Self-organized Bi lines that are only 1.5 nm wide can be grown without kinks or breaks on Si(0 0 1) surfaces to lengths of up to 500 nm. Constant-current topographical images of the lines, obtained with the scanning tunneling microscope, have a striking bias dependence. Although the lines appear darker than the Si terraces at biases below ≈∣1.2∣ V, the contrast reverses at biases above ≈∣1.5∣ V. Between these two ranges the lines and terraces are of comparable brightness. It has been suggested that this bias dependence may be due to the presence of a semiconductor-like energy gap within the line. Using ab initio calculations it is demonstrated that the energy gap is too small to explain the experimentally observed bias dependence. Consequently, at this time, there is no compelling explanation for this phenomenon. An alternative explanation is proposed that arises naturally from calculations of the tunneling current, using the Tersoff–Hamann approximation, and an examination of the electronic structure of the line.