This time of year when more of us are cycling at night, my social media feed fills up with complaints, strong opinions, and debates about bike lighting and visibility.
Back in the early days of the Velocity blog, I ran an annual “Most Visible Cyclist” contest. Folks submitted some great solutions, and most of them still look decent now almost ten years later.
Unfortunately, despite some great options that have recently been developed, I think nighttime visibility problems continue to persist.
The go-to solution for most folks is some combination of steady and/or blinky white lights facing forward, and steady and/or blinky red lights facing backwards. Although it seems intuitive to think that blinky lights will make you safer, I’m skeptical. In rainy weather when everything is wet and light bounces everywhere it’s really hard to track blinky lights. There is enough time lag in the blink pattern that it’s difficult if not impossible to guess where the bike is going. And despite the fact that you can buy a blinky white light, they are illegal on bikes here in WA. Plus, bright blinky white lights are just plain obnoxious to fellow cyclists.
As for red rear lights, it seems like most folks put them on their seat tubes where they really aren’t that visible. Higher up is better. I’ll typically rig one on the back of my helmet, which is just about eye level for most drivers and doesn’t get obstructed by the seat or perhaps your massive cycling glutes and quads. Lumos have taken this idea and integrated a front and rear light into their helmets.
As an alternative to bright blinkies, I’ve long been an advocate for making it obvious that you are on a bike, and making it easy for drivers to track your movement. Some novel lighting solutions address this. For a while Rock the Bike produced the “Down Low Glow,” which cast a unique pink, green, or blue neon light on the pavement under the bike. Unfortunately there were some quality problems with the DLG and they are no longer in production.
Lighting alternatives that have recently caught my attention include Monkey Lights, which are bike wheel lights that produce fun patterns that will bring a smile to most motorists and fellow cyclists. Variations on lighted vests have been around a while, but the new NoxGear Tracer 360 looks pretty cool.
Another train of thought among some night cycling aficionados is that rather than produce light, why not reflect it? This addresses the ideas of looking like a cyclist, and enabling drivers to easily track you. No battery or recharge necessary.
On this theme, I recently got a couple of Proviz garments that do the trick. Their Reflect 360 jacket is completely reflective, and made of a super sturdy material. I ended up getting a medium; the fit isn’t as great as it could be on my 5’8″, 153 lbs body. It’s a little too baggy around the mid-section, and a bit snug in the shoulders. I’m loving chest pockets in my athletic outerwear to stash a smartphone these days, but the zipper opening on the Reflect 360 is a bit too short, and the pocket itself is a bit too deep. I can barely get my medium-sized hand in there to fish out the phone. Despite these minor complaints, I know several folks in the Seattle area who also have the Reflect 360 and they are giving it good reviews. Although the Reflect 360 is being marketed as a cycling garment, I’ve been using it during some nighttime runs, and it works great.
I also got a set of Proviz’s PixElite breathable bib tights. On these, the reflective area is in the lower leg, which again addresses the idea of making it apparent that you are a cyclist. I have muscular thighs and usually have a hard time fitting into most medium bib shorts, but with these I ended up with a small. The front panel almost completely covers the chest, and there is a zipper to close the garment. On me, these the thick though breathable material feels almost like wearing a farmer john wetsuit.
There are some great alternatives to staying visible on your bike these days; ditch the blinky lights, add some reflectivity, and if you are inclined add some fun with some wheel lights.