Do Motorcyclists Have The Power Of Invisibility?

Recently a few things have popped up on my feed or have happened that relate to our relative visibility as motorcyclists and I wanted to add my thoughts to the subject.

In motorcycle circles, there is often talk about cars not seeing you, or cutting you off. I have to believe that people aren’t actually out there to get me. I would be really worried if that was the case.


SMIDSY – Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You. How many times have you heard that?

So how do we avoid being on the end of a SMIDSY? A lot of the things we do is on the belief or assumption that we aren’t visible and therefore we need to make ourselves more visible. Things like

  • Flouro gear – wearing obscenely bright gear
  • Reflective tape to make our bike standout after dark
  • Lights on – in the 1990’s the Australian law changed for motorcycke’s lights to be always on. This has since been repealed but all bikes now sold here in Australia have lights hard-wired on.
  • Flashing Lights – light modulators that flash headlights or brake lights in the hope of being more visible.
  • Loud pipes – we’ve all heard the line “loud pipes save lives” sorry but I don’t subscribe to this view and having an obnoxiously loud bike turns people off bikes/bike riders which does helps anyone.

As I mentioned, all these assume that drivers don’t see us because we are hard to see. While that may be true in a limited number of circumstances it certainly isn’t true more broadly.

I believe that largely it isn’t that we aren’t visible but that we aren’t seen?

That’s much harder to fix.

Over the years I’ve seen lots of advertisement campaigns to increase the awareness of bikes to varying success but I think there are two main issues: we’re a minority on the road; and, we aren’t a threat. What do I mean by that.?

  • Bikes aren’t the norm – There really aren’t a lot of bikes on Australian roads so car drivers just don’t expect us. A couple of years ago when I picked up my bike in Barcelona I remember the guy saying that car drivers are pretty good in Spain as everyone either rides or has a family member who does. There were bikes everywhere and people were used to seeing them and looking for them as they were a normal part of their traffic landscape. Therefore the awareness was high. Here we are very much in the minority and most people don’t ride or even know someone who does. So we aren’t even thought about.
  • I’m not a threat – My bike doesn’t pose a threat to you in the same way that another car or truck does. Our brain tends to pay more attention to what’s a threat to us and therefore for those things that aren’t we dismiss, ignore, or down play. Interestingly a few years ago a friend of mine owned a white ex-police bike and wore a white helmet. He just looked like a cop bike (just none of the markings) – and it was interesting to observe traffic. They slowed down, they move out of the way. They saw it. When he moved to a different helmet he became invisible – he was no longer a threat (to your licence or wallet) and he was again not seen.

There’s an old antage – “being in the right doesn’t make it hurt any less”. Therefore we need to take responsibility for our own safety and assume that we aren’t seen.

Being seen on the road is about being actively positioning yourself to be seen. Being aware of blind spots, reading traffic.

I don’t agree with defensive riding. I see myself more as assertive and being in control of the traffic rather than at its mercy. And not putting myself in a position to be hit.

Ryan from FortNine on their YouTube Channel put this video out a little while ago on a motorcyclist’s power of invisibility – and the various ways that we dissapear.  He raises a number of other very interesting points that are worth considering.

For me knowing that I have the power of invisibility means that I approach my riding in a way to expect the unexpected. Can you cater for everything? No. Have I got it wrong? Yes.

How do you use your power of invisibility?

note – the featured image is from 2004 when my Blackbird was killed by a SMIDSY.

6 thoughts on “Do Motorcyclists Have The Power Of Invisibility?

  1. Totally agree, though in return we’ve been gifted a limited ability at precognition – how many times has a car pulled out etc and you’ve gone “I knew it was going to do that.”


  2. During all my miles on the road in the USA I found being visible on the street is important. Although my mind was always working out where I should go if the vehicle didn’t see me. So my mind said I was invisible to them. It seemed to work for me. Some of the second line came during my off-road racing days, where to get around someone you had to have a way around. Go where they are not. Take care and be safe out there.


  3. From a non motorcyclist … I noticed a few years ago that it was harder to judge the distance between my car and the motorcycle in front than another car. My brain was used to triangulating the wide apart brake lights (plural) of the car, and struggled to compensate for the single rear light. No other reference points to use to work out the changing distance. Must be other instances where our brain’s pattern making habits fail us.


  4. I do a little side-to-side weave when approaching a car that might turn in front of me. Getting that lateral movement is important for visibility. Apparently it has something to do with our hunting instincts.


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