She was over 800 miles into the ride of a lifetime. Pedaling down the full length of the Mississippi River, Mandy was near Dubuque, Iowa when her ride was brought to an end. She was hit by a pickup truck while riding on a four-lane road. She was lucky: her left arm was lacerated badly, but her bones were whole, and, thanks to her helmet, so was her head.
As she lay on the pavement waiting to be moved to an ambulance, the responding police officer asked her what sheíd done to make sure she was visible. While no cyclist ever deserves to be hit by a car, it is each riderís responsibility to make sure she can be seen. Mandy had done everything right. The officer agreed that the driver was completely at fault. He admitted that heíd seen her and just didnít pull over far enough.
You have three basic tools to make you more visible to traffic: bright clothes, lights, and reflectors. Itís not only at night that you need to be worried about visibility. Dawn, dusk, rain and fog all lead to dim lighting. Even on a bright sunny day, you want to be sure to catch the attention of all nearby motorists. Using all three tools will give you the best chance of being seen no matter what the light conditions.
Wear brightly colored clothes. Mandy was wearing a neon pink jacket that was flapping about her and a bright pink helmet. My favorite color for cycling is the safety yellow theyíre now painting fire trucks. Itís easily visible from hundreds of yards away, if not further. Cycling jerseys and jackets come in a wide variety of fun colors and patterns designed to be attention grabbing. Whatever you do and no matter what the light conditions, avoid wearing solid dark colors like black and blue. Even in bright sunlight youíll be harder to see.
Use reflectors everywhere: on your clothes, bike, helmet and accessories. Many bikes come with reflectors on the wheel spokes. Add them wherever else you can. You can buy reflective tape that can be applied (in fun patterns if you like) to your helmet, clothing, water bottles, and everything else. I ride with a bright fuchsia and orange reflective triangle strapped to the back of my rack bag. Thereís a fellow who commutes by bike in my town, always wearing black clothes in the dark. Many times the only reason Iíve seen him is because he has one spoke reflector.
(As soon as I figure out who he is, Iím going to give him a lecture!)
Battery operated head and tail lights are a must, especially if youíre riding at night or in dim light. You may also want to consider a helmet light that always points in the direction youíre looking. If you really want to stand out, try lights on your spokes. Monkey Lights (www.monkeylectric.com) are LED lights that create patterns in different colors on your wheels as they turn. Thereís no way these will be missed!
Go overboard when choosing lighting options: you canít be too visible. Ride safe and have fun!