High Visibility Motorcycle Gear: Sometimes it’s good to stick out like a sore thumb. Studies have shown this to be true.
A New Zealand study found that riders wearing high visibility motorcycle clothing were 37 per cent less likely to be involved in an incident than those not wearing eye catching colours. Not that wearing high visibility is a guarantee as other studies have illustrated there are complex factors included such as the colour of the back ground.
But to back up a little. What is high visibility clothing and what makes the colours jump? According to the Day-Glo Corporation: “Fluorescent refers to colours that absorb and reflect more light than conventional colours. Because of this, these pigments are brighter, bolder and better. Some people refer to fluorescent colour as neon. We call it DayGlo.”
The colour spectrum moves from invisible low-energy infrared rays to high-energy ultraviolet rays. When looking at the colour spectrum, the middle of the range represents the colours we actually see (the ‘visible light spectrum’). Normal colours absorb and re-emit a portion of the visible spectrum that matches its principal wavelength, while the remaining colours are absorbed and dissipated as heat.
Fluorescent colours use a larger amount of both the visible spectrum and the lower wavelengths compared to conventional colours. The difference between these two types of colours is that fluorescents absorb and convert light energy of the dominant wavelength, but also the wavelengths of ultraviolet rays and other colours lower in the visible spectrum.
Because of this combination, your eyes view fluorescent colours far more intensely as if they’re “glowing” in front of you. That extra glow you see is called ultraviolet light.
Bright conventional colours are able to reflect a maximum of 90 per cent of a colour present in the spectrum, but fluorescent colours can reflect anywhere from 200 to 300 per cent.
A US DOT STUDY ASKS “Why Not?”
A study conducted in 2019 by the US Department of Transportation and National Highway and Safety Administration sought to discover why riders choose not to wear high visibility motorcycle clothing and what could be done to encourage them to don the bright colours.
The study involved 18 focus groups in four regions of the country in order to understand if there are regional differences in attitudes toward wearing the bright gear. In two areas, the study organizers still had trouble finding enough riders to make the results reliable even after running ads and contacting local riding groups and offering to pay the participants.
The groups were broken down by both gender and motorcycle type: cruiser, tour, sport or scooter. There were differences between the groups with women and sportbike riders more open to wearing hi-vis gear but there seemed to be universal dislike of the yellow fluorescent gear even though it is arguably the best choice.
But no group whole heartedly endorsed hi-vis gear even after being educated in its advantages. Some even thought hi-vis gear might be more appealing if it was more subtle. Still others suggested wearing hi-vis gear may not hold much advantage over skill, attention and additional lighting. There were also the usual arguments proving we are all still human beings: i.e. the fear being the gear isn’t attractive and fellow riders might tease or mock those who wear it.
A shocking opinion expressed by some, and written as the last paragraph of the study, was that the onus is on car drivers to be on the lookout for motorcyclists. Yes it is absolutely a motorist’s obligation to watch for riders. But you can never assume they are.
There was one bright spot, so to speak, in that riders did see the value of wearing hi-vis rain gear because they felt it served a purpose. The other optimistic point was that visibility ranked sixth out of a possible 21 reasons for choosing any particular piece of riding gear. The top five factors were comfort, durability, additional protection, weather resistance and DOT certification.
Almost every major motorcycle apparel manufacturer now offers some level of high visibility motorcycle clothing and it doesn’t have to be yellow. Colours can also be red, blue, or pink but the standard hue and the brightest one during daylight hours is fluorescent yellow-green which is why your local fire department’s trucks may not be red.
But colour isn’t everything. Eventually it is going to get dark and this is where reflective clothing and markers will to come into play. This material comprised of crystals or beads reflects light no matter which direction it comes from and can increase visibility at night more than 300 metres.