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I put together a comprehensive list of methods that you will show you how to be visible on a motorcycle.
You’ll learn 13 different ways that are proven to make you and your motorcycle visible while you’re out on the road and cut down on near misses with other traffic out on the road.
The cool thing is this; Most of these tips don’t require that you buy anything.
Do you feel like every time you go anywhere on your motorcycle that you get cut off or have an accident close call?
If you’ve been a rider for any length of time it’s not if you have a close call, but when…
Motorcycles are generally hard to see and accelerate much faster than the vehicles around them. This means that a driver who thought there was no one there a second ago now looks back and sees you. From their perspective you just ‘appeared out of nowhere’.
Doesn’t see you and changes lanes.
You can guess the rest.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that “I didn’t see the motorcycle” is the number one excuse used by drivers after they cause an accident with a motorcycle.
Being a retired law enforcement officer, it was the number one excuse I always heard.
I’ve compiled these tips in no particular order, but I will say that the first tip was put there for a reason.
Lane positioning and blind spots
I started with lane positioning for the simple reason that doing this along with following some other basic traffic rules will go a long way to helping you stay safe.
You know what the best part is?
It’s free and doesn’t require any fancy riding!
It simply requires you to use common sense. You have to ride like you are invisible to other drivers.
Because guess what?
No matter how cool you think you look with all of your gear or how much you can bench press, you’ll still be just as dead or injured when you get ran over and none of your coolness will matter.
You need to Position yourself in your travel lane so that the driver in the next lane over can see you. Blind spots are blind spots for a reason – the driver can’t see you.
If you’re riding in a driver’s blind spot you can bet at some point that they’re going to need to make a lane change, and that lane change will be your lane! Familiar with Murphy’s Law?
For those unfamiliar with Murphy’s Law it simply means that if anything can go wrong, it will.
How do you tell if you’re riding in the blind spot?
In order to understand whether or not your riding in someone’s blind spot, you need to understand some basics about how vehicles are sectioned off.
Passenger vehicles are broken into three sections:
A post – This is the side post that the windshield, driver and passenger doors are attached to (it depends on what side of course. The driver’s door is attached to the A post on the left side)
B post – This is the post in the middle of a vehicle just behind the driver’s head or where the rear of the driver’s door (or passenger door on the right side) latches.
If the vehicle is four door, the rear left and right passenger doors attach to this post.
C Post – This is of course the rear post of the car where the rear window or hatches attach to.
When you’re riding you need to avoid hanging out the area between the B and C post, which is one of the worse blind spots for a vehicle. If you’re in this zone, make sure you are visible in the door mirror.
Keep in mind that in order to have that visibility, you’ll need to be right next the vehicle which isn’t preferable unless you’re behind it.
Generally, if you have to ride next to a vehicle in traffic, you’ll want to be just forward of the B post and just behind the A post.
This puts you in the drivers view.
That being said, make the driver sees you and knows you’re there.
Drivers in this day and age have a tendency to see you but look through you because they’re distracted (cell phone anyone?). They’re looking but not seeing, which is why you also want to make sure you get eye contact with the driver.
Commercial vehicle Blind spots
Commercial vehicles present a multitude of hazards to motorcyclists and I avoid riding near any commercial all together if possible.
Unless I’m in urban traffic where it unavoidable, I never hang out near trucks.
Is it because of truck drivers?
Nope. They’re out earning a living like everyone else.
But a bigger vehicle means more moving parts that can break and/or fall off the vehicle not the least of which are their tires coming apart.
Tire caps or ‘road gators’ left on a highway can cause a severe crash if you hit one and will more than likely kill you if it comes off the tire and strikes you.
If you ever see a road gator laying beside the road go and pick up and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Trucks have four specific blind spots or ‘no zones’ where you don’t want to be. If you’re riding in any of these areas you’re asking for trouble and you need to get out of these zones or blind spots as soon as you can.
CMV Right and Left side
Two out of the four blind spots are between a trucks A and B posts (trucks don’t have a C post, even with a sleeper). This a pretty narrow area that expands into a wider blind spot the farther away you are from the truck.
Rear of a Tractor/Trailer Combo
The area directly behind a commercial vehicle (or the trailer) is a major blind spot. In order for a driver to be able to really see a motorcycle, you’re going to need to be a few car lengths (at least 3 in my opinion) and ride to the left side of the lane.
The problem with riding to left of the lane is if there is a travel lane to your left, you’re running the risk of getting sideswiped by traffic over taking you.
The answer is, is don’t ride directly behind a truck. Stay a few car lengths back to where you can see the driver in his rear view mirror.
Front of the truck
If you ride too close to the front of a big rig, not only can the driver not see you, but if there is a mishap and you have to put your brakes on prepare to meet your maker.
It’s simple physics;
Commercial vehicles are heavy. The average truck on the highway is licensed to carry 80,000lbs at any time at its capacity.
At highway speeds, a truck is not going to physically be able stop quickly for immediate traffic hazards directly in front of the vehicle.
As a motorcyclist, if have any trucks behind you at all, you need to be aware of their presence and the simple fact that they can’t stop on a dime.
Positioning yourself within your lane and remaining out blind spots of traffic around you will help you be noticed and help your hazard reaction time.
Be familiar with a vehicles possible blind spots and your position within your lane relative to those blind spots.
Use your high beams during the day
This is an easy one!
We all know that motorcycles run with their headlamps on at all times at low beam. If you really want to be seen during the day by oncoming traffic or while approaching an intersection, put your bright lamps on.
This tip is one that has really helped me in my travels, especially around town.
Keeping you bright headlights on during the day makes you more visible in people’s mirrors and helps oncoming traffic see you much better.
The area where it helps the most is approaching intersections or any place where traffic is entering the roadway.
From what I’ve observed, it works well because the drivers of most passenger vehicles are sitting in the seat at just about the level of your headlamps. The extra brightness tends to hit’em right in the face.
Sometime my brights annoy drivers. I don’t care as long as they see me!
If you feel your bright headlamp isn’t bright enough for the job, consider re-aiming it or purchasing a new one.
Of course, be mindful of your brights when traveling in low light conditions.
Use a headlight modulator and brake lamp modulator
A headlight modulator is an electronic piece of equipment or wiring system that you can purchase that will cause your lights to pulse in intensity, which will improve your visibility.
These pulses or modulations cause the headlamps to operate at a maximum of up to 70 percent with the low end of the pulse not less than 17 percent each time the light cycles.
Rules for the use of headlamp modulators are governed the Federal Governments ‘Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards or FMVSS 571.108. You can read all about it HERE.
Using a headlamp modulator will really improve your visibility during the daytime hours, especially while going through an intersection. Motorcycle intersection accidents accounted for about 33 percent of crashes in 2015 (latest stats I could find).
I always find that riding through intersections makes me a bit nervous in large urban areas, because of the high frequency of people trying to ‘beat the light’ or just screwing around with their cell phones.
Remember that headlamp modulators are illegal at night, so if you do decide to install one have a way to turn it off.
There are also brake lamp modulators available that perform the same function as a headlamp modulator.
The obvious advantage here is that you’re giving a heads up to the people traveling behind you. Rear end accidents are very common in urban settings and a brake lamp modulator can go a long way to waking up day dreaming drivers.
This is going to be one of my next purchases for my bike.
Wear Bright protective gear
Although you may not look as cool, consider getting protective gear (motorcycle jackets and helmets) in bright colors. As the rider, you’re going to be the most visible part of the motorcycle.
People have been trained that the use of fluorescent colors like green and orange means that should use caution and pay a little closer attention to what’s going on.
While I personally haven’t done this, I do have friend that have two sets of protective gear- one set that’s set up for high visibility and another that’s darker with the colors that they like. Then depending on the ride that they’re going to do, they adjust their gear accordingly.
Use Reflective material
The upside to using reflective material is that you can put it just about anywhere on your bike, it’s easy and cheap to install.
Reflectors and reflective material create a nice silhouette for your motorcycle in low light conditions.
Here are just a few places to consider putting some reflective material:
- Back of your motorcycle helmet
- Front of forks
- Rear fender
- Rear and sides of saddle bags
- Wheel rims
You can buy motorcycle specific reflective tape, but for certain areas of your motorcycle (like the rear for example) you may want to go with something more heavy duty.
Take a look at large trucks the next time you’re out and about. You’ll notice red and white reflective tape on the rear of the trailer or box and running the length of the vehicle.
This reflective tape is mandated for trucks by USDOT and is highly visible at night when headlights reflect off it.
Good enough for big rigs, good enough for your bike!
Use your horn
One thing that I do like about my Goldwing is that it has horn that sounds beefy. In fact my motorcycle horn has as much oomphf to it as the horn on my pickup truck.
When I’ve had to use my horn, it gets peoples attention because they think there is another large vehicle in their proximity.
Giving drivers a reminder of your presence is a good idea when all else fails and is a good way to get a distracted driver to wake up. Horn use works best if you happen to be stuck in the blind spot of a vehicle and you need to give the driver a nice reminder that you’re there.
Don’t worry about offending people with the liberal use of your horn – It’s all about making sure that you’re noticed so that you can go home safe.
If you check your horn and decide that it just doesn’t have the desired volume, you may consider looking for an aftermarket horn that can do the trick for you.
Riding in a group
Riding in a group is a bit of a no brainer; As soon as drivers start to see multiple motorcycles in the area that have passed them, they start to pay attention.
The nice thing about riding in a group is that having all those headlights will get drivers attention and give you a little extra safety with numbers.
Make sure that you stay with the group, but if you’re running a bit behind don’t ride like a crazy person to keep up.
Adding additional lighting to your motorcycle
Additional lighting works best when added to the front of your bike and can really increase your visibility. Sure, you can add extra stuff to the sides and rear but it won’t have the same kick.
You have three choices for additional lighting;
- Driving lights – These lights are narrow in focus and designed to help you see farther down the road.
- Fog lights – Want something with a wider focus? These lights are for you. Fog lights have a wide pattern that allows for visibility towards the side of the road.
- Marker lights – Marker lights or running lights are additional lighting that are added along the sides and rear of your motorcycle.
I would suggest adding additional lighting strategically and sparingly.
As pointed out to me by a motorcycle mechanic friend of mine, the more stuff you add the more stuff the mechanic has to deal with. This means the cost of a simple repair may go way up if the mechanic has a lot parts they have to remove to get to what they need to fix.
Make sure that whatever additional lighting you choose to put on your motorcycle is allowed by your state. That includes the color you use.
Tap your brake lights
If you’ve been riding for any length of time on your motorcycle you know how to plan ahead for a stop using downshifting. If you really plan ahead and are good at it, you probably won’t even touch your brake until the las second.
But here’s the deal;
That doesn’t give the motorist behind much reaction time.
Drivers are tuned to seeing a brake light when the vehicle in front of them comes to a stop. A luxury they often don’t get with motorcyclists.
I make it a common practice to tap my brake lights a substantial distance before coming to a stop. This warns drivers of what you’re intentions are in case they weren’t paying attention.
Tapping the brakes repeatedly often gives a nice warning to drivers who like to follow too close to you.
Use your turn signals
Remember those lights on the front and rear of your motorcycle? They’re hooked up to a switch near your left thumb!
Turn signals are mandated to be on every vehicle (ok almost) that is street legal – use’em!
I’ve ridden with a lot of people who just don’t seem to want to use their turn signals and I don’t get it. There’s no reason to keep your ‘travel plans’ a secret!
If you have side bags, a trunk or a lot of luggage on your bike you can use it to your advantage because of the increased surface area.
With side bags and trunk, you can of course, attach tadeonal lighting or reflective material.
Don’t have any of that stuff?
If your using any sort of removable luggage like frame bags, removable side bags or motorcycle sissy bar bags you easily ad reflective material to the surfaces of those bags for increased visibility.
Check with the manufacturer of your bags to see what the options are.
Make sure that when you add additional luggage for your trips that the mounting surface can handle it and make sure you understand how the bike may handle with the extra weight.
Loud pipes for your exhaust system
Using loud pipes can be a touchy subject.
Between peoples ridiculously loud car stereos and the motorcycling community generally, it’s forced a lot of local municipalities to enact noise laws.
If you install very loud pipes and you ride or use them like a jerk, plan on either 1) being called in to the police by a citizen on a noise complaint or 2) Getting stopped by the police and getting a ticket.
The answer is to find a set of aftermarket pipes to let other drivers know you’re there, but not erode the rights of others who have to hear it. The happy medium of letting people know that you’re there, but not being obnoxious.
If you’re going to use loud pipes, you should do some basic due diligence before making a purchase.
Call your local police department and ask about any laws (municipal, state or both) that you need to be aware of.
After speaking with local law enforcement, either go online or go to the library and actually READ what the law tells you.
This will help you be fully informed before spending a bunch of money on pipes that you’re not legally allowed to use.
Use hand signals
Remember reading about hand signals in your driver’s handbook when you first getting your license? Those hand signals still work!
Simply extending you’re arm out and waving, pointing or whatever to get a driver’s attention to let them know what you intend to do still works.
If you’re motorcycle isn’t equipped with turn signals or they’re broken, it may be mandatory that you use hand signals under the law.
If you use hand signals make sure you have control of your motorcycle before taking hand off of the handle bars.
Final thoughts – Stay Alert
So here’s the thing;
Staying visible on your motorcycle and staying alert go hand in hand. If you as a rider rely on the driver in the next vehicle to you on the road to be looking out for you, you’re setting yourself up for an accident.
In fact, in won’t be a question of “if” you get in an accident, but “when”.
It’s important to stay alert and keep your head in the game at all times while you’re riding your motorcycle. Keeping your head in the game plus putting these tips into action will go a long way to reducing your risk while riding.
Notice I said reduce your risk, and not eliminate…
It’s cool to have all of the stealth gear and feel like Batman, but in the end you really do want other drivers on the highway to know that you and your motorcycle are there.