Sun, May 16, 2004 - Page 11 News List

Where the neon meets the road: a new look for bikers

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Patricia Friedrichs with her 2000 Honda CBR600 F4 on Bernal Heights in San Francisco, California in April. Friedrichs says she wants you to see her coming. Traffic safety research has also shown that many drivers are not able to judge the speed of an oncoming bike, possibly because of the motorcycle's narrow profile. Reaction: A market for ways to make an assertive appearance, including colors like the neon-green on the bike Friedrichs has just added to her collection. ''Either you hate the color or you love it,'' she says, ''but you certainly see it.''

PHOTO: NY TIMES

You can't miss the blur of colors streaking toward you. The motorcycle -- a 2000 Honda CBR600F4 sport bike -- screams bright yellow. The rider pops out of the landscape in brilliant red -- a ketchup-colored space-age-nylon riding suit with reflective panels. Light glints off her silver helmet.

She's Patricia Friedrichs, a 54-year-old member of the Montgomery Street Motorcycle Club in San Francisco, and her other motorcycle is neon green.

On another road, you might encounter Andy Goldfine, 50, a sales manager from Duluth, Minn., touring on his white 1994 Honda XR 650L dual-sport and wearing a garment that just might be visible from outer space. His ballistic nylon jacket is a glaringly bright lime-yellow, a color most familiar on fire trucks. It's billed by Aerostitch, the manufacturer, as "the brightest color in the visible light spectrum."

It has been 50 years since the black leather motorcycle jacket became an icon of rebellion when Marlon Brando wore it in The Wild One. With its bold diagonal zipper and animal magnetism, it is still the symbol of biker rebellion, even as it serves the real function of shielding the skin from road rash.

Nowhere in biker lore does it say anything about fluorescent-colored nylon with reflective stripes.

But while the black-leather bunch may sniff at loud riding suits and wake-the-roadway gear as uncool, even downright unbikerly, for Goldfine and Friedrichs being whacked by a driver who doesn't see them would be much more uncool.

NO PLACE FOR BRANDO

In today's traffic mix -- humongous SUVs and pickups and a lot of cars using daytime running lights -- Marlon Brando in his black jacket astride his narrow Triumph Thunderbird would be as obtrusive as a sardine in a school of barracuda.

More than two-thirds of crashes involving a motorcycle and a car or a truck are caused by the drivers of the car or truck, according to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, and more than a third of these accidents occur when cars or trucks turn left in front of oncoming bikes. Many drivers report that they "didn't see" the motorcycle.

Traffic safety research has also shown that many drivers are not able to judge the speed of an oncoming bike, possibly because of the motorcycle's narrow profile.

Reaction: A market for ways to make an assertive appearance, including colors like that neon-green on the bike Friedrichs has just added to her collection.

"Either you hate the color or you love it," she said, "but you certainly see it."

Some makers of biker clothing, like Aerostitch in Minnesota and Cycleport in California, dispense with leather entirely and concentrate solely on ballistic nylon in various blends of abrasion-resistant Kevlar, denier and Cordura. The stuff is much more highly tailored than it used to be and there are even -- gasp -- women's sizes.

Sue Slate and Gin Shear of LeRoy, New York, instructors certified by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and partners who have each ridden more than 500,000 miles over more than three decades, like the trend. They never ride now without wearing something brightly colored, abrasion-resistant and retro-reflective (retro-reflective materials reflect light shone on them from headlights, for example).

"We survived our youth," Slate, 56, said with a hint of gratitude. "Like the time we wore black bikini tops and leather jeans on our trip along the northern peninsula of Michigan."

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