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Accessories and Products for Increased Visibility

You've got your riding gear, your helmet and you've ready to ride.  Right?  Not just yet, it's time to make sure that drivers can see your motorcycle as well as they can see you. 

According to the Hurt Report, "Conspicuity of the motorcycle is most critical for the frontal surfaces of the motorcycle and rider."

Detailed below are some of the key ways to add visibility to you motorcycle.

Books and DVD's
Brake Light Flashers/Modulators
Headlight Modulators
Horns
Reflective Tape
Turn Signal Cancellation

Books and DVD's

There is no substitute for learning motorcycle riding technique from a trained professional. However, once you've taken a class, books and DVDs can be a wonderful resource for furthering your knowledge and learning skills and techniques to stay safe.

Check out:

MSF Guide to Motorcycling Excellence - Second Edition

This book is written in a clear, easy to follow style and includes detailed diagrams and extensive full-color photographs and illustrations. The book covers rider attitude, protective riding gear, pre-ride inspection, maintenance, and troubleshooting, as well as basic and advanced street skills.

This new edition features advice from legendary racers Kevin Schwantz, Nick Ienatsch, Freddie Spencer, Rich Oliver, and Reg Pridmore.

Ride Like a Pro, The Book
by Jerry "Motorman" Palladino

Within these pages, you will find a simple step-by-step procedure that will teach you these techniques in just a few hours. This will change your riding life forever. Imagine never having to fear dropping your motorcycle! Imagine being able to whip a U-turn in less than 18 feet, that's two parking spaces!

Recommended DVDs:

Street Smarts DVDs
by Paul Winters & David West

The Street Smarts Motorcycle Skills DVD set are a practical course in street survival. The DVD's provide tips and tactics from experienced street riders and expert road racers and teach safety techniques directly applicable to street riding. The DVD's are well produced and use action footage to demonstrate key points.

Volume One includes information on rider clothing, street strategies, night riding, braking and countersteering.

Volume Two includes how to deal with entering a turn too fast, riding technique for rainy weather, and using your rear brake. The DVD provides several expert opinions on how to deal with each issue.

Volume Three emphasizes knowledge, anticipation, and reflexes and their importance in survival. Topics include crossing an intersection, rounding sharp turns and lane splitting on the freeway.

Brake Light Flashers

The human eye recognizes dynamic flashing lights more quickly than it recognizes static solid lights. To that end, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (www.msf-usa.org) suggests that you pump your brakes each time you stop, therefore increasing the visibility of your motorcycle to drivers behind you.

Additionally, The Hurt Study tells us:

The failure of motorists to detect and recognize motorcycles in traffic is the predominating cause of motorcycle accidents. The driver of the other vehicle involved in collision with the motorcycle did not see the motorcycle before the collision, or did not see the motorcycle until too late to avoid the collision.

So, it's important to add visibility to the back of your motorcycle, especially while braking, and one of the best ways to do so is to flash your brake lights.

But, who is going to remember to do that? Thankfully, you don't have to. Motorcycle brake light flashers are modules that are installed into a motorcycle's brake light system and flash the brake light automatically when the brake is applied.

Motorcycle tail light flashers are legal in all 50 states and Canada, however in several states they are restricted to certain flashing patterns. Check out state specific motorcycle laws.

Headlight Modulators

After the surge of motorcycle popularity in the 1970s, there was a surge of motorcycle accidents.  Motorcycles were relatively new on the roads and they weren't being seen.  In reaction, motorcycles in the U.S. were wired for the low beam headlamp to be on whenever the engine was running.

This certainly helped reduce accidents, however, it was realized that daytime lights also help you see cars (genius, huh?).  Many cars began being equipped with daytime running lights, causing the daytime-illuminated motorcycle headlights to be less effective. 

In reaction, a new tool, headlight modulators began being installed and used on motorcycles for increased visibility.

A Motorcycle Headlight Modulator is a device that fluctuates the intensity of a motorcycle headlight between approximately 20% and 100% of normal steady-burning intensity.  

They are legal in the US and Canada, but both countries require that a light sensor be installed so that the oscillation stops when night falls.

The modulator can be installed to be used with either the high or low beam.  Although the high beam can be perceived as more aggressive, it is often recommended, as the high beam covers a wider area than the low beam (which cuts off light to the left hand side.)   Illuminating the left hand side will create better visibility to an oncoming driver turning left, one of the most dangerous threats to motorcyclists.

In fact, according to the American Motorcycle Association, (http://www.amadirectlink.com/):

Of the 1,319 fatal car-motorcycle crashes in 1999, 38 percent involved another vehicle violating the motorcyclist's right-of-way by turning left while the motorcycle was going straight, passing, or overtaking the vehicle.

The modulator is operated by the headlight dimmer switch, so it is possible to turn it on and off while driving.   It's best to be polite and not leave it on while stuck behind someone in traffic (because we are all usually so calm in traffic anyway) or when stopped at a red-light with a driver directly across from you.

Horns

We've talked in depth about increasing visibility and ensuring that drivers see you. However, sight is not the only sense we can use to grab a driver's attention. Make them hear you by using your motorcycle horn to alert drivers to your location.

Here are a few basics for using your horn:

  • Keep your thumb near your horn button and be ready to use it, especially when you are passing another vehicle.
  • Always give a quick beep before passing anyone who looks like they might move into your lane.
  • Announce your presence when you're approaching a parked car with someone in the driver's seat.
  • Use your horn to alert pedestrians or cyclists in the roadway.
  • In a critical situation, press the horn loud and long.

Unfortunately, in heavy traffic, a motorcycle horn is essentially indistinguishable from a car horn, and often is not heard at all (I've heard it compared to a duck with a sock in its mouth). This is particularly true in loud, congested areas where there is often more traffic and more pedestrians and cyclists that are likely to be in the path of motorcycles.

To make yourself audibly known, you can upgrade to an air horn, which will allow you to distinguish yourself and be heard. The Stebel Nautilus Compact Motorcycle Air Horn is a 139 dB horn that is compatible with any motorcycle. The horn, which can be heard up to three city blocks away, allows you to make sure that drivers pay attention.

Reflective Tape

Low conspicuity may increase the risk of motorcycle crash related injury. Increasing the use of reflective or fluorescent clothing, white or light coloured helmets, and daytime headlights are simple, cheap interventions that could considerably reduce motorcycle crash related injury and death. (Motorcycle Rider Conspicuity and Crash Related Injury: Case-control Study. British Medical Journal, 2004)

Simple, cheap interventions? Sounds good, right? This study is absolutely correct; just a few bucks can allow you to add to your visibility and therefore your safety when riding a motorcycle. One of the most affordable ways to add reflectivity to the gear you already have is with reflective tape. The tape comes in a variety of options and colors and will go on quickly and easily.

Black reflective tape is a good option as it blends in with black during the day, but shines a white reflection at night.

Options include:

Black Adhesive Reflective Tape

This tape blends in with black surfaces during the day and shines a bright white reflection at night. It is extremely easy to apply (just stick it on) and it can be cut into strips or special shapes and easily applied to motorcycle surfaces, helmets, leather, boots or saddlebags.

Black Sew On Reflective Tape

This black fabric tape blends with dark clothing and shines white at night. The material is a blend of 35% cotton and 65% polyester and has a thin layer of small glass beads bonded to its surface, producing a retro-reflective (i.e. it reflects whatever is shining at it) effect at night. It can be sewn to shirts, jeans, jackets or leather. This tape is machine washable and can be machine dried.

Interested in a little more flash or color? Silver iron-on Reflective Tape is made of 3M Scotchlite reflective material and can be ironed on to shirts, jeans, jackets or leather. Alternatively, a Red & White DOT Conspicuity Tape Kit is a great way to add reflectivity to your motorcycle. This heavy-duty red and white reflective tape is easy to install, has wonderful holding power, and is edge-sealed for longer life. The material is the brightest made, and can be cut to the design you would like to add to your motorcycle.

Turn Signal Cancellation

It is not only important to ensure that drivers see you and your motorcycle, but also to communicate clearly what actions you will be taking when they do see you. These actions include braking, lane changes and turning. To indicate both the lane change and turns, you will need to effectively use your turn signal. The turn signal should be turned on early enough for a driver to prepare to slow down, allowing you enough time to turn.

In traffic, it can be very unsafe if you forget to turn off your turn signal. The Kisan SignalMinder Automatic Turn Signal Canceller and Controller is a great product for ensuring that does not happen, as it automatically cancels your turn signal. The programmable device allows you set your turn signal to turn off automatically after either 15, 30 or 45 seconds.

Additionally, the product can enhance visibility as it has a running light option, which allows you to convert all of your motorcycle's turn signals to running lights.

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