Be Conspicuous: The Fine Art of Being Seen

The statistics on motorcycle crashes are truly sobering. Of all the many factors that contribute to these accidents, inattention by other motorists is the most frightening, because it seemingly takes our safety out of our hands. Ride long enough, and someone in a car will eventually push you toward a crash.

A 2013 study of motorcycle crash trends in North Dakota found that, in 2/3 of bike accidents in that state, motorcycles had the right-of-way. These ROW accidents happen when another car either enters a motorcycle’s lane or pulls in front of it. They commonly result in an angled crash, with catastrophic damages to bike and rider. National studies back up these findings. Car drivers cause the majority of motorcycle accidents.

As motorcyclists, we become accustomed to the fact that our safety is in our own hands, but we still tend to get angry at other drivers when they don’t see us. Distracted drivers are a constant menace, but there are things we can do to be more conspicuous to those who are paying attention. Motorcycle conspicuity — our ability to stand out from our surroundings — should be a major consideration in our personal safety decisions



Many countries around the globe mandate daytime running lights (DRLs) on motorcycles. Though the U.S. has no federal law requiring these always-on headlights, many states do. If you’re lucky enough to own a pre-1979 motorcycle without a DRL, consider keeping it on anyway. Evidence continually points to DRLs as reducing daytime multiple-vehicle collisions.

Other effective tools in the conspicuity bag include headlight modulators and the use of high beams in daylight hours. Headlight modulators get attention by oscillating the intensity of a headlamp’s beam, creating a strobe effect. Auxiliary lights help us see in low light, especially off road, and their unusual placement also increases our chances of being seen. 

The daytime use of high beams may distract other drivers, though, and the same may be true for headlight modulators. Still, if you’re annoying people, then they see you. Researchers continue to debate the ultimate effectiveness of these solutions, but DRLs remain undeniably effective.

Hi-Viz Gear


You’ve either seen them or you are them. Black bike, black leather, black helmet (or no helmet). Riding a bike means looking the part, and dark, non-reflective gear permeates the safety market. Bright, neon-like colors have been out of style since the 1980s ended, but high-visibility gear is ubiquitous in work zones on the highway.

There is a reason why traffic cops and road crews wear those brightly colored vests: The neon-like colorways get attention. Passing motorists are used to yielding to people wearing these colors. They are scanning for them, so they notice when they are present.

Hi-viz gear works, but some people are averse to the loud colors, and that’s okay. Any bright color can help you command attention in traffic — hi-viz just works best. A brightly colored motorcycle and a matching helmet stand out more than drab colors. The helmet’s height in traffic is also beneficial because it is unusual to drivers — They notice it, but only if they can see it.

For nighttime conspicuity, consider adding reflective clothing and stickers to your bag of tricks. Reflective materials flash and glow when headlights hit them in low

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