What Should a Cyclist Look Like?

Whilst in hospital with blood clot, I snapped this well meaning poster about cycling in the hospital waiting room (with 4 hour wait, there wasn’t much to do apart from look at this sign.)

It’s not the best quality iPhone photo, but it kind of epitomizes the ‘health and safety approach’ to cycling. It was made by a local school.


Cycle Smart
Photo by Tejvan’s iPhone in Oxford JR Hospital.


In case you can’t see the pic of the cyclists

  1. Always wear a helmet
  2. Helmets reduces risk of head injury by 85%! (I don’t want to dig out all the statistics on helmet use, just at the moment, but this does seem a rather ‘selective approach’
  3. Wear High Vis jacket.
  4. Long sleeved top in bright, light colour
  5. Wear reflective trouser straps
  6. Wear Long trousers
  7. Cycling shoes or sports shoes
  8. Reflective arm bands
  9. White front light and rear back light
  10. Do not Pass go, and do not collect £200

(A teenager may add, if you get dressed like this, make sure none of your friends see you)

What Should a Cyclist Look Like?

The funny thing is that it took about 4 hours of waiting in the hospital to realise this poster was about an activity I did. If this is how cycling had been promoted at school, I might have stuck to staying indoors playing computer games. Future trips to the hospital would have probably been have been due to sloth related heart and obesity problems rather than falling off the bike.

On the one hand, I have sympathy with the aims of the post. I do sometimes want to wear high viz jacket. I would prefer to be seen by motorists rather than than feel the rush of wind as a car squeezes past me at 70mph. But, at the same time, I wish that this wasn’t how we had to promote cycling. I wish a cyclist would be someone who just happens to get on a bicycle and cycle from A to B. If you walk to the shops, you don’t have to put on your long trousers, helmet, high vis, and flashing lights. But, if you want to use a push bike, there is a certain expectation that you have to jump through certain Health and Safety legislation.

I wish there were posters in hospital saying – why don’t you take preventative medicine and do a nice fun activity like cycling. It’s much better than getting diabetes because you’ve done no meaningful exercise in the past 20 years.

A bigger concern is that if cyclist doesn’t confirm to these top 10 rules of dressing like a cyclist, they somehow become responsible for crashes. ‘but officer, the cyclists wasn’t wearing high viz, how can I be expected to see him?‘  Cyclists may one day be unprotected from law if they aren’t wearing a helmet or if they aren’t bedecked in several layers of fluorescent yellow and flashing lights.

If you are cycling on British roads, it is definitely good to be seen. I guess I’m just envious of cities and countries where there is a real cycling culture and people on bikes have a greater freedom to just be themselves. (see: A Dutch Cycling Problem)

Actually, we all know a good cyclist should have a beard.

bearded cyclist

Sheldon Brown A blast from past

What do you think. Does it matter how a cyclist looks?


12 Responses to What Should a Cyclist Look Like?

  1. Jonathan June 19, 2012 at 11:49 am #

    I hate high vis-ability clothing with a passion – that said my rain wear is high vis – this is because people vision is reduced in the rain. So it has a place – but generally I will be decked out in black (I think I look cool in black :) ).

    To be honest the only way to stay safe is to be more alert than the drivers are – I have lost count of the amount of accidents I have avoided by using common sense.

    As for a helmet – I never used to wear one on my commute – I loathe the sweat and heat – but my wife nagged every time I left the house and every time I would get comments like “all the cyclist I see have helmets on, why don’t you?”. For this reason alone I bought a very light and airy top of the range helmet. Just about bearable – but I still occidentally forget it on some hot days – how can I amble along and enjoy the weather with a hat on? But once again – if I am going out on a fast ride where I know I will be taking a few risks I will wear the helmet regardless.

    But if you say you don’t always wear a helmet the amount of comments that are made are numerous. I even get people commenting about it on the road! Talk about peer pressure!

  2. steve (another one) June 15, 2012 at 6:14 pm #

    Ooooh, dissent amongst the Tejvan faithful. Proof, should it be needed, that the following grows!

    On topic, I instinctively rebel against all this nannying and will only wear such stuff if the sword of Damocles itself hangs over me. That said, as someone who drives a truck – pause for pantomime boos to subside – I’d comment that orange hi-viz seems to me to be both less offensive and more visible than the omnipresent yellow. On country roads in particular, just a flash of this several bends ahead can give very helpful warning of the cyclists presence. As for helmets, not until my cold dead body rots away!!!

  3. Amoeba June 15, 2012 at 7:10 am #

    I’m glad the offensive post by ‘SB’ was removed, I was just about to complain. I wouldn’t be very surprised if he were a sock-puppet of ‘Steve’.

    • Hurumph June 15, 2012 at 9:33 pm #

      Steve had his say, Madelaine complained, fair enough both sides equal; but I’m surprised someone with a pink swastika on a pink piece of toast as his/her/its logo considers complaining about offense. What does it mean?

      I’m really disappointed I missed the offensive post by SB.

      • sm June 16, 2012 at 10:06 am #

        The deleted post was mine and was no more offensive than Madelaine’s post which still remains. I thought it ironic that somebody complaining about sexist remarks chose to call the agitator a ‘knob’. Ho hum.

        My post was probably deleted because it used exactly the same terms of reference as Madelaine’s post, only I used the female genitalia rather than the male genitalia. I chose the V word (not the C word). The comment deletion only emphasises the irony and also the original point of my original post. It’s fine to call somebody a male genitalia but not the female.

        Anyway, maybe I should have let it be. Two wrongs never make a right and I apologise because as some of you point out, this is a cycling blog and not the guardian.

  4. Amoeba June 15, 2012 at 7:07 am #

    As you pointed-out, cycle helmet statistics do not justify the claims in the poster.

    Suspected typo.
    ‘White front light and rear back light’ – I suspect that ‘rear’ should be ‘red’.

  5. Hurumph June 14, 2012 at 11:31 pm #

    I don’t really understand the long sleeves/long trousers requirement unless it is to protect against road rash when the cyclists come off? I very much doubt that either would make any significant difference – coming off hurts, and jeans or long sleeve shirts provide miniscule protection to cuts, abraisions and bruises! The Elfin Safety chaps ought to be promoting bikers leathers if they want to see that sort of protection, and then we woud see cycling plumet! Imagine the smell of sweaty teenagers at secondary schools – euch!!! Or at the office.

    I’ve never seen a picture of a young Sheldon Brown – thanks for that. :-)

  6. Tom Larsson June 14, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

    I think that cyclists have to adapt to surroundings. If there are good cycle paths, then it is less important to to wear high viz and helmets. But, if the car dominates, you tend to be more defensive

  7. John Gallagher June 14, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

    It’s all part of the “Elf & Safety” mantra we’ve been listening to for the last few decades. As a youth during the 1970s and a college student in London during the early 1980s I don’t recall seeing any cyclists wearing hi-vis jackets – because they weren’t available. My mates and I just got our bikes out and went for a ride in whatever we happenned to be wearing. No helmets either – again because they weren’t generally available.

    The poster has laudable aims and looks as though it was produced by junior school children. Youngsters may not be as confident or proficient as adult riders and therefore something to help them be safe & conspicuous is a good thing.

    Having said that, I think it is a sad sight to see “crocodiles” of younger school children walking down a pavement with their teachers – and all bedecked in miniature hi-vis tabbards …

  8. Steve June 14, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    I quite agree that the “you’ve got to dress up and look stupid” atmosphere that is being attached cycling is a big disincentive — and the radioactive lemon drop crowd are probably a bigger barrier to casual cycling than the spray-on advertising look of the sports cyclist : countries with compulsory helmet laws have all experienced declines in cycling participation.
    Like everything else in life there is far too much box ticking at the expense of common sense dressing for the prevailing conditions at the time — you probably do want to go for visibility over all else when cycling on roads in central London at the one extreme; but if the route is all bridleway and off-road cyclepath, all that should be needed is precaution to keep ones clothes clean (trouser cuffs clipped away from the chain).

    >a good cyclist should have a beard.
    The ladies can be exempted from that one. But fit girls should be encouraged to wear lycra and cycle at moderate speeds so as to keep general traffic speeds down.

    • Madelaine June 14, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

      Well done, Steve for reducing a genuine enquiry about cycling and reducing it to a glib bit of sexist banter. Congratulations… you knob. Amazingly, this kind of attitude is really quite offensive, believe it or not. Who knew, eh?

      Otherwise an interesting post Tejvan… thank you.

    • Doug June 18, 2012 at 6:02 am #

      Perhaps I am too late to say to Steve something along the lines of “C’mon, really…..” but others have said it already.

      Interesting post as always from Tejvan and fascinating seeing the discussions develop. I do like blogs!

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