Every year I marshal a family ride organized by my local cycling campaign. As it's targeted at people who don't cycle long distances, the main job of the marshals is to offer help to people with mechanical problems, as well as to give them confidence they're following the right route.
To make us more visible among the huge crowd of bikes, we carry flags, like this:
These flags are very effective and visible, but have some problems:-
- They tend to fwap people in the face. Most of the ride is on cycle tracks, and if a wind blows from your left, the flag flaps out to the right, taking the whole width of the track and inconveniencing oncoming riders or pedestrians.
- The bamboo canes sometimes snap if we go under low signs or tree branches too fast.
- Part of the route is lined with high brambles. If the flag rubs against the brambles, they tug at it, pulling the bike off-balance (and this can snap the cane too).
- If you stop riding in a tail wind, the flag envelops you and you can't see anything until you start moving again.
They also help a little with publicity, as passers-by always stop and ask us what the flag is for and where we're all going. (The design of the flag itself is irrelevant: the one pictured here happens to be the county flag of Northumbria, but all the marshals have random flags.)
Is there a way to improve on this design, removing one or more of these problems without making the marshals less visible? HV jackets just won't cut it: you can't see one HV jacket in a dense crowd from more than about 20 m away. Besides, some normal cyclists wear them, which could cause confusion. Rigid flags won't work either, even if they're shorter: there are parts of the route where even the riders have to duck under low branches.