Commuter Cycling 101: Stay Visible

I've often said that the two most important things regarding safety in commuter cycling are being predictable and being visible. Today we're going to talk about that second item: visibility.

It goes without saying that being visible as a cyclist can only be a good thing. If motorists see you, they probably won't hit you. And it behooves us to know the best ways to stay visible, which we'll address today with two factors: equipment and riding technique. Too often we hear the excuse made by motorists who hit cyclists: "I didn't see them." And whether that's a valid excuse (I believe that it is not) isn't the question today. We're going to do what we can to MAKE ourselves visible.

First, it's obvious that having the right equipment is very helpful for being visible as a rider. This starts with a jacket or vest. I've mentioned my Pearl Izumi Vagabond jacket on numerous occasions (including yesterday's update review) and how much it's helped me remain visible on the road. It's bright fluorescent yellow/green and shows up a mile away.

But on occasion I also wear a simple vest - also fluorescent (this one orange) - and it works just as well (while being much cheaper an option). Either way, it gets me noticed.

Also, there's a reason that cycling jerseys are occasionally flamboyant and brightly decorated - it allows you to be seen. If you're riding down the street in a bright orange Wheaties Box-decorated jersey, or in a jersey with a big yellow picture of SpongeBob SquarePants, you'll be noticed.

Another item that helps is having lights on the bike, particularly at night. I use a pair of Reelights on my bike. These lights run off a set of magnets on each wheel, and therefore never shut off when I'm riding. Easy to maintain (there's NO maintenance) and they're always there. I also have a regular headlight and taillight on the bike. Lights and reflectors aren't just the law, they're darned smart.

But let's move on to a frequently undiscussed aspect of staying visible: riding technique. As often as not, riders who hug the curb too much are the ones who are most often missed by drivers. And why? Simple - in their efforts to stay "out of the way" they've made themselves invisible to drivers who quickly scan to see what's in front of them before they go back to talking on phones, scanning their iPod for the next tune, taking a sip of their Frappuccino, etc.

So remember what I said a couple weeks ago about taking the lane. That applies here as well. Taking the lane puts you right out into the view of drivers, making it hard to miss you. And stay in the lane. Don't swerve in and out of parked cars as space becomes available to the right. Stay out in front where you can be seen. It's much safer than weaving in and out of traffic, and it's perfectly legal.

Also, ride on the correct side of the road. Many cyclists don't get seen because they ride on the incorrect side of the road (usually the left, though one-way streets are a different matter at times), and drivers don't look for them there. Case in point: a driver comes up to High Street and is looking to make a left turn onto it from a side street. He scans the traffic moving from right to left for an opening, occasionally glancing to his left to see that the closer lane is clear. On comes a wrong-way cyclist, riding close to the cars on the left side of the road. The driver, not expecting a vehicle to be there, sees his opening and pulls out... and the wrong-way cyclist flies smack into the side of the turning vehicle... or worse.

Staying visible is a key factor in being a successful and safe cyclist. It's one of those things that really isn't so hard, but takes a bit of practice and some proper equipment to do.

What other ways do you stay visible on the road?

People, not speed.


  1. When I see a car turning off of a side street and I'm riding alongside a line of parked cars, I like to stand up briefly so they can see me over the cars. I also don't hesitate to wave my arms or use audible signals.

  2. Good idea as well. This is one of those reasons to take the lane - so you're away from the line of parked cars and aren't missed as cars are looking out around them to turn or go straight.

  3. The Reelights look interesting.

    Anybody have an idea on how they work with cyclocomputers and/or dynamo hubs?

  4. Ugh... haven't tried it myself, but I'm thinking that it might work fine with a computer and not with dynamo hubs. The hub might be too big for the Reelight to sit close enough to the magnet to get a charge.


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