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the INVISIBLE biker!

The Topic of 'Conspicuity', Hi-Vis gear and the SMIDSY

SMIDSY - Sorry Mate I Didn't See You

Its commonly suggested that the biggest 'danger' to motorcyclists is 'blind' car drivers.

Pondering the 'stats' that are bandied about with a healthy scepticism, I am NOT convinced. I still think far too many bikers are a hazard to themselves!

The stats discount an AWFULLY large chunk of 'Single-Vehicle' accidents which significantly go 'unrecorded' and where for the large part only 'rider error' can really be the cause of the accident.

Digging into the accidents that do make it into the stats, very few are 'bike on bike' so it is nearly 'always' car vs bike, and yes, the 'suggestion' is that maybe not 'most' but certainly a pretty big proportion ARE classic 'Sorry-Mate-I-Didn't-See-You' collisions, which would presume fault on the part of the car driver, 'Not Looking'. BUT... Going through a lot of the case studies, even where the car driver has been 'mainly' at fault, the bike rider hasn't been above criticism.

A lot of 'data' has been cut up and used to argue that 'Speed' and 'Speeding' is of little significance in motorcycle accidents, and that even where 'speeding' riders have crashed, their speed would not have 'stopped' them crashing, WHICH in some parts I tend to agree with. (Interesting to note though; 'excessive' speed IS a contributory factor in nearly ALL 'serious' accidents and fatalities, car or bike!)

But, in nearly EVERY case scenario I have looked at, there has been 'Something' the rider could have done to avoid the collision, and FAR too often, they have been RELYING on other drivers to NOT do stuff they shouldn't, and if the biker has not had poor hazard awareness and gone in to a hazardous situation 'blindly', they have gone in recognising the danger, but under-estimating it.

New riders we can forgive for poor hazard awareness and poor judgement, they know no better; but this is just as prevalent amongst more experienced riders.... where the trouble IS that their 'experience'  has suggested 99 times out of a hundred, in 'similar' hazard situations, OTHER drivers have DONE what they should and NOT brought them off! And having "got away with it" SO often, they believe they will ALWAYS "get away with it", and comes as a shock when they don't!

"But it was My Right of Way!" is but small solace when you are sat in 'Traction' with a written off bike and multiple injuries!

So, 'The Problem' is two-fold. First is that for 'some-reason' and I'll investigate these in a minute, Car-Drivers don't 'See' bikers, and seem out to deliberately 'knock'em off'. Second, Bike Riders, the ones that get hurt in accidents, DON'T manage the risks very well.

Say elsewhere DON'T let FEAR rule Your REASON, and buy loads of protective clothing and 'think' you have safety covered, but on this one, we have the matter of 'Conspicuity' and making ourselves 'More Visible' to other traffic, and switching on Day-Time-Running-Lights on, wearing fluorescent Crash-Helmets or wearing high-visibility 'reflective' clothing. Again, NOT a 'bolt-on' fit and forget fix, and jumping to the conclusion before I explain it.... NOT necessarily even a 'fix'!

I say time and time about 'Protective Riding Wear', helmets, Leathers, gloves & boots; YES great to have, BUT wont STOP you having an accident Only effects how much it gonna hurt when you DO, and even THEN only within certain limits.

Fall off at the end of an e-stop when the bike is basically stationary, and hit your head on the floor when you trip over the handle-bars, the 'bump' is probably no harder than walking into a low beam or door lintel in a country pub, and anything more 'padded' than a woolly hat isn't really offering you THAT much more 'protection'... alternatively, face plant a Scania truck coming towards you at 50mph, you PROBABLY aren't going to come out of the encounter very well, WHATEVER you have on your head!

Same applies with Hi-Vis and conspicuity aids! ONLY 'work' within a very small range off 'effectiveness'.

The driver that doesn't LOOK, STILL wont see you, if you were this chap here, lit up like a Christmas tree, with 8 foot illuminations on the bike!

Then of those that look, you still have the ones that will ONLY be looking for 'cars' or 'no-cars' NOT 'bikes'....

Making your self 'more' obvious MAY make them pay a LITTLE more attention, BUT if they are not looking for bikes, they PROBABLY still wont know what they are looking at and 'default' to simply seeing 'No-Car'.

And finally, they LOOK, they SEE, they STILL have to 'Do the right Thing', and ANY Car-Driver that you DO make pay attention and recognise what they are looking at, is STILL likely to mis-judge your speed and distance.

So, yes, more drivers may 'see' you, but of those 'more drivers' JUST as many are STILL likely to try and hurt you!

It is a VERY spurious and contentious topic, and argument rages about it. Bottom line is, YES it CAN make a difference, BUT, it wont EVER big a HUGE one, and CERTAINLY not one 'guaranteed' to save your skin!

ALL we can categorically say IS, it PROBABLY wont Hurt, its Worth a TRY!

What do you see?

A white vase or two faces?

This is a now common illustration of how we 'see', and how optical illusions work. The 'picture' is actually a white vase on a black back-ground, BUT, the profile of the vase is that of a human face in profile, so when we look at it, we see the back-ground as two faces more clearly than we do the vase.

This is because from birth, we are 'conditioned' to 'look' for familiar shapes and patterns in the images our eyes 'look-at', and the human face is one of the most common and important things we look for, so in interpreting what we 'see' is something our brain looks for very quickly, AND 'emphasises' in or 'Perception'.

There are hundreds of these visual 'tricks' circulating on the web and on post-cards and in curios everywhere, they fascinate and amuse us. BUT they serve a VERY important SINGLE LESSON!


Here is another famous one. This is the 'inside out face' in the Science Museum London. Two faces, one 'convex' sculpted like a face coming OUT of the stone block; the other cut 'concave' like a mask INTO the block of stone.

From directly ahead, our 'brain' recognising the 'pattern' of the inverse face, 'corrects' the perspective so we see it poking 'out' of the stone, and in its setting in the Science museum, or at least when I saw it as a child, it was SPOOKY!

It was in a box you could put your hands in, but you could only see it through a Perspex panel... so you put your hands in to 'touch' it, but its not there, and you can 'see' your hand pass through the face like its a ghost! Another lesson.

And I pick these two illustrations as they are both so well known, and illustrate well two causes of why car drivers knock bikers off and then say Sorry-Mate-I-Didn't-See-You!

And all too often its NOT because they didn't 'look' where they were going, they were LOOKING... they just DIDN'T 'SEE'!

The faces in the vase shows how we see 'different' things depending on how 'pattern recognition' interprets the 'scene'. The inside out face, demonstrates the degree of 'correction' our brain can apply to change the 'scene' as viewed to what the brain 'expects' to see, and in this case completely changes spatial positioning of objects.... We look at 'face', but brain 'corrects' the image and puts that face IN FRONT of the brick, rather than where it really is, BEHIND!

When car drivers 'look' at a motorbike... what do THEY 'see'?

The Car-Drivers Point of View

Less than 5% of registered motor vehicles in the UK are motorcycles, and of the annual road-mileage covered by all motor-vehicles, barely 1% is covered by motorbikes! (or 'something in that order if you want to quibble published 'stats!)

Motorbikes are NOT a 'common-sight' on UK roads!

Car drivers are NOT so used to SEEING bikes, they are not so used to DEALING with bikes, they are not 'conditioned' to recognise them! They are USED to seeing and dealing with OTHER CARS

Two pics nicked from the 'Think-Bike' ad campaign video; spot the difference! Yes there's the biker, YOU are looking for it, because you KNOW its there, and this is what we are talking about. BUT!

Your average car driver is NOT looking for motorbikes, they are NOT used to HAVING to look out for them, and this pattern recognition and correction 'vision'... even though they LOOK, they probably don't know what they are looking at, and in all likelihood their 'brain' will try and 'correct' what they see to what they EXPECT to see.....

And they see NO CARS

Used to seeing cars, or lorries or vans, which are just BIG cars, or other 'boxes' on the conveyor belt of our road, THAT is what they deal in. "CAR" or "NO CAR"... not 'Bikes'! Pattern recognition at work! And 'No-Cars' means 'clear to pull out' doesn't it? Well, it does 99 times out of a hundred when there is also NO BIKE!

Said earlier, that bikers often don't do themselves many favours, but this is worth noting. YES the car driver OUGHT to be looking for more that 'just' cars or absence of cars, but its the same 'conditioning' as bikers riding past queues of parked cars rely on... they do it every day and 99 times out of 100 no-one opens a car door on them..... but just because they HAVEN'T doesn't mean they WONT!

Bikers can be as guilty of relying on errant 'reflex' as car drivers!

On a bike, YOU are the one that is likely to come out worst!

And you KNOW (or ought to!) that car drivers are likely to

  1. a) not be looking out for you,

  2. b) not 'see' you even if they LOOK

So YOU should be applying the extra 'caution' and NEVER presuming to them doing what they 'ought to' in a perfect world to save YOU from harm.....

And JUST because 99 times out of a hundred they HAVEN'T hurt you, NEVER means they WONT!

But to back up, there is a c) in there too. c) they DO LOOK, they DO SEE, BUT they DO THE WRONG THING ANYWAY!

The inside out face illusion, that vision correction 'thing' distorts our perspective, and very easy for our brain to be 'confused' by the sight of an approaching motorcycle, so EVEN if they look, EVEN if they see, there is still a LOT they can get wrong, and they can VERY easily mis-judge distance and speed.

The small frontal profile of a motorcycle, and a single or two close together headlamps, don't give the same change in perspective as a car as it comes towards you, and many MANY studies have shown that car drivers consistently over-estimate the speed of an approaching motorcycle, YET they ALSO tend to over-estimate the distance it is from them.

Those two 'perspective' errors in our brains interpreting of the 'image' we 'see' accounts for how often car drivers reaction to a SMIDSY is "He was miles away! He was SPEEDING!" even if the biker wasn't... (though FAR too often he is!)

Again, YOU are the vulnerable one, and YOU are relying FAR too often on a Car-Drivers 'good judgement' to

  1. LOOK out for you

  2. actually SEE you

  3. accurately judge your SPEED and DISTANCE and NOT do the 'Wrong-Thing'.

That is a LOT of reliance on them 'doing the right thing' when we KNOW that far too often these are NOT things they are good at!

The Art of Attention

Has she got your attention?

Bet your not looking to see what kind of bike she's on though, are you?

Another little exercise in 'Perception', and SHAMELESS use of female form.... but what the heck... IT WORKS!

Yes, if you want to be seen, strap a sexy naked model to your bike!

Gets attention, doesn't it, BUT, possibly NOT the 'right kind'.

And this is a big 'niggle' I have with a lot of 'Conspicuity' debate.

VERY easy to 'grab' attention, and make people look at you....

OI! OVER HERE! Stop letting your eye wander to her bum, and get your mind back on the TEXT!

We don't merely want 'attention' we want the RIGHT kind of attention!

The 'Sexy-Lady' is a 'Cheap-Trick', used mercilessly by ALL the 'Ad-Men' who will tell you "Sex-Sells"... and NOT just to MEN!

Look at all the advertising out there, and MOST provocatively posed girls are selling stuff to OTHER women! Perfume, cloths, washing powder....

BUT, while its an oft used 'ploy' of the ad-men, they are quite astute in how they use it. And when it COMES to grabbing attention, I have to admit, the ad-men are pretty good at it, and we can learn a lot from them!

Yes, the female form grabs attention, and 'sex-sells', playing on base instinct, and more conditioning, the 'urge' to pro-create; but creating ad campaigns, they are often an AWFUL lot more 'subtle'.

"Hello-Boys" is a now legendary ad-campaign, and when the posters went up on hoardings, they succeeded in grabbing an AWFUL lot of attention... briefly. After the initial 'shock' the effectiveness of the bill-board campaign dwindled rapidly. Got a lot of people talking, and apparently caused more than a few 'shunt' accidents where drivers paid more attention to the poster than the car in front! BUT, twenty something years on, and it would now be quite 'lame', and we are bombarded with ever more 'provocative' attention grabbing images all competing for our attention.

The bill-board next to Eva, is for some TV-Show I cant stand! Big-Brother! I cant remember which one, I think it may have been Season 7, around about 2007, and I remember the posters going up, at a time I was commuting almost daily into Brum, and it caused ALMOST as much of a stir as Eva's wunder-bra.

It was a very eye-catching, surrealist image, very psychedelic, almost hypnotic, the broken arcs almost 'moving' as you stared at them, and revealing a stylised 'eye' in the middle.... "WHAT IS IT?!" There was nothing else to give a clue WHAT the ad was for, what it was 'selling', it was just plain weird! Then for a month, the bill-board-posters came along and added obscure slogans, so that each time you passed the bill-board you LOOKED again, to try and fathom it out, UNTIL, it eventually told you to watch Channel 4 at such and such a time on such a night!

Advertising is NOT just about 'getting attention', its about getting attention, and THEN making some practical use of it!

In Eva's case it was to get women to buy cleavage enhancing under-wear. In the case of the psychedelic eye, to get you to watch a TV program.

When it comes to motorcycle safety, its worth more than a little thought, because like the Ad-men, we want to GRAB ATTENTION, but more, once we have grabbed it, get people to do something for us with it! NOT KNOCK US DOWN!

So, having looked at the 'problem' from the car-drivers point of view; we have three triggers to the SMIDSY we want to Avoid:-

  1. Driver not LOOKING out for you

  2. Driver LOOKING but not actually SEEING you (Looking for 'Cars or No-Cars')

  3. Driver LOOKS, and SEES, but then needs to accurately judge your SPEED and DISTANCE and NOT do the 'Wrong-Thing'.

If a Driver doesn't LOOK, or looks in the wrong place at the wrong time, it will not make one jot of difference how 'visible' you are.

The 'Art-Of-Attention' then MAY help get 'some' drivers who don't look, or don't look in the right places at the right time to pay a LITTLE more attention. BUT they STILL need help to RECOGNISE what they are looking at.

So having GRABBED their attention, we need to help them RECOGNISE that what they are looking at is a BIKE, not simply look and see 'car' or 'no-car'.

And having got them to see BIKE... we STILL need to help them 'Do The Right Thing' and NOT pull out and knock us off, ANYWAY because they mis-judge speed and or distance!

Advertising is a very complicated and subtle business, and one important 'lesson' we can learn from it, is that people become 'acclimatised' to it!

Adverts 'wear out'. Ad-men have to keep changing their ploys and tricks to keep stuff fresh and KEEP getting people's attention back on track.


Was she 'worth' a second look?

Doesn't have the same 'impact' second time around does it?

Maybe if I used a different girl, on a different bike........

Hmmmm... maybe... but pretty soon you would be immune.... "Oh, another naked woman on a motorbike. So What! Seen plenty of them!"

Grabbing attention is all well and good, but we still have to get people to do more than pay attention, we want them to 'REACT' to our prom and do what we want; which means making some kind of 'association'

What is this then? WHAT does it mean?

Yup, McDonalds 'Golden Arches', the 'brand-mark' of the burger chain, we ALL know what it means.


Similarly we only need to see the iconic 'shape' of the Coke-a-Cola bottle to know what ought to be in it, and the same with the Trade-Mark. We don't need anything else to know its suggesting a soft-drink.

More conditioning at work. We have become so accustomed to these iconic trade-marks we KNOW at a GLANCE exactly what they mean. They don't NEED any further explanation.

And THIS is where a lot of 'Conspicuity' theory falls down, because it concentrates so much on 'grabbing attention', but NOT doing anything BEYOND grabbing attention, to ACTUALLY get drivers doing what we want and NOT knocking us down!

And many 'conspicuity' aids, have a very limited 'shelf-life' at grabbing attention!

It works, to begin with, because its something 'unusual' and people LOOK, but soon, it becomes 'worn out', either from over use, or simply because people have paid attention, and realised that there's no 'message' and dismissed it as 'unimportant'... or at least TO THEM.

Another lesson we can learn from the Ad-Men! People are very ego-centric. Grab their attention, but there has to be 'something' of relevance TO THEM to keep it!

We see Mc Donalds Golden Arches every-ruddy-where, these days. But unless we are LOOKING for somewhere to eat? Its just 'another' familiar every-day 'emblem', and we will dismiss it, ALMOST as soon as we have seen it.

So when it comes to trying to influence other drivers, we DON'T just need to attract their attention, and GET them to look at us, we need to get them to look at us, RECOGNISE what they are looking at, AND give that image 'meaning' personally to them; "DON'T PULL OUT ON ME!"

Its a three prong fork, and attention grabbing, is ONLY one prong of that fork!


Or making yourself more easily 'Seen'.

As an exercise in making your self 'obvious' you cant do much more than our illustrious boys in blue.... or should that be boys in, Day-Glow yellow, blue, white and silver!

These chaps have everything going for them, you couldn't MAKE a bike and rider more noticeable... but they do! They have BIG blue flashing lights on a pole to help grab attention, and if THAT isn't good enough blaring sirens to go with it!

YET, talk to a Police motorcycle rider, and they will tell you time and again, they are stunned at how often people DON'T see them! EVEN with the 'Blues and Twos', and more than a few have themselves been SMIDY'd!

Well, car drivers aren't 'looking' for you, are they? They are looking for car-shaped objects or absence of car shaped objects, so to SOME degree, so making yourself more 'visible' makes little odds!

The 'Fail' is in the driver's perception, NOT specifically LOOKING out for bikers! So no matter WHAT, 'conspicuity' aids or techniques will NEVER be 'Fool-Proof' and they will NEVER guarantee you wont be SMIDSY'd.

But it Cant HURT to TRY!

Reading the studies into the subject, very VERY few are entirely unbiased, and it HAS to be said, MOST are usually trying to 'promote' conspicuity, OR they are in support of the campaigners vehemently opposed to 'compulsory' conspicuity measures.

Road Safety Stats are often waved around in favour of Hi-Vis clothing, and its often said that in only in a very small % of recorded accidents is it noted that the rider was using it. SUGGESTING that conspicuity aids reduce accidents. But very FEW bare more than cursory scrutiny in their justification of the assertion! (which doesn't necessarily mean they are 'wrong', only that they cant really 'prove' they are 'right'!)

From UK stats, we don't have uniform data, and from what we have there is ONE 'fact' to be gleaned about Hi-Vis clothing. And that is; Only a very SMALL proportion of accidents record that the Rider was wearing Hi-Vis.

And that 'Fact' is often stretched FAR beyond tenable limits to 'suggest' that wearing Hi-Vis or using conspicuity aids 'must' have a very large influence on 'safety'.

In actual fact, we DON'T know, and awful lot more than we DO. We DON'T know....

  1. Whether a Rider WAS using conspicuity aids, but it wasn't recorded

  2. WHAT the recorder may have 'deemed' a 'Hi-Visibility' clothing!

  3. as a proportion of 'all' riders, how many 'routinely' use conspicuity aids.

A Conspicuity aid could be a white helmet, or helmet with high-visibility reflective strips. It could be a riding over-suit, in bright colours possibly incorporating high-visibility reflective strips.

And there is NO consideration of ALTERNATIVE 'Conspicuity aids; such as Day-Time Running lights (DTRLs); High-Visibility 'decals,' bright coloured stripes or reflective strips on the motorcycle itself!

It COULD be that using conspicuity aids does absolutely NOTHING to reduce accident 'risk'.

The low recorded incident rate of riders crashing with 'Hi-Visibility Clothing', COULD is simply be

The data, SO far has been significantly 'useless'! And there is NO unequivocal 'proof' either way! Merely 'Suggestion'. Which is a VERY different thing!

And I take that 'suggestion' as 'Reasonable' so long as its not stretched TOO FAR!

Which unfortunately FAR too many surveys or studies try and do, and these are what is being used to try and make 'Hi-Vis' clothing a 'compulsory requirement, like a crash helmet. WHICH is another debate, and I'll deal with that later!

Day Time Running Lights (DTRLs)

Once upon a time, it was suggested that using your head-lamp in Day-Time made you more easily 'seen'.

The Volvo car company, were so keen on this idea that they made all their cars with 'hard-wired' dipped headlamps, so that the lamps were on whenever the ignition was turned on.

This was deemed a 'good' idea and many countries and states of the USA passed laws to make DTRL's compulsory, especially for motorbikes.

It is NOT a mandatory requirement on UK Law, and it IS one I am rather sanguine about.

Couple of snaps from the driver's seat, showing Donna & Sam, following me in the rear-view mirrors of the car. First one Spot the bike. There ARE two bikes in that pic! Yes one has lamps on, other.... spotted it yet? Right, does not! Second pic, we got Sam to put his lamp on. It DOES make a difference, doesn't it?

The 'Studies' used to promote DTRL's were far too frequently 'biased', and WHILE they consistently showed that DTRL's  DO make you more noticeable.... backing up. We have three triggers to a SMIDSY:-

  1. Driver not LOOKING out for you

  2. Driver LOOKING but not actually SEEING you (Looking for 'Cars or No-Cars')

  3. Driver LOOKS, and SEES, but then needs to accurately judge your SPEED and DISTANCE and NOT do the 'Wrong-Thing'.

Pic shows two identical bikes one with dipped main headlamp on, other with side-lights only.

The 'bright' glaring headlamp on the bike on our left, DOES grab more attention..... BUT, pic shows well, that we can 'better; 'see' the rider on our right!

Often 'Less' is more, and this is a particular 'niggle' I have with a LOT of conspicuity 'practice'!

The 'studies' which originally promoted DTRL's made a lot of how many more people in a poll-group DID 'spot' a brightly lit up biker, and used THAT alone to suggest that DTRL'S would save accidents.

Unfortunately, later studies also showed that while drivers would more often 'see' a lit up biker..... they were ALSO far more likely to NOT 'do the right thing', and poll-groups consistently mis-judged speed and distance FAR more than for bikes NOT using DTRL's.

So, back to the three triggers to a SMIDSY, DTRL's are more likely to make a car-driver 'aware' of your presence; so they MAY not be SO likely to pull out on you thinking you are just a 'gap' in the traffic...... BUT, more errantly estimating your speed and distance...... they are probably JUST as likely to pull out on you thinking that they have more 'room' to pull out than they do!

So, for any 'gain' in one area, there is a 'loss' in another, and overall, its NEVER been proven to SIGNIFICANTLY 'reduce' the risk of a collision.... merely shift the circumstances when one happens!

And I use this photo, because it demonstrates something else, I have observed with DTRL's. That 'bright' ball of light, blanking out what's behind it, confuses the 'image' a Driver sees, and they are possibly LESS likely to see "BIKE", and more likely to simply see 'Big White Glare", which from conditioning, they are likely to dismiss as just yet another big bright object.

When I get to H-Vis clothing, I'll return to the matter of 'Visual Confusion' or 'Busy Brightness', but this is a start. Modern Society has embraced the electric light-bulb to an incredible degree. Astronomers grumble that 'back-ground' light from modern civilisation obscures the stars! And I can understand their gripe!

We light EVERYTHING, and there is SO MUCH 'Lit-Up' like a Christmas tree, competing for our attention these days, that actually, NOT being lit up, is to some degree 'more' noticeable!

I was following a bike out of a Leisure complex, with cinema & restaurants and 'stuff' a while ago. Dark, rainy Autumn night, and the rider was on a Black Bike, with Black Leathers, and Black Helmet and NO 'conspicuity-aids' at ALL..... I could hardly 'see' the poor bugger in the dark, he really was just a mere 'shadow'... BUT, ridiculously car in front of him was a VERY highly illuminated people carrier, with tail lights all the way up the rear pillars almost to roof level.

The bike was ACTUALLY more 'Conspicuous' by NOT being SO lit up, and his 'shadow' moving and obscuring or revealing the 'confusion' of lights around him!

Like this bike here, that is more conspicuous because of the car behind him! We don't see BIKE we see 'CAR', hold on, HALF a car.... WHAT is that in front... Oh! Its a MOTORBIKE!

Pics been diddled to show DTRL's so watch it may 'flash' at you! But backing up to the head-lamp vs side-light pic, I FREQUENTLY recommend riders use 'side-lights' as DTRL's rather than dipped head-lamp, IF they have the option.

The less-bright 'glow' can 'help' make you seen, but not so 'glaring' is likely to help a driver 'understand' what they see, and recognise you AS a biker, rather than as a confusion of colour and light.

Also, and a hint for new-riders on low-powered, lightweight machines; head-lamps draw something like 35-50w of current from the electrical system, over and above the side-light that will be drawing around 5w. Little bikes have little generators, and probably wont be making enough 'charge' at low revs to sustain the high power-draw of a dip-headlamp CONSTANTLY turned on. So using side-light, can give the generator a better chance of keeping the battery topped up, so you DO have those lights when you really need them!

A hint for ALL riders is ADJUST YOUR HEADLAMP! Chatting to my friendly MOT Man, when I popped in and asked him to check the alignment of Donna's head-lamp, was he WISHED more people did! He reckoned he had to adjust the aim of 'almost' every bike he MOT'd, because it's something we so seldom think about. And Nearly always the beam adjustment is too high, dazzling oncoming traffic! (Frequently adjusted there by riders wanting to see further up the road in the dark, for 'going fast'!) Yes, we want drivers to SEE us, but we also want them to 'Do the right thing'! And annoying them by dazzling them is NOT a good way about that! And worth noting that the headlamp on a motorbike moves around a lot more than a cars, and accelerating, you get a lot more 'tilt' lifting that aim up into drivers eye-line!

Accessory Lamps

This illuminated Honda Gold-Wing, is PROBABLY a little 'over the top', it's certainly eye-catching, but I suspect that HUGELY in contravention of the UK Construction & Use regulations, 'Lighting Requirements', you may get the WRONG kind of attention for it!

You NEED to know what the rules are before bolting extra lamps on your bike, and they are BASICALLY:

Blue lights are particularly controversial, they can only be used by emergency vehicles. Green similarly is reserved for medical vehicles.

While for the purposes of conspicuity, you need to be a BIT thoughtful about what you do, because you DON'T want to create a 'confusion' of light, nor simply create a 'Dazzle'.

Three triggers to a SMIDSY:-

  1. Driver not LOOKING out for you

  2. Driver LOOKING but not actually SEEING you (Looking for 'Cars or No-Cars')

  3. Driver LOOKS, and SEES, but then needs to accurately judge your SPEED and DISTANCE and NOT do the 'Wrong-Thing'.

If you are going to accessorise your bike SPECIFICALLY for 'conspicuity'; and add 'auxilliary' DTRL's, you need to think carefully about this, and how to get best effect from what you do.

You want to make the bike more NOTICEABLE to catch the attention of drivers that don't look or look in the wrong places. But at the same time, it would be helpful IF they look, to try and help them UNDERSTAND what they see, so you want to give them AS MANY visual 'clues' they are looking at a BIKE as you can, and you want to TRY and avoid the effect of too MUCH lighting adding to their mis-judgement of speed and distance.

These two bikes have been fitted with 'running-lamps', paired either side of the main head-lamp they create a 'triangle' of lights, which is suggested helps not only make you more conspicuous, but also is more often associated with a motorbike, helping a driver better understand what he's looking at, while the wider spaced running lamps MAY assist them making more accurate judgement of speed and distance.

In these two examples, though the running lights I THINK may be a little too bright, and be more likely to 'dazzle' and 'white-out' the profile of the bike behind.... as always for every plus there is a minus!

Bike on the right has the running lamps mounted fairly high, close to the headlamp, which PERSONALLY I think is more 'iconic' in generating the association of 'BIKE' in drivers minds. Second picture, with lower mounted running lights, risks creating a 'visual detachment, particularly as the lamps are more 'orange', that can create a 'confusion of colour and light', a driver not SURE if its a BIKE, or if the two lower lamps are a far off car, and the headlamp 'something' else... You pays your money and takes your choice!

More subtle, and not likely to cause such a dazzle, are these 'accent' LED's fitted to the headlamp apertures of an R1 sports-bike.

Not so 'bright' they will dazzle, the 'line' of pin-point LEDs also define a 'shape' which can 'help' a driver interpret what they are looking at.

Personally though, these are now so common, more often on cars, they are perhaps a tad TOO subtle, and simply become YET another row of bright LED's on 'something'!

My 'considered' opinion would be that a pair of conventional running lamps, set on a base in an equilateral triangle with the main headlamp, and 'matched' in colour and brightness to the head-lamps side-light to associate them, is probably the 'best' starting point. BUT I have seen LED's used in 'accent' strips to illuminate the fork legs or handlebars that have been quite effective.

Its something many people have a 'play' with, and I would encourage you to do so; BUT, remember the three triggers, and what you want to achieve! You want to help people see you, you want them to recognise what they see, and NOT do anything daft! You're NOT decorating a Christmas tree!

Hi-Vis Clothing

Hi-Vis, or High Visibility Clothing takes various forms, from bright or 'fluorescent' colours to high-reflective materials, which can be incorporated into garments that are designed for motorcycle wear, such as water-proofs or riding jacket, or may be a separate garment, commonly a bright yellow or orange sleeveless vest or 'bib', with high-reflective strips sewn on, worn over outer garments.

Picture, shows Donna & her Test Examiner, modelling a variety of Hi-Vis wear.

Donna on left is wearing a Lidl water-proof over-suit, that incorporates reflective silver stripes to the arms & shoulders, and a yellow Sam-Brown belt for added conspicuity in day-light.

Examiner, 'Right' has yellow 'Hi-Vis' panels in the sleeves of his riding jacket, and is wearing a yellow Hi-Vis vest, with high-reflective silver stripes around his torso and over the shoulders.

My 'preferred' Hi-Vis though is the 'Sam-Brown' Belt' the high waist and diagonal shoulder strap, which I believe is more often associated wit a 'motorcyclist', so other road users wont just 'see' you but be able to easily recognise what they 'see', where the yellow rectangle of a 'bib' is these days so over used, could be anything, and often SO bright as to dazzle.

Picture left, Donna & Sam model a Sam-Brown & a Bib 'after-dark'.

Back to the three triggers to a SMIDSY:-

  1. Driver not LOOKING out for you

  2. Driver LOOKING but not actually SEEING you (Looking for 'Cars or No-Cars')

  3. Driver LOOKS, and SEES, but then needs to accurately judge your SPEED and DISTANCE and NOT do the 'Wrong-Thing'.

The Hi-Vis vest, I believe is now SO over-used, issued to all and sundry, from lollipop ladies to super-market trolley boys, Road-Side recovery mechanics, lorry drivers, et al..... that it is almost useless as far as 'getting attention'!

True, it DOES make people 'stand out', from an otherwise 'grey' scene; BUT in the modern road environment, there are SO many, brightly coloured objects competing for our attention, they DON'T really stand out any more!

Not when every van livery, shopping bag, shopping mall, or piece of street furniture is ALL trying to use the same 'gimmick' to grab our attention and make us look at them!

For CRYING OUT LOUD! They're EVEN putting pooches in ruddy Hi-Vis now!

The Hi-Vis 'vest' is just yet ANOTHER bright coloured blob, competing for our attention in the 'Confusion of Colour'. Its a rather 'tired' gimmick, that no longer catches the eye like maybe it once did. While being so widely 'over-used' even if it DOES make some-one look, it does little or nothing to give them any 'association' to understand what they are looking at and give them that 'Clue' that THIS particular fluorescent 'blob' is BIKE.

Light & Bright Helmets

Re-using pic of Donna & Sam in the rear-view; both have DTRLs on, and both have 'black' crash-helmets. Sorry, Donna's ISN'T black, its dark purple!

Sam, in his black jacket, and having forgotten his 'bib' is not SO conspicuous as Donna in her more brightly coloured over-suit.

But from the front, the BIKE is actually NOT that noticeable... there's a wheel, and a pair of forks, there's NOT a lot to see. What is more 'obvious' is the rider, but with the 'clutter' of handlebars in front, really only the outline 'profile'.

What completes the 'picture' and makes the image discernibly BIKE, is the riders helmet, completing the profile and saying BIKER.

And you can see from this picture that the dark coloured helmets aren't doing a great job of it! And while its been suggested time over time, that the helmets have reflective stips and coloured designs, Nope... THIS is what the driver who is going to HURT YOU sees, IF they see anything at all!

Few more shots for you; showing more riders in different dress, and look how much 'better' lighter coloured helmets 'stand out'.

There is some contention over plain white helmets, and how reflecting SO much light, they may 'white-out', but for the most part, they DO help aid conspicuity, and MORE! Where a Hi-Vis only gets fleeting attention and has no 'association' to help 'define' BIKER..... the light coloured crash helmet DOES!

Something else for you to ponder, looking at those pics....not many are wearing open face helmets, BUT, do you notice how you 'pick-out' the ones who are, or the ones who's helmets are not 'so' obscuring their face?

Said right at the beginning its a piece of human conditioning we LOOK for faces, and when we DO we INSTANTLY make a 'connection' and treat what we are looking at differently......

Playing on THAT particular piece of human behaviour; the open face helmet has something else going for it; the 'tinted visor' something else against it!

Compunction & Conspicuity

OK, so I have looked at Conspicuity & Conspicuity aids, and mentioned some of the 'pressure' to make some conspicuity techniques compulsory, like crash-helmets.

The UK was one of the first countries to impose compulsory crash helmets, in 1973, but since then, we have been remarkably lucky in having no further 'rash' compulsions forced on us; though legislators have tried many times!

The two MAIN ones concerned with conspicuity are Day-Time-Running-Lights and Hi-Visibility clothing.

I mentioned that some EU countries and some US States had introduced compulsory Day-Time Running Lights. The only country I know of that 'controversially' has compulsory Hi-Vis laws is France, but they are putting pressure on the EU to incorporate their legislation into EU Wide Directive and force the rest of Europe to follow suit. THIS is currently the 'Big-Issue' being campaigned against by the Motorcycle-Action-Group, MAG.

I HAVE to say that the French Hi-Vis law is utterly ridiculous in the strictest sense of the word, and were it to be imposed Europe-wide, would be a travesty!

The French law, applies only to bikes over 125cc, and requires 'retro-reflective' material in excess of 150cm2 to front and rear, to be worn on the upper torso, as well as mandatory retro-reflective 'Dots' of a standard oval shape and size to be affixed to front, sides and rear of crash-helmets.

Most of the published details are in french, and I'm about as fluent in that language as I am in ancient Greek, ie not at all! So its rather hard for me to find, follow and corroborate; but I believe that they have also imposed the ruling to all bikes in some urban areas through local by-laws.

150cm2 is ACTUALLY not a very large area, and I suspect that the sam-brown belt Donna is wearing in this picture is probably well in excess of that.

I think that the two grey reflective stripes from her neck to her arm, MIGHT be sufficient on their own, BUT, brings about lots and lots of room for contention and 'criminalisation'.

Those stripes on Donna's over-suit, go mainly down her ARMS, not her 'Torso'.... would this be deemed 'illegal', and be enough to get her points on her licence? French law imposed a 50 fine and two points for a failure to comply!

Mag says:-

there is no clear evidence that high visibility clothing leads to a reduced accident rate among motorcyclists. That aside, the group claims there is something fundamentally immoral about criminalising the victims of accidents who refuse to adopt tactics designed to address the failings of those who cause them.

Or in other words, what I have been saying from the start! The root cause of SMIDSY accidents start with those three triggers, of CAR DRIVERS; Not-Looking; Not Recognising What they Look AT; or NOT doing the right THING in response to what they SEE!

Going through my research and studies into the topic; NO, there is NOTHING that has, as yet CATEGORICALLY linked Hi-Viz apparel, or any OTHER conspicuity aid, to any 'long term' reduction in accident risk! ALL we have is the 'suggestion' that it MAY help, in SOME situations.

MAG's gripe that laws making bikers responsible for the errant actions of CAR drivers, is then very valid, and its a point they make, because in accident claims cases where riders have claimed for personal injuries, courts have already subtly 'criminalised' bikers for not wearing Hi-Vis, reducing compensation claims for riders FAILING to take 'Every-Possible-Precaution'.

And I SUSPECT that the reasoning behind this is two-fold; first because of the increasingly outrageous 'personal injury' claims being contested in UK courts, but also, because it is one of the few 'unequivocal' reproofs against riders who so frequently DO NOT pay enough heed to hazards, and DO rely on other road users doing what they ought to, FAR too often.

So the French law is significantly 'ridiculous'.

It can be ridiculed for imposing a 'solution' that has in no way EVER been shown to actually be a cure for THAT problem, and by reasoning provided above, probably ISN'T!

It can be ridiculed for imposing the responsibility to 'deter' collisions on the victim, RATHER than doing anything to encourage the perpetrator of those accidents to look where they are bludy going!

BUT, what WE Bike Riders NEED to take REAL NOTICE OF, is the fact that for ALL this ridicule, the legislators HAVE imposed these laws in France and are working hard to enforce them across Europe, IN THE FACE of that ridiule!

Why? Well, LESS than 1% of UK traffic is motorbikes. We are NOT a 'popular' cause, we are a minority interest group and BASICALLY, we are a political non-entity, and THEY CAN!

And their justification is pretty harsh! They KNOW its 'Not Fair' BUT!

We make up less than 1% of Road transport YET account for around a fifth of all Killed or Seriously injured on the roads each year, and almost HALF of all road deaths.

Ie: we cause 20x our number of injuries and 50x our number of deaths. And CARS are in the MAJORITY.

So yeah, car drivers CAUSE most of the accidents, but MOST people Drive CARS. So it would be infinitely harder to do 'anything' in relation to that veritable 'host' of car drivers, that might practically impinge on a very small number of bike-riders.

EASIEST solution is to say, "Sorry-Mate, you make TOO much trouble.... we'll solve the problem by simply BANNING bikes"

Get rid of bikes, impacts a VERY insignificant group of road users MOST of whom DON'T use their bikes for 'essential' travel ANYWAY, and would cut road deaths in half and reduce road casualties by a fifth at ONE swoop.

THAT is 'The Bottom Line" BOLLOX to whether it is 'fair' or not! This is 'political expedience'!

Shudder at the thought, call me a scare monger, BUT in talking to people 'on the inside' IT IS a policy that is consistently repeated AS 'The Bottom Line'! The last resort. And if 'other measures' don't have effect, something that they MAY resort to!

What laws they are imposing at the moment, may seem rather draconian, and short sighted, and its often said, "They are just trying to make it ever more difficult for bikers".... and its ABSOLUTELY TRUE!

Without 'banning' bikes outright, the NEXT best thing is to make it as difficult to do, as expensive and unattractive as they can!

And THAT is the motivation behind all the legislation. VERY little to do with whether its valid, reasonable or actually likely to 'make a difference', More 'problems' for bikers means LESS bikers, and LESS bikers means LESS problems, and CERTAINLY less road-accidents!

Yes, in MOST cases, the Car-Driver is to blame for the SMIDSY......

But in VERY few of them, is the BIKER entirely blame-less, and COULD not have done anything to 'help' themselves.

And I started out by saying, that 'The Problem' is that Car-Drivers are NOT used to seeing bikes, NOT used to looking out for them, and DON'T know what to do when they encounter one of them.

YET, far too often WE the Biker, RELY on them doing what they ought to EVEN though we KNOW that they aren't good at it!

AND, every time we crash, its YET another nail in the coffin via the road-safety stats that DON'T give us credit and WONT give us credit, and say.... "Hey, look at all these bikers hurt by cars we better do something about the 'blind car drivers'"...... they JUST say, "LOOK at all these bikers HURTING THEMSELVES! What can we do about them?"

WE are the minority. Motorcycle safety is a MINORITY INTEREST, and if WE want to 'save' the pursuit, we HAVE to start doling stuff for ourselves and STOP expecting OTHER PEOPLE to look out for us!

I really don't want 'compunction' for Day-Time-Running-Lights or Hi-Vis riding wear. I don't want ever more restrictive construction and use regulations or 'anti-tamper' measures. And I CERTAINLY don't want to see bikes regulated OFF the road, to become Track-Day toys hauled to events behind cars!

BUT we ARE so often our OWN worst enemy. What we CANNOT change is a fact, and we NEED to face facts, that CAR DRIVERS WONT CHANGE! We need to accept that, and accommodate that and try and find ways to AVOID the 'conflict' and NOT be the 'problem' the authorities perceive.

But while so many still flaunt number-plate regulations, speed limits, exhaust noise regulations, etc etc etc... ALL we do is CONFIRM pre-conceptions and increase antagonism.

Riding a motorbike on public roads is NOT a 'right' it IS a privilege, one they CAN revoke, should they so choose!

And with so many, riding like lunatics, getting high adrenaline 'kicks' living some sort of GP Fantasy on a Sunny Sunday, or tearing up the soft-top pretending to be Ewan & Charlie on an adventure sport, or cruising around in a cut playing out some kind of Sons-of-Anarchy idea, with baffle-less exhausts and expired tax disc?

Conspicuity, its being SEEN, and FAR too often we are Conspicuous for ALL the WRONG reasons!

And if we WANT to preserve 'Biking-as-we-know it', or even biking in ANY shape or form! WE HAVE to change our OWN attitudes, before we will change any outsiders, and this 'Rebel-Biker' mentality is NOT the attitude to do it!

Act like criminals, we get treated like criminals, and THIRTY FUCKING YEARS I have been watching, seeing and doing in these campaigns, and every generation sees a NEW CREW come along and simply perpetuate the problem, treating biking as a RIGHT and expecting OTHER PEOPLE to sort out the mess.....

At SOME point, the 'NEW CREW' has to accept that WE have to do the hard work. It will ONLY get 'better' if WE get better, and THAT means we change OUR point of view and rather than BLAMING the blind car driver, ACCEPTING their failings and working around them!


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