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On the journey to stay seen on a bicycle

As city bikers we've all been through dicey moments at least, if not an impact

My first, and hopefully only, car-on-bike impact came one early morning in 2011 as I was riding my bike a couple miles to the preschool where I worked. It was one of those 4 way stops in a residential neighborhood that cars and bikes alike sometimes roll through. In this case I stopped as a car in front of me was turning, but the car coming to my right didn't and they didn't see me. I believe this is partially because of the turning car in front of me and partially because it was that in-between twilight hour of the springtime morning. 

This incident was the beginning of my reflective journey, and it got me thinking about how I could stay visible on a bicycle. 

We generally blame the car drivers

After my accident I was most certainly on the blame train. "The driver didn't even check for a biker!" "They clearly had stop sign!" "I had the right of way!" Aside from the rules of the road, I was frustrated by the driver who handled the incident poorly by only giving me their phone number and not their insurance information. They never responded to my voicemail request for a small sum of money to replace my cheap commuter bike. Huurumph. I was bikeless, bruised, and yes, angry. My powerlessness in that situation to change the driver's mind or get justice as I saw it pushed me to seek other solutions. 

As my physical wounds healed relatively quickly, my anger subsided into gratitude. To this day I am so grateful my body was ok and that I have had no lasting injuries from that day. I know too many others do not fair as well. Without any recourse to follow up with the driver (neither of us reported the incident or called the police to the scene) I had to find my own path to acceptance to be able to move forward. I had to find power in my own role that morning. And the power I found was the power of visibility.

YES, drivers need to be aware AND what can I do to stay visible on a bicycle?

In the early summer of that year as I saved up to buy a new (used) commuter bike and began making plans to ride again, I came to a couple realizations.

One: I needed to MAKE SURE the car saw me even IF I had the right-of-way. This is a practice I continue to this day-- I don't ride in front of a car until I see the whites of their eyes.

Two: Bike lights alone aren't enough. Most bike lights point forward and backwards, the batteries die or fade, they get lost or fall off, they are designed to help you be visible the way car headlight and taillights do-- within the flow of traffic-- but without the same shine power. The driver who hit me was coming from a 90 degree angle and the lights didn't really help. How could I take more accountability for being seen? 

Reflective fabric for the win

The quandary sent me on a journey of sourcing and manipulating reflective material that continues to this day. For me finding reflective fabric changed fundamentally how I think about staying visible on a bicycle. Reflective clothing shines on all sides, you don't have to remember to turn them on or charge their batteries, they can be on already when dusk falls, and lastly, my personal favorite-- they don't have to be ugly. I chose to take control of my role in the (often feuding) bike/car road sharing dynamic by wearing reflective clothing and accessories. While nothing can assure that I won't get hit again I feel better knowing I'm taking an active role in being part of the solution, and looking damn good while I'm doing it!


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