Fall and winter turn bicycle commuters' thoughts to visibility. As daylight savings
time and shorter sunlight hours take their toll, we face heightened challenges to
Will we be seen during our commute? Can that commute be as relaxed in darkness as it
was in daylight?
Head and tail lights are important, and are required by law in many areas. Complementing
these active lights, careful selection and use of reflective materials will greatly help
others see a cyclist riding in the dark.
REFLECTIVE ADHESIVE TAPE
You can find reflective adhesive tape at your local hardware store. Tape with the
alternating red and white strips or any reflective tape in solid white, yellow, or
red will do nicely. Apply the tape to the stays on your rear rack and to the leading
edges of your fork blades. A strip applied to both sides of the down tube helps to
announce your presence to the sides. Consider adorning your helmet with shapes of
reflective material. Your local shop should have available a reflective card with
various shapes--dots, triangles, strips--punched in it. Place these small reflectors
in such a way that car headlights will hit them dead-on when you are in a normal
PEDALS AND OTHER REFLECTORS
Pedal reflectors and leg bands attract lots of attention because of the motion of
the pedals. Just about all traditional "platform" pedals already have built-in
reflectors. Make sure yours are clean and not cracked. Replacements are available
at any bike shop. "Clipless" pedals, on the other hand, do not generally have built-in
reflectors and must be retrofitted. Shimano makes an attachment that fits SPD pedals
nicely and accommodates both cleated and non-cleated shoes. Look has a different
approach; they use a set-screw attached reflector that clings to the bottom of a Look
pedal. These reflectors are prone to fall off, and must be checked frequently. Look's
P-26 clipless pedal with built-in reflectors has been discontinued, though some bike
shops may still have them in stock.
Reflective vests come in a variety of styles, ranging from the inexpensive, minimalist
SeeBack vest that many bike shops feature to the big, bulky, full-sized vest worn
by law enforcement officers and road construction crews. A minimalist vest can cost
less than $15, while fancier construction crew and law enforcement vests cost two or
three times as much.
The more reflective material in the vest, the better the visibility. Make sure the
vest is made of breathable material. You will cook in a non-vented vest. ECI John
Donoughe of New Cumberland, Penn. recommends a "Special Safety Vest" from the
Pennsylvania Institute for the Blind and Handicapped. Remember that you are not after
fashion here, but rather something that will get you noticed! (One EC Commuting
student remarked that the author looked "like a giant bumble bee approaching through
the gloom of the night")
Now that you have put together your ensemble, it's time to test how you will look
to automobile drivers. Find a dark (ideally no street lights at all) parking lot,
and have a friend don all your reflective gear and mount your reflective
Next, have your friend slowly ride away from you while you alternate the low beam
and high beam headlights of your car, continuing until the rider is out about 500
feet. You will quickly be able to evaluate what an automobile driver views when
looking at you. Next have the bike rider turn and slowly approach your car,
swerving from side to side to simulate making turns. Once again, alternate your
high and low beam headlights. You will be astounded at the performance differences
among various materials and approaches.
Reprinted from "Bicycle USA", magazine of the League of American
Bicyclists. Effective CyclingTM.
For more information about the League of American Bicyclists, visit
their web site, www.bikeleague.org,
or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.