Why Color Is So Important On A Bicycle Tour

Color isn’t something I first thought about when I began traveling by bike, but over the years I’ve come to the realization that color is very important. When traveling by bike, there are a number of areas to pay attention to when selecting colors… and I want to talk about these areas today.


When traveling by bike, most of your days are going to be spent in the saddle. If you are traveling with panniers, you need to make special effort when selecting your pannier colors. As you will see in a moment, color says a lot about you and can instantly determine whether or not you will remain safe while out on the road.


The color of your clothes is also very important. When you’re on your bike you will want to be seen by passing vehicles, but at the same time, you may not want to look like a neon yellow lemon in spandex shorts.


Finally, the color of your tent is something to consider. If you plan to spend any time stealth camping while on your bicycle tour, selecting the correct tent color is very important.

Why is color so important for the aforementioned items?

The colors you choose for the products mentioned above are important because they determine your safety out on the road.

For years now, cyclists have darned bright flashy neon colored clothing, helmets, and gear. They’ve done this for a reason! These colors get drivers to pay attention! The last thing you want when traveling by bike is to get hit by a passing motorist… and bright flashy colors have been shown to help in these regards.

That being said, not everyone wants to look like a neon sign riding down the road (I know I certainly don’t) and there are times when I believe looking like a neon light bulb is not only a bad idea, but could also be detrimental to your safety.

For one, bright colors draw attention to you in situations where you may not want such attention. In some places around the world, having flashy colored panniers and/or clothes make you instantly stand out as a tourist. They may signal that you have money or that you don’t know where you are going. In many places, this isn’t a problem, but in some locations, looking like a tourist is not a good idea.

I’m still in the process of trying to figure out exactly how to remain safe out on the road and not look like a walking billboard at the same time, but I’ve definitely got some theories.

First of all, if you know you are going to be traveling through areas with high crime rates or places where people may not be accustomed to seeing a cyclist in spandex bike shorts, pick panniers and clothes that are much more muted in color. Use black, gray, or green panniers and wear clothes that, for the most part, blend in with what the native people are wearing.

On the other hand, if you are traveling through Europe or maybe across the United States or Canada, having bright red, blue, or yellow panniers and clothing is probably not going to be an issue. In these places, you may stand out as a tourist, but for the most part, no one is going to care.

If you are going to be traveling through a mix of safe tourist areas and sketchy streets, I’d recommend buying dark panniers and then using brightly colored rain covers when you want to be visible out on the road. This way you can ride virtually unseen when you want to and stand out when the weather gets bad.

I’d also recommend having two different changes of clothes to choose from. Have one pair of clothes that is more brightly colored (like red, orange, or yellow) and have another pair that is more muted (like brown, black, or green). This way you can stand out when you want to and blend in the rest of the time.

Finally, when selecting your tent color, having a bright colored tent can be to your benefit if you get into an emergency situation and you need to signal for help. Having a bright red or yellow tent will make it easier for a helicopter or other safety personnel to find and come to your rescue.

However, if you plan to do any sort of stealth camping, a brightly colored tent can blow your cover and get you into a whole lot of trouble. If you plan to do any stealth camping, select a tent that has a brown, green, black or camouflage exterior. These colors will allow you to better blend in with your surroundings and remain hidden throughout the night.

As you can see, there are a number of things to think about when selecting the color of your panniers, clothes, and tent. I wish I had a 100% definite answer on how to remain visible but not look like a neon street sign at the same time, but I don’t. I think there has to be a happy medium somewhere inbetween and I’m still searching for that medium. Once I find it, I’ll let you know!

I’m curious to hear what your impressions are about selecting the color of your panniers, clothes, and tent.. Do you think having brightly colored panniers and/or clothes is a good idea or a bad one? Do you have a story where color made a difference in your safety out on the road? Please use the comments box below to share your thoughts and stories with other BicycleTouringPro.com readers.


15 thoughts on “Why Color Is So Important On A Bicycle Tour

  1. NickG says:

    Just going through this selection process for the first time.

    Other options:
    I’m thinking you should still have a dark rain jacket because if it’s raining when you’re stealth camping you want to stay dry as well as unseen. However you can have a very light weight high vis vest for the road that can go over the rain jacket if necessary. Something like this maybe (not sure of it’s weight, presumably quite light):

    For panniers, the other option is to get really bright yellow reflective panniers. Then for times when you want to be less obvious put some dark covers over the top. My guess is that 90% of the time you want to be visible so you want the default option to be bright colours.

    Not based on experience, just speculation. Thoughts on the above?

  2. PBD says:

    I’ve read tons of opinions on this, and sympathize with many.
    However, I bike commute in Detroit, and do not want to stick out or draw attention to my bike and belongings while riding or when parked.
    Similarly, I don’t ride with my headlight on at night in certain quiet stretches of town.
    When touring, you never really know what kind of areas lie ahead, unless you’ve visited before.
    Above and beyond security, I don’t find it in good taste to ride through poor or depressed areas with the flashy, look-at-me rig.
    If you run into inclement weather or long stretches of highway, by all means, put on an orange vest.
    Other than that, keep it simple, functional, and classic.

  3. angela says:

    THANK YOU!! Total newb here, read about stealth camping too, you and all your commenters have given me heaps of guidance. Following you on twitter (wandrlady), love ur posts.

  4. Bruce Parker says:

    Red does not reflect well at night, it turns into black. You can keep a jacket and panniers low-key but visible by sewing or ironing on reflective tape. Reflective tape on your fenders is another good idea, obtainable at any auto parts store. It can go on your helmet, too – not flashy by day, but visible at night. Reflectors are no substitute for lights, but a good supplement.

  5. Clive says:

    From experience, which is limited to Europe touring, bright neon colours every time, in 2007 I was hit by a car traveling at 60+ mph, two titanium rods in my tib & fib, since then I always wear hi vis on my touring, commuting and Sunday rides. I would rather be robbed than hit by a car. Plus if you end up in court, it helps your case.. It lessons the car drivers case of he didn’t see you..

  6. Erin says:

    I already have the red Ortlieb panniers; can anyone recommend dark- or neutral-colored pannier covers? Thanks!

  7. Tom says:

    I sometimes want to be seen, but I never want to look like a pro-racer. I stick to black baggy style bike shorts with dark tshirts rather than spandex biking pants and bright bike jersey attire. I also never wear road biking shoes. I prefer the running style moutain bike shoes that you can actually walk in or for short overnight trips I just use my regular Keen sandels. My pedals accommodate both shoes. When I feel the need for for Hi-Vis I use a neon yellow performance material vest style tshirt over my regular tshirt. I can also wear it over the rain jacket. Then when I stop I can stuff the neon vest back in the pannier. There lots of these style shirts now on the market in most discount clothing stores for runners and soccer players. Mine was only $7. Why buy expensive bike jerseys unles you need those rear pockets when there are loads of lesser priced high qualify performance wear to choose from that might actually blend in on the street. I also prefer my dark bike because it does not attract a second glance.

  8. Timshazz says:

    We chose bright orange ortleib back panners and black front ones. I wear a reflective gillet that is easily removed when the situation requires it and a neutral coloured long sleeved fishing shirt under neath for sun protection. my husbsnd a bright orange T-shirt. We also have our rear light flashing at all times we are on the road. Being seen on Australian roads is imperative. Cycle touring isn’t that common and drivers are almost always surprised to see you on the road. In our experience bright colors are quite common in developing countries so that is not necessarily going to make you stand out. We wear our niks under normal shorts/tights. Definitely NOT flashy. (We had pensioners offering us money..which we politely refused:). Our tent olive green and perfect for stealth camping. 7000km across Australia without mishap and I’m happy with our choices. We’ve reviewed a lot of our gear on our website http://Www.catchourtravelbug.com and I’ll be doing a sum up in the next week now that we are off the bikes for a while

  9. Kerri says:

    Hi Darren

    Thanks for writing this up! For my cycle touring I use normal long sleeved cotton shirts (most of them are check so they don’t shriek ‘female rider!) which are great for on and off the bike. They also wash & dry really easily. Then I use a reflective strap which goes across my shoulder and around my waist. I take this off when I’m not on the bike. It also is great for going over my (dark) waterproof jacket when it is raining. Drivers have told me how good this is for visibility.

    My panniers are white Ortliebs which I like for visibility yet don’t look particularly fancy. I liked the dark cover suggestion, too.

    When stealth camping I have found that if I can’t hide the bike behind a tree, laying it down and covering it with a dirty brown colored tarp helps it to disappear – I use an old tent footprint because it is light and has ties on the corners. I always lock my bike, just in case. I did a messy job of using seam seal on my tent which has been great because my nice, new tent looks terrible but is still waterproof!

    I haven’t been anywhere exotic yet but expect to change things (eg wearing long pants etc) to fit the area/customs as much as possible.


  10. Paul says:

    After 40+ years of touring , I’ve found color of panniers and other bags doesn’t make a lot of difference, good things or bad things will happen no matter what the color. As for wild camping (stealth these days)a tent should be green , common sense tells you that it will blend in better than orange or sky blue. As to clothing that is just personal comfort. I stopped wearing cotton when the first quick dry synthetics came out. Nowadays I only wear wool tops and the occasional windstopper. I still carry two or three rain jackets one is a bright blue , another yellow (hi vis for wet days , dark nights) and an old faithful black one which is 23 years old, doesn’t breathe too well but totally waterproof.Still carry my coolmax T’s all bright colors. Maybe the grey hair says I’m too old and poor to hassle.

  11. Dominic says:

    ” In some places around the world, having flashy colored panniers and/or clothes make you instantly stand out as a tourist.”

    Travelling by bicycle in the first place does that.

  12. Jonathan says:

    Red panniers and red colour jackets make bulls want to kill you if you are touring on back roads and farm land, also bears might see you as a little pack lunch, I have being chased by deranged bulls before and it is not fun.

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