15. More Bicycle Safety: High Visibility

“Say you can’t see me?”

In an ideal world….

There would be no need for high-visibility apparel and accessories. There would be off-road/dedicated bike paths nearly everywhere a person wanted to bike.  And any time a cyclist went on a road shared with cars, because there were so many cyclists in every community, there would be a constant awareness of–and respect for–their presence, and a mindfulness of  sharing the road with them.  (As the Scottish Parliament noted, the more cyclists there are in a community, the safer it is to bike there.)

Meanwhile, this Castroville cyclist, Max, is hip to the fact that high-visibility apparel and accessories are a good idea on many bikeways.  Here he was biking with his father in downtown Salinas on the evening of the Kiddie Kapers and Colmo Night parade.

Sources for High Visibility–Day or Night

In this section, you’ll find a variety of sources for high visibility gear.  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, pulled over on East Alisal to park and chat with locals about bike safety resources.

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

Here’s a peninsula cyclist at dusk at the corner of Canyon del Rey and Fremont in Seaside.  An avid bike commuter, this dad (notice the child carrier at rear of his bike) doesn’t have precious cargo with him on this ride. Nonetheless, he still wants to get home to that child in one piece.  He’s far less concerned about fashion than he is with being noticed in traffic.  That’s why you’ll see him, night and day, in hi-vis apparel.

“I’m hauling precious cargo–my daughters! You bet I want to be highly visible.”
Susan Ragsdale-Cronin, avid Del Rey Oaks bike commuter

 

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

Meanwhile, in the present “real world”…

While bright apparel does not ensure your safety, it’s certainly worth considering if you are off the bike paths and using bike lanes and routes, where you share the road with cars.  If dressed in dark clothing, simply passing under the shade of trees can often make you seemingly disappear!

As mentioned elsewhere in this guide, there are many factors that influence bike safety.  Infrastructure makes a big difference–dedicated off-road bike paths are wonderful, and painted bike lanes help, too.  Even “share the road” signs on bike routes are a good reminder to drivers to watch out for cyclists.  (You’ll see such  signs all over our increasingly bicycling-friendly Monterey County!)

The courtesy and “share the road” respect of drivers–and pedestrians–is warranted, of course.  However, even with laws in your favor, clearly being legally right may not prevent a cyclist being injured or worse.

Touring cyclists from Germany, on Highway 1 north of Moss Landing.

As this wise young cyclist 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 definitely caught my eye.

“Yes, I think Zach has a good idea!”

Dressing in bright colors, and using lights as appropriate for conditions, may be one of the wisest investments you’ll ever make.  And it need not be expensive; the sash shown below can be purchased for as little as $5.  See “High Visibility:  Dress for Success” on this site.

Wearing your regular clothes?  When I add a sash, I know I’m more visible to drivers.

(Photo credits:  Above, Scott MacDonald,  Salinas Californian.  Below, Ravi Kapur, KSBW.)

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

 

Flags

Bike flags are especially important for bike trailers, recumbents, and other low-to-the-ground wheels.  Check out these fashion-friendly flags from Purple Sky/CatrikeFlags and the high-visibility flags from Be Seen Wear.  For more about flags, see High-Visibility: Dress for Success.

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

Where to buy

Local bike shops As mentioned in the “Personal Safety” section,  bicycle shops throughout Monterey County carry high-visibility apparel and other safety gear.

An example of just one of our county’s bike shops that serves as a good source for these items is Winning Wheels, 318 Grand Avenue, Pacific Grove; phone 831/375-4322 (no website at present); open Tues-Fri (closed Sun-Mon).  If you’re in Pacific Grove, check them out.

Thrift shops: Yet another source, especially good if you have growing children or just want to “reduce-reuse-recycle” garments as an Earth-friendly thing to do:  check the 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 cyclist–or pedestrian–more visible in the fog, or at dawn, dusk, or nighttime?   Ask for them at the MST Bus Stop Shop.  While cyclists who ride at night would be well advised to spring for a larger, brighter red light for the back of their bicycle–even though California law only requires a red reflector visible from 500 feet when illuminated by a motor vehicle’s headlights–these small MST lights do provide some help and may be adequate for many situations.

Construction gear store:

A lesser-known source for bike safety items is Graniterock. At the Seaside Graniterock public store, 1755 Del Monte Avenue, they carry a high visibility vest for about $8. Phone ahead to be sure the item is in stock: 831.392.3700.

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 this Watsonville 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 cyclist Jan Valencia beat a turbo-powered Porsche home on his 20-mile bike commute, on a 55mph 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!

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 bike path, most cyclists would be wise–when sharing the road with cars–to add a higher-visibility flag, and mounted higher.  That would make a big difference in not being overlooked by the driver, especially one in an SUV, truck, or other high motor vehicle.

About recumbents:  More people are asking for them all the time, and they aren’t all older people.  Don’t let bike snobs make you hesitate to get a recumbent if that’s the bike for you!  Recumbents are just as legit as the next bike. They are their own cool and unique experience.  And with their growing popularity, we’re lucky to have a recumbent manufacturer just up the road in Santa Cruz County.   If you’ve been looking for those in Monterey County, refer to  Bicycle Shops, Services, Clubs, and Resources.

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.

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