Editor’s Note: A big shout-out to Brittany Morrow for giving me the idea for this piece. Rock the Gear!
Few colors are as loved, hated, stereotyped, judged, engendered and disdained as pink. It’s baby girls and breast cancer survivors; pretty princesses and Little Miss Piggy; Victoria’s Secret sexiness and poodle skirt prudishness; a proud mark of femininity and a hated symbol of the oppressiveness of sexism. There was even a movement back in 2012 to discredit it as an actual color.
When we first launched Woman Rider in March 2017, the backlash we received for choosing hot pink as an accent color for our logo and website was a bit shocking. Nearly all of it came from women who were aghast that an outlet meant to empower, educate and support female riders would use such a stereotypical color.
Hey, I get it. I’ve never been what you’d call a girly girl, and you’ll never see a bedazzled anything on my person. Apparel makers haven’t helped, sticking with the “pink it and shrink it” philosophy of offering women’s gear that’s less robust and feature-rich than the men’s stuff—and adding insult to injury by making it pink.
But pink is “our” color, whether we like it or not, and I say we stand up and own it, much as the Suffragettes in England took what was a derogatory label and wore it proudly as they fought for (and won) women’s right to vote.
Besides, there’s a growing amount of evidence backing up the idea that pink—blaze, florescent or hot pink, not the powdery Disney princess variety—is the safest, most visible color you can wear if you ride in a variety of environments.
The basis for that assertion lies partly in the reasoning behind the debate I referenced earlier, which argued that pink isn’t really a color. The truth is, of course, complicated (shades of pink?). What we think of as “color” is all in our heads—wavelengths of light at varying intensities enter our eyes, are picked up by the 6 to 7 million red-, green- or blue-sensitive cones and are interpreted by our brains.
Pink is not part of the light spectrum. If it were, it would sit between red (the slowest) at one end and violet (the fastest) at the other. So if it can’t be created using light, how do we see it? Without diving too deeply into the science (check the references at the end if you’re really curious), “color” can be additive (light-based) or subtractive (pigment-, dye- or chemical-based). Pink is a subtractive color, and in florescent form is rarely found in nature—which is a big part of why it’s so conspicuous.
Because it isn’t on the light spectrum, pink can’t be measured like high-viz yellow/green, which makes it hard to objectively study. For example, a recent study concluded that the most visible color to the human eye, at least in daylight, is a very specific 555-nanometer wavelength that creates a bright green.
But there’s another major component of visibility: contrast. A 1980 study entitled “Human Factors in Transport Research” found that “the most important issue with clothing is the contrast the motorcyclist makes with his background.” One more recent Dutch study concluded that, “…contrast with the environment is a major factor to improve conspicuity. …the magnitude of the effect depended on the surroundings.” This tells us two things:
- Our chances of being seen by other drivers increases if we contrast with our environment, and
- How much we contrast depends on our environment.
This is where florescent pink emerges as a potential winner.
The 555-nanometer bright green is great…as long as you’re not riding in a wooded, grassy or rural area. High-viz yellow can have the same problems. Blaze orange is better, but in urban areas you might blend in more (think construction cones) and in a rural autumn environment you’re just another pretty leaf.
Hot pink, though, always stands out.
And other outdoor groups are finally taking notice. One anecdotal study done by the New York State Search & Rescue organization determined that international blaze orange and florescent pink were the most visible to helicopters and search teams, and consequently determined that all its teams would use florescent pink for flagging evidence and clues.
Several archery forums I visited have discussion threads and even polls about the most visible color for arrow fletching (the “feathers” and wrapping at the end of an arrow). Guess which color they like best? (Although the “I can’t bring myself to use a girl’s color” teeth gnashing from some of the guys is pretty hilarious.)
And, just in the last few months, there has been a movement in the hunting community to include blaze pink as a legal color for hunting apparel (blaze orange has been the standard for years). As of April 2018, seven states have voted to allow blaze pink hunting apparel: Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, Virginia, New York, Wisconsin and Maryland.
From a 2015 study by Majid Sarmadi, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison:
“It is well known that blaze orange provides a very good contrast in the wooded areas in the spring and summer. However, when visually compared to the orange colors found in the fall leaves, blaze orange was harder to detect than the pink colors that were tested. The pink colors provided a better color contrast. Our spectrometric analysis indicated that the blaze pink that was tested had similar visibility to most blaze orange hats and was even better than a couple of them. Therefore, based on this small study, it can be concluded that the blaze pink we tested were as safe as the ‘Orange Blaze’ hunting hats.”
Funnily enough, the backlash from some female senators and hunting advocates has been similar to what we see in the motorcycle community when it comes to pink—that it’s sexist and shoves women into a pretty pink box—but with solid research behind it as well as the support of plenty of women who just plain like pink (Maryland’s hunting apparel bill was proposed by two sisters who loved to hunt, and sponsored by a female senator known for her affinity for pink blouses), the case for pink is gaining traction.
So this isn’t to say that you have to start wearing pink gear…but if you like it, wear it proudly and know that not only are you proclaiming your badassery as a woman rider, you’re also likely safer because of it.
References so you know I didn’t just make all this up: