The Decidedly Unfashionable Chartreuse Safety Vest

I see a lot of coverage in the press on bicycling and fashion, much of it fueled by Copenhagen Cycle Chic’s wonderful photos of fashionable Copenhageners living the good life in one of the world’s most bike-friendly cities. It’s undoubtedly a seductive image and one a full-time transportational bicyclist like myself views with envy. The number of Cycle Chic imitators that have cropped up on the web is a testament to our desire to ride bikes in a civilized manner, in an environment where “share the road” means sharing a cycle path with 10,000 other cyclists, not fighting for limited shoulder space with diesel-spewing semi trucks.

I like riding in my street clothes and I recommend it to anyone who isn’t racing, riding extremely long distances, or riding in extreme weather conditions. Riding in street clothes makes us much more likely to hop on a bike for short trips; if I felt the need to throw on bike shorts and a lycra jersey every time I needed something from the grocery store, the day-to-day utility of my bike would be greatly diminished.

Given that here in the U.S. most of us ride very close to automobiles at least some of the time, it may be prudent to set aside our desires to be fashionable and do what we can to make ourselves visible to motorists.

I do have reservations about placing too much emphasis on bike fashion though. The reality is that the U.S. is not Denmark, and our infrastructure is such that we truly do “share” the road with motor vehicles. Even in cities with high ridership and mature infrastructure, you’re highly unlikely to find a complete system of separated facilities. Given that here in the U.S. most of us ride very close to automobiles at least some of the time, it may be prudent to set aside our desires to be fashionable and do what we can to make ourselves visible to motorists.

A simple way to dramatically increase your visibility is by wearing a decidedly unfashionable chartreuse safety vest. A lightweight vest can be thrown over whatever you’re already wearing. Some are packable and compress down small enough to go in a seat bag or coat pocket. All are ugly as sin but may actually prevent a collision.

I have to admit, I don’t always wear a safety vest, just like I don’t always wear a helmet. But during high traffic commute hours, or when the light is low at dawn or dusk, I usually set aside vanity and let better judgement determine my riding attire.

Is being fashionable while bicycling important to you? Do you wear a safety vest?

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61 Responses to “The Decidedly Unfashionable Chartreuse Safety Vest”

  • alan says:

    Alan,

    You should add the voting option “I don’t wear a vest but am considering one now”. I’d put myself in that category. I still wouldn’t wear one all the time, but I have a white, reflective vest from Bellwether I’m thinking about adding to my pannier after reading your post.

  • John says:

    I don’t worry about the vest. I wear clothes to the utility of my riding conditions regardless of the color of the fabric.

    I do, however, have blinky lights on my helmet, reflective tape all over my helmet and bike, a high-intensity B&M IQ Cyo that’s always on on the front and a motion-activated tail-light that’s on on the back. So, though I have no chartreuse vest, I have no doubt that I am being visually conspicuous (there’s no such thing as being too visible!).

  • John says:

    PS: I voted “I would never wear a safety vest” because it’s closest to my actual vote. But my vote should really be “I don’t wear a safety vest,” not that I would never wear one.

  • Kirsten says:

    Given that I live in the country and the only road into town is heavily traveled at 50 mph+, I always wear a brilliant orange mesh vest with reflective stripes front and back over my street clothes. Since I started wearing it, motorists tend to give me more room when passing. I suppose a yellow vest would be more visible yet, but I bought what was available at the time.

    I think the ultimate safety jacket — especially for night riding — might be a thin yellow jacket with reflective tape sewn onto the front and back sides of the sleeves so as to be visble when signalling turns. I plan to experiment with this in the near future.

    Thanks, Alan, for covering this important subect.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    I wear a yellow reflective cycling jacket. I also have a reflective sash for rando rides. Though I don’t wear a chartreuse vest I selected the sometimes vest option. One of my fair weather short sleeve jerseys is chartreuse as well.

    I ride a lot, I am fine with using cycling clothing for it. When I was a rock climber I wore climbing specific clothes as well. My compromise is that I wear my activity clothing for doing regular stuff too. In the summer I tend to be in cycling clothes much of the time, except at work. It works for me. My winters are wet so changing clothes is a necessity in any case.

  • Adrienne says:

    People notice me the best when I smile and wear my red peep toe heels : )

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    You make some interesting points. My feeling is that the emphasis on fashion in urban cycling web content is over-the-top, to the extent that women who otherwise dress casually/athletically feel that they need to deck themselves out in skirts and heels just to be worthy of riding a Dutch bike. I have received emails where the writer precedes her question or comment with an aside apologizing for not looking sufficiently “chic” in her photos – and this makes me sad. I am usually dressed up on my bike, because I always dress that way. And I initially started my weblog, because I was on a quest to find a bicycle that would accommodate my personal style. I discovered the “cycle chic” websites only later, and my feelings about them are mixed – because frankly I feel that they can be judgmental and often adopt a prescriptive tone, which rubs me the wrong way.

    The real point here, is that cycling is not about fashion; it’s about life and personal comfort, the key word being personal. I hope that people wear a vest if it makes them feel safe, an don’t wear a vest if it doesn’t. But some imaginary cycle-fashion police should not be playing a role in this decision. Besides, there are ways to make a fashionable safety vest (or overcoat, or poncho) if fashion is the only issue. And no, I myself don’t wear a vest; but fashion is not the reason for that choice.

  • Lief says:

    I voted never because I exclusively ride a recumbent. I almost always have my bright green/yellow road jacket on but only because of it’s utility in other ways. It may help a bit from the front and the side but my lights and reflective material make more of a difference for my “profile.”

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    It may be prudent.

    I have a problem with hi-viz vests though, and that is that they seem to be part of a blame-the-victim mentality. I think most people think twice before recommending women not to wear short skirts, because they might get accosted.

  • Mitch says:

    Well put, Alan (as usual). My response: What John said, more or less. During daylight: Planet Bike Beamer (or similar) light on flash, Superflash in the rear on flash; PLUS B&M generator headlight/taillight always on; PLUS high-viz yellow (chartreuse?) Nathan reflective stickers on my black helmet; PLUS high-viz yellow ankle bands, which I’d wear anyway so keep my pant cuffs out of the drivetrain, so I might as well make them noticeable. At night, all lights are usually on steady, though I occasionally put the smaller light on blink during a busy intersection. This season I’m also adding a helmet-mounted Princeton tec light for added ability to catch motorists’ eyes.

    Having said all that, I might add a reflective sash type of thing. One can never be too noticeable, especially with texting, cell phones, etc.

    PS: I didn’t vote because I didn’t want to skew the results in a potentially misleading way. I rarely wear a cycling vest or jacket – they get too stinky unless washed frequently.

  • Ints says:

    In this instance as well as the Great Helmet Debate, it seems that people wear what they are comfortable wearing, whether the comfort is in feeling safe or feeling stylish. I do not wear a vest, but i do have a bright yellow helmet as this is something I wear when commuting regardless, so I thought it best to make it visible.
    Growing up in Southern California, I noticed that “your car is who you are” for a great many people their ride is a key part of their identity. Living in Seattle, the cliche is tweaked a wee bit to “your gear is who you are” in this outdoor-recreation mecca of poly-fleece and technical shells.
    The majority of SS riders here prefer to live more dangerously than the masses, reflector and blinky free. On the other hand there are some folks who give the spacecraft in Close Encounters a run for their money with multiple headlights, flashers, reflectors, chartreuse delicates even. Considering the typical weather here, sometines even that much visibility doesn’t help.
    My preference is to have a bicycle that is an everyday part of my life and that means i usually wear what I want to be seen in.
    Maybe one of these days I’ll muster up the courage to join the Fremont Solstice Parade riders and ride in the open breeze and that’s all!

    Cheers,

    Ints

  • The Opoponax says:

    I’m a non-wearer, mainly because I live in a city where being seen by drivers is really not much of an issue. I’d happily buy any sort of apparel that promised to cut down on road rage and idiotic driving, though.

    I most often see cyclists wearing them who then turn onto roads I don’t feel safe cycling on. Maybe I’m just a fashionista, but I’d rather go out of my way by a block or two and not have to spend my hard earned money on an ugly vest. Then again, plenty of New Yorkers pride themselves on doing everything the hard way. Why have a nice relaxing ride down a quiet block when you could give yourself agita on a major thoroughfare and sound a lot more bad ass at cocktail parties?

  • Jeff says:

    Alan,
    I’ve been considering this type of clothing and recently purchased a chartreuse Carhartt beenie with a 3M reflective stripe for this winter. Carhartt has an entire line of high visability clothing if anyone is interested. http://www.carhartt.com

  • Duncan Watson says:

    I wear cycling clothes for more reasons than just visibility. I too understand the aversion to blame the victim tenancies on this subject. But I like the tight fit and feel of cycling clothes. I like how I ride faster with them on, I even like to lounge around my house with cycling clothes on.

  • bikeolounger says:

    I have a couple of the “please don’t hit me” yellow vests. I keep one in my grocery trailer (a converted kid trailer bought for $50 through Craig’s list), in case I’m out later than I expect in warm weather. If it’s cool enough, I typically wear a jacket made of Illuminite, making the vest unnecessary. My utility bikes also have enough reflectors and blinky lights that anyone who contends he or she can’t see me should automatically be selected for a “pass this or don’t ever drive again in your life” vision test.

    In general, I’m happy to ride my Raleigh 3-speed in street clothes, including that I wear a kilt much of the time if I’m not wearing cycling-specific togs. If I’m going more than a couple miles, though, I will wear cycling shoes. I simply feel in more control of the bike then (SPD pedals still work well for me, and the Raleigh has dual-use pedals mounted).

    I got one of my vests at a local tool discount house for $3 or so (I bought three of them). The other was given to me as part of volunteering to ride marshal during a local bike/hike event.

  • Mr. CrankyPants says:

    Like Ints above, I also live in an outdoor recreation mecca. The majority of riders I see are wearing a mix-n-match assortment of outdoor gear, technical and/or casual clothing. Sure, there’s the occasional examples of the cycle chic or full kit lycra stereotypes, but for the most part it’s “wear what works for you”.

    My feelings towards the “cycle-chic” movement are becoming increasingly negative. While I like the vintage and retro bikes that are popular within those circles, I see “cycle chic” as presenting the same barriers to cycling as the full kit lycra stereotype. Something I’ve been wondering about lately (Lovely Bicycle touched on it in her comments) is how many people, more specifically woman who are potential cyclists, are put off riding because they aren’t a willowy 20-something or a dashing gent and don’t have the requisite Dutch bike complete with matching retro chic clothing? Choosing to ride a bike shouldn’t involve being forced to choose sides in an ideological war based on fashion (Mods & Rockers anyone?)

  • townmouse says:

    In London I wore a hi-vis vest all the time (on my bike, that is, I don’t lounge around in my cycling clothes) and felt very vulnerable without it. Now I’m living in the country, I generally only wear it at night or on foggy days and feel much more relaxed about the whole thing, even if I’m actually cycling in traffic. But because it’s the only obviously ‘bikey’ thing I own (apart from the bike), as I don’t have a helmet, lycra, or those clicky shoes, occasionally I will wear it to things where I want to make it obvious I’ve cycled there (e.g. meeting other cyclists, or to make a point). Hi-vis yellow has become part of the cyclist ‘brand’, like it or not.

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    Sweet Mr. Cranky, you said what I meant to say better than me. I must have not had enough coffee yet.

    BTW, my favourite “blogger” of all time was the late Sheldon Brown (he kept an online diary before blogs as we know them existed). And he would have rocked that neon vest with some tweed trousers and French beret. Sigh.

  • Alan says:

    @Lovely Bicycle!

    Sheldon was the best…

  • Mr. CrankyPants says:

    Agreed — Sheldon Brown was the best.

    @Lovely Bicyle — Thanks for the compliment. Reading your blog has motivated me to work on my writing skills (I’m a maker of pictures and fixer of bikes, not a wordsmith)

  • ToddBS says:

    Not technically a safety vest, but I do wear a reflective “Sam Browne” belt at times. It’s just too hot and sticky here in FL for a full vest.

  • Steve Fuller says:

    I started wearing a hi vis vest with reflective striping about a month ago due to the change in light availability this fall. I look nerdy, but there’s no denying that it makes me more visible. Cars are giving me more room when they pass.

  • Peter says:

    I spent 6 weeks in New Zealand last winter. I immediately noticed that almost all cyclists wear a neon green coloured vest or jacket. These garments are visible for about 1000 metres. They are starting to appear in our area (Victoria, BC) as an alternative to the green/blue/yellow jackets traditionally worn by commuters. Now that the time has changed visibility is paramount especially on dark wet west coast nights. I wear a wind vest with reflective stripes. My next vest will be that neon green colour.

  • doug says:

    I never wear one. I doubt I ever will.

    Curious, though: any evidence that vests reduce the chance of a collision? Has anyone studied this?

  • Eva says:

    Two thoughts.

    First, although I don’t wear a vest and default to my street clothes unless going for a very long ride, I do try to wear something light-colored when I cycle in low light or dark. Just as pedestrians often do. I have begun to build a commuting wardrobe that includes a reflective rain jacket and more “athletic” bottoms because the more I commute, the more I realize I’m sweating up my work clothes. That said, on warmer, sunnier days and when I use my bicycle for other trips I don’t think twice about riding in whatever clothes I have on and that’s thanks largely to the profusion of ‘cycle chic’ blogs and culture. I would love to be a lithe Scandinavian blonde but I am definitely not. I think the cycle chic has been inspirational even to those of us who lack obvious chic-ness.

    Second, I will likely start wearing something high-vis now that the time-change and the encroaching winter has rendered my commute a dark venture in the evenings. Lamentably, I know only too well how difficult it can be to see a cyclist when behind the wheel of a car — even though I’m a cyclist too, and always trying to look out for fellow bi-pedalers. The high-vis stuff is truly a marvel of the modern age, as one can see it for miles even in the pitch black on a rainy night.

  • Adrienne says:

    I find the conversation of “hi-vis” vs “cycle chic” rather funny. It is no secret that I blog about the “chic” cyclist and have for a little while now. I make no apologies for it, either. Now my view of what a “chic” cyclist is may differ from the POV of others, but for the most part, they are simply riders with grace and style (clothing is much less a factor than confidence). There is a reason that I do it- from my first MTB in 1988 until the last year and a half I have seen nothing but sport enthusiasts, grungy messengers and middle aged men in “hi-vis” clothing on a bike. I have not seen mothers with their kids, college students going to class, children riding to practice…. and now there is a wave of people out there who are going back to riding a bike in what they wear everyday.
    If all the pictures I saw were like the one Alan has posted of himself (a really good picture BTW), I would not be drawn to utility cycling. There is nothing in that picture that says to me “Ooohh, I want to ride to work!”. Those who are attracted to it are probably not attracted to a picture of me in a tweed skirt and cardigan sans helmet and that picture would not entice them to ride. Neither picture should be interpreted as representative of “the” way to ride. So it is a good thing to have places to go to see all sides of the picture.

    As to a woman being “put off” by the “willowy blonds”, she will not be attracted to the screaming yellow vest, either. Anyone who is put off riding by one type of picture wasn’t likely to ride anyway . I have seen hundreds of those shots, and at 6′ tall and of healthy farm girl proportions I know that I will never look like that on any bike, but they have given me the understanding that I do not have to give up looking like myself either which did more to get me back on my (dutch) bike and out of my car than anything else to date.

  • Joe says:

    I think the question on the survey is not well thought. “Is being fashionable while bicycling important to you?” has nothing to do with wearing a vest or not. I don’t wear it, but not because I find it not fashionable (I couldn’t care less). As the post itself says, I don’t wear it because it’s not practical, it takes space I don’t have when leaving the bike, and I use the bike as a means of transport from A to B, so I don’t want any extras not needed (the same as a car driver doesn’t get into special F1 gloves or anti-fire suits in order to increase his safety. He/she wears whatever they have on).

    I also share the road with the rest of vehicles, and having lights should be enough, as enough as it is for motorbikes or cars, or massive trucks that have lights as big and powerful as my own dynamo lighting system…

  • TD says:

    I don’t wear a vest, but I do consciously try to wear lighter colors at night. I work overnight, and have a 10 mile one way commute on busy roads to my work. I have a gloss white helmet, my bike is well lit and has a sufficient amount of reflective tape.

    That being said, there was a night recently that I was riding in the pouring rain and got tapped by a car pulling out of a driveway. I wasn’t hurt, and neither was my bike, but the experience was the most fear I’ve had on a bicycle. My evasive action was the only thing that kept me from getting into a very serious full on collision ( I play bike polo, which I swear has given me riding abilities that have saved me a million times).

    I honestly don’t think that a safety vest would have made this woman see me. The fact is, even though I was lit up like a semi truck, it was raining, later at night, and she wasn’t looking for bicycles. You can only do so much to make yourself visible, after that point its up to you to have the skill set to minimize the risk of having an accident.

  • William Seville says:

    I don’t wear a safety vest – one of my jerseys is fluoro YELLOW and gets dragged out on dark days. And my rain jacket is also YELLOW

    But my bikes all sport both reflectors and reflective tape on moving and fixed parts. (Round here abouts you need wheel reflectors and pedal reflectors in addition to front/rear deflectors)

  • Alan says:

    @Adrienne

    “If all the pictures I saw were like the one Alan has posted of himself (a really good picture BTW), I would not be drawn to utility cycling. There is nothing in that picture that says to me “Ooohh, I want to ride to work!”. “

    That’s an astute observation regarding the photo. It was chosen purposely to be not appealing, to express the idea that, “hey folks, this ain’t Copenhagen”, to communicate that sometimes bike riding here in the U.S. is, in fact, a little more dangerous and difficult than is sometimes portrayed here and on other blogs. The idea wasn’t specifically to discourage new people from riding (of course), but to remind folks who are already riding to do whatever they have to do to be safe out there with the lower light and more difficult conditions of winter coming on.

    We’re now back to our regularly scheduled program of inspirational bike photos (sans green vest). :-)

    Alan

  • Mario Sol says:

    bicycles do need get rid of sports equipment status; is average bike riding so clothing demanding as scuba diving? no may i suggest it (gearing up) is pretty concealed want (a) not blend in (b) fostering a biking subculture?

  • Stephen says:

    I think Alan’s point is well made: You don’t have to look like a bicycle geek if you’re simply commuting to work, but don’t forget to be visible–this ain’t Copenhagen yet.

    I’ve largely given up on Lycra for various reasons, including vanity, but I still have my blinkies and reflective jacket when the weather is not so good. And I’m considering a vest for the ride home in the dark. It just makes a lot of sense.

    As an aside, there’s several kinds of bicycle chic. There’s the kind that says “don’t make riding so complicated that you don’t do it as often as you should,” and then there’s “look fabulous, baby, life is short, have some fun with it,” and then there’s “I’m willing to die for fashion.” I think most of us know the difference.

  • Mikael says:

    It’s not fair to merely compare the safe bicycle lanes of Copenhagen with ‘the mean streets of America’ and conclude that safety gear like vests and helmets are a must ‘over there’. This fetish for safety gear is a uniquely American affair, due to the deeply rooted Culture of Fear. If you look at other emerging bicycle cultures around the world, there are no vests or helmets or what have you. France, Italy, Spain, Hungary, Russia, Poland, you name it.

    People are just getting on with the safest transport form ever invented. In close proximity to cars and trucks, too.

    This safety gear fascination is a regional and cultural one. If it works for you, great. No worries. But comparisons are more credible if they include a broader, global perspective.

    ‘Cycle chic’ is opening your closet and putting on the same clothes you would choose to walk in.

  • Alan says:

    @Mikael

    Undoubtedly, the danger associated with riding bikes is overblown. The motivation for my post was that I’m seeing too many bicyclists at dusk mixing it up in traffic with no lights and dark clothing. There’s the culture of fear, then there’s plain common sense.

    Alan

  • Stephen says:

    Mikael, what you do and what you advocate, is simply brilliant. But speaking as a father and a husband whose family would miss me terribly were I to be taken out by an SUV driven by some idiot, I do fear American car culture. It can kill you w/o remorse. Today I rode to work dressed in blue jeans, a purple Oxford cloth shirt, and an old tweed sport coat and a scarf, but I also wore a helmet. I rode home at dusk in the same get-up, but I turned on my two rear red lights and my front white, flashing LED light. I don’t want to live in fear, but this ain’t Copehagen.

    LOVE CBC BTW.

  • Yokota Fritz says:

    I’ve gone back and forth on the whole “dress for conspicuity” thing. I used to dress like a Christmas tree, but then I saw guys with the reflective slow vehicle triangles pinned to their butts (yes, really) and yellow jackets, pinwheels, flashing strobes, etc. and thought “that looks ridiculous” I decided to scale back a bit.

    I own high viz jerseys and jackets and even wear them on occasion, but I also want to avoid the idea that this visibility arms race is necessary for cycling safety. It’s at the point where safety ads are now telling pedestrians to dress for night time safety, which is ridiculous.

  • lyle says:

    I don’t see the point of fluorescent green. That said, I went shopping for a new rain jacket today and rather than my typical dark grey or black or neutral color, I opted for a bright red. Wearing flat black in rainy, dark weather is just stupid. Today it was sunny and bright and with the sun so low in the sky, visibility is very important, in that kind of weather, green just washes out.

    Mikael’s approach is too extreme and best suited to a homogenous northern european society. Even if the US had the infrastructure that Denmark had, we don’t have the same sense of social cohesion and responsibility.

    In the end, it’s a matter of wearing what’s best suited to your cycling habits, the time of day you cycle and the community where you live and a person’s own comfort level.

  • Adrienne says:

    Really, I think it comes down to this- if you feel that this kind of thing makes you visible and thus makes you more likely to ride then by all means, light yourself up. Just don’t think that it will automatically increase your visibility. The issue is not glowing in the dark, it is having all the people on a road behave responsibly.

    In broad daylight, in a 4 way controlled intersection where both I and my kids had stopped at the sign to wait for our turn into the intersection, as soon as we took our turn and were halfway through, a woman coming from the oncoming direction decided to start making a rapid left turn into us while *tuning her radio*. The fact that I was riding a fully upright Dutch bike in a white shirt with a child on the back and two other bicycles next to me (thus creating a large tangle of highly visible riders) was not enough. She could not see us because she was not looking.

    That is what needs to be addressed. Not the reflective vest. We need, as a nationwide group, to loudly insist on higher standards for road use and vastly improved roads, not vastly improved reflective clothing.

    Although I will say, Alan, you do look better in your vest than most ; )

  • Harm says:

    Hi,
    Interesting little article. I tend to also wear a high viz vest only in extreme circumstances like dawn, dusk or those dubious moments when the weather can’t make up it’s mind whether to start raining or to wait with the downpour until I’m about 10 minutes from home,….
    As a ‘stylie’ alternative I wear a ocre orange fleece from Ground Effect http://www.groundeffect.co.nz/index.htm With a good enough visibility for the road it’s also great to wear around town and work.
    A nice alternative anyway I think.
    Cheers,
    Harm
    Rotorua, New Zealand

  • steve says:

    I wear a high viz vest/jacket whenever I am cycling outside my neighborhood, which is usually on my bicycle commute trip to and from work. At other times I wear a white jersey.

  • Nick says:

    I live in BC where anything safety related is all the rage. I, instead, am politically against safety vests because I don’t like perpetuating the fear of cycling. Copenhagenize blogged about this:

    http://www.copenhagenize.com/2009/09/fear-of-cycling-01-essay-in-five-parts.html

    I like to spread the message that cycling is a natural extension of walking and fits neatly into the daily routine.

    I don’t wear safety vests or helmets when I go to the bank, eat breakfast or sing early music, so why would I wear them when cycling?

    “Be the change you want to see” etc. That’s my position. I want to see fewer cars on my streets so I do what I can to encourage more people to travel by feet.

    Great blog.

  • Harm says:

    I agree with you Nick,
    Why should we protect ourselves against the inability for a motorist to pay attention?
    Helmets, vests, reflectors? Just because a motorist has decided to move at a speed that is not fit for a human being to take everything in. Nothing is missed by a cheetah running at it’s top click because they are built for that speed. Humans are not designed to travel at such speed and the horrific accidents that happen daily are proof of this. So why should we who choose to travel at a more human pace need to protect ourselves from these suicidal missiles? Simple rule in the Netherlands is that if a motorist hits a pedestrian or cyclist they are automatically at fault. Motorist there know this and act more responsibly as a result.
    Simple logic in my books, but then again I’m not a politician,….

    Cheers,
    Harm
    Rotorua, New Zealand

  • Mr. CrankyPants says:

    “I don’t wear safety vests or helmets when I go to the bank, eat breakfast or sing early music, so why would I wear them when cycling?”

    “Why should we protect ourselves against the inability for a motorist to pay attention?”

    Because sometimes, like it or not, you’re at the mercy of the dumbest person on the road.

  • Nick says:

    Mr. CrankyPants,

    The point Harm and I are making is that it is unacceptable for any of us to be in a situation where simple human stupidity can result in death on our streets. Speaking as a Canadian, we have a pretty good social safety net: a health care system that protects most people most of the time from most health risks, a law enforcement system that protects most of us most of the time from the majority of crimes, a legislative system that protects most of our rights in most situations, etc. Yet, despite all this, everyone of us faces the possibility of instant death right outside our front doors.

    Wearing a safety vest is a symbol of acceptance that the status quo, as described above, is acceptable and inevitable.

    It is neither.

    Refusing to wear the head coverings and armbands demanded by the tyranny of the automobile is an important part of bike advocacy that may actually change the status quo.

    Nick

  • Mr. CrankyPants says:

    @Nick

    I understand where your coming from, and yes, it is unacceptable to be in a position where human stupidity can result in death, but I think maybe you’ve missed my point. My point is these situations do exist and sometimes you have to look out for yourself because no one else is going to. There are times when reality stubbornly refuses to play nicely with ideology.

    The hi-vz vest is just one of many different solutions for dealing with low visibility situations. With all due respect, you’re over-politicizing a garment.

    Road users, and that includes cyclists, have responsibilities. In low light/low visibility situations those responsibilities include making oneself visible. Should cyclists be granted an exemption from the same responsibilities other road users have?

    Some of those responsibilities as per the BC motor vehicle act http://www.bclaws.ca/Recon/document/freeside/–%20M%20–/Motor%20Vehicle%20Act%20%20RSBC%201996%20%20c.%20318/00_Act/96318_05.xml#section182

    [RSBC 1996] CHAPTER 318

    Part 3

    (6) A cycle operated on a highway between 1/2 hour after sunset and 1/2 hour before sunrise must have the following equipment:
    (a) a lighted lamp mounted on the front and under normal atmospheric conditions capable of displaying a white light visible at least 150 m in the direction the cycle is pointed;
    (b) a red reflector of a make or design approved by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia for the purposes of this section;
    (c) a lighted lamp, mounted and visible to the rear, displaying a red light.

    and take particular note of this one:

    (14) A person must not operate a cycle
    (a) on a highway without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway

    Are these criteria also too onerous for your ideology? Do they qualify as spreading fear of cycling?

    Don’t try to accuse me of propagating a “Blame the Victim” mentality either. Accountability is part of being an adult.

    Going off on tangent, here’s something to ponder: A cyclist puts a reflector or a light on a bike and no one bats an eye. “Why, it’s just common sense!” they all say. Headlights are discussed in glowing (ha!) terms all the time in the bike blog-o-sphere, but when our cyclist moves that same reflector or light off their bike and onto an article of clothing suddenly it “CULTURE OF FEAR! CULTURE OF FEAR! OMG! O-M-G! O-M-F-G!” and now they’re enemy of all thats good and true. Ridiculous? Yes, but that’s how it plays out.

    You could also make the argument that bike specific infrastructure is the result of a nanny state culture of fear. But that’s a whole other topic of discussion.

    BTW – I’m Canadian too, in the province right next door to you as a matter of fact. And I don’t own a safety vest. I’m more about lighting. Dekotora baby, Decotora.

  • Mr. CrankyPants says:

    Whoops, typo! It’s Chapter 318, part 3, section 183 of the BC Motor Vehicle Act.

  • Harm says:

    Hi Mr Cranckypants
    Nice point and well founded. Of course it’s our duty as a road user to conform to the responsibilities of sharing the road. Cars have lights, reflectors and seat belts. Motorcycles have lights, reflectors and helmets, and if we are treated as road users we need to have the required gear on our cycles to ‘Be Safe, Be Seen’ and if that requires a helmet or a hi-viz vest than it’s our responsibility as a road user to dress to the conditions.
    But the point that Nick and I are trying to get across is the acceptance of a cyclist as a road user.
    Here in New Zealand there is an enormous amount of money spent on upgrading our roading infrastructure and solely for the purpose of car transport. Everything is made physically easier for the car to move around. Millions are spent here in NZ on ‘cutting out dangerous corners’ to make our highways ‘safer’ But there is simply not enough done to educate all road users of the presence of others on the road which has detrimental effects on cyclists and pedestrians alike.
    As cyclists we are pressured into wearing vests and helmets and this is detrimental to the amount of people wanting to simply ride to work. That’s the whole crux of the issue. To get more people crossing the threshold to leave the car at home and decide to cycle to work our consecutive governments need to make it ‘as easy as walking to the corner dairy’
    And to achieve that we (the environmentally conscious commuters) need to simply get on a cycle without all the “bloo-blaa” of having to kit out.
    The Australian (?) designer Marc Newson designed a glow-in-the-dark bicycle which is one way of getting around the issue. But simple steps to educate all motorists on the responsibilities when on the road is beneficial for everyone including our kids who will then have the opportunity to cycle to school without fear of getting killed.

  • Harm says:

    Just to add,
    The point I’m trying to make is: It’s not about the regulations on the road. If the governments say that if (and that if is still seriously in doubt here in NZ) we’re to share the road with others we must comply with the road rules. Sounds logical.
    But vests and helmets are not helping in lowering the threshold to get more people making the derision to cycle instead of drive.
    More education to all parties on the road will make it safer which will ultimately result in more responsibility, a safer environment for all (kids riding to school and all) and a healthier community as a whole.
    How many times have you had a quick chat with a fellow motorist while waiting for the at the traffic lights to turn green?
    Educate all road users (including cyclists) and the whole community will benefit and we will improve our current dromological society.

  • Nick says:

    Mr. CrankyPants,

    I appreciate your argument. Your point that “accountability is part of being an adult” is right on. That’s precisely why I make the case I do. It is time we gave up the childish ‘me first’ attitude that gets people into cars in the first place and instead look after the ‘least of these': those who are on their feet. Accountability is directly proportional to the threat we cause to others. Many pedestrians have started walking around with blinking lights because they want to be seen. That is fine and good for them but I would never argue they have a responsibility to do so or are somehow acountable to ensure their own visibility. The responsibility to see pedestrians lies entirely with those who travel fast enough to hurt them, and that includes cyclists.

    A light on a bicycle, as you say, is a good thing but not only because it makes the cyclist visible to cars but, more importantly, to pedestrians. Lights on cars and bikes actually protect pedestrians by ensuring they can see the fast-moving objects ignorant of their presence. A reflector or vest is not a good alternative since it emits no light of its own (pedestrians don’t have headlights).

    A limit has to be put somewhere, right? If we don’t set a reasonable limit we’ll end up with these:

    http://www.copenhagenize.com/2009/11/wave-your-flag-pedestrian.html

    I argue that the line needs to be drawn well before reflective vests become a consideration.

    We are all, as you say, accountable to the law, like those paragraphs from the ‘motor vehicle act’ you quote (whether we operate the machines or not; I don’t think I need to point out how this act presupposes the political marginalisation of pedestrians and cyclists). We are also, however, accountable for the making of those laws through our political infrastructure. If we think a law is unjust, working against it is as much a part of our duty as following it. Every decision we make is political whether we are concious of it or not, even the simple act of choosing to wear a safety vest. I don’t agree that I am over-politicizing the vest—I am instead drawing attention to the political implications that are being ignored.

  • Christina says:

    Does anyone have a suggestion on where to buy one that won’t make you hot? I want it for jogging at night too.
    I won’t wear one all the time but I will wear one when I’m out and about anytime near dusk. Even good drivers have momentary lapeses of attention and they’re more likely to see flourescent yellow and react safely.

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    I’m going to take the liberty to repeat what Adrienne said. The only solution to inattentive driving is to have drivers be attentive, and vests hardly accomplish that.

    The CTC, a British cycling lobby, have started a campaign against inattentive driving. They have a cyclist dressed up as a lion, asking, “What do I have to do to get you to see me?” I think it’s a good campaign.

    http://www.stop-smidsy.org.uk/

  • Harm says:

    Like Erik’s thinking,
    Whatever sort of campaign it is it needs to be done with a positive smile and maybe with a little ‘tongue & cheek’ thrown in. I think it’s pointless confronting drivers with hard reality because then they’ll crawl ever further in their (metal) shells.
    Sort of reminds me of Walt Disney’s Mr wheeler vs Mr Walker, a very good example.
    “Softly, softly catchy monkey”
    Cheers,
    Harm

  • Mari Lynch says:

    No, being fashionable isn’t important to me while biking, and being visible is! My concern for fashion usually only goes so far as to sometimes carry a “nicer looking” top to put on when I reach my destination. (Don’t always want to stand out, just when I’m biking!)

    I prefer to wear regular clothing while biking, as long as it’s comfortable. I just like to add something to it for visibility. This might be a jacket or vest, or a new item for me: a reflective sash. The sash is terrific because it can be worn over any clothing.

    I mention the sash in “High Visibility Apparel: Dress for Success,” at BicyclingMonterey.com. And when I go around to local lodging businesses and encourage them to share “Tips for Tourists Bicycling Monterey,” they are very enthused about my recommendation that they stock some reflective sashes for their guests. Sashes are so small, and they’re inexpensive too. I hope someday to see all our lodging businesses have them on hand for guests, whether they loan or sell them.

    It’s terrific to have our tourists on bikes, and it’s even MORE important than for locals that they be visible. You know how drivers are less safe in a strange town (hesitant about where to turn, etc.); the same is true for visiting cyclists, of course. So while I want to see tourists on bikes, I hope to see them wearing high visibility apparel, or simply a high-visibility sash over their regular clothing. I like having our visitors here–especially if they bike, walk, or use the local buses. And I want them to get home safely!

  • Phil Barns says:

    I’ve been cycling in the UK since 1974, and learnt a long time ago that drivers can and will do the stupidest, most selfish and dangerous things with their vehicles, at any time, from any direction. I have worn a helmet since they became available ( they have saved my head three times so far- all collisions caused by bad drivers ) and routinely wear a high-visibility vest. I agree, they are damn ugly things, but it’s better than looking like a bag of chicken giblets on the tarmac.

  • EcoVelo » Blog Archive » Another Year Gone By says:

    […] (66)Quiet Killers? (57)Bicycle Helmet Pros & Cons (55)Bicycle Mirror Pros & Cons (54)The Decidedly Unfashionable Chartreuse Safety Vest (54)A Friendly Debate (49)Cyclelicious: A United Front? (48)Hybrid Electric Bicycles (48)Foot Loose […]

  • David Iriguchi says:

    I will wear anything that will make me safer. I don’t particularly care what it looks like because I can’t really see myself when I’m riding.

  • bright says:

    I have an (older) helmet that is SOLID BRIGHT YELLOW, it gives me many of the benefits of a safety vest but I only have to put on and take off the helmet, instead of two items. Unfortunately, helmets today seem to be offered only in things like “death wish black”, “kill me now camoflage” and a variety of other low-vis colors. BMX helmets are in bright colors, but not well-ventilated; and the Bell Citi fits my head badly, even though many “death wish”-colored helmets fit me well. I have asked a few major vendors and written “Bicycling” magazine, but have not yet stirred up enough interest they offer a good helmet in a color that helps rider safety. I hope everybody here asks at your local shop, etc. to help encourage good helmet choices.

  • beth h says:

    If dressing up like a Christmas tree on acid is what it takes for me to be seen by motorists in our car-centric landscape, it’s worth flushing whatever’s left of my vanity down the drain.

  • Bill says:

    I’m not worried about being fashionable so much as not wanting to stand out when I arrive somewhere to meet with friends. I keep my bike pretty light (no bags, panniers, etc) for city commuting and crime reasons and would have nowhere to stuff a safety vest… if they made ones that were more fashionable, I would definitely wear one, but there isn’t much out there!

  • Pete says:

    @Bill-
    I just bought a day-glo green jacket, now that my morning and evening commutes are in the dark, and thought how great it would be if it were reversible, so I could wear the “quite” side when I get off the bike.
    Any jacket makers out there listening?

  • Alan says:

    @Pete

    I don’t know about jacket makers, but I think that’s a super idea.

 
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