We all want to go home safely after a ride, so why doesn’t everyone know about visibility, including lights, distances and clothing types? Right… because it’s actually not spoken about that often, as an information pack, so let’s have a look into the topic.
Darlene Edewaard Ph.D candidate is studying vision science, and more specifically looks into pedestrians and cyclists to enhance their ability to be seen further away by other road users.
The conversation leading to more in depth study of the subject by Edewaards lab, was kickstarted by Trek’s president John Burke, after he decided there needed to be a change in the way we all live peacefully together and use the roads – due to so many accidents involving cyclists. I mean, it shouldn’t be an issue, other countries cope so much better i.e. Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands, so we know it’s achievable.
Unfortunately, if you live in the UK, you’ll know our cycling infrastructure is not one of desire. We just haven’t managed to get the right people involved in making the roads safer and with that, comes decisions often made by non-cyclists, trying to make things safer and unfortunately not making a hugely positive impact.
We know that it’s not just night-time that causes visibility issues between drivers and cyclists, because there are a lot of collisions occurring during day time. Understandably we can’t stop them all. Sometimes there are incidents that occur outside of any control due to unforeseen circumstances or poor decisions when driving, but we can certainly make it much harder to miss a cyclist within your vision.
The study format
They used both moving vehicles and stationary vehicles to test the distance at which participants could see the bikes. The bikes were tested using various clothing – hi-viz and reflective, along with different light combinations, this allowed them to get the best data possible [2020, D.Edewaard et al. Highlighting Bicyclist Biological Motion Enhances Their Conspicuity in Daylight].
The outcome of the research showed that it’s often harder for drivers to see cyclists than we realise. We expect them to be able to see us from a further distance than they can and sometimes it means we don’t help the already difficult situation.
Therefore, the use of lights is extremely important, even in the daytime, to give drivers the best opportunity possible to see you in advance. Check out our blog on lights here to find out which lights come in as recommended.
It also transpired that certain lights either weren’t bright enough or didn’t have the correct flashing pattern to make them visible further away. The Bontrager Flare RT has a flashing pattern that’s said to be visible from up to 2km away – this design would have occurred due to Trek and Bontrager collaborating with the research.
The research carried out has apparently increased visibility of cyclists and knowledge around being seen.
There’s a misconception around bike lights, you regularly get what you pay for. It’s good to be aware that not all lights are built the same way and unfortunately when tested up close in store are not representative of what drivers see and even less so what they see from a distance. Ideally your lights need to have a focused beam and have a flash setting to make them as visible as possible, some lights are scattered beams, which means the light is bouncing around off various things.
A true daytime and multi-use light will have a specific flash setting as well as a focused beam. This captures drivers’ attention much easier.
Edewaard’s research also showed that biomotion is extremely important in being seen. So having a light on an object that moves, such as your ankle or helmet, improves visibility even more, as opposed to fixed lights on your seat post or saddle. However, the combination provides even greater visibility.
Having at least one item of clothing that is correct for the time of day and visibility is another crucial and fairly simple resolution to being seen earlier.
At night time you need an item of clothing that is retro-reflective to allow headlights to bounce from them and fluorescent during daylight. Adding at least one of these in with your lights increases a drivers chance of seeing you massively, if you’re as visible as you possibly can be, then you’re decreasing the chances of a collision.
Daylight illumination is enough to be seen by all drivers. The idea that there is enough contrast between a cyclist and their surroundings is incorrect, this might allow a driver to see you up close, but from a distance it’s going to be much harder as riders will pop in and out of shadows, blending in with the edge of the roads on occasion.
Having bike lights at any time of day can maximise the contrast between the light and its surroundings, and provide a more focused alert to drivers from a distance.
Buy yourself some daytime and night time lights – one set is often enough to do both. Enjoy your ride and get home safely, that’s all anyone wants and if we can’t 100% rely on drivers seeing us then we can certainly help the situation.