Hi Viz

Midsummer has been and gone, not that you would know from the weather that we are in the midst of summer, hopefully it will all clear up during this month. As the nights are beginning to draw in I thought it was time to address the problem of visibility. For a cyclist, being seen is half of the problem when it comes to cycling in traffic. I don’t know about anyone else, but I can quite clearly imagine a scenario where I am lying shattered on the tarmac and the last voice I hear as it all ebbs away is someone saying “I just didn’t see him”, I live in fear of such a thing happening. On our Tuesday rides John and I ride right up to the turning point of the witching hour, racing through the twilight to get home before darkness falls. We both have lights, but not the sort of Halogen power superlamps that blind drivers and make them think they are about to be abducted by aliens. So something a bit more visible is needed. I have written before in praise of the Respro Hi-Viz vest, it does a fantastic job of throwing back even the faintest glimmer of light (and you can fit a lot of takeaway in the pockets), but what I was looking for was something that creates the ‘human’ shape that our genes are programmed to look for. Something that shows I have a head and am therefore a person, not a glowy thing moving slowly to the left. I had some Hi-Viz helmet stickers left over from previous glow-in-the-dark frolics and as my road helmet is a kind of silvery grey, I thought maybe I could cut them into strips and stick them along the ridges. That way the curve of the head would be visible and they wouldn’t look too jarring in daylight.

While my wife did half an hour or so on her bike rigged up to the turbo-trainer, I took the stickers and snipped some of them into strips. While we’re on the subject of turbo-trainers, ours is so noisy it’s incredible. It’s a cheap one granted, but even outside in the workshop it sounds like a very small motorbike revving up. At least in the workshop the floor is concrete so it doesn’t vibrate through to next door. I read a great article once that said if your neighbours come round to complain about the noise of your trainer it’s best to be honest, even if they won’t understand, because if you say it was the washing machine they are going to wonder what the hell you were doing, especially as you have just answered the door dressed in Lycra, sweating like a pig and panting with exersion. It won’t look good.

Anyway I finished the helmet, popping a couple of circles on the back and the top. Below you can see the results in pitch black with my camera a room away and the flash on it’s weakest setting. From behind, it looks particularly scary thanks to those dots. At least it should give motorists enough of a start that they see me and slow down (hopefully they’ll slow down, the other option is running me off the road in sheer terror).

hi viz from the front

hi viz from the rear

I once went to a talk by Adam Hart-Davis at Ottakar’s in Chippenham. He had cycled down from the train station on his folding bike and was dressed in his trademark yellow and neon pink cycle gear. Someone asked why he dressed like that to go on his bike and he replied as a true practical scientist, “I don’t want to be killed on the road”. He went on to explain how although early evening light may appear bright to a cyclist out in the open air, to a motorist visibility is already much poorer. It’s true, how often have you been driving along on a country road and been suddenly startled by the up and down movement of the pedal reflectors barely a few yards in front of your car? If you have no lights, or weak lights on your bike, sometimes those pedal reflectors are the only thing a driver will see, and often they will only see those at the last minute. Being visible is half, or maybe even three quarters of the battle in cycle safety. Drivers need all the help they can get as, let’s be honest, a person driving a car often isn’t paying that much attention to the road ahead. A lot of drivers don’t even seem to be able to see speed limit signs, a police officer in a reflective jacket pointing a radar gun, or a massive yellow box on the end of a pole with a big relective strip on the back. It’s up to the cyclist to jog the driver out of the torpor, you need to be visible enough to cut through the interior clatter of Top Gear’s-all-time-best-ever-driving-anthems-guitar-classics-volume-IV or whatever feelgood dross is on the stereo. You need to startle them out of the mobile-phone-in-the-gear-changing-hand-55mph-argument-with-her-mum-andyesmumIdidstayovergary’slastnight or whatever she is talking about instead of watching the road. Hopefully my get-up, in combination with the flashing red light on the back and full reflectors will cut through all the chaff insulating a driver from what’s going on ahead of them.

I urge you to take the time to find a way of becoming more visible on the bike, it’s not just the driver’s responsibility, don’t be even partially responsible for another poor sap having to choke out the words “..I just didn’t see them”.

Tour de France

Although I lost out on the chance to have VIP treatment at the Tour de France prologue, I have decided to scrape my pennies together and go to London anyway. I know that if I watch it all on TV I will be feeling rubbish that I didn’t go AND I will moan about not going, FOREVER!

So I’ll get there early to soak up some atomsphere and try and stake out a good vantage point. According to the current weather forecast there will be sunny intervals. It’ll be a really fast course, but the variable weather and the wind may throw in some wildcards and mess up the predicted results. So all being well I should be writing a report for the blog tomorrow evening.

Published in: on July 6, 2007 at 12:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

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