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Where's Wally (or How to Stand out in a crowd)

By Ambrose Canning

Don’t look straight at this photo, don’t take the time to study it. Other road users don’t always have the motivation or the luxury of time to study the road for cyclists. Instead, quickly sweep your eyes past one side of the photo and get it into your peripheral vision, then don’t look back but move onto something else. Add darkness, or rain, or heavy traffic, or any other distraction.

Would you have seen Wally the cyclist? Who stood out?

This is a large group of a dozen cyclists. Some are wearing what I call camouflage, that is non bright colours or a multitude of colours or patterns that breaks up the bulk of a cyclist’s body and hides it against the background. I have a theory that cyclists’ tops covered with writing can be a particularly effecting camouflage. Add a dark back-pack and their disappearance is perfect.

Remember that if a vehicle driver is driving with care, is looking out for cyclists and other road users, and the road and traffic conditions are good, then they will look at the cyclist and will see the cyclist. But what if the road or traffic conditions are bad, if it is dark or raining, or if the motorist is distracted by something else. Will the cyclists be seen in the driver’s peripheral vision, and will the vehicle hit or miss the cyclists.

Over years of cycling I have been converted to wearing bright and reflective clothing. I have also been converted to using very bright bike lights at night. I ride on highways, on busy city streets, and on busy suburban arterial roads. I want to be seen by other road users and I don’t want to become a statistic. I want to be seen in a motorist’s peripheral vision while they are distracted by something else.

Usually motorists who see cyclists don’t then hit them. Motorists hit and injure cyclists because they didn’t see them. We should not expect motorists to always be fresh and alert, to not be distracted, or for road and traffic conditions to always be good. We cyclists need to be proactive and do what we can to be seen as often as possible. We should wear bright or reflective clothing and use bright lights so that we reach out and grab drivers’ attention. The more visible, the better.

Years ago when high visibility clothing started to become mandatory in workplaces I felt self conscious about wearing it. Now I would feel lost without it and it is accepted safety wear in workplaces where hazards exist. It reduces the risk to workers. Our roads are cyclist’s workplaces, and they are full of hazards with lots of moving ‘machinery’, such as cars, trucks and busses.

I have a hypothesis that drivers have more respect for cyclists who are visible and demonstrate that they are aware of the hazards. Or, at very least, if drivers see cyclists then they can take evasive action. If they look but don’t see cyclists then....

As Steve Miller one sang: “Abra – abra – cadabra, I want to reach out and grab ‘ya”. Go for high visibility, clothing, lights, and reach out and grab drivers by their eye balls and shake them about. Stand out and make them take notice.

I hope that Wally stood out in the photo, that’s me in my high-vis top. But in reality the high visibility person is not Wally, it’s the low-vis cyclists who are the Wallys.

Do you choose to be a high-vis cyclist, or a low-vis cyclist?