How to be Seen on Motorcycles

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How to Maximize Visibility: Stay Out of Blind Spots and Create a Safety Buffer

Motorcycle Safety Stay Visible
Place yourself strategically in traffic. Photo © Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

"I never saw the rider" is one of the most common things automobile drivers say after they've struck a motorcyclist, an unfortunate reflection on how easy it is for riders to slip under the radar. Here are tips on how to stay visible while you ride.

The first and most obvious way to avoid being hit is to stay out of the blind spots of other vehicles and give yourself enough room to react. Ways to do so include:

  • Making sure you can see the drivers of the cars around you; if you can see them (through eye contact or in their mirrors), chances are you're in their line of sight... but never assume anything.
  • Creating a safety buffer around you, which means leaving enough distance ahead of you, and giving yourself space to maneuver away from trouble.
  • Avoid lingering in the blind spots created by the A-pillars and C-pillars of cars; those are the front 3/4 and rear 3/4 angle views out of the driver seat. Passing can be a dangerous maneuver, so be especially aware when overtaking a car or another rider.
  • If you're riding with a group, be sure to leave a safe distance around you, and ride in a staggered formation for maximum visibility.

Related: What Are Your Rules for Riding?

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Avoid Riding a Black Bike

How to be seen on motorcycles
The color white registers effectively in peripheral vision. Photo © Sloan Essman

Black motorcycles look cool, but they tend to visually blend into their surroundings. Riding a more brightly colored bike- whether it's white, yellow, or even red- will increase the odds that you'll register in the peripheral vision of other vehicles.

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Wear Bright or Reflective Gear

How to be visible on a motorcycle
Some leather jackets can be treated with reflective agents. Photo © Vanson

The rider is a big part of a motorcycle's visual presence, and wearing bright or reflective safety gear is an easy way to stand out.

Choose light colored gear, and try to find jackets and pants that are treated with a reflective finish. Some apparel now comes with a reflective finish that's only visible at night, adding an element of style to safety gear.

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Use Reflective Tape

How to be seen on motorcycles
Reflective tape can be applied virtually anywhere. Photo © Halo Tape

If you don't have reflective gear or want to take a more proactive approach to being seen, buy reflective tape and apply it to anything from your helmet to your saddlebags.

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Use Your Hands

How to be seen on motorcycles
Hand signals can be an effective way to increase your visibility... "Peace" sign is optional. Photo © David McNew / Staff / Getty Images

Remember those hand signals you learned for bicycle riding? Extending or flexing your arm is an effective way to raise your visual profile in addition to using your turn signals. Just be sure you're able to effectively control your vehicle while doing so, and never take your hands off the handlebars when the turn is underway.

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Tap Your Brakes

Motorcycle safety keeping visible
A light tap of the brakes might help get tailgaters off your tail. Photo © Basem Wasef

If you're being followed too closely by a car and aren't able to maintain an effective safety cushion around you, there's nothing wrong with lightly tapping your brakes to activate the brake lights. If that doesn't help the tailgater lay off, do your best to safely exit the lane and find a safer spot to ride.

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Use Your High Beams When it's Safe

Motorcycle safety being visible
High beams will increase frontal visibility; just be sure to only use them when it's safe. Photo © Brian J. Nelson

Motorcycles are setup to run their headlights at all times, but if you're not in danger of blinding oncoming traffic, flipping your high beams on will add an extra level of visibility.

If you have high-intensity discharge bulbs or are aimed squarely at traffic during nighttime riding, avoid using your high beams unnecessarily.

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Use a Headlight Modulator

Motorcycle safety how to be seen
Pulsing headlights can increase visibility. Photo © Basem Wasef

Headlight modulators are electronic components that enable lights to pulse or flicker in intensity, and while they've been known to annoy fellow riders and motorists, they can improve visibility.

Modulators are legal in 50 states as long as they comply with certain specifications; this printable page cites the Federal law on headlight modulators.

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Use Running Lamps

Motorcycles safety how to be seen
Running lamps make it easier for other vehicles to estimate your speed. Photo © Brian J. Nelson

Studies have shown that it's easier to estimate the speed of a vehicle when it has two lights spaced apart, since the perspective shift helps with depth perception.

Using or installing running lights not only makes your bike more visible, it helps oncoming traffic estimate your speed, potentially saving you from unsafe left turns.

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Use Your Horn if Necessary

Motorcycles safety how to be seen
Using your horn is an obvious but effective way to make your presence known. Photo © Basem Wasef

There's a fine line between noise pollution and self-preservation, but if all else fails you might want to make your presence known by blowing your horn. Though loud car stereos or other aural distractions can prevent motorists from noticing the sound of your horn, the split second decision to press the horn button can make the difference between becoming a victim and avoiding an accident.