Most of the time I wear dark colours cycling. Why don’t I wear one of those traffic cone inspired bike outfits? This question has 3 answers:
- I mostly ride for transportation so I wear the clothes I would wear if I walked, drove or took a bus.
- My risk assessment tells me street clothes are safe for cycling.
- I want to promote cycling as something beyond a sporting activity or transportation for a select group of geeks.
The ideal forms of transportation are quick, cheap and low hassle. The more you get away from these qualities the less likely someone is to utilize them – assuming they have a choice in the first place. I wear the same type of clothes most days. So if I decide I need to run an errand I can walk out my door and jump on a bicycle without the need to locate and put on any specialized clothing – that really simplifies the process. When I get to the other end I just hop off my bike and blend in with the rest of human society. Additionally many of my transportation needs are to get to social events. I want to get there looking normal. So I either wear my street clothes to the event while riding my bike or I have to get there and find away to change. At the very least I need to put away my neon yellow cycling jacket or my hot pink high visibility jersey.
The other non-sporting use I put my bike to is touring. I like blending in with my environment when I travel. I want to step away from my bicycle and be just one more person at my destination without some major Superman finds a phone booth to turn into Clark Kent process. That’s far harder to do when you look like a space traveler who has just landed wearing tap dancing shoes!
Cycling is Safe
My comments on cycling safety only apply to places I’ve lived and travelled. This would include most of Canada, a good chunk of Western Europe, portions of the Western US and Baja Mexico. Cycling is safe – period. No special safety gear is required for non-extreme forms of cycling [ie. riding to get a coffee or pick up some groceries]. You don’t need to look like a traffic cone to be safe. I think the most important aspects of cycling safety are intelligent route choice and effective cycling skills [ie. where to be in a lane and how to make turns,etc...]. I don’t have regular close calls while cycling in dark clothes. Cars can see me. So can pedestrians and other cyclists. I do occasionally wear bright clothing even cycling specific visibility clothing [my rain jacket is bright orange because they didn't offer it in black! and I own a few items of street clothing that are quite bright] and I am treated no differently when I do.
You might think I am a high risk individual which is why I don’t take special safety precautions. I’m 42 years old and have been to the emergency room 4 or 5 times in my life. I had two factures and never had a clean break in a bone. I don’t get hurt often. I’m actually a low risk person, but I get to that state not by a paranoid application of every possible safety measure, but rather by a reasonable assessment of the specific risks I am exposed to and a logical application of the appropriate mitigation measures.
In fact I would go so far as to suggest the fetish some cyclists have for neon colours may actually put them at higher risk of an accident if they feel over confident of their safety because they assume they have to be visible to traffic given how blindingly bright they jacket is. I feel the same way about our helmet obsession. By all means wear a bike helmet, but be honest about how much safer you are with it on and don’t forget that when that bus runs you over it really won’t matter a whole heck of a lot that your helmet was CSA approved.
Cycling for the Masses
I want more people to ride bikes. Currently in North America cycling is viewed as a sport like football/tennis/running or as a hobby for a bunch of geeks that like to dress like traffic cones. This view of cycling limits the public’s desire to ride bicycles. They see a roadie going full tilt down a highway in a body hugging spandex number and they want no part of that foolishness. They see a hardcore traffic cone wearing bike commuter battling their way through traffic and they see a geek who is fighting for their life – not appealing. On the other hand if they see someone riding through town on a bike wearing street clothes looking relaxed they can relate. It starts to look like cycling is safe enough to try and can’t be that tough because normal folks are doing it.
I drink tap water for 3 reasons:
- it’s cheap
- it’s convenient
- it’s what I want to see others doing
I can afford bottled water, but I think it’s bad for the environment and I know that many people can’t afford it. If everyone who made more than $30K a year drank bottled water would society really care what happened to the water supply? I doubt it. But, by being invested in the public water system for my own health reasons it forces me to ensure that it is safe and available to everyone – including those whose voices are not as well heard.
What the heck does that have to do with cycling? Well I can afford all the latest safety nonsense for my bicycle. If the only way to be safe was to spend money on cycle specific gear that not everyone has – the solution, in my mind, wouldn’t be to equip myself with the latest gear and battle to stay alive on the mean streets of my city. It would be to advocate for safe streets for normal cyclists. Just like safe drinking water there should be a reasonable level of safety for any cyclist. Not only does that make cycling more accessible to everyone, but it means my own cycling is more pleasant.
Don’t I ever get my traffic cone on?
You got me! I do sometimes. Like in Calgary when I was undertaking a snowstorm Pugsley assault of downtown I wore a high visibility eye searing vest like the one above. At night I’ll use reflective leg bands and a reflective sash that can be removed in seconds and stashed in a pocket when I arrive at my destination. If it was densely foggy on my way to work I woud take some extra precautions. These sorts of conditions occur a handful of times a year where I live. So a prudent person need only do/wear something unusual on occasion.
What if you want to dress like a traffic cone?
Go for it! I’m not telling you what to do. My purpose for this post was to get people to think about what they wear cycling and why. If you love eye searing bright colours and/or you feel they are absolutely necessary for your continued survival – then be my guest! You gotta ride your own ride…=-)
As a pedestrian I deal with cars at every intersection I cross and every time I cross mid-block at a cross walk. I feel more at risk on my feet crossing roads than I do on my bike riding in traffic. This is because on my bike I am riding like a car going with the flow whereas on foot all my interactions are at 90 degrees to the direction cars are moving. In every city I’ve lived pedestrians get hit and seriously injured/killed by cars. I never hear anyone suggest that pedestrians should wear neon safety jackets or wear helmets. When I go downtown walking with my friends nobody sports specialized visibility gear yet we might well cross the road 30-40 times. If dressing like a traffic cone on a bike makes sense it would make equal sense for a pedestrian that has to contend with traffic. Of course nobody would go for that!