Ridebright.org is a project of professional triathlete Jordan Rapp and High Gear Films, a premiere label in filmmaking for endurance sports. Following a near death collision with a car while training on his bike in March 2010, Jordan got back on his bike, but decided he needed to make some changes to make himself safer, primarily by making himself more visible to drivers. Just as with his racing, Jordan looked to technology to give him an edge on the roads, only this time, instead of saving seconds on a race course, the focus was on saving lives. An engineer by trade, Jordan used his typically methodical approach to problem solving in a quest to keep both himself and other riders safe on the roads. He describes his thought process in the first of his series of articles—"Stay Safe. Be Seen."—for Slowtwitch.com, the leading online triathlon and endurance sports publication and community.
"It was a hit-and-run, and the driver was never found, so I never got any real answers as to how the accident happened, but when I thought about what I could have done to have prevented the accident, making myself more visible was number one on the list. The road I was on was not heavily trafficked; it had a wide shoulder; and there was a clear line of site from the intersection where the car pulled out in front of me for a long way down the road. Even the road where the car came from only went to one place – a strawberry farm. In talking to the police, they expressed that visibility is often a major concern. Motorcyclists are hit more often than cars, and the assumption is just that motorcycles are smaller and therefore more easily overlooked as compared with a car. Imagine a cyclist down in the aerobars and how much smaller still we must be.
Before getting back on the road, I thought about what options I had to make myself more visible. Neon helmets, jerseys, etc. all crossed my mine. But ultimately, I wanted something that dramatically caught the eye, and the obvious thought was a flashing light. On cars, the presence of daytime running lights contributes to a greatly reduced risk of a head-on collision. Add in a flash, and I figured that drivers would pay even greater attention. I had a pair of Blackburn Flea lights which I used as "emergency" lights for rides during the winter months, when a flat tire or a headwind can mean that you get caught out in low light with the shortened daylight hours. Both the front and rear lights come with flashing modes, and I ran these lights whenever I rode. I could see drivers making eye contact with me at intersections, though I'm sure I was also more aware.
In addition to the flashers on my bike, I added a modular headlamp unit (it's a self contained module that attaches to an elastic headband) onto my helmet, using zip-ties to attach it. This light didn't have a blinking mode, but it would signal SOS and that seemed just as good to me. And that was my set-up every day when I rode. And it has saved my life at least once. Not long before I raced Ironman Arizona, a car ran a red-light on a turn arrow; As I approached the intersection, I could see the car speeding up, but by the time I realized what was happening, it was too late for me to stop on the lightly wet roads. I just turned and looked directly at the car, hopeful that he'd see the flashing light on my helmet. He stopped a few feet from me as I sailed on past.
Despite being satisfied with the light set-up I had, I knew there were better options. The Fenix lamp was bright – 105 lumens, as compared with the 40 lumens of the front Flea – but it used AA batteries, which meant either messing around with rechargeable AA batteries, most of which have a relatively short lifespan as compared with alkalines, or throwing away batteries, which is terrible for the environment. There is battery recycling around me, and I do recycle my batteries, but it still seemed that a long-lasting rechargeable running off a battery pack was a better option. The Flea was rechargeable, but it wasn't particularly bright at 40 lumens (a lumen is a measure of the power of light perceived by the human eye) and the very small internal battery didn't even last the claimed five hours in flashing mode, not exactly ideal as a recommendation for Ironman athletes, many of whom ride more than five hours regularly.
So I started investigating high-end commuter and mountain-bike lights designed for night riding and racing. Almost all lights featured a flashing mode. The brightness was an order of magnitude greater than the little lights I had, in some cases as much as 40x more powerful than the Flea for the very brightest options. And they all featured dedicated battery packs, many very small and long lasting lithium-ion packs. And so the idea for this series – "Stay Safe. Be Seen." – was born.
The goal of RideBright.org is to expand on and spread this message of the importance of visibility. The fight to change laws and raise awareness is no less important, but until the world becomes a safer place for cyclists, it's up to all of us who love to bike to make it safer for ourselves. And our goal is to provide the best information on how do that. It is our hope that by providing useful guides and powerful messages via video, we can emphasize how critical it is to stay safe, to be seen, and to ride bright.
For more information on our projects, please contact us at BeSeen@RideBright.org.
© 2011 RideBright.org