I was folding my bike up at the station the other evening when a very polite and pleasant lady came and spoke to me. She told me that she and her husband had passed me in their car as I was cycling on the way there, and they had felt that I was not very visible. I have two lights, and she agreed that she could see them, but she still felt that I could be more visible, and wondered if I had something reflective to wear.
The conversation was entirely polite – I thanked her for speaking to me and I do think that she was genuinely trying to be helpful, and so I was left feeling a bit conflicted. I do have two identical Cateye rear lights (and I think the batteries were getting a bit low); but other than that I wear a long black coat and a grey hat (and that day I had black trousers on, too). So I do make some demands of drivers to notice me.
I’ve been having a few issues on that stretch of road recently too – it is the bit just after the roadworks where cars are accelerating away after being “held up” behind me while going through the one-way section. I’ve had a few alarming moments there – normally I try and hold primary through a series of pinchpoints and move over a bit between them, but recently I’ve struggled to control the road space along there. At least, I assume that’s where the woman who spoke to me passed me.
I posted about this on the CityCyclingEdinburgh forum, and we had an interesting debate. I replaced the batteries in my rear lights (they did need replacing) but I was still wondering if I should perhaps do something else. And then I cycled to the station again. And I thought
“This is a long, straight road, with plenty of good, bright streetlights. How the hell did you have a problem seeing me?”.
I’m still wondering if some of the streetlights were out, earlier in the week, though. I had spoken to another cyclist whose back light had slipped so that it was pointing down rather than backwards and my recollection is that I did think he wasn’t easy to see.
So, to the broader debate. To what extent should cyclists make ourselves visible, beyond the legal requirements on lights and reflectors on the bike? Some people choose hi-vis, reflectives, the works. On the road bike, I only ride in the dark when I’m commuting, and so I have a rucksack cover with reflectives on, as well as reflective ankle straps (partly to confirm to the spirit of the law about pedal reflectors as I run clipless pedals which are illegal in the dark, as they don’t have reflectors). On the Brompton, though, I only ride in urban areas where there are streetlights. Hi vis isn’t all that good in streetlights – I was following my wonderful boyfriend on his bike the other day when he was wearing hi vis with a pale green rucksack on top and you couldn’t really tell what was hi vis and what was rucksack: the thing that made him good and visible was his nice bright rear light (a present from me, I might add…). So if you have a good light, I really don’t think you need anything else.
In my view, it is back to the issue of responsibility. Who is responsible for my safely – me, or the person who is using a tonne of dangerous machinery (otherwise known as a motor car) in my vicinity? Well, I don’t think that I have no responsibility at all; but I do think that the person in charge of the car has responsibility too, and at the moment our culture of road use does not seem to put much responsibility onto the car driver. Its all better, brighter lights and so forth on the bike – a lumen war, another piece of expense (really bright lights are expensive) that make riding a bike at lot less easy than riding a bike. I wonder: what sort of lights do the Dutch have on their bikes?