The Science of High Visibility Colors while Cycling

May 31st, 2019 by JoAnn Cranson

By Andrew Fathman

How do you get someone to notice you? You know, that person. The person driving the car that, unless they see you, is at risk of making you a cycling statistic. You might not be surprised to hear that the color of your kit is one of the easiest and most effective ways to make yourself more visible and decrease the risk of an accident (put that all-black kit away, no–it doesn’t make you look like Batman.)

However, while having a closet so bright it rivals the sun is great, knowing what to wear at what times of day can actually further increase your safety. Our eyes have three different photoreceptors called “cones”. These cones are specialized to see the three primary colors that make up the spectrum of visible light. Depending on the ambient light, these cones can actually be better at seeing different wavelengths of light. During the day, our eyes are most adept at recognizing green light, followed by yellow and blue (or cyan for you art nerds out there.) Before you consign all of your green jerseys to daytime riding, you have to consider where you’ll be riding. Humans are sensitive to shapes resembling biological patterns which means that we are very good at seeing the shape of a person against a background. If you’re planning on riding through seas of green foliage, it’s better to give drivers a hand and wear a color that will help them see your outline against the trees.

The last scenario to consider is when the sun starts setting and shadows start forming. We might not think about this much as the days are getting longer and we are able to finish our rides with plenty of light, but before you know it, your local TNR will start finishing with less and less light. As it gets darker, our eyes transition from seeing green the best to being able to pick out yellow the easiest and at the furthest distances.

Reflective gear is becoming standard on most athletic gear and the science behind that is akin to why road signs are so obvious at night, but following these easy rules will you give yourself the best chance at being able to chase those K/QOMs (King or Queen of the Mountain winner in races) without incident.



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