Here’s a guest post from Jim Evans, all about how to use reflectors on your bike to be more visible to other road users. This is a cheap and easy way to make cycling in the dark safer.
Riding a bike at night can be a great experience at times. The air is crisp, the stars are out, and the decibel level is lowered. Other times, it may be raining, or you may be sharing the road with hordes of cars, full of drivers making their way home during the evening commute.
Bike Reflectors help Drivers to See You
Riding a bike is a safe, efficient, and healthy way to transport yourself around; but at night, and in other low-light conditions, you may want to take additional measures to help drivers see you. A front-facing white light and rear-facing red light are typically legally required, and are a very good idea. (Read all about bike lights here.) Reflectors can supplement lights to help keep you visible, while out in the dark.
Like lights, front and rear reflectors are often legally required. Reflectors work by bouncing light back in the direction of its source. Typically this would be light being reflected from a car’s headlights, back towards the eyes of its driver.
If all of your riding is on safe routes you may not be inclined to add extra reflectors. However, if you have to share lanes with cars and trucks on modern North American roads, you may feel differently. If you have reflective surfaces on your bike, then you may not need special clothing to be conspicuous. Even if you’re dressed all in black, your bike will make you visible to drivers, and you never have to worry that a reflector’s battery will die before you make it home.
Also, it is really pleasant for other road users if they can see you clearly. Many times, other road users will actually thank you for being visible. This is reflected in this tweet:
— Jim (@itsjim84) October 5, 2016
However, reflectors are not a substitute for quality lights, and are not to be relied upon by themselves.
How to Add Reflectors to Your Bike
There are a number of ways to add reflective surfaces to your bike. Pedals are often equipped with amber reflectors. White front and red rear plastic reflectors are often mounted to the fork, handlebar, seat post, or rear rack. If you stop by your local bike shop and ask, there’s a good chance they will give you a set, as they are supplied with new bikes, but rarely installed.
Accessories like panniers and trunk bags often come with reflective striping or logos, and some tires like the Schwalbe Marathons come with reflective stripes around the sidewalls. Wheel reflectors fit into the spokes of your bike, however, some people feel they may pose a hazard if they come loose.
Putting Reflective Tape on Your Bike
Reflective tape is also a good option. It is widely available, and easy to apply. Low quality reflective tape will not adhere or reflect as well as higher quality reflective tape. You can buy reflective tape online, or try your local bike store. If you choose the latter option, you may be able to buy only the length of tape you need.
Reflective tape is available in a variety of colors and patterns. On a typical vehicle or bicycle, lights or reflectors on the front should only be amber or white, while the rear may use red reflective tape, or amber, or white. This allows people to determine whether a vehicle they see is moving towards or away from them. Using white on the front, and a combination of red and white on the rear provides the best visibility, as white reflects the most light. The two Amazon links above are for white reflective tape and red reflective tape.
Think Before You Tape Your Bike!
Before applying reflector tape to your bike there are a few things to consider. Quality reflector tape is hard to remove after being securely applied. Make sure you know where you want it before you press it onto your bike. Reflector tape is fairly stiff, so applying it to thinner tubes like the seat stays is not a good option. Fenders, forks, and seat tubes are all potentially good locations. If your bike is equipped with disc or hub brakes you may consider applying some to the wheel rim, however, this should be avoided with rim brakes.
You can cut pieces to suit your taste, but remember the tape can only reflect as much light as it has surface area, small pieces will not reflect very much light. The orientation of the reflector tape will also play a role, if it’s pointed at the ground or the sky it won’t be effective.
Test Your Bike Reflectors
To test out your new reflectors, either stand your bike up at a distance, or have a friend ride it while you shine a light at it. A flashlight or bike headlight work well. Hold the light as near as possible to your eye level at the side of your head for best results. Alternately you may use a car to see how its headlights reflect back to the driver.
Adding reflectors to supplement your lights is an easy, cost-effective way to make your bike more visible in the dark. Consider the conditions you ride in, and use your discretion to choose what reflective choices best suit your needs.
About our Guest Poster
This guest post was written by Jim Evans, who also supplied all the photos. Jim describes himself as an average Jim cyclist, and is a cycling advocate in Abbotsford, BC, Canada. You can follow Jim’s attempts to get city planners to build better cycling infrastructure on Twitter at @itsjim84.
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Below are links to all of our best posts on bike lights!
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