Some people ride motorcycles to be seen. You know the kind, they pull up at Bike Night on their super-expensive bike with their matching motorcycle “outfit.” For these people, a motorcycle is just an accessory in their endless quest to attract attention. Then there are motorcyclists. They know that making sure you’re seen is an important part of riding a motorcycle. And we’re not referring to the “look at me while I ride this motorcycle” type of posing. Instead, the message real motorcyclists are trying to send is “Look at me. I’m riding a motorcycle, and I am entitled to this space in this lane.”
Conspicuity is an important part of maintaining your longevity in motorcycling. The best way to make sure you’re around to ride tomorrow is to make sure that the drivers of four-wheelers notice you out on the road. What follows are 10 ways to make sure the driving public is aware of your presence on a bike. For fun, we’ve tossed in a couple red herrings. So, pay attention, and remember, there is a test later – out on the mean streets.
10. High Beam
While the most obvious suggestion on this list, riding with your high beam on during daylight hours is all too often overlooked, you may wonder how much more visible that increase in lumens will make you. Remember, the angle the light is thrown out of your headlight changes, too. Your low beam is designed to keep the light out of the eyes of approaching drivers. Since the high beam is supposed to throw the light further down the road to allow you more reaction time at night, it’s set to the perfect angle to inform people of your presence. While drivers may find this annoying at dusk, if you’re bothering them, they know you’re there. Additionally, the visual environment at dusk is quite difficult, so you need a way to stand out.
9. Aftermarket Horn
Yes, the proponents of loud pipes do have one thing right, people will notice you when you make a lot of noise. Unfortunately, their method of making noise is constant, no matter what the traffic situation is, and is pointed in the wrong direction, since most threats to riders come from in front of their motorcycle. The best way to use sound to inform other road users of your presence is to honk your horn. You get to decide when you need that attention-grabbing sound by pressing the button. However, if you really want to make an impression, replace your anemic stock horn with an aftermarket one. With a little research, you can find plenty of ear-splitting options out there, but air horns seem to deliver the most shock value, knocking drivers out of their semi-conscious state into full awareness. With practice, you can almost make inattentive drivers drop their cell phone, coffee or makeup on demand.
Photo courtesy of Screaming Banshee.
8. Lane Positioning
We’ve written about lane positioning before, but it’s important enough to mention again. While the most common purpose of lane positioning is to create a space cushion between you and other vehicles, where you ride within the lane can communicate a variety of things. For example, moving towards the left portion of the left lane as you approach an intersection will tell others that you plan on turning left. You can probably guess what moving to the right side of the right lane while approaching an intersection will telegraph. Placing your headlight in the mirrors of the car in front of you helps to make the driver aware of your location. Finally, wagging your headlight by weaving slightly within your lane will attract the attention of oncoming traffic.
7. Group Riding
If one high beam is good, then two, three, four, five … a dozen high beams traveling down the road is even better! (And then there’s the fun of group rides.) In the daylight, the sheer number of headlights that don’t form neatly into pairs, as they would on cars, will make drivers wonder – perhaps even think – about what they are seeing. For fun, have the lead rider change her position from one side of the lane to the other while the followers adjust themselves into the new staggered formation. You’ll really mess with the minds of the drivers in front of you. At night, riding in a staggered formation allows for a broader spread of light than just the headlights of a single motorcycle. So, you can actually see better, too!
Photo courtesy of Dean Groover.
6. Hi-Viz gear/Motorcycle color
Yeah, we all know that basic black leather is the motorcyclist’s official riding gear. We love our classic black gear, too. However, we don’t want to die for fashion, so you will often see us riding with gear that has bright colors. While the uninformed may think that we are simply following the obscure mating rituals of our sub-species by puffing ourselves up to please members of the opposite sex for future reproductive purposes – and they might not be wrong – we have already succeeded in getting them to focus on us through our outlandishly colored gear. There’s a reason that firefighters and other emergency worker’s uniforms are made out of high-visibility material. The colors are so ugly that we can’t look away.
You can also achieve the same result by painting your motorcycle one of these offensive colors. In this case, a solid color will be better than a fancy pattern since the pattern builds in visual distraction. Still, bright colors are good. Perhaps the OE graphics of the late ’80s and early ’90s weren’t so bad after all.
Photo courtesy of Aerostich.
5. Camouflage of Your Favorite Armed Force
What better way can you think of to support the troops of your favorite branch of the Armed Forces than by wearing their official version of camouflage gear. As you ride through traffic, anyone who sees you will think about how proud they are to be American and how grateful they are for the sacrifices our military and their families make for us. The great news is that there are different camouflage patterns for different environments! So, make sure you wear your desert pattern when you visit the Southwest and your woodland pattern in the verdant East. Anyone who sees you in winter camo as you ride in the snow will be proud to be sharing the same road as someone so hardy and patriotic. Remember, when you wear the official camoflage pattern of your favorite wing of the armed services, you’re supporting the efforts of all the dedicated service members who spent their careers producing gear that (they hope) makes our troops impossible to see in theater.
Photo courtesy L & L Photography.
4. Reflective Gear
Even the most offensive brightly colored riding gear is just about impossible to see after dark. So, the next step in your plan to keep from becoming a hood ornament is to make yourself light up in headlights. Much of the functional motorcycle apparel currently sold has at least a little reflective material on it. Even cruiser jackets feature reflective piping. When you’re looking to buy riding gear, make sure that it has plenty of reflective material. However, you can always buy a reflective vest that folds up small enough to fit in your jacket pocket if you still prefer that 20 year old leather jacket that has just reached the perfect patina.
3. Headlight modulator/Brake light modulator
Emergency workers have flashing lights on their vehicles for a reason. They grab your attention. Fast. So, why don’t you take advantage of this and mount up a headlight modulator. Riding through traffic with your headlight constantly shifting between your high and low beam several times a second will make it hard for drivers to ignore you. In fact, some motorcyclists with headlight modulators report having cars pull over, thinking the rider was a cop approaching from behind. Brake light modulators also flash to get the attention of drivers behind you. Although they vary by model, a brake light modulator will quickly flash a few times when the brakes are first applied and then remain constant. The amount of attention it attracts can’t be downplayed.
Photo courtesy of Signal Dynamics.
2. Loud Helmets Save Lives
So, you may grok that brightly colored clothing will get you noticed out on the road, but you’ve invested in all kinds of riding gear that you don’t want to give up. How do you make yourself painfully obvious to anyone near you while still getting to enjoy your black leather chaps and bomber jacket? Or maybe you’ve got grey touring gear. What do you do? Wear a neon orange or hi-viz yellow helmet! That’s right orange or yellow. In traffic you stand out from blocks away since your head will be above the roofline of most cars.
Studies have shown that riders wearing brightly colored helmets versus black ones have significantly fewer accidents. Yes, the colors are garish, but it’s the fact that they don’t occur in nature that makes them stand out so much. After all, isn’t it better to offend the sensibilities of the other road users as long as it keeps you upright on two wheels.
1. Ride Naked
If you, your passenger or both of you are naked on your bike, you can be sure that everyone around you is aware of your presence. Bonus attention points are added for high-quality tattoos. Aside from the benefits of conspicuity that riding nude provides, you will also be much cooler on those hot summer evenings on the commute home. During the morning commute, your work clothes remain sweat-free, too. On Friday and Saturday nights, naked trolling of the boulevard is a great way to get dates. Perhaps the most overlooked reason for riding nude is that if you do it for enough years, you’ll never have to invest in another set of leathers. Your skin will be tanned and dried like those expensive hides manufacturers charge hundreds of dollars for – all for free!
If your local indecent exposure laws won’t let you ride nude, you can always resort to a thong bikini. Just make sure it’s a neon color … for conspicuity.