The Humble Visibility Vest: An Ultra-Distance Essential

Night riding is a staple of ultra-distance events, from continent-crossing races to audax and touring. Being visible is essential, particularly in countries with night riding laws, and visibility vests are a common sight. Here we explore why the humble visibility vest is such an essential piece of racing equipment.

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Two cyclists riding on the road with visibility vests on

Even if you don't intend to ride through the night, all ultra-cycling racers need to be prepared for some element of night riding. An early, pre-dawn start is always advantageous in order to cover the distances required, especially during the summer months when the heat of the midday sun can make riding more challenging. Riders also need to be prepared for the unexpected because even the best-laid plans can go awry. Accommodation may not be available where you'd planned to stop or an unforeseen situation such as a mechanical may have taken longer to resolve than expected, and you may find yourself needing to press on into the night.

-Angela Walker / Race Organiser, All Points North

Visibility vests are mandatory equipment at many races and events, including those Apidura sponsors. We spoke to Angela Walker, who organises All Points North and David Rodriguez, the organiser of Badlands to find out why, from an organiser’s perspective, night riding is so integral to ultra-distance racing and the importance of the underrated visibility vest.

One thing both Angela and David quickly agreed on was that night riding has serious benefits, both for organisers and riders. For David, ‘riding at night is really special. The silence. The stars. The deep connection with your bike. It’s unique’. For Angela, there are practical benefits. ‘Our 72-hour event starts at 8pm. We chose this start time because our start location is in the heart of Sheffield and the roads are quieter after rush hour.’

For Badlands, which traverses the deserts of Southern Spain, David points out that ‘some riders prefer to rest during the warmest part of the day, so riding at night can be a nice option. Of course, sometimes it is not a choice, just the result of unexpected occurrences during the day that force you to ride into the night’.

While night riding is a personal choice and doesn’t have to factor into your race or event plan, at Angela and David point out, you do need to be prepared for it regardless. For David, ‘safety is one of the most important elements and as organisers, it makes us take decisions that directly influence the design of the route. Visibility is essential. We are on open roads and paths and we share them with other vehicles. At night, drivers won’t recognise a cyclist from a distance, so reflectives and lights help ensure they are alert and slow down.’

While David has control of the route for Badlands, Angela’s approach for All Points North is ‘free routing’, which means visibility needs to be front of mind for riders. “As a race organiser it’s important for us to make sure that riders can see and be seen, day or night. Although riders choose their own route on All Points North, we expect the majority of it to be ridden on roads which means that our riders are sharing space with other road users and need to be visible. Whether a rider plans to ride through the night or not, they still need to be prepared for it. Being seen is also important during the day when the weather is bad and visibility reduced – something we’re very familiar with in the north of England!”

Despite the inevitability of night time riding, there are few visibility options specifically tailored to the needs of ultradistance cyclists. Vests that meet EN standards are often bulky or poorly designed for riding in, leading riders to resort to gilets and reflectives that don’t meet standards and don’t provide a great deal of visibility. This creates a confusing middle ground where racers and organisers alike are put at risk, despite their best efforts.

That is why we designed an EN 17353 certified vest for night riding specifically for the needs of ultra-distance cyclists. The Packable Visibility Vest is not only tested to the standards required by European law but is also designed to be lightweight, breathable and comfortable. There’s no need to compromise between ‘road legal’ and ‘race fit’ – it’s simply the right vest for spirited riding at night.

Shop the Packable Visibility Vest here.