January 10 2012 by Jason Fogelson
Most of the time, I like to pass through life without attracting attention. When I'm riding my motorcycle, though, I do my best to make sure that other motorists notice me. I don't clown around or make funny faces: I use HiViz.
In 1933, Bob Switzer sustained a head injury and was forced to spend months recovering in a darkened basement room. Bob and his younger brother Joe used the recovery time to experiment with paint that would glow in the dark under fluorescent light. In 1935, they accidently discovered a combination of pigments that seemed to glow under ordinary light. They named the color "Fire Orange," and it was the first "Day-Glo" paint color. Subsequent colors included "Saturn Yellow" and "Signal Green."
These colors, along with retro-reflective fabrics, tapes and treatments, have become the standards for high visibility applications from fire and rescue vehicles to roadside barriers and highway worker outerwear. Combined with reflective materials like Scotchlite, Day-Glo colors greatly increase the likelihood that a motorist will take notice. More and more motorcyclists are adopting high visibility ("HiViz") clothing and accessories to make sure that other motorists are aware of them on the road.
Motorcyclists, and Harley-Davidson riders in particular, are fond of black. Unfortunately, a blacked-out cycle ridden by a black leather-clad biker can virtually disappear on the road, especially at night. Adding just a touch of HiViz can really help improve your visibility and safety, without substantially compromising your cool.
When I'm on a road trip, I always carry a few HiViz accessories. Nearly every local hardware store carries an assortment of safety vests. I stuff a simple mesh HiViz safety vest into my saddlebag, just in case of emergency. If I'm caught in an unexpected fogbank or rainstorm, I slip on my safety vest to improve my chances of being seen. I also use a set of reflective LED bands to secure my tool roll. If I have to stop by the side of the road to make any bike repairs, I wrap the reflective straps around my arm or leg and activate the LED lights, adding additional visibility.
I always use a Helmet Halo whenever I ride, day or night. This simple Scotchlite reflective band is bonded with neoprene rubber, and stretches to fit around the bottom of my helmet without any fasteners or adhesives, providing 360 degree visibility from over 2,000 feet. I also use reflective tape on my helmet, in a simple chevron design. I've discovered that there are companies that create inexpensive reflective decals for helmets and for motorcycles so that you can customize your bike for visibility and looks. I might pick up a set for my next new helmet.
Visibility can become an obsession. Some touring riders install a ton of accessory lights on their bikes, turning them into rolling parade floats. You don't need to go that far to be safe. Just hunt down a few choice bits of HiViz, and you can improve your safety on the road without crushing your cool.