May is motorcycle awareness month, and let’s face it… Preaching “look twice save a life” isn’t the most effective way to increase awareness of motorcycles on the road. Car drivers are distracted by everything except your shiny new bike, and they have been told to “watch for motorcycles” since they got their driver’s license. Despite these standard ongoing educational efforts, every year the number of motorcycle injuries and fatalities increases.
So what can we do, as riders, to increase cagers’ awareness of us out on the road? Are there things WE can actively do, rather than expecting others to just “pay closer attention”? The simple answer is YES. The ball is in our court.
1. Wear bright colors and/or reflective materials
(Klim’s Induction Jacket features Hi-Viz accents for better visibility)
It’s no secret that wearing brighter colors makes you more visible to others in traffic. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to wear a hi-viz vest all the time, but being conscious about the color of your gear can go a long way for being seen. Maybe you choose a white helmet over a black one. Maybe you pick gear with retro-reflective materials or strips of bright color accents. No matter what your usual daily gear looks like, be sure to pick a rain suit that is of the hi-viz variety.
2. Be extra careful in residential areas
How many times have you driven home from work only to think “I don’t even remember driving home”. The closer a driver is to their home, the more likely they are to be in “auto pilot”, which means the less likely they are to notice anything out of the ordinary like a motorcycle. Your brain tends to fill in “gaps” of perception when you are in areas you frequent, like your own neighborhood. When riding through residential areas, keep in mind that the car drivers around you have a high chance of not noticing things that aren’t usually there – you on your motorcycle being a prime example. When in these areas, riders can do things like using hand signals in addition to their turn signals to make themselves more noticeable. Also, be sure that car is actually stopping before you turn in front of it.
3. Utilize lane positioning to be more visible
If you have taken an entry level motorcycle safety course, you are probably familiar with the 3 basic lane positions you can utilize as a motorcyclist. Lane position 1 being closest to the left. Lane position 2 being in the middle of the lane. Position 3 being to the far right. Depending on the conditions you are riding in, lane positions can be changed in order to be more visible to other highway users. Let’s look at 2 scenarios.
Let’s say you are following a car at a safe distance of 20 feet at 30 mph. Let’s say that car is actually a service van and you are riding in lane position 1. This lane position is the most visible spot you can be to the driver in front of you. You are visible in their rear view mirror and the left side mirror. You are also in the most visible spot for oncoming traffic. Now imagine you are approaching an intersection and there is a car waiting to pull out from the right side. You are completely invisible to that driver. Momentarily moving to lane position 3 will provide a better chance of that second driver seeing you. Once you are clear of potential conflict, you move back to lane position 1.
Every situation is a bit different, of course, and moving to lane position 3 might not always be the best move. Next time you are out riding/driving, practice analyzing potential situations when you might want to adjust lane position to increase your visibility to others around you.
You are riding along with no vehicles in front of you. As you approach a small intersection, you notice a car to the left waiting to cross. The vehicle hasn’t come to a complete stop, and you can see the wheels moving forward slowly. You sense that the car driver does not see you. Moving from lane position 1 to lane position 3 and back a few times (a gentle weave pattern) may be just enough movement to catch that driver’s eye.
Changing lane position at the appropriate time can be extremely beneficial for highway visibility in many situations, and is just another visibility method to add to your tool belt. Practicing this on a regular basis increases your chances of avoiding collisions.
4. Increase your lighting front and rear
(DENALI LED’s make it much easier for others to see you.)
This topic is worthy of it’s own blog post. To keep it short here, let’s just say that having more lights (front and rear) can go a long way for helping you be noticed by drivers. There are lots of options (and opinions) for adding lights; What lights to use, where to mount them, what color they should be, whether they should modulate, and so forth… Your particular motorcycle use might warrant a slightly different setup than other riders.
(DENALI DRL’s add bright strips of light anywhere on the bike. Available in white or amber.)
Let’s stick to the basics here. You want additional lights up front so you are more noticeable to oncoming traffic. Generally speaking, a set of auxiliary lights mounted lower than your stock headlight will do the trick. But, be careful when picking out extremely bright lights. While they are great during the day, they can blind oncoming vehicle drivers at night which is also dangerous. Choose lights, like the ones we carry from Denali Electronics, that give you the ability to dim to a “low beam” setting when needed at night.
It’s no secret that tail/running lights on motorcycles are often hard to see. Add poor weather conditions and you have a recipe for rear end collision disaster! An auxiliary brake light which mounts below or to the side of the license plate (like our Denali B6 or Dual B6) is a quick way to add extra bright running and brake lights to the rear of the bike.
(The InVIEW attaches to any motorcycle helmet!)
To make the rear of your helmet more attention grabbing, check out the InVIEW now available at TwistedThrottle.com! The InVIEW is a wireless helmet mounted brake, hazard, and turn signal light system!
Brake light modulation is also a great way to be noticed from the rear. This can be achieved manually by pressing and releasing the brake lever a few times to flash the brake light as you begin to slow down. Brake modulators can also help achieve this effect automatically. If you have a Denali CANsmart compatible machine, you can use this accessory manager to do the brake light modulation for you, with settings for both continuous strobe or California legal strobe.
(DENALI B6 tail lights are incredibly bright!)
5. Use accessory management systems
Speaking of the Denali CANsmart, some newer CANbus equipped bikes have the option of using an accessory management system, like the CANsmart, to control their electronic accessories. Auxiliary lights on front and rear as well as the horn and other accessories can be set up for maximum visibility. The CANsmart allows users to set up strobe patterns on all lights to flash upon braking or when sounding the horn. There are also options to cancel auxiliary lights inversely of turn signals, so you are sure people see when your signal is turned on. With the Denali CANsmart, each setting is completely customizable which means you can create the configuration that is right for you and your machine.
6. Honk your horn
(DENALI SoundBomb Compact Air Horn is a piercing 120 decibels!)
If you have ever ridden in other countries you may have noticed that drivers use their horns for reasons OTHER than letting everyone know you are ticked off. In many countries, a quick toot of the horn simply lets nearby motorists know you are there. After a riding trip in South America, I adopted this technique and now I use it any time I am commuting through congested traffic. It’s no secret that most stock motorcycle horns are pretty wimpy. If you want to make sure you are heard, replace your stock horn with a DENALI SoundBomb. The SoundBomb Mini is a low tone electromagnetic horn (direct stock replacement) that sounds off around 113 decibels which is twice as loud as a standard motorcycle horn! The SoundBomb Air Horn is a bit more involved for installation (wiring harness required) but boasts a low tone at 120 decibels, effectively 4 times louder than a stock horn! Whatever you do, don’t honk the horn inside your garage.