Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Taken from 'articles' at Motorsickle.com

More rambling from Pyro
or "How visible am I whilst riding?"

This morning I nearly ran into a car in the fog, I was doing 35 in a 50 with dipped beam on when I glimpsed something in front of me, it was a grey or silver car doing 20 miles an hour in the outside lane of a dual carriageway with no lights on!! When I sounded my not very discreet horn he looked at me as if I was mad, at the traffic lights I shouted across to him "Lights!" he didn't respond, so I got off the bike and walked across to him. As I approached him he wound down his window and said "What's your problem mate?" I asked if he realised why I had sounded my horn, he looked blank, I told him it was because he was driving in fairly thick fog with no lights on, he still looked blank and then replied, "Well I saw you ok." What was that supposed to mean? at this point a very polite man asked me if I could move my bike as the lights had changed, I just walked back to my bike and rode off.

I pondered the reality of that moment when I got to work, that driver had no idea how invisible he was, which got me thinking about how visible I was when riding. I pass one of the other workers nearly every night in his car and went to ask him how he saw me on the road, his answer made me think a lot, he said when I come up from behind he can see me very well due to the way the headlight shines out of the fairing and from the back the twin bulbs show up well, but he said from the side he can't see me at all in the dark if there are other lights around. I ride a matt black FJ 1200 and tend to wear dark clothes, denim cut‑off and black helmet, I had never even thought about how invisible I looked from the side, I have a 55/100 headlamp bulb and twin bulbs at the rear (that are soon to be changed for a set of high intensity LEDs) this got me looking at some of the other riders on the way home, since the weather has turned a bit chilly, a lot of riders have disappeared, although there is a hard core still out there. Tonight I tucked in behind a very obviously advanced rider (sticker gave it away) now I usually catch this bloke on the way to Hampton bridge in the morning, a very good rider if a bit (IMHO) over cautious, so I thought I would tuck behind and watch how traffic reacts to him and how they appear to see him on the road.

The rider didn't stick strictly to the limits but 'made progress' not nearly as much as I would though, but then I have also done the advanced and was a courier in London for 15 years (insert big wink here).

He was wearing a high visibility jacket and rode a big Beemer with dipped beam on. After following him for about 10 minutes I was bored silly, he sounded his horn only to get cars to move over a bit, I do that by roaring up and locking the rear wheel, he waited for gaps I could get a mini through and eventually I got bored and sodded off, I rarely exceed the speed limit by more than 10 mph in traffic yet that's enough to get me home in around 25 mins. I once rode home obeying every law to the letter, it took me 45 mins and I got hooted at, shouted at and swore at by a myriad of cars drivers not to mention some odd looks from the riders I usually overtake.

Undoubtedly he would be seen as a much safer rider than me…. but is he? The last time I crashed was because of a driver who didn't bother to look out of his driver's window while I was alongside him when he did an illegal right turn, the one before was at ten mph when the front tyre let go on a flattened coke tin that was hidden in a puddle (broke my bloody leg!!) and one more when a car stopped in front of me then suddenly reversed straight into me…. that's it in the last ten years or more, none of which could have been predicted, all the ones I did predict I avoided.

I ride between 15k and 25k a year in all weathers and conditions, I know a bloke down the road who only rides to work (about 10 miles there and back) and crashes about once a month, never serious but still worrying.

But back to the point, how visible was I and is it all about what you wear? When I ride I imagine a circle around me of about 50ft in diameter, this circle changes depending on how I am riding, in town it's a perfect circle of which I am (hopefully) aware of everything around me, on the motorway this circle would deform into a cone that is projected out more in front, the faster I go the further the cone extends, inside this cone, which takes in anything that could possibly be a danger or obstruction, I create a map of everything that is there, every few seconds the data is updated in my brain. Now most of you will do this without even realising that you are doing it, when you ride (or drive) most of you will go into automatic mode and do this without thinking, I make a conscious choice to think about this on the bike. This is what I feel keeps me safe. Thinking about how I ride made me list the things I do on automatic things that I thought I thought about, one is watching drivers faces in their mirrors, if they don't look at me I assume they haven't seen me, I ride in the places that I can see them in their mirrors because it means I'm not in their blind spots, at junctions I place myself so I can avoid anyone who can't stop from behind me, when stopping to turn right from a side street I stop slightly before the white lines in case someone cuts the corner (isn't that right Jay?) Lots of little things that I really should think about, I do on automatic, which means that my mind is not fully on my riding, tomorrow I shall ride to work with all my senses on full blast and see what happens.

So does it matter what we wear? Do we need bright clothing and lights on? I agree with having your lights on during the day because there are a lot of myopic twats out there, but I'm not convinced about the bright clothing, some time ago I stopped wearing my filthy denim cut‑off to work for about 5 working days, during those 5 days everyone and his brother pulled out on me or cut me up. The following week I put the cut‑off on again, no‑one and I mean no‑one did it, I know the cut‑off does not make me more visible, but it sure makes the drivers think something.

I wish I could bottle it I'd make a fortune.

So I have reached no real conclusion regarding this, I need to do a bit more research, trouble is that to research it properly might endanger my life, another catch 22 for the biker…

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