Ultralight, no-fuss safety equipment without batteries or moving parts; if it were a pro-level helmet or high-output lighting, you’d be out several hundred dollars. For $18, safety equipment retailers such as Alaska Safety Inc. will sell you a high visibility vest with 3M Scotchlite reflective striping. For a few dollars more, add several feet of DOT grade reflective tape and sew-on reflective ribbon, sold by the foot. Nobody in the cycling industry is making visibility gear of this caliber. Rims 65mm and wider found on fatbikes are prime for adhesive reflectivity, and the cambered shape of the rim should reflect well at acute angles to the direction of travel. Reflective ribbon will be sewn to Lael’s backpack, used for daily commutes to school, where she administers computer-based math tutoring. She has opted not to attach a rack to her Pugsley to keep the bike lighter and more agile, hesitant that it could rapidly take on the hulking character of her LHT, or worse. My Pugsley is at least as heavy as my High Sierra, although my legs don’t seem to care. Forget rollers and indoor winter training, a 35 lb bike with two pound tires (apiece) at 8 psi through six inches of snow should be adequate resistance to prepare for spring adventures.
I’ve been wearing reflective vests diligently since riding in France, where it is more common and since July 2008, mandatory to wear a reflective vest while riding in low-light conditions and at night. Additionally, drivers attending to roadside matters are required to wear a vest and display a reflective triangle. The French government enlisted the help of famed Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld in the following advertisement, stating “It’s yellow, it’s ugly, it doesn’t go with anything, but it could save your life.”
Let me state the obvious: it’s visible, it’s cheap, and it allows drivers to acurately estimate your position on the road, rather than being distracted by additional blinking lights. It’s not to be used in place of proper lighting, but it will significantly augment any system, cheaply. It’ll pack into the smallest of bags for the necessary occasion, although you may find yourself wearing it most of the time, as I do. At first, I’d wear it when the roads were busy, shoulders narrow, light fading and rain falling– those hair-raising times that you don’t plan for. In time, I came to think “if I have it, why not wear it”, adding a significant measure of visibility to any situation. Fashion faux-pas is a small price for safety, non? It also sends a strong signal to drivers, saying: “I’m here, not by accident, but by design. I’m actually going somewhere (really). I am meant to be seen, which task has been accomplished. Give me a few feet and get on with your day. Thank you.” (my vest is particularly verbose). The tattered and soiled fabric and worn Scotchlite striping of my vest are all signs of miles and months on a bike and has become part of an unlikely fashion that I’m still hoping will catch on. Someday, I’ll say I was first.
Hi-vis colors like electric yellow and neon orange are eye-catching in flat light, particularly against a snowy backdrop. High quality reflective material is not to be underestimated and is especially effective on dark roads, away from city lights which distract the eyes; look for 3M Scotchlite and similar fabrics. Beware of inferior reflective materials on garden variety safety gear, often coated in transparent vinyl. It’s unfortunate cycling equipment suppliers do not offer more aggressively reflective materials. Even expensive jackets from Gore and Showers Pass feature only simple reflective patterns and piping.
Over a foot of fresh snow here. Above, Lael fearlessly descends a hill, almost finding her face in a snowbank. The reflective tape, which came is alternating sections of white and red, will be cut to size to adorn moving parts such as rims and cranks, and has been fit to the contours of our helmets. Reflective ribbon wil be stitched to my Carradice, and to Lael’s backpack.
In the transportation industry, active safety refers to the prevention of a crash with such aids as visibility equipment, mirrors and brakes; passive safety involves features that prevent injury in the event of a crash, such as a helmet or a seatbelt.