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High-Visibility: Dress for Success

Photo by Scott MacDonald, © Salinas Californian. Used by permission.

Success in making it safely to your bicycling destination, that is! A reflective sash can help make you stand out to drivers sharing public streets.

It’s been nearly twenty years since I last used a flag when cycling.  Back then I was pulling a Burley d’lite trailer bearing very precious cargo—my daughter, who is now 21.  I really wasn’t up for taking chances!

Today, depending on my route, I sometimes don high-visibilityapparel when I know I’ll be sharing a road with cars.  During daylight, often this is nothing more than tying my neon sweatshirt around my shoulders.  I’ve considered getting a bike flag again. [2011 update:  Check out Purple Sky Flags, which offers fashion-friendly flags!]

I don’t think about it that much when I’m cycling.  Somehow, I feel pretty infallible on my bike.

It’s when I’m driving a vehicle myself that I really think about high-visibility clothing for cycling, along with flags, lights, and such.  Behind the wheel, I can see the vulnerability of cyclists—and the huge difference it makes when they are dressed and accessorized for better visibility.  Frequently, I will notice them in sunshine, then watch as those same cyclists seemingly disappear when they pass under the shade of trees.  Easy targets!

Sharing the road

Remember, I bike too!  I know it’s a legal responsibility, and simply courtesy, for vehicle drivers to share the road and be alert for bikes.  This is true whether there are bike lanes, signed bike routes, sharrows, or any legal right-of-way.

Still, being right and staying safely out of the path of a careless driver are two different matters.

I look forward to the day when bikeways are safer—with more dedicated bike paths, improved bike lanes and routes, and more public awareness and respect for sharing roads.  This will happen as more people bike (see link below from Scotland). Meanwhile, under some conditions, being highly visible makes sense.

The most visible flag I’ve seen

With all this in the back of my mind, something caught my attention outside the Monterey Post Office on Saturday.  There I saw a local couple who had some very cool Bike Friday folding bikes, topped with high-visibility flags from Be Seen Wear.   As the man said, “After she had a near run-in with a truck, I found these flags, and we both use them all the time.”

I like the way the poles for these flags fold up, just like the similar lightweight poles for my backpacking tent.  My flagpole for my old Burley rig could not be folded.  It did bend, and the Burley folks had thoughtfully designed a  “flag pocket” to tuck it into, so the pole was usually only a minor inconvenience.  Still, I find these fold-up flagpoles an improvement.

I took a peek at the Web page for the supplier (Be Seen Wear), and I got a chuckle out of their remark:

We were recently asked if we had something not so bright because this flag just stands out too much…?  We said… “thank you!”

Their flag really does stand out.  That’s the idea!

When I first moved to Monterey County, a woman biking on the road near my lane was hit by a motor vehicle in the early morning traffic. She went from cycling to using a wheelchair. I tell my kids that neon clothing suits my wardrobe a lot better than a wheelchair would.  And I’m thinking the same thing about these new, improved high-visibility flags, like Be Seen Wear’s and Purple Sky Flags.

Safety apparel and other safety tips

For more on the topic of safety, see the “personal safety” section of Tips for Bicycling Monterey County.

I love my neon-colored 100% cotton t-shirts from Granite Construction/Graniterock, which I mention in those tips.  I’m just a cotton kinda gal—love the feel of it.  Be forewarned, though, that like most dyed cotton, the Granite t-shirts that I purchased at their Watsonville store fade after numerous  washings.  As their color fades, additional visibility methods are even more important.

A while back, I gave away a perfectly good (poly, no problems with fading) neon vest—also purchased from Granite—to a visiting friend.  She needed it even more than I did.  Later I gave my second Granite vest to another person in need (this was a mesh one with reflective straps, and wasn’t an item I personally used a lot—it’s getting better use as  a daypack cover by this individual).  If you want to check online for items available from Granite, click here.

Now I’m eyeing a bright new vest at Winning Wheels, 318 Grand Avenue, Pacific Grove; phone 831/375-4322.

While the bike shops have terrific high-visibility clothing and accessories, all your items need not come from cycling-specific sources.  If you’re on a budget, check Goodwill stores too for high-visibility clothing.  Often you’ll see some really crazy bright neon t-shirts there, and at a very low price.  And though I haven’t been so lucky, one of my cycling friends has even found bike shorts (padded fanny) at the local Goodwill.

Reflective Sash: a treasure found, thanks to a comment…

Thanks to Jason, who commented on an earlier version of this post, I have found something I was looking for:  a neon colored strap that can be worn over regular clothing.  Picture this:  it crosses over the body, front and back,  like the shoulder strap of a mail carrier’s bag.  I saw one on a cyclist zipping past me, and I hadn’t yet tracked down a source.

Jason suggested it sounded like a Physical Training/PT strap.  He was right!  There is apparently more than one company that sells these, not surprisngly.  Here is one company that has been in business since 1987:   Sayre Enterprises, Inc. Under their Reflex tab, there are a large variety of reflective safety items, including for children.

The one most similar to (most likely, it was identical to) the one I saw on the cyclist is called their Reflective Sash. It had an adjustable slide, is stretchy elastic, one size fits all.  They have many colors, and although their Web page doesn’t show the Reflective Sash in lime green, their “yellow” might be called lime green.  They make these in-house.  And the label says these sashes can be seen from one-quarter mile away!

One way for lodging providers to help cycling guests

When talking with some Carmel-by-the-Sea innkeepers recently, we discussed cycling safely.  The idea came to me that local hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, and such could stock those high-visibility sashes to loan or sell to their guests who bike.  The particular innkeepers I was talking with when the idea popped into mind were very interested.  They get a lot of questions from guests who want to bike here, and they love to help them find routes and more.

No room at the inn? These items would take up very little storage space.  And they could make a big difference in encouraging guests to bike, and helping ensure that they return safely from their cycle outing!  If you have a lodging business and would like to know more, feel free to contact me.

This might also be a great thing for wineries to carry, as many cyclists “go the distance” from winery to winery.  In some areas of the county, this will mean traveling on signed bike routes (without off-road bike paths or even painted bike lanes).

Remember what the Scots emphasize about safe cycling

I want to repeat (from my 11/26 post) what the Scottish Parliament’s Traffic Report pointed out:  the more cyclists there are in a community, the safer it is to bike there.

A note about bike-pedestrian safety on the multi-use trail

It’s important to be conscious of both safety and courtesy between cyclists and pedestrians—along with skaters, skateboarders, runners, and dogs!—on the off-road (no cars) multi-use trails.  I address that some in “Tips for Tourists Bicycling Monterey.” Please also refer to the City of Monterey’s trail etiquette guidelines.

And what about those folding bikes?

As for the above-mentioned couple’s cool Bike Friday folding bikes

I spotted the bikes from a distance, first because of their bike flags.  But the bikes are distinctive too.  The main body of the frame is short, with the seat post much higher.  Can’t miss them!

This duo does a lot of traveling, both with and via their bikes.  Their stories of their travels, and of how easy it is to fold up those bikes, were very enticing.  The woman commented that she finds a foldable bike a real boon to bike security too.  Where appropriate, instead of locking up her bike and leaving it outdoors, she folds it up and just wheels it right on in.

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Previously published November 29, 2009

This post was published on 29 November 2009. One or more changes last made to this post on 6 June 2017.

  1. DC Cargo says:

    This is a great article about bicycle safety! It’s so important for cyclists to be visible to drivers, especially in low-light conditions. I always make sure to wear bright clothing and use reflective gear when I’m riding [and] a high-visibility flag.

  2. Founder, Bicycling Monterey says:

    Hi, Don. We don’t have a photo of the Be Seen Wear flags. Today we did a fairly extensive web search to try to find that company again, so we could update the link. We also phoned one of the local people who we’d spotted in 2009 with a Be Seen Wear flag on their bicycle. They too have been unable to locate the company in recent years, and they’re guessing, as we are, that perhaps the company has closed their business. If the local does find them again, they’ll contact us—and we welcome anyone else to do the same:

  3. Don Zimmerman says:

    clicked link for the “be seen wear” website and it wasn’t there, is there somewhere to see what the flags looked like and where they got them? Thanks

  4. marilynch says:

    Jason was absolutely right that what I saw on the cyclist was probably a Physical Training/PT strap. And not surprisingly, there is apparently more than one company that sells these. Here is a supplier that has been in business since 1987: Sayre Enterprises, Inc. (, 800-552-6064). Under their Reflex tab, you’ll see a large variety of reflective safety items, including for children.

    I have one of their straps now, thanks to a DLI guy. And I have ordered their Reflective Sash today. I am convinced the sash is a great item to keep around–and will be terrific for the innkeepers to have for guests too! Thank you again, Jason.

  5. marilynch says:

    Thank you, Jason, for so thoughtfully sharing this lead. The band in the photo looks similar to, though is a little narrower than, the one I saw on the cyclist. Really appreciate your taking time to help out!

  6. Sounds like you’re referring to a PT belt. It’s meant to be worn around the waist but they’re long enough to be worn across the torso. For example:

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