Motorcycles come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. With lots of options for paint colors alone, there are endless choices when it comes to personalizing your motorcycle. But the color of your motorcycle actually plays a role in your safety too, as a result of visibility.
White is the safest color for a motorcycle. Other colors can also be safe, but it’s important to have a bright and contrasting color that attracts attention day and night, and is visible to other drivers on the road. Having retro-reflective colors on your motorcycle and/or clothing is also ideal.
With that said, there are many different choices available, as well as a lot of other habits you can form and choices you can make to ensure you’re being as visible and as safe as possible when riding. We’ll discuss some more of these things in detail below.
It is well known that humans see different colors with varying ease and difficulty. We’re most likely to notice things if their colors contrast with their environment. This is the reason that soldiers and hunters use camouflage colors to blend into their environments. We’re more likely to see colors that harshly contrast with their backgrounds, and less likely to see ones that blend in.
This principle applies in any situation where visibility is a concern. In the case of motorcycles, colors that stand out in comparison to their environment are far more likely to be seen, whereas colors that blend in, especially at night, can significantly reduce visibility.
When riding motorcycles, one of the most common causes of accidents is the negligence of other drivers, when a car is not aware of a motorcycle. Around 40% of all motorcycle accidents are due to the fact that a driver does not see a motorcycle.
Being visible could therefore save your life. While not all accidents related to a rider not being seen are fatal, many of them are. Other drivers can’t always be trusted to pay adequate attention, so doing everything in your power to make yourself easier to see is paramount in your personal safety as a motorcyclist.
Research from 2007 suggests that black cars were more than 10% more likely to get into an accident than white cars. Other high risk colors include silver and gray, while red and blue cars were much safer overall, although not as safe as white. Though this study was done with cars, the logic still applies to motorcycles.
However, when it comes to visibility, what really matters is the color of your surroundings. The key to visibility lies in how different your bike appears to whatever is around it. If you live in a city or in the countryside, a white motorcycle should stand out pretty well during the spring and summer months. However, if you’re riding in a snowy area, it clearly won’t stand out as much.
Environmental contrast will change depending on your location. If you live in the desert, where there is no greenery at all, a green motorcycle would easily stand out in comparison to the environment. If you live in the countryside, however, or somewhere else with a lot of greenery, suddenly that color won’t contrast as much.
If you want the best color for motorcycle visibility, you need to be aware of where you ride most often, and what colors are most commonly seen in those environments. If you get a motorcycle that contrasts as much as possible to those, you’ll be as safe as possible. You clearly won’t be able to contrast with everything around you, but it’s all about increasing your overall visibility.
The most popular color for a motorcycle is black, which is actually the least safe. Black motorcycles are some of the most common on the market, and are popular among many riders. Even if black is not the primary color of the bike, many on the market feature black parts somewhere.
As I don’t particularly have a preference for black motorcycles, I can’t fully relate to the reasons that make them so popular. To some, a black motorcycle symbolizes class, luxury, and power, and as much as I don’t always prefer them, sometimes black motorcycles do look very sleek and cool. Plus, black motorcycles don’t look dirty quite as easily as lighter colored bikes.
Red is another popular color, especially among sportier bikes. Red is personally one of my favorite vehicle colors overall. A lot of people feel that red is the color of speed, and I’m not inclined to disagree with them! Red motorcycles feel like sporty, performance machines, and the color makes them feel faster to some owners – even if they’re clearly not!
White motorcycles are also pretty common and have the distinction of often being the safest color of motorcycle. They’re favored among those who like being visible, and sometimes those who like the look. White motorcycles can often symbolize luxury and elegance. They do tend to get dirty quickly though, much more so than darker colored bikes, so keep that in mind if you’re considering buying one.
It’s more common nowadays to see other colors like silver and gray, although if you’re shopping for older bikes you may not see them as much. You will also see various shades of blue and sometimes greens (especially Kawasakis). There are obviously lots of other colors available for different bikes, but they’re not as common. Most bikes also incorporate multiple colors in their paint jobs.
Bright colored motorcycles are usually safer. The safest color for a motorcycle is whichever color will contrast most with the environment in which the motorcycle is being ridden. In a lot of cases, white will be the best color, as it easily contrasts with a dark road surface.
The other obvious benefit of bright colors, especially white, is for night riding. When riding at night, visibility is significantly reduced for all drivers on the road. Having a brightly colored motorcycle can greatly improve your visibility to others. And again, the more visible you are, the safer you are.
Contrast With Darkness
In most cases, your environment will be at least somewhat dark. Most roads are made of darker materials like asphalt. For these road surfaces, a brightly colored motorcycle will be easier to see than a darker one, as it will contrast well with the dark road surface.
White is usually the safest color for a motorcycle. This won’t always be true, but it is most of the time. A contrasting color to the surroundings of the motorcycle will be the safest, and often white contrasts best, especially when you’re riding at night.
There may be some exceptions to this rule. If you ride in a snowy environment, or somewhere with a lot of white scenery or buildings, white may not be the safest choice. In those situations, a yellow would appear to be the next safest choice, or perhaps a bright orange.
Other brighter colors such as red or blue would probably be ranked after those. They will not be as easy to see or as safe as some of the brighter colors, but they’ll still be superior to darker colors such as black, silver, and gray.
Silver, gray, and especially black are the least safe colors for a motorcycle. Black motorcycles tend to blend into their environments, such as dark road surfaces and dark buildings in urban environments. Black motorcycles are even harder to see at night, even with lights shone on them, as they may blend into the night sky or dark road surface.
Clearly, riding a white motorcycle isn’t always practical or desirable. You’re going to choose a motorcycle that suits your riding style, experience, and personal preferences, and you’re likely not going to pick one just because it is a supposedly safer color. That’s why there are other things you can do when riding your motorcycle to ensure you’re as visible as possible to other road users.
Beyond the color of the motorcycle itself, the next thing to think about is what you’re wearing when you ride. From many angles, you may actually be as visible, if not more so, than the bike itself, so what you wear could be the difference between someone seeing you or not.
Brightly colored clothes will be far more visible than dark clothes. Though many motorcyclists prefer to wear black, if safety is your goal, it’s not the best choice, especially at night. There’s no rider that is less visible at night than the rider with a black motorcycle, a black helmet, and black clothes!
With every piece of gear, from your helmet down to your boots, the brighter and more visible the clothing you wear, the more chance you’ll have of being seen. Helmets especially, being the highest point of a rider on the road, really benefit from being a visible color. On a dark road at night, a black helmet without any reflectors may as well be invisible.
2. Utilize Retro-Reflectivity Whenever Possible
There are different types of reflection. When a mirror reflects light, it sends it out in a different direction. A well angled mirror allows us to see backwards without having to look in that direction (like our motorcycle’s mirrors). Retro-reflective materials, however, reflect light directly back at the source, no matter the angle.
Retro-reflective materials aren’t very good at giving us accurate pictures of other areas, but they’re very good at illuminating whatever they’re attached to. If you drive at night, you may notice that the road signs are much easier to see than many other things on the side of the road. Having been made of retro-reflective materials, they reflect your headlights right back at you.
This technology is very useful for motorcyclists, as being visible is one of our primary safety concerns, especially at night. By wearing retro-reflective gear, we make ourselves far more visible. The light sources, such as streetlamps and car headlights, illuminate our retro-reflective gear and make us much more obvious to other drivers.
Incorporating as much retro-reflective riding gear as possible into what you wear when riding could save your life. The amount of illumination and visibility you’ll gain is invaluable. I can’t recommend retro-reflective colors enough, as the difference in low light and nighttime visibility alone is easily worth it.
3. Use Bright Lights
Another way to increase your visibility is by making sure your lights are adequately bright. While many newer motorcycles will come with lights that are already very bright, older ones may not. You can gain a lot of visibility by upgrading your old bulbs to newer and brighter bulbs. Not only will these help other drivers see you, but they can also help you to see things more easily at night.
Even if your motorcycle already comes with bright lights, it often isn’t a bad idea to add a light or two. Check to see if this is allowed where you live, but as long as the lights are of standard colors and brightness levels, it should be legal in most places.
4. Have Spaced Out Running Lights
Another thing to consider for riding safety and visibility is the spacing of your lights. First of all, your motorcycle should have running lights, not including the headlight and taillight. These should be always on and are often within the same bulb as your turn signals, only your turn signals will flash and are much brighter.
Assuming you do have running lights, making sure they’re adequately spaced out can improve your visibility immensely. Many motorcycles have their running lights right next to the headlight or taillight, and so while still registering as different lights to other motorists, can make the bike look smaller than it is.
Spacing out your running lights from the center of your bike can have a huge impact on how big and obvious the motorcycle looks, especially at night. If you have them significantly spaced out from the center, your motorcycle will look much wider than it may actually be, or at least as wide as it really is. To other drivers, visually, this will make your bike much easier to see.
5. Position Yourself Sensibly
The last thing I’ll mention for promoting visibility while riding is to think about where you’re placing yourself on the road. Lane position can be a critical factor in whether you’re seen or not. The safest lane position will differ depending on your situation. A general rule is to try and always place yourself where you think you will be most visible to other drivers.
If you’re following a car on the road, try and make sure not only they but also other drivers can see you. If you’re following a car too closely, or are hidden behind it, another driver may turn after that car thinking that there isn’t anyone there, and could hit you.
You also need to consider blind spots. Cars have a lot of blind spots, and while drivers should always be checking them, they don’t always do so. Even so, a small motorcycle could be hard to spot if it lingers in a car’s blind spot, even if a driver is regularly checking them. You should never rely on other drivers’ competence levels or awareness for your own safety!
The best policy is to avoid the blind spot zone of a car as much as possible. If you have to pass through it, make your passing known and do so quickly. Under no circumstances should you linger within this zone, as the longer you’re there, the more danger you are in of being in an accident.
White is usually the safest color for a motorcycle, as it contrasts well with most backgrounds. White is also easiest to see at night. But regardless of which color you choose for your motorcycle, wearing retro-reflective gear and using lights to your advantage ensures you’re always visible.