831/375-4322.

Flags: Although there are fashion-friendly flags, most people want to select based on how truly visible the flags are and how long those bright colors will last, etc. The following are some sources, besides many local bike shops, where you can purchase flags: Purple Sky/CatrikeFlags, Rocky Mountain Recumbents, Gettysburg Flag Works, and others. For more about flags, see High-Visibility: Dress for Success.

Thrift shops: Especially good if you have growing children or just want to “reduce-reuse-recycle” garments as an Earth-friendly thing to do, check local Goodwill stores and other thrift shops.  They just may have exactly the neon colors you are looking for.

Rig up your own lights: As mentioned in the Biking in the Dark section of this site, many of us had a flashlight on our bike handlebars in decades past, and there’s no reason that can’t work just as well today. Check out these tips from bicyclelighting.com – including flashlight-type lights.

MST Bus Stop Shop: Looking for MST’s clip-on flashing red lights, handy to help make a person biking or walking more noticeable in fog, or at dawn, dusk, or nighttime? Ask for them at the MST Bus Stop Shop. While people who ride at night will surely prefer to purchase or rig up a larger, brighter red light for the back of their bicycle–even though California law (as of 2016) still only requires a rear red reflector–the small MST lights may provide some help in some situations.

The sash shown below can be purchased for as little as $5 (see “High Visibility:  Dress for Success”).
Wearing your regular clothes?  Just adding a sash, as I wore below, can make you more visible to drivers.

Photo credit: Scott MacDonald, Salinas Californian

This DLI student biking downtown Monterey also know that strap is a great contrast to his camoflauge uniform.

DLI student - hi vis strap in downtown Monterey

Construction gear store:

A lesser-known source for bike safety items is Graniterock. At the Seaside Graniterock public store, 1755 Del Monte Avenue, they have carried a high visibility vest for about $8. Phone ahead for current price and availability (to be sure the item is in stock).

Up in Santa Cruz County, a larger Granite Rock public store is equipped with much highly visible gear:  350 Technology Drive, Watsonville, just off Highway 1 at the Airport Blvd exit.  This is about 25 miles north of Monterey, so does require planning ahead.  However, it’s an easy hop off the freeway when traveling between Monterey and  Santa Cruz. Phone 831.768.2000.

I found that Watsonville Granite Rock store when I was searching for 100% cotton neon-colored t-shirts, which they have, along with much more.  Their inventory includes neon-colored sweatshirts, vests, jackets, and pants, including some with reflective strips.  Most are available with or without their company logo, although sometimes you will need to special order an item sans logo. 

Alternatively, you may purchase from Graniterock online.

This gentleman, attending a Monterey Auto Week event at Portola Plaza, caught my eye.  His Graniterock vest keeps him highly visible on the bikeways, day and night. 

Monterey Auto Week is full of high-traffic events, and he knew biking was his easiest way to get around. Think biking is too slow? It’s often quicker for 3-5 mile trips.  During Auto Week, local bike commuter Jan Valencia beat a turbo-powered Porsche home on his 20-mile bike commute, on a 55 mph road, even tho the Porsche got a 2-minute headstart!

A recumbent bike, being lower to the ground, benefits from special measures to help make it visible on the road. When riding in traffic, better than a low flag is a hi-vis flag waving high above the recumbent rider–right at eye-level for most vehicle drivers! Recumbent retailers such as Easy Racers and Rocky Mountain Recumbents, often feature a variety of flags.

Downtown Pacific Grove – Photo courtesy of Leo Kodl

Lights like those shown in the photo above help.  And while this recumbent is  all set for the Class I bike path, when sharing a road with cars, adding a higher-visibility flag, and at a greater height, is often recommended.  That could make a difference in not being overlooked by a driver, especially one in an SUV, truck, or other high-off-the-ground motor vehicle.

About recumbents: More people are asking for them all the time, and that’s certainly not just elders who bike. Don’t let bike snobs make you hesitate to get a recumbent if that’s what you like best. Here are some local tips about recumbents. Monterey County riders appreciate that there is a recumbent company in the Monterey Bay region: Easy Racers, in our neighboring Santa Cruz County.

Below: “Since I don’t have a flag–yet–glad to be riding my recumbent on a Class I path.”

Recumbent rider and skateboarder - 1-1-12

Jim Willoughby of Pacific Grove figures that bright orange color makes him more easily spotted.Jim Willoughby of Pacific Grove

Off to an evening concert or worship service? Spoke reflectors, such as “chopspokes” from Cyclelogical,  can be low-cost, long-lasting, and add significantly to nighttime visibility.

Rim-mounted bicycle lights are one of many cool new accessories to make people who bike more visible.