When London started adding more bike lanes, more commuters started cycling to work. But if you watch the city streets at rush hour, you'll notice something: Almost all the cyclists are men. British women are four times less likely to ride.
The same trend happens in the U.S., where only about a quarter of regular bike commuters are female. A new jacket, designed by London-based designer Will Verity, is intended to help get more women riding by tackling their main concern—most just don't feel safe weaving through cars and trucks in heavy traffic.
The jacket uses sensors to tell if a car or bus is approaching, and then starts flashing LED lights. As cars get closer or drive faster, the lights flash more quickly. The design is inspired by animals that use visual signals to keep predators away. It's also carefully constructed to look different from the usual bike safety gear.
"The visual language of cycling safety garments must change and move away from the current language used—one that is similar to road signs, highway maintenance and obstacles in the built environment," says Verity. "This new language must allow the cyclist to be seen as a person and not as an obstacle."
By using a lightweight fabric that's semi-transparent in places, the jacket shows the shape of the person inside. Instead of the standard neon yellow or orange seen in most bike jackets or vests, the design is white, which Verity thought would seem more neutral while still staying just as visible.
Verity also experimented with hooking up the flashing lights to the rider's pulse. "The idea was to create a more emotive, and natural flashing light, rather than the very aggressive flashing typically used in bike lights," he says.
By donning the jacket, he hopes that cyclists will be seen differently by drivers. "I wanted to develop a garment that is perceived in a new way, with the aim of giving cyclists more space on the road and a much safer experience," he says.
The technology could just as easily be used by men, but Verity wanted to focus on women first, to help them feel safe enough to ride. While it's true that riding in a city like London can be dangerous—some of the city's "cycle superhighways" are just narrow painted paths with no protection from traffic—the overall odds of dying on a bike there are almost 13 million to one.
The perception of safety is a bigger barrier than actual safety, and if more cyclists get on the road, riding will become safer for everyone. This jacket might help, when it becomes available. For now, it's still at an early stage of development and not yet for sale.