Motorists approaching a cyclist from behind will spot them earlier if the rider is wearing high visibility clothing on their lower rather than upper body, according to a new study, with researchers recommending riders wear fluorescent leggings.
The findings were presented in a paper given at the annual meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society in Austin, Texas last month.
Highlighting previous research that concluded that body movement – or “biomotion” – made vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists more conspicuous to motorists, the study sought to establish whether similar results could be found during daylight hours.
The study involved 186 people being driven along a road by a researcher and asked to press a button on a keypad each time they identified a person “on or with” a bicycle, whether “stopped or moving” and who was “in or near the roadway.”
Approximately seven minutes into the trip, they would pass someone riding on a stationary bike on the pavement to the right of the roadway, with the rider dressed in one of four clothing configurations – black jersey and fluorescent yellow leggings, yellow jersey with black leggings, and all-yellow or all-black outfits.
They said that “a fluorescent yellow jersey did not significantly improve the cyclist’s conspicuity relative to a black jersey.
“However, when the cyclist paired the fluorescent jersey with fluorescent yellow leggings, participants responded from a distance 3.3x farther than an identical outfit with black leggings.”
In conclusion, the researchers said: “The finding that fluorescent yellow leggings can provide a dramatic enhancement to bicyclist conspicuity is, we believe, a consequence of highlighting the bicyclist’s pedalling motion.
“The rhythmic up-down movements of a cyclist’s lower legs uniquely specify a pedalling motion that is visually distinct from, for example, a pedestrian walking or jogging. Further, considerable research has identified that highlighting a cyclist’s biological motion can provide powerful conspicuity enhancements.
“Thus fluorescent leggings can offer a powerful and low-tech tool for enhancing bicyclists’ daytime conspicuity,” they added.
Other studies have reached different conclusions, however. One, conducted by researchers at Brunel University and the University of Bristol, concluded that no matter how visible bike riders tried to make themselves to motorists, between 1 and 2 per cent of drivers would give them insufficient room when overtaking.
According to Rule 59 of the Highway Code, cyclists should wear “light-coloured or fluorescent clothing which helps other road users to see you in daylight and poor light” and “reflective clothing and/or accessories (belt, arm or ankle bands) in the dark.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.