Monday, April 26, 2010

Visibility: Unlimited

I'm not a fan of special 'cycling' gear. I feel that motorists give me more awareness and respect when I'm dressed just like I would if I were walking or driving. None the less, I do want to be conspicuous on the roads. Sitting mostly upright on my bicycle seems to help a little - it gives me the silhouette of a person rather than a weird hunched-over back thing. But I've also gradually shifted my wardrobe of gray, black, and a few jewel tones into a wardrobe with lots of red, white, turquoise, royal blue, and even some pink and orange. This way, I can wear bright colors that are still appropriate for work and generally fashionable.

Here's an eyecatching spring outfit of red and white.

My orange cashmere sweater from Antropologie (via a yard sale) will stand out!

Finally, my hot pink corduroy blazer. It hasn't quite gone out of style in the five years I've had it. OK, maybe it has, but if so, I haven't noticed. I feel like I really stand out in it.
Perhaps it makes me a little too confident, because on the way back from a meeting at Emory University, I decided to take Ponce de Leon Avenue back to midtown. Ponce - four narrow, winding lanes of high speed traffic, widening to six or seven lanes as you get closer to to the city center. It's not a very friendly street, but so tempting... This is one of the old roads that was here from the founding of Atlanta. It follows a ridgeline the whole way (except where it dips down to the former streambed of the Fountain of Youth, which is now under City Hall East, and no, I am not making this up). It is also really direct.

As luck would have it, I got on Ponce right behind a city bus, Route 2. This route stops frequently so I stayed right behind it the entire way, finally passing it in the last few blocks. Yes, I can beat the bus! But this turned out to be a good strategy for my comfort, because motorists had to pass the bus. As long as I was fairly close behind it, it felt like a little protective bubble of passing zone. The only drawback was that I tried to ride kind of fast, to keep up with traffic, and wound up a little sweaty. A fun challenge!


  1. I prefer riding in street clothes as well on my daily commute. I think the underlying reason you and I agree that we're treated a little better in street clothing is the same one behind UK drivers giving non-helmeted cyclists more room (according to one study). I don't know that I can name the reason, though.

    It's been a long while since I rode that stretch of Ponce, but I'd say that Dekalb Ave. & Howell Mill (through the water treatment plant) are equally unnerving!

  2. GPB-- i think you're referring to the concept of risk compensation. we subconsciously evaluated perceived risk around us and adjust our actions accordingly (perceived is the key word here, as the risks are not always "real"). the UK study is a classic example. i also see this phenomenon in action on days that i have a child seat attached to my bike-- motorists are much more careful around me, and give me a wide berth when they pass.

    when i ride my sportier bikes and have a more aggressive riding position, i've noticed that drivers are also more aggressive around me and don't afford me as many courtesies-- do they think that i am more confident and able a cyclist if i am on a real "road" bike? or do they think that striking a road cyclist poses milder consequence than striking a baby?

  3. Agreed, I definitely notice that motorists are more courteous to me when I'm dressed nicely. Especially male drivers. It seems like my mostly upright riding position and respectable outfit humanize me to them.

    One of my friends, who lives off a busy street and transports her young son in a trailer, has reported that drivers are not only polite but even helpful when she has the trailer attached.

    The UK study is interesting (they evaluated differences in motorist overtaking behavior relative to a cyclist's gender, helmet use, and riding behavior). But it takes dozens of studies to draw any real scientific conclusion - more investigation is needed. Anyone looking for a thesis topic?

    Oh, @GPBurdell93: This past weekend was the Inman Park festival, which closed off Edgewood and Euclid Avenues. These streets probably have the highest bicycle mode share in the city, and Edgewood has one of the best bike lanes in town. But with the streets blocked off, all the through bicycle traffic had to divert to busy DeKalb Avenue or to hillier side streets. So, DeKalb had tons of bike traffic on it! It was a wonderful sight.

  4. I wear "normal" but bright colour clothing in the rain, similar to your orange-red cashmere. But for the most part my "overdressed" bicycles make me visible. If I wear my (reddish) hair loose and curly, that helps too.

  5. I'm so tall that no matter what I ride, I am highly visible: my Pep Boys-sized head hovers over Hondas and SUVs alike. I also am a very competent and confident rider.

    I always ride in street clothes (spandex shan't ever line these limbs) but I always wear a helmet, too. It has nothing to do with motorists treating me properly; it is because Atlantans can't, or won't, hang up their damned phones while driving.

    I do not even credit them with ability to treat me as a vehicle. Their distraction is offensive, too wrapped up in their urgent need to get to Old Navy, and to make plans with their friends for next Sunday's brunch. Michelle, you know what I mean. Every red light, I watch the cars crossing: most motorists flapping their gums into phones.

  6. I love the use of hot pink and bright orange for bicycling visibility! Tres chic :)

    That big road sounds pretty scary to me - not many roads in Chicago proper are even four lanes, and I definitely stay away from those. Interesting tip about the bus. Usually I hate when the bus is around me during the commute because there road's only two lanes and the bus and I end up playing hop scotch a lot, but for a road with a little higher speed and less traffic, I can see the benefit.

  7. @Velouria - I love the idea of your red hair waving like a lovely warning flag!

    @Kyle - You are visible wherever you go. And yes, Atlanta drivers are terrible, though not necessarily worse than many other places. A cell phone ban and stricter traffic enforcement would go a long way toward safety.

    @Dottie - that is an average street around here. Most of my commute is on four to six lane streets, some of them one-way. I guess you get used to it?

    Oh, and the buses downtown are another story - constant hopscotch.