My moniker - Retired-N-Roamin - is what I did last summer with my pickup (bike loaded in the bed) and RV trailer. I was in position to be heading east on I90 in central Montana just as the gathering at Sturgis was ending. In just one day I literally saw several thousand bikes from a head-on perspective.
As you might expect a traditional single headlight with a 'normal' incandescent bulb is difficult to visually parse from the background clutter.
Many Harley's have a lightbar with 3 lights in a horizontal plane - same comment as above - hard to see.
What stood out was the HID bulbs. Either bright white - or better yet, bright blue. At least the bikes with these were easier to see against the background of dry grass that lined the interstate and median.
Better yet were bikes with two headlights that 8" to 12" apart. Distinctive even with 'normal' incandescent bulbs, but very good visibility with the HID bulbs.
Best - the absolute best visibility I observed in these several thousand bikes was the combination of an HID headlight and two bright lights (HID or LED?) low down on the fork legs forming a triangle. This combination always got my attention.
The first time I saw this was on Lolo Pass in Idaho. As you might know, Lolo is renowned for its twisty nature. There are not lots of long straights. But I just happened to be on one - perhaps 3/4 of a mile long. This particular bike entered the east side of the straight just after I made the corner on the west side. Bright blue lights in the triangle formation immediately caught my attention. At about a 1/2 mile separation I could easily see the triangle of lights.
Further, I looked above the lights and I saw a white 'blob' - even at a 3rd of a mile away. As they bike got closer I was able to make out that the white 'blob' was actually the top 1/4 of the pillion's helmet. Even closer I noted the rider had on a shiny black helmet. Perhaps the contrast between the black/white allowed me to see the white further away. But this was a shady tree lined section of the road so maybe the black just blended with the shadows.
So... as I went east on I90 I started looking at all the bikes going west from Sturgis. I even looked in my truck mirrors to see what I could about visibility from the rear.
Here's my observations.
Visibility from the front
Visibility from the rear
- White helmets stand out. High-vis yellow and orange are (sort of) surprisingly less visible on bright sunny days.
- Lights - as above. The bright white or blue triangle is an attention getter. I consistently saw bikes with this light setup from more than 2 miles away on the interstate.
- Lights - incandescent bulbs are pitiful and can't be easily distinguished from background clutter for more than 1/3 to 1/2 mile.
- Headlight modulators - better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick - may be good in urban traffic situations but out on the interstates - not so much. That said, I have one on my mid-sized cruiser style bike and the local-yokels in rural Texas did seem to move to the far right of their lane when we met head on and the modulator was running. But it could have been a combination of my white helmet and the flashing light that fooled 'em into thinking I might be a LEO. Dunno fer sure as I never asked any of 'em.
- Any color helmet but white is a non-starter as far as visibility goes. Why do folks wear black gear if they are concerned about cagers seeing them? Must still be 'cool' to wear black in the mortuary.
- Bikes with bags are more visible from the rear than those without - duh. Bigger surface area to see.
- Colors - two colors really stood out as being visible - bright yellow and that (to my eyes and aesthetic) ugly orange that Harley painted some of their bikes. Any other color - white included - and I'm talking all shades of blues, grays, reds and greens just blended into the background clutter and was lost to the eye very quickly. Of course black is a complete non-starter as far as visibility goes.
I cannot speak of lighting on the back of bikes as we were on the interstate going in opposite directions at a combined 140-150 MPH. But I operate with the theory that more is better and flashing brake lights can't be bad.
From the rear the ultimate visibility combination was yellow - either the bike itself (with panniers/saddle bags) or yellow strapped on luggage/bags and a white helmet. Bright yellow was easily visible as far as I could see - estimated to be 2+ miles on the straight stretches of the interstate.
Again, at a distance
bright fluorescent helmets and vests did not increase the bikes overall visibility. This may change when dealing with a few hundred feet instead of hundreds of yards.
My recently purchased gear is a light gray Olympia jacket with lots of reflective strips and contrasting black trim patches. I believe the mix of dark and light makes it more visible. And of course my completely white helmet.
As always, your experience and opinions may be different and your mileage may vary.