The Trouble With Black

The Trouble With Black

I’m fond of writing that I don’t believe there’s much in the bike industry that you need to be warned against. Today’s bike manufacturers do a damn fine job of making frames, forks, wheels, components and apparel. Compared to the under-engineered components of the 1990s, the styrofoam bucket helmets of the ’80s, or the crap frames of the ’70s, today’s cyclist rides a much better bike that fits better, goes faster and thanks to better apparel is more comfortable and, generally, safer.

However, I’ve decided that I’ve had it with black clothing. Now, if I were playing in a rock band—especially if it was a heavy metal band—or if I was mourning the death of a loved one, I could be forgiven for wearing all black all the time. But I’m not. And as a cyclist, there are some good reasons why you really shouldn’t be wearing an abundance of black when you’re riding a bike. And I’m about to lay out why.

The reason I’ve decided to address this is simple. The majority of clothing samples I’ve been sent in the last two years have been black. I’ve opted not to review a number of pieces for this reason. I figure it’s high time I stop being polite about this and just saying that I prefer to have a bright color.

Dammit, I’m a father and my tolerance for anything that compromises my safety on a ride has evaporated. It’s that simple. And for the record, I take this stuff seriously enough that I resigned from the board of a team I helped to start because for two years running they went with a kit that was mostly black. I had grave concerns that if a member was hit by a car while wearing our kit and the driver said they couldn’t/didn’t see the rider, we could be exposed to some serious liability. And then there’s that whole conscience thingy.

So here’s the deal: While people may like to kid us about being brightly colored MAMILs, those bright colors frequently contribute to our survival by making sure that people see us as they are driving down the road smoking meth and texting their BFFs. Of course, we could cover you in blinking lights and mount a Marshall stack to your head playing Gary Newman’s “Cars” and you might still be run over by a bishop finishing off a bottle of Jack. Bright colors aren’t insurance; they’re just a good start.

Everyone knows that bright colors are easy to see. But let’s take a moment to do a little refresher in biology. Our eyes have three kinds of receptors: rods, cones and ganglion cells. These latter cells are the ones that help you get sleepy and why you don’t want to be looking at an iPad at bedtime. The former are extremely sensitive to light and are what allow you to navigate through your bedroom once you’ve turned off that iPad without turning on the lights and waking your spouse. It’s the cone cells that I want to talk about.

IMG_9655Maybe someone could have told this designer that zebras have stripes for camouflage, i.e. in order to be harder to see.

Cones are the cells that allow us to perceive color. Once the number of photons hits a minimum threshold, our vision goes from black and white, to color. In low light situations, we will more readily perceive colors with longer wavelengths. Remember that dude Roy G. Biv? After nightfall, blues and purples become indistinguishable from black, while red, yellow and orange remain visible. Our brains are wired to perceive long-wavelength colors most quickly. Red light has the longest wavelength in the visible spectrum; orange is next, followed by yellow.

Pure and simple, if you want to be seen, stick with these colors.

Of course, there’s more to this that meets the eye. Black isn’t just a color that is harder to see than red, it’s the complete absence of color. Let’s drill down on that a bit; black doesn’t send a signal to your brain to process, it’s just a void in information. I can’t possibly overstate this; black is as close to being invisible as we can get, short of a Harry Potter cloak. If the entire world was white, our eyes would pick black up like fireflies in the night sky, but that’s not the world we live in.

This would be why if you want to buy a Ferrari and drive through the streets of Peoria on a Sunday afternoon doing your best Ayrton Senna impression, choose black, not red because you’ll attract less attention, though the mellifluous piping of that 12-cylinder Testarossa isn’t exactly camouflage.

Speaking of which—camouflage, that is—that’s why police cars are white-black-white, not black-white-black. Black interrupts the white, creating a discontinuity in the contours of a car, which is why sometimes you won’t notice that there was a cop in your vicinity until it’s practically on top of you.

Look, I’m not obtuse; black is very stylish in both casual and formal wear. Nothing makes for as classic an impression as black. However, we’ve got a terrible epidemic of riders being run over by cars, which is why this blog post from Search and State is guilty of sacrificing function on the altar of style.

Unfortunately, this means the more broken up and splashed with different colors your kit is, it actually makes you harder to see. Remember those Pearl Izumi jerseys that were one solid color? The greatest favor we could do ourselves in terms of visibility would be to buy one of those jerseys (if they still made them) in either Screaming Yellow or red and then wear a pair of shorts exactly the same color. There’s something darkly comic to the fact that we can’t buy a pair of bibs that match the color of a jersey so that we may make ourselves as visually large as possible.

I’ll admit that it’s not a look that I find attractive. I don’t see myself riding around as a vision of orange, even if it is my favorite color. Team kits are going to remain busy designs thanks to the clash of sponsor logos and the desire to make a design pleasing to the eye. Eye-catching has a slightly different meaning here. It’s likely that you’re not a graphic designer, not responsible for the look of the kits you wear, so you don’t have much power over the look of any jerseys or bibs. But as with everything in life, we can vote with our money. You needn’t buy anything that is dominated by black. A crazy splash of bright colors is infinitely better than a mostly black jersey. And to back up my words, I’m not going to review any tops that are dominated by black. That’s going to upset some manufacturers; tough. I’m no longer willing to take the risk that someone won’t see me when, clearly, I could wear the visual equivalent of a Who concert.

Everyone has someone out there who wants them to arrive home from their ride. A few bright colors isn’t a big ask.


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  1. Randall

    What really bugs me is how it’s virtually impossibly to get a Scotchlite painted frame. I buy the ultra-reflective tape from Amazon, but should it really be that hard to have a bicycle that does what it can to be seen?

  2. David

    I wear a fluorescent yellow triangle that hangs off my rear. I saw a rider with one and it was more visible from further away than just a blinky light alone.

  3. Les.B.

    Very timely, vital post. I’ve had it too.
    I love the quality and feel of my black Assos and Rapha jerseys, but I bought them before I decided to make safety a higher priority, before I decided to use front & rear flashers all the time, even in full daylight. These jerseys, I have to admit have a classy look in their cool black. But even in auto vs. auto accidents, the cause many times is, “I just didn’t see it.”

    And I think it’s a matter of evolution of the industry and customers. As cycling becomes more popular, accidents become more media prominent and we riders get more scared, and the industry will respond to us.

    As for reflective frames, there is always diy:

  4. Patrick O'Grady

    Here in Albuquerque the go-to colors seem to be Bladder Infection Yellow and Glorious Victory of the People’s Revolution Red. Jarring to the eye until one notices that there are nearly as many ghost bikes as rolling ones.

    My Mad Dog Media kit is primarily red, with black and white bits, but I’m considering going back to the garish yellow of the Old Guy Who Gets Fat In Winter, if only for the laughs.

  5. Cody L Custis

    According to motion dazzle theory, zebra stripes are easy to see, but make it difficult to determine range, speed and heading (see dazzle camoflage, which was popular in WWI). Thus, the stripes make it easier for predators to find zebras, but harder to track them.

    It doesn’t invalidate the arguement that kit should be designed for visibility, but reminds us that kit needs to be not only easy to see, but also avoid camoflaging distance and velocity.

  6. Frederick

    During WW2 many warships, including the German battleships Tirpitz and to a lesser extent the Bismarck, that were trying not to be seen, were painted in various sections of black, white and gray… cyclists are difficult enough to see without camouflaging ourselves.

  7. jorgensen

    I like black shorts, I am old.
    On jerseys, not so much, I do own one, long sleeve and good for those sunny but cold air days.
    Otherwise, it is a challenge to locate reasonable jerseys. Too many are Red. That color seems to appear frequently.
    No team kit, not on a team.

  8. Mike the Bike PT

    On my first century ride as a noob, I was at a rest stop when I noticed something funny. All the old-timers wore neon yellow jerseys/vests/jackets. A few even had neon yellow helmet covers (it was a chilly day, after al) and orange warning flags flying above their bikes like Ol’ Glory. Doesn’t seem like a coincidence.

  9. Martin Cashman

    I’m glad there is a voice in the industry willing to take a stand on this. I’ve only been riding the last 5 years but very quickly made the connection between how invisible riders in black were when I passed them in my car compared to riders in brighter colours. I am convinced that regardless of how safely both the rider and driver are obeying the rules of the road (and this is often far from the reality), Ninja riders are putting themselves at serious risk as they become visible to drivers much later.

    I often feel like stopping the car when I see someone riding in all black and explaining this to them but know it would fall on deaf ears because for most who wear black it is a conscious choice as they believe in the marketing hype that black is somehow cooler. More frustrating than seeing these black clad riders, at the last minute, is seeing companies selling clothing either exclusively or predominately black. It actually turns my stomach to read some of the crap that goes along with this, such as in the article you linked.

    We don’t have to dress up like an explosion in a florescence factory but for the love of god, we have to give ourselves at least some chance of catching drivers attention before they are right on top of us.

    Well done Padraig

  10. Tom

    I’d like to know if there’s a correlation between vehicle-bicycle collisions and color of the cyclists’ apparel. And what role lights (and their absence) play.

    1. Aar

      I can’t comment on the correlation you speak of. Here in North Carolina, the Contributory Negligence aspect of our legal system means (to the best of my non-lawyer understanding) that if a victim is more than 0% liable for what happened to them, they collect nothing. In case law, that has resulted in a hit cyclist in a head on collision being unable to collect because the jurists deemed that their failure to have a blinking front light made them more than 0% negligent. Thus, I always use front and rear blinking lights and wear bright colors.

      As far as bright colors, I use red and bright/light blue jerseys that are solidly colored as possible. I just won’t bring myself to wear anything day glow. As to the blue, I only have a few pieces because I get tired of all the red. It is a mighty bright version of blue. As far as bibs, knickers or tights are concerned, I’m waiting for colorful ones that don’t hold dirt/spray.

  11. Jan

    A couple of years ago, I was driving across Wisconsin in fall, and I could see hunters in blaze orange way across fields. It’s very visible, and people here are used to being aware of blaze orange. It made me much more aware of wearing bright cycling jerseys, and jerseys with bright, basic patterns. (Blaze orange camo is pretty visible to people!) I like black shorts, but want the rest of me to be high visibility, including my very Fred reflectors.

  12. Pat N.

    You’ve let the cat out of the bag, Padraig. The deal sites often sell the day-glo yellow or green kit for cheap because all the cool kids want black. I’ve been getting great deals on day-glo gear for years. Last year, I landed a day-glo yellow Castelli Rosso Corsa Windstopper® long sleeve jersey (sadly, no longer made) for $29. It’s the best cold weather jersey I’ve ever owned. Shoulda’ bought three of `em.

    1. Pat N.

      After I read Padraig’s post, I just happened to read a post over at the REI blog on winter cycling. The post was titled “Tips for Winter Biking – Part 2.” There are two photographs of a rider in winter conditions, The post includes the following beneath one of the photographs:

      “As I noted in a column last week, use front and rear lights and employ reflective materials where you can.”

      The rider in the photographs is wearing all black — black pants, a black jacket and a black helmet. As anyone who rides in the winter knows, it’s even more important to wear high-vis gear in the winter. Drivers aren’t looking for you and it gets dark earlier.

  13. Craig P

    I do have orange long sleeve jerseys, but one of my bikes is orange too. The other short sleeve cycling jerseys are mostly white, which I figure is better than black !

  14. Patrick24

    Black pants or shorts because of the potential for grease, brightly-colored jerseys for the reasons Padaig said, high-vis jacket or vest plus lights for riding at night.

  15. Michael

    Pat N. – I got one of those too. Great jersey in the winter! I’ve had sarcastic comments about my single-color yellow jerseys but I always figure they are visible to all. I have a red one, but my colorblindness makes it blend in with the forest, so I worry about the 7% of the male drivers who have similar color vision to mine and go with yellow (which is also brighter in low light conditions than red, according to the fire-truck literature). Thanks for bringing this up, Padraig – I’ve groused about this black trend for the last few years.

  16. Ron Callahan

    Though my riding over the past year has made a strong turn to dirt and trails, I definitely see the need to be seen on the road as much as possible. Unfortunately, I have a LOT of black and dark grey jerseys hanging in my closet.

    I’d love to see some more colorful options for jerseys. Maybe it would get me out on the road more.

    Shorts? Meh. The square footage of my body that shows that I’m wearing for shorts isn’t enough for colored shorts.

  17. Ross

    Thank you for this article! What isn’t mentioned, however, and what really gets my goat, is that the use of black seems mostly concentrated in gear designed for bad weather (ie. conditions where driver visibility is extra low). Try shopping for a cold weather gilet, softshell jacket, or even rain jacket, and they are nearly all black. Isn’t this a situation where visibility is even more important? It really drives me crazy when I’m trying to shop for bright coloured winter gear.

  18. peter lin

    I feel the same way. I’ve seen people ride near sun set and it’s damn hard to see. Every time I see someone wearing all black without a light wearing black, I want to pull over and tell them it’s dangerous. I tend to buy bright colors with lots of contrast to make sure cars see me.

  19. Mike C

    Had the anti-black kit discussion on Monday while out riding with a buddy who thinks black is the answer to everything. The problem here and like everywhere else, you get under a canopy of oak trees and you completely disappear. Add in early morning, evening or inclement weather and it just gets worse.

    If you look at modern cars, trucks, bikes, bicycles, clothing, electronics, insert your favorite thing here. .. The designers have gone to using black as a fail-safe. Is it because they lack style? I’m beginning to think so.

    I would love to see the Peloton go back to using some bright colors. Then I might be able to pick my favorite team out of the sea of black and yellow hues. If the teams start wearing colors again, then maybe the LBS can purchase colors from the clothing manufacturers. If all that happens……… We……… might be able to buy that colored kit and be seen on the road

  20. Paul Tober

    The last time I wore neon anything was 1988. Black is indeed a less than an optimal choice for the not-depressed cyclist. I tend toward lighter colors, but neon…

  21. Dave King

    I always preferred white jersey’s to black jerseys. It makes whatever is on the jersey pop out more.

    Then there’s how black cycling clothing always fades or tints to a brown color, which ruins the stylish effect.

  22. Andrew

    Don’t forget that “seeing” is eyes receiving photons reflected off other objects. So bright colours is a passive effect and only works when there is enough light to be reflected towards an observer. I.e., daytime/sunshine. Not night, not low-light, and often not even artificially lit street areas.
    Reflective materials have their limits and is also a passive effect only. Retro-reflective materials only reflect an external light source back in a very narrow band towards the source of the light and at a light level less than the brightness of the light source. So you have to be in front of the field of light, the observer has to be standing in line and looking in your direction. That’s a three conditions that have to be met. I’ve also noticed traveling around in my neighbourhood that reflective materials on a cyclists upper body are too high to be caught in a car’s low-beam headlights at short to medium ranges so are of limited value. Reflective materials lower down is better and has the added advantage of capturing leg motion which aids noticeability and highlights rotary/up-down motions that are are inherently recognised as “bike”.
    In low light/night conditions the best thing you can do is to “be seen” by using active light sources; headlights and tail lights with good batteries fitted on your bike.

  23. Pingback: Morning Links: The Tour of California comes back to LA; Calbike petition opposes mandatory bike helmet law | BikinginLA

  24. Pat O'Brien

    I am surprised by the number of riders I see with all black kit and bike. They usually have a blinky on the back, but it is not visible except from directly behind. We always try to be as visible as possible, and have for years, using kit and lights. My favorite colors are international orange, screaming yellow, and bright red.

  25. Paul

    I’m not to proud to come home alive, Neon orange or Neon green shirt/jacket for me, and black shorts for me. And the bonus is that for now they are cheaper. I can see where the marketing guys might take advantage of using the safer message to bump the price, but I doubt the neon colors will become very popular. If you look at drivers faces you can often see them buryied in their lap as they move down the road, it won’t do you a bit of good to wear neon/bright colors if the driver that is running over you isn’t even looking at the roadway, but I still try to improve my chances.

  26. MattC

    Padraig, thanks so much for both bringing this topic up AND taking a stand for our safety! I actually have some solid red jerseys (I think I bought them on Price Point MANY years ago on the cheap) and they are my fav’s! Sure, they have zero style as compared to the uber-cool full-on race kit…but they are well made and have HUGE pockets and after at least 6 years of constant use they are still in great shape! I also have the yellow full sleeve version (for winter here in the CA central coast). I DESPISE the mostly black jerseys…and in our summer they are even worse as they make you feel like you’re melting in the hot sun. NO MORE BLACK! I’m with you brother!

  27. JD

    I got hit at night travelling down a lonely 50 mph zone in the bicycle lane by a car from the rear. My bicycle is equipped with multiple front rear and side reflectors, dual firing red rear flashers, dual headlights (one helmet mounted), and I wear a flouro green reflective safety vest and two inch flouro green reflective ankle cinchers. The person never stopped. Do all that you can to be seen, but remember nothing provides immunity from accidents and idiots.

  28. Erick

    I enjoy your content and your prose. I’m also a father, like you, I’m also a cyclist, like you. I also drive a car. While I agree with your reasoning for rejecting black color, it is a gross misrepresentation to imply that all drivers are reckless (I quote: “… While people may like to kid us about being brightly colored MAMILs, those bright colors frequently contribute to our survival by making sure that people see us as they are driving down the road smoking meth and texting their BFFs.”). Perhaps a contextualization/tempering of the statement should be done?


    1. Stephen Barner

      Read the sentence you quoted again, Erick. He did not say that all drivers are on meth or distracted.

  29. marco

    Great post and agree 100%. I have 1 mainly black jersey which is 1 too many. definitively need to get more colorful jerseys.

    Same as well on gilettes. I found way too many black ones when shopping recently and settled for white. wish I got red.

  30. Skip

    I’ve no quibble with the dislike of black clothing. I commute regularly in Chicago, and keep myself brightly dressed and properly lit/reflective.

    I’m a bit mystified by the comments about 70s, 80s, and 90s stuff though. I have no trouble finding wonderful riding bikes from the 1970s (RRB, Medici, and Jim Redcay in my current stable, and an Atala in progress). Similarly, I assume the 1980s brain buckets, ugly though they might have been, were a big advance over leather hair nets. It obviously took the industry awhile to work the kinks out of indexed shifting (is that what you were referring to about “under-engineered components”?) Lots of people (myself included) missed that whole episode though, sticking with friction shifting.

  31. Ransom

    Having had some formative years in the ’80s might help my safety. So help me, I think red and dayglo yellow look neat together. Now if I could actually find that gear…

  32. DavidB

    I got to design my companies jersey, and I got a lot of pressure to make it black. I had to individually explain to about 40 people how it would be suicide (or maybe murder) and I would refuse to wear it or even design it. The thing is now a stunning red with a few colored stripes (nicely retro), and we all agree it’s the the most handsome thing on the road ever, although we might be biased.

  33. Full Monte

    From: Bill Jordan, President and CEO
    To: Development Staff

    Team, on second thought, my recent memo seeking to extend our signature patterns into other sports seems to be an ill-conceived idea, especially concerning cycling. Please stop all efforts on Operation Realtree(R) Kit until further notice.


  34. Z. Fechten

    As a traffic safety engine and a cyclist, I applaud you for saying this. I have a few quibbles, though.

    To a small but substantial portion of the population, red looks like black or dark grey.

    Yellow is brighter than red because it excites two types of cone cells, not just one. There is a reason road flaggers wear yellow.

    Color contrast is also important. In the autumn, a nice bright blue or cyan will stand out against the red and yellow foliage.

    Stopping sight distance for 55 mph (90km/h) is 500 ft (150m). After dark, even white can’t be seen that far away. Wear retro – reflective materials.

    1. Don Cafferty

      What Z. Fechten said together with what Andrew said provides for me a comprehensive strategy on how to dress and equip oneself. I discovered the importance of color contrast when a passerby commented that my orange cool weather cycling jacket bended with the color of the Fall foliage. Depending on the season, certain colors blend too well with my (rural) environment. The color of clothing is useful to a point. The use of lights becomes critical when wanting to be visible at a distance.

    2. Michael

      The color-blind population in the US is about 7% of men and 0.5% of women, so figure that, on a average, every ~25th car that passes you is driven by a colorblind person.

  35. John Kopp

    Vandenberg AFB requires all cyclists to wear helmets and orange vests with reflective tape. This applied to motorcycles, also. The standard uniform was camo, either forest or desert patern. Not good for visibility. I often see a cycling group on Monday mornings in Oceano that wear bright orange windbreakers over what ever jerseys they have. They are pretty easy to spot. I prefer a jersey with a lot of bright colors. Still there is the occasional DUI or distracted driver that wil get you.

    A few night ago, I was driving home from the grocers and saw a pedestrian on the shoulder near my driveway. He was wearing dark clothes and the only way I noticed him was reflection from the white soles of his sneakers. Saw that from a hundred yards away. I often walk to the store, but always wear a white sweater or hoodie and carry a flashlight for visibility.

    Visibility is very important for cyclists and pedestrians. Too many casualties around here to ignore that.

  36. Stephen Barner

    I’m totally on the visibility bandwagon, though I have to draw the line before the butt triangle. I don’t think I’ve ever owned a black cycling jersey or jacket, though all of my bottom wear is black, at least where it hits the saddle. I haven’t gotten to the point where I turn on lights in the daytime, though I have a friend who is still recovering over a year after a distracted driver hit him from behind. I get the reasoning, but I’m just a tad afraid that drivers might come to expect, or even demand that cyclists always sport flashers, making things even more dangerous when we don’t, and it really wouldn’t be a problem if drivers paid attention, and if those who shouldn’t be driving were not allowed to.

    Years ago, I had a yellow helmet. Now, I’m lucky if I can find one with a splash of red. How about a campaign against black and dark blue helmets? Why the hell don’t we at least get a choice?

  37. Jackie Gammon

    Well said! I have been complaining to the bike manufacturers for years about this same thing, and it seems that many do not want to listen. So what did I do? I sought out other companies, who still may have shared the ‘black’ theme but also had other offerings. Why is it that the bike industry promotes riding and safety but does NOT listen to comments like this?

  38. chuckster

    While I love much of what’s written here I have got to disagree with the general sentiment of the article and the black kit = bad conclusion – There’s no question that it’s less visible under certain circumstances. But everything we do on bikes is calculated risk and risk mitigation. You might as well stop reviews on any sporty geometry that encourages railing hard into beautiful switchbacks… discourage any tires that aren’t filled with slime due to the risk of a high speed blowout… heck, only review recumbents due to risk of male impotency with any regular saddle. Why review any rain protective gear – no question lots of different risks jump sharply when riding on a grey rainy day.

    I guess my point is horses for courses. I’ve got a good mix of kit and I sure as heck don’t go out of my way to hit a ride that may be pushing twilight with all black on, and when I forget a little red taillight on those days it’s no joy getting home. I also find a lot of sunny Colorado days with lightly traveled roads, plenty of good dirt miles and likely little added risk from black kit… however I’ve also ridden those overcast dreary days on the east coast in years past with plenty of shade and shadows and a desire to be as brightly colored as possible. Being smart about how you ride is important. Washing your hands of anything that’s not dayglow orange form head to toe may be fine for you, but may be a genuine non-issue for some.

  39. Jay

    I completely agree. My favorite jerseys are predominantly yellow, orange, and red. My windshell and winter cycling jacket are both fluorescent yellow. Quite frankly I would wear the bright colors regardless since I really like them. That they make me more visible is just serendipity.
    BTW: My bike has a bright yellow frame with orange accents. I have no problem spotting in a large group of bikes.
    Hopefully the bicycle industry will move outside of the box and give everything some bright splashes of color.
    Shorts/bibs must remain black however…

  40. Brian

    Before demonizing black and calling cyclists who choose to wear black cavalier about their safety, how about some data points and research? Does wearing hi-vis actually make you safer as a cyclist? There’s been some research that suggests wearing hi-vis is not as valuable as once though, and in certain environments *black* is the most effective color for contrast and visibility, so I would say more research is necessary.

    “In contrast, in inter-urban roads, where the background was solely a bright sky, the black outfit provided an advantage for the PTW detectability.”

  41. Author

    Everyone: Thanks for your comments.

    Re: Colorblind people, I think we need to accept that there are some risk factors that can’t be properly addressed. The world isn’t a perfect place. What’s important for us to keep in mind is that we are best off when we address the meat of the bell curve. Most people can see in colors. It’s helpful for us to address what most people can perceive.

    Brian: I didn’t demonize black, nor did I call cyclists who wear black cavalier. Those are your words, not mine. There is a wealth of data out there about how the eye works, how we perceive color and what can cause an object to become harder to see. Given that it’s a free world, you are welcome to wear as much black as you want, and if doing so makes you feel safer, then I’d say roll with it.

  42. Peter Leach

    I’d much rather be visible than stylish.
    All of my jerseys are bright – basically white with red / black highlights – but I have red ones too and I always wear yellow in winter.
    I wear a fluoro yellow ankle band on my drive-side leg [the one that’s broken and keeping me off my bike at the moment].
    I have a 3M reflective stripe across the back of my helmet.
    My bikes have 3M reflective stripes down their backstays.
    I use front and rear flashing lights on every ride.
    But I wear black bib knicks / tights, ‘coz I’d rather that plumbers’ cracks stay invisible, especially when it’s wet outside.

  43. August Cole

    Isn’t part of the appeal of black kit to the industry in that it is not the ‘safe’ choice? It’s metal, literally and figuratively.
    Separately, I would like to find more research as to what the safest practices on the road are so I could follow them. It might be disappointing to learn there’s no fluo or blinking bullet, though I think Padraig’s stand is a sound one. I have taken to using front and rear lights on every ride, though I do wear a black Gabba rain jacket …

  44. RonS

    Amen. I’ve been a hi-viz guy who rides with low intensity blinking lights FRONT and back in daylight. At night I add more lights. My empirical data has convinced me that a front, blinking white light is critical to beeing seen head on. Idiots are idiots and you can’t prevent all accidents but a front blinking light, with bright clothing, have keept me safe.

  45. kurti_sc

    I’ve been pretty favorable towards the Hincapie clothing. The chamois are good; the fabrics are good and it’s nothing so costly that it would potentially upset my wife. Although dark colors are still popular, they do offer some collections that appear to have some REALLY GOOD VISIBILITY while still looking pretty cool and not-fredly. Check out:

  46. DaSy

    I have tried to write something on this thread three or four times, and each time decided against it, but seeing as Brian managed to put my thoughts across pretty well, I thought I would give it a whirl.

    I see cycling as an inherently safe pursuit, albeit not without risks, but then what part of our life isn’t? Pedestrian-ism seems to be an equally if not more dangerous pursuit, and they suffer equally badly at the hands of car drivers, yet there is no clarion call for everyone to dress in fluro when walking to the shop in the daytime.

    I tend to go out on my bike with what I am starting to now feel, is wild abandon. My first thought is not safety, but rather how hard the ride will be, where I’m headed, and looking forward to the solitude of the pain cave I’m soon to inhabit. The safety of the whole proceedings is tied up in how I ride, always looking for eye contact from drivers before I pass, being as aware as possible of my surroundings etc. My own very personal perspective is that if a driver is not paying attention, my clothing is unlikely to make any difference to that, and as a purely anecdotal piece of evidence, the most serious traffic accident I have had was when in a bright pink jersey, and the driver pulled straight out into my path. He later said he hadn’t seen me at all, as he was frustrated by a driver in front taking too long to pull out, so he just went.

    Again, I don’t think it is a good or bad idea to dress brightly, I would just prefer to make the focus of attention on the perpetrator and not the victim in these situations, and prefer not to give out the impression that cycling is a dangerous sport but rather a safe and healthy one.

  47. Ed

    Great post. A few years back my wife bought me one of those hi vis yellow jerseys. I initially groaned, but I began to notice that when I was out in my car I often found that cyclists in most shades were hard to see, I could see the riders in the bright colors from much farther away. Sometimes I would see a group of riders and the only one I could pick out was the rider in yellow.

  48. Brian

    Padraig – The overall tone of your article singled out black as the least safe color for cyclists, and by your own newly implemented policy you will no longer review any tops dominated by black. You cite some basic knowledge about how the eyes work, yet you failed to cite any specific research or studies to back your claims about black being unsafe for cyclists, Did you interview any experts in human visual perception? Some research suggests hi-vis doesn’t necessarily make motorcyclists any more safe, or make motorists give cyclists wearing hi-vis more room when overtaking (see links in my original comment). In certain environments black provides the most contrast.

    Inattentive and DWI drivers hit other motorists, motorcyclists, pedestrians, and cyclists regardless of the color(s) the victim was wearing. To echo DaSy’s own experience and points, I was hit by the driver’s side mirror of a fatigued driver who was dozing off on a perfectly clear summer day in perfect lighting conditions, and I wasn’t wearing all black at the time. He would have hit me regardless of the color jersey I was wearing.

    I fear the tone or your article about black, as well as the recent legislative attempts like the one in Wyoming to mandate that all cyclists wear hi-vis vests will shift the responsibility/liability to the cyclist instead of the party responsible for the accident. I’m 100% in agreement with you that there is an epidemic of cyclists getting hit, but is it due to lack of visibility, or rather bad driver behavior like driving while impaired or distracted driving such as texting, messaging, Facebooking, Tweeting, etc now that everyone is addicted to their smartphone and social media apps?

    DaSy – great points that I failed to articulate as well in my original comment.

    PS – I think it was pretty uncool to single out Search and State in the same sentence where you make reference to the epidemic of riders being run over. A little subliminal guilt by association there, whether intended or not.

    1. Brian

      Clarification – I was hit by the passenger’s side mirror of the fatigued driver, not the driver’s side mirror.

    2. Brian

      PPS –

      “After nightfall, blues and purples become indistinguishable from black, while red, yellow and orange remain visible. Our brains are wired to perceive long-wavelength colors most quickly. Red light has the longest wavelength in the visible spectrum; orange is next, followed by yellow.

      Pure and simple, if you want to be seen, stick with these colors.”

      Some of the information in your article citing red as one of the “safest” colors doesn’t apply to low light conditions where red can appear as nearly black, unless you can cite the source you used above that contradicts the information below.


      “In recent years, consideration of human color visual sensitivity has led to changes in the long-standing practice of painting emergency vehicles, such as fire trucks and ambulances, entirely red. Although the color is intended for the vehicles to be easily seen and responded to, the wavelength distribution is not highly visible at low light levels and appears nearly black at night. The human eye is much more sensitive to yellow-green or similar hues, particularly at night, and now most new emergency vehicles are at least partially painted a vivid yellowish green or white, often retaining some red highlights in the interest of tradition.”

  49. Pat N

    Saw this in the news today regarding color blindness:

    >>Lab In Berkeley Accidentally Discovers Solution To Fix Color Blindness

    Ten million men suffer from color blindness.

    “The glasses work by selectively removing certain wavelengths between the red and green cones that allow them to be in essence pushed apart again,” said Don McPherson, EnChroma’s VP of products.

    Correcting color blindness wasn’t McPherson’s original experiment. “This happened almost by mistake,” he recalled.

    The glasses were designed as protective eyewear for doctors during surgery. But one day he wore them with a curious friend who happened to be color blind.

    McPherson recalled, “My friend said, ‘Oh, those are cool. Can I borrow them?’ And I said, ‘Here, wear them.’”

    “And he said, ‘Oh, I can see the cones!’” McPherson said, referring to bright orange cones.<<

  50. Author

    Brian: I think you may be missing the bigger picture. The point of the post was to attempt to preempt my own death. I’m not going to wait around for someone to research this exhaustively. Life’s too short. No one need do what I’m doing, but I’m taking a position and I have elected to state why to my readers on as clear a basis as I can. No color is ideal at Twilight or after dark, but red is at least better than purple as it goes to gray while purple turns black. This much we know. If you want to pick apart the post, that’s fine; knock yourself out. There’s nothing we can do short of not riding that will protect us from all possible scenarios. However, it is my personal belief that we can improve our odds of not being hit by a relatively aware driver by wearing brighter colors and there’s a fair amount of science to back up my assertion. For those drivers who are completely inattentive, drunk or meth-addled, you have little recourse other than hope, or if you’re into it, prayer. Again, if someone thinks I’m crazy and wants to wear black, that’s fine, but judging from most of the responses to this post, I’m not alone in wishing more companies would offer more pieces that minimized the use of black. As to your assertion that I was suggesting that Search and State was getting people killed, that’s your association, not mine. I called them out for bragging about how much black clothing they produce.

  51. DaSy

    I fully respect your personal position with regard to black clothing, but must admit to not expecting this kind of article on this website.
    Statements such as “those bright colors frequently contribute to our survival by making sure that people see us as they are driving down the road” are highly emotive and are conjecture rather than any sort of fact; we couldn’t possibly know if that same person who was wearing a red top would have been mown down should he have been dressed in black.

    I normally love the tone of this website, but find that these sort of articles just leave me feeling somewhat outcast. I have been cycling for 30 years at least, covering 10K miles a year, worked in the industry as a mechanic, shop manager and alpine tour guide, but have found in the last few years that everyone seems to have an opinion on what a lunatic I am for making the decisions I do about what, primarily, I wear on a bike…

    I would happily read factual articles about clothing colours, scientific thesis about it’s relative benefits and drawbacks, but am somewhat weary of pseudo science and opinion leading people to decide that anyone deviating from the prescribed course is a danger to society and cares nothing for his/her loved ones.

    I would prefer to be presented with the actual facts, not opinion, and left to draw my own conclusions, based on my own risk assessment.

    As I previously said, I feel that road cycling is starting to make itself out to be an extreme sport, a bit like MTBing did, to make it feel exciting and exclusive, but at the risk of scaring away newcomers, who would ultimately be the thing that would make us most safe. More cyclists equates to more familiarity of cyclists by drivers, and that has to be the way forward.

  52. Brian


    I’m not defending black per se, and it is definitely a poor choice in low light and other conditions.

    The point of your article didn’t come across as solely an attempt to preempt your own death as you seemed to offer advice to your readership and take a stand against the use of black in cycling apparel in the interest of cycling safety (note the use of “you” and “we”):

    “Pure and simple, if you want to be seen, stick with these colors.”

    “But as with everything in life, we can vote with our money. You needn’t buy anything that is dominated by black. A crazy splash of bright colors is infinitely better than a mostly black jersey. ”

    Wearing bright colors isn’t necessarily a panacea and could lead to a false sense of security/safety. While I agree they would make you more visible, a study suggests “there is little a rider can do, by altering their outfit or donning a high-visibility jacket, to prevent the most dangerous overtakes from happening.” Source: Also see the other article about motorcyclist safety and hi-vis garments.

    Furthermore, you also state that wearing solid colors makes you more visible than wearing different colors broken up:

    “Unfortunately, this means the more broken up and splashed with different colors your kit is, it actually makes you harder to see. Remember those Pearl Izumi jerseys that were one solid color? The greatest favor we could do ourselves in terms of visibility would be to buy one of those jerseys (if they still made them) in either Screaming Yellow or red and then wear a pair of shorts exactly the same color. ”

    Most modern safety clothing uses the color contrast method with contrasting color bands to make the wearer more visible, *not* solid colors. and

    “For Classes 2 and 3, the CSA Z96-09 High-Visibility Safety Apparel Standard specifies three colours for background materials and contrasting-colour stripes to provide options that are intended to create visibility against most work environments. The stripes should be either retroreflective or combined-performance.”

    In fact, contrary to your claims, cycling apparel composed of a fluorescent background color (in order – yellow, yellow-green, orange-red, red) with contrasting color bands/stripes would be *more* visible than those composed of a single, solid color.

    Therein lies the main problem I have with your article. While you seem to be giving advice to your readership while citing general knowledge (some of it outdated) about human color perception and visibility, you failed to cite any factual scientific studies about cycling safety and visibility, you didn’t interview anyone in the field on the subject, and unfortunately, some of the information and advice you provided to your readership (visibility of red in low light, solid vs contrasting color bands) is in fact outdated or outright erroneous. In addition, *white* is actually more visible at night than bright or fluorescent colors which you failed to mention.

    I’m glad to see you bring up the subject of cycling safety. You’re free to wear anything you want if it makes you feel more visible and safer, and you’re definitely entitled to and I respect your opinion. Cycling safety is a serious topic and in my opinion it deserves a serious, well researched article that cites reliable sources instead of one that consists of only opinion and general, outdated, or erroneous information. Anything less does a disservice to your cycling readership.

  53. Ed


    Much of this is common sense. I don’t think one needs reams of data and studies to determine which colors are more visible. No matter what, it is important to be noticed. There is a reason that road crews wear the brightly colored vests.

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