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Look at me! Look at me!

Riders are keen to be conspicuous on the road, but don’t want to feel too self-conscious, according to new research into making our riding garments safer.

While riders were in favour of increased visibility, they didn’t want to feel embarrassed when they meet up with people on their ride, or when socialising afterward.

So, can we wear clothes on the bike that makes us both noticeable, and elegant?

It has long been known that drivers notice riders much better when they recognise the physical motion of a person on a bike.

The motion of the ankles and knees, if highlighted, are especially important in the early and quick observation of people on bikes.

The same factors apply to runners' legs and arms.

In the science of conspicuity, this is called biological motion, or biomotion. 

Our eye and brain have evolved specialised processing to recognise the movement of living things, so it is smart to make use of biomotion.

Yet, whilst highly effective, only a few riders take advantage of it, for example by wearing reflective bands on their ankles at night.

Yet many riders wear fluorescent or reflective vests, which research shows are of little help in making you more visible because they do not help display biological motion of the rider or runner.

Drivers can recognise night-time bike riders wearing reflective material in a biomotion configuration at three times longer distances than a retroreflective vest and six times longer distances than cyclists wearing all black.

A group of leading researchers from universities in the UK and Australia set out to understand more about what riders and were prepared to wear to improve their conspicuity, and how garments could be designed to be more visible, but not make the rider look like a total dork.

The study explored how to design biomotion garments that will appeal to riders and pedestrians. These garments are referred to as WAKE - Wrists, Ankles, Knees, Elbows.

Nine focus groups were held involving 50 participants who ran or cycled under low light conditions, and participants discussed their experiences of choosing and wearing garments for cycling/running, and barriers to wearing biomotion garments.

Three main themes emerged:

Design - highlights the importance of visual appearance and garments being practical.

Function - describes how WAKE garments should be comfortable and convenient.

Promotion - describes how best to promote the benefits of WAKE garments based on evidence and cost.

The design of performance garments was of high importance, the study found.

"Specifically, the garments must have high visual appeal, fit well and be practical... a garment developed for safety purposes cannot ignore other consumer requirements.

"Some participants believed that when the reflective strips incorporating patterns enhanced the garment’s desirability and wearability.

"While participants believed that being visible was important, there was an emphasis on not looking like a ‘road worker’.”

The study concluded that the placement, pattern, and texture of the reflective strips were central to whether the garments were acceptable.

"Both cyclists and runners are prepared to pay more for garments that improve their safety, providing the safety features don’t compromise durability, practicality or convenience.

"As evidence of effectiveness is important, future research should identify the safety benefits of WAKE garments compared with a range of currently available garments.”

See the full study here.

This article was made possible by the support of Bicycle Network's members who enable us to make bike riding better in Australia.