13th December 2012

Cycling Reflectives: To See Ourselves As Others See Us

We shot this film from the car driver’s point of view to illustrate the impact of wearing reflectives.

Significantly, this film wasn’t shot in the middle of the night. We filmed it at 4.30pm on Tuesday 11 December 2012 (in Scotland).

Rider #1 is wearing reflective cycle clothing. Dressed like this you’ll be as conspicuous as a baby whale in a goldfish pond.

Rider #2 is wearing cycling clothing with retro-reflective trim that glows bright when shone upon from any angle. Off the bike, this style of clothing readily doubles as everyday leisure wear.

Rider #3 is wearing everyday outdoor clobber.

This film makes it clear that while Rider #3 is cycling perfectly legally at night with his front and rear lights switched on, he is unlikely to be spotted as quickly and from as far away as Riders #1 and #2.

However, Rider #3 needn’t be left in the dark. We have many bright options for making yourself more conspicuous after dark. Slap on a pair of reflective ankle bands and your bobbing legs will be picked up by every following headlight. Apply retro-reflective tape to solid parts of the bike, such as the mudguards or the back of the crank arms and you’re more likely to be seen from all angles, yet you won’t have to abandon your right to wear what you like when you bike.

ReflectivesBenefits of Reflectives

  • Reflectives can be more eye catching than lights.
  • Reflectives can cover metres of your bike or person.
  • A bike light lens is rarely more than a couple of centimetres wide.
  • Reflective piping, dots and tape are near weightless.
  • Reflectives require no batteries or maintenance.
  • Reflectives keep on working in circumstances where lights might fade or fail.

View our complete range of reflective accessories and clothing – www.edinburghbicycle.com/nightvision.

More Thoughts on Being Seen On Your Bike

Ride Assertively

‘Never hug the kerb. That’s rule one of road positioning on a bicycle. You need to be further out into the road, sometimes right in the middle of the traffic stream.’ So begins this excellent article on the CycleScheme website.

Taking up the best position acknowledges the fact that we human’s have limited peripheral vision as revealed in this article by RAF fighter pilot, John Sullivan’s in London Cyclist, which concluded, ‘High contrast clothing and lights help. In particular, flashing LED’s (front and rear) are especially effective for cyclists as they create contrast and the on-off flashing attracts the peripheral vision in the same manner that movement does.’

Share your top tip for being seen on a bike, by leaving a comment below.

9 comments on “Cycling Reflectives: To See Ourselves As Others See Us

  1. Sam on

    A reflective vest, and reflective hoops on the ankles and wrists. Flashing LEDs front and rear. Even during the day.
    And cycle a metre from the curb minimum. Be proud of your place on the road. Ignore drivers hooting. Bikes do not cause congestion; cars do.

  2. Greg Price on

    How about some proper lights on the bike? They’d be far more effective than smothering yourself in reflectives… 0h – and you’d be complying with the law.

    This was a tacky video that adds nothing to cyclist safety.

    • Alfred Neuman on

      Greg Price – it seems you haven’t looked at the video, since it’s very obvious to anyone who did that

      1) this is not a ‘tacky’ video, since it demonstrates clearly and effectively how important riders’ visibility on the roads is.

      2) the reflectives make the rider far more visible than just lights alone.

      Or are you, perhaps, one of those hostile motorists who believe that cyclists have no right to be on the roads?

      Why don’t you explain why you demean this video as being ‘tacky’?

      • Tim O on

        If you made even a vague attempt to work out who Greg is, you’d realise that calling him a hostile motorist is absolutely hilarious.

        The video is inappropriate because replicating how the eye sees such things as reflectors and lights is difficult, but this video doesn’t particularly attempt to even do that. It’s deliberately toned down to show al the lights dimmer than you would typically observe them. The car lights appear particularly dim, and retroflectives under such conditions typically burn through the image (which would make the footage look poor), so the exposure of the film has been adjusted to make everything look a lot dimmer than it normally would.

        Retroflective can make cyclists more visible, but under certain circumstances make little difference. During foggy conditions decent bright lights are going to be a lot more visible than retroflective and high-vis clothing.

    • Mike Aitken on

      What are ‘proper lights’? Are you suggesting that I need something the same size as car lights by chance?
      Bicycle lights have two functions: to see where you are going and to let other road users see you. The purpose of reflectives is to allow other road users to recognise you as a cyclist and allow the necessary room, as well as to make you more conspicuous.
      Interestingly when I cycle at night-time I have three red rear lights, one static on my seat bag and two random flashing on my rucksac, one 800 lumen static white light on my handlebars to see with, one flashing white LED and a further 250 lumen static light on my helmet. At this time of year I augment this set-up with a string of flashing christmas lights on the rucksac. I wear reflective ankle bands, reflective heel cups and reflectives on my jacket and still I get overtaken in the face of oncoming traffic, still left with no room…..anybody recognise this scenario, or possibly themselves…….

  3. Mary on

    Inspired video, well done! When I drive, I’m frequently taken aback by how hard it is to spot cyclists at night. I completely agree with your video and definitely opt for the ‘Christmas tree look’, bright lights, reflectives, hi-viz, the lot.

  4. Martin Valentine on

    Pity that a cyclist was used in this demonstration as it has detracted from the point being made. If school kids running across a busy main road on their way home from school had been used then the all the persons making negative comment would be demanding that it was made mandatory.

  5. Edinburgh Bicycle Coop on

    A Response from the Bike Co-op.

    Thanks for taking the trouble to watch and comment on this wee film.

    For those of you who weren’t so keen on it, pray allow a response.

    As is often the way with these things, an incident inspired us to make this film about the benefits of reflectives.

    As I was cycling uphill on an unlit road in outer Edinburgh on the way home from work last week, I stopped at an informal passing place to let a motorist overtake. The car came to a halt beside me. The passenger window opened.

    ‘What’s up?’ I thought. As it turned out, the driver was extremely friendly. She had only stopped to let me know that she thought my Night Vision reflective jacket was ‘amazing’, and asked where she could buy one for her husband.

    This exchange was such a pleasant contrast from the typical ‘do you know what happened to me on the road’ tales we cyclists sometimes relate, I shared it with my workmates next morning.

    One colleague suggested we should attempt to portray how cyclists appear to other road users. The short film was the result.

    Please allow me to respond to comments made about this film.

    1. Being the first time our graphic designer, Gary, had used his camera in video mode, we decided to make the film as simple as possible.
    2. To maintain consistency, Riders #1, #2 and #3 are, in fact, the same person riding the same identically-equipped bike.
    3. The rider rode the same short circuit 3 times on a country road with no street lighting.
    4. Each circuit was shot in one take at the fastest film speed possible to capture the rider cycling at night.
    5. The whole shoot took less than 5 minutes.
    6. Gary shot the film while sitting in a Citroen Picasso with the headlights on full beam.
    7. Gary admits that he is no Tarantino. The video was not manipulated in any way. We have shown it exactly as the camera picked it up.
    8. To quote Gary, ‘If only I had the skills to manipulate such things.’
    9. The bike was fitted with a pair of inexpensive LEDs (£10 RRP each) because we wanted the film to realistically portray the lights we see on most people’s bikes every winter evening.
    10. The lights are no more or no less legal then the majority of bike lights available in the UK – though we are aware that bike light legality is a complicated and fraught issue as explained in this excellent article on the CTC website.
    11. We agree that in some circumstances, such as when it’s foggy, lights are going to be more far effective than reflectives.
    12. We maintain that in some circumstances, reflectives can be more eye-catching than lights.
    13. We would also contend that supplementing a set of modest lights with perhaps £10 worth of reflectives might be worth considering if you don’t have the budget or the inclination to upgrade to super-power lights.
    14. In a country where you can experience 4 seasons in one day it doesn’t seem too radical to suggest considering equipping yourself to maximise your chances of being seen whatever the conditions.
    15. We are not telling anyone to do anything. The case for reflectives is simply a suggestion.
    16. It’s now late December. We will now close this thread with the message, peace and goodwill to all.

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