ABC's of awareness

  • Thursday 5th January 2017

If you’re a cyclist and pay attention to social news sources, you’re likely asking yourself, “Is it just me or does it seem like more people are getting hit today than ever before?”

Cycling safety and infrastructure appear to be directly correlated. The NHSTA reports that the number of cyclist deaths on roadways has been anywhere from 600-800 per year over the last ten years. During that time, the US has increased annual federal funding for improving cycling infrastructure from $204m/yr to $820m/yr. Those funds go towards things like bicycle bridges and dedicated lanes. From the year 2000 – 2010, bicycle commuting increased on average 63% in the 70 largest cities in the US. Ridership is up. Fatalities are flat. And risk is down. It’s safe to say, cycling is safer in the US than it’s ever been before. We are just closer to the tragic news.

ABCs of awareness

This affects us all. According to a Trek retailer survey, 80% of respondents have at least one interaction per week in which their customer has either been hit or had a near miss. So if cycling is safer than ever, why are riders still having these experiences? Simply put, there are too many distractions in the world today. Phones, food, friends, kids… it all adds up to valuable seconds of awareness. Given 1/10th of a mile of visibility, a driver going 65mph overtakes a 15mph cyclist in 7.2 seconds. If the driver is distracted for just 6 seconds, that leaves 1.2 seconds to respond to the cyclist’s presence, which is about the amount of time it takes for a human to respond to a stimulus. The consequences of distraction can be dire.


When drivers are not aware of your presence, they are startled. A startled driver is a scared driver, and a scared driver is an angry driver. Give drivers adequate time to react to your presence, and the situation changes. So what can you do to buy yourself some time? To give drivers as much advance notice of your presence?  Trek and Bontrager enlisted the help of Clemson University to better understand the science and psychology behind staying safe on the road. The insights gained from this partnership will profoundly impact our ability to be seen by drivers. After over a year of research, the basics to staying safer on the road today can be boiled down to what we call the ABCs of Awareness.

A: Always On. Front and Rear lights. Day and Night. Lights are more than lumens, and not every light can be seen during the day. A study from Denmark showed that cyclists who rode with lights during the day reduced their chance of a collision by 33% more than cyclists who did not. This result echoes that of the auto and motorcycle industries (25% and 13%). Change your statistic today and use Daytime Running Lights. If you only do one thing to increase your ability to be seen, choose a daytime visible head and tail light.

B: Biomotion. Highlight the body’s moving parts. Humans are predators and we are trained to recognition motion. We are also social and empathetic creatures who instinctively recognize the presence of other humans quicker than other objects. Put fluorescent and reflective material on things that move: feet, wheels, etc and make the most of this basic human instinct. Research has shown that cyclists who effectively use biomotion can reduce their chance of collision by up to 83%.

C: Contrast. Choose the right gear for day and night. 72% of retailers polled reach for fluorescent gear as a way to be seen at night. 63% reach for reflective as a way to be seen during the day. Choose fluorescent products for daytime visibility. Choose reflective prdoucts for night time visibility.

Bontrager ContrastHigh Viz

Fluorescent doesn’t work at night. Fluorescent requires UV light from the sun to bounce back to the viewer’s eye. At night, UV light is not present, and in one study, a rider wearing black was seen before the rider in fluorescent.

Reflective doesn’t work during the day. Reflective is an incredible night time visibility tool, but ambient daylight overpowers it. Use it at night where it matters most.

If you’re not proactively doing something to increase your ability to be seen by a driver, to stand out from your background, it’s likely you simply are not seen.

ABCs are incremental in their instruction. The single most effective solution to being seen on the road is with lights. If you only do one thing, choose daytime running lights. The next step is to add biomotion to your riding kit. Fluorescent shoes, socks, pant straps, tires. The final step is to add contrast with the right products for day and night. Fluorescent in the daylight. Reflective at night.

Embrace the ABCs of Awareness and be the bigger distraction.