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High Viz: Smart Style or What Not to Wear?

01 Dec

Nothing screams “Look at me” like high visibility jackets and vests, which come in oh-so-fashionable colors like fluorescent yellow and bright orange. The resulting look is often so ugly that many wouldn’t want to be caught dead on the side of the road in it, much less seen riding around town in it.

Before anyone jumps to defend their favorite jacket, I believe wearing high viz is smart for many situations, such as riding along high speed highways or in foggy weather. I have a high viz jacket I wear sometimes, like on this weekend trip my friend Deanna and I took to San Francisco back in 2005. It made me feel a lot safer, especially on that often foggy stretch of Skyline Boulevard where it crosses Hwy 1 in Daly City.

My problem with high viz clothing is the expectation that it’s essential gear for all riders. Or in the case of London, for pretty much anyone on the street. The hot fashion trend on the streets of London we saw on our recent trip was high viz, and not just for cyclists and road crews. We saw police, sanitation workers, delivery van drivers, schoolchildren on field trips and even horses flashing their high viz outfits in London.

London stood in sharp contrast with Paris and Amsterdam, where I can’t recall seeing anyone wearing high viz, not even cyclists or police directing traffic. In Paris, you can find police on bikes, on skates, even on Segways–none wearing high viz. (Just kidding about the Segways)

To me, widespread promotion of high viz clothing reinforces the belief that streets are inherently dangerous places for everyone not protected by a large metal box, and that it’s the duty of vulnerable street users to SHOUT OUT their presence. Otherwise, shame on them for not taking a necessary precaution.

Instead, it should be the duty of the drivers of motor vehicles to slow down, pay attention, and not bully cyclists and pedestrians on the street. It’s no surprise to me that the city where I felt most threatened by cars both on foot and on the bike is the one where high viz clothing is most popular. And that city wasn’t Paris.

Note: Photos below were liberally taken from various internet sources.

Do you have a high viz vest or jacket? If so, when do you wear it?
If someone suggested that you wear a high viz vest to walk the streets of your city, what would you think?

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9 Comments

Posted by on December 1, 2011 in Cycle Fashions, Issues & Infrastructure

 

9 responses to “High Viz: Smart Style or What Not to Wear?

  1. Brian

    December 1, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    My favorite example is from the state parks of Wisconsin, where mountain biking and shooting deer with guns are allowed simultaneously. During gun deer season, there are signs reminding the cyclists to wear bright colors. But no signs to alert hunters that there are mountain bike trails in the park.

    It’s a bit odd to ring your bell to alert a guy with a rifle that you’re riding past him, but everybody is friendly.

    Hey, when you get a nice weekend in November with no snow on the trails, you ride, hunting season or not. (The trails are a loop and shooting is only allowed out of the loop and not toward the inside of the loop. I don’t know if the deer are aware of that loophole.)

     
  2. ladyfleur

    December 2, 2011 at 7:56 am

    Yikes! Deer hunters shooting in the park. I’d definitely wear high viz for that. As for the loophole, I bet the deer have figured it out. I know the ducks on the bay congregate in the non-hunting areas.

     
  3. matt the rat

    December 2, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    The Hi-Vis is the similar over here in Perth. Not sure who started it, but flouro clothing is everywhere in Western Australia for work related activities, and the cyclists use it bunches as well. Many bars publish dress codes just to ban flouro and steel cap boots.

    a funny note is that the construction workers often wear shorts with the steel toe boots and then have lightweight covers (“gators” for snow hiking in the USA) around the rim of the boots that snug up on the calf and keep dirt and rocks out.

     
  4. ladyfleur

    December 2, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    So they ban high viz/fluoro clothing in bars. Not a ringing endorsement for its stylishness.

    Are the gaiters high viz? If it was the UK, they would be. The horses have little high viz “spats” above their hooves. They’d be cute in herringbone, but in high viz–not so nice.

     
  5. fiedlerin

    April 5, 2012 at 10:50 am

    My problem with everybody wearing Hi-Vis clothing is that you don’t stick out anymore. It kinda defeats the purpose of these clothes.

    I do have a reflective belt because I have to wear it when I ride on base (motor- and bicycle) and I would probably wear it in the dark, too.

    I don’t live in a particularly foggy area and most of our bike trails are away from the roads. Joy :)

     
    • ladyfleur

      April 5, 2012 at 11:02 am

      True. If there’s hi-viz everywhere then nothing sticks out. I have reflective accents on some of my jackets, most notably my raincoat. They don’t bother me because they’re unobtrusive.

      But at night, I think good lights are more important than reflective gear because it doesn’t need headlights shining on it to be visible. Video of my favorite lights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWp6xTQNhfg

       
  6. maxpaq

    July 10, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    “Instead, it should be the duty of the drivers of motor vehicles to slow down, pay attention, and not bully cyclists and pedestrians on the street.” I cannot express how much I agree with you on this one. Forcing people to wear High viz, (or helmets) just put the blame on the victim and not on the motorist who is actually to blame for a collision.

     
    • ladyfleur

      July 11, 2012 at 7:58 am

      Yes, first it’s helmets, then it’s hi-viz, next will it be massive daytime running lights and loud bells and horns? The real problem is that we’ve turned city streets, which should be places where people are comfortable walking and riding along into mini-freeways where keeping cars moving fast is more important.

      The net effect is that people quit walking and riding bikes on those streets, leaving the few who dare even more vulnerable because the drivers whiz by with no expectation that there might be someone not riding in a car in the vicinity. Crossing the road in an area where there are few pedestrians or bikes can be uncomfortable, even if you have the walk signal.

       

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