Riding at dusk or after dark is almost unavoidable, whether you're commuting on short winter days or riding into the spring or summer dusk. Adding some reflective clothing and equipment will help drivers pick you out from the urban visual chaos.
By bouncing light back where it came from — that is, towards headlights and therefore a driver — retro-reflective materials give you the best chance of being seen in low-light conditions
While more is almost always better, it's surprising how effective just a few patches of reflective can be
Studies strongly suggest reflective material is more effective than fluorescent "hi-vis" at helping drivers see you
If the worst happens, at least your loved ones won't have to accept "I couldn't see her" as an excuse
Walk into any decent bike shop and the shelves will be stacked with a variety of reflective products, from jackets and waist coats to sticker packs and ankle bands. When we head into autumn, and then winter, there's a good chance more of your riding time will be spent in the dark or at the very least, low light, and for many people that means donning some reflective products, or a product with a significant amount of reflective detailing.
Reflective clothing or other kit doesn't have to be in fluorescent high visibility colours. Reflectives work by reflecting back toward its source any light that plays on them A black jacket made from the right material or with the right reflective detailing can be just as visible as a fluoro yellow one. Studies suggest that in the dark, in car headlights a reflective product is more visible than a fluorescent one.
But will wearing reflective clothing or products improve your safety on the road? There are various studies that have looked into the effectiveness of such products, such as the 2009 study that found fluorescent vests were not a significant improvement on black clothing at night. It concluded that at night reflective knee and ankle stripes were far more effective. That's because the up-and-down motion from pedalling can catch the eye of the motorist more than a large reflective stripe across the back, which can appear stationary, so the placement of any reflective product is as important as wearing it alone.
More recently, another study suggested that it’s reflective, not high-visibility, clothing that is the answer to being seen in the hours of darkness.
In recent years many clothing manufacturers have paid more attention to visibility. Beside the obvious trend of fluoro, more clothing designers are adding reflective details, often very discreetly in the seams or zip lining and smartly applied details, so that style conscious cyclists can boost their visibility without having to don a bright yellow jacket with huge reflective stripes. That all makes it easier to add some reflectivity to your outfit without looking going overboard.
Let's take a look at 13 reflective products (plus an entire range) that give a snapshot of what's available, from ankle bands to jackets.
The successor to Altura's popular Night Vision 20 pannier, this conveniently-sized bag incorporates reflective elements for 360-degree visibility. It mounts with Rixen & Kaul Klickfix fittings, incorporates a padded sleeve for a 13-inch laptop and has a loop for a rear light.
The Flashlight range from Wiggle own-brand dhb includes shorts and jerseys as well as the obvious jackets and tights, all with dhb's distinctive reflective hexagon in strategic positions, and there are extra reflective patches on outer garments like jackets and overshoes. You can even get Flashlight reflective socks.
There are lots of large reflective patches on this vest and it's wind- and water-resistant too, so it helps ward off the winter chill. It packs into its own built-in stuff sack and ends up small enough to stash in a jersey pocket.
There's a tendency to expect high-vis and reflective outer layers to be all things to all people: windproof, rainproof, breathable, and so on. But by doing away with the requirement for all-weather ability, BTR's High Visibility Reflective Sportswear Cycling Running Jacket – to give it its full name – is a cheap, cheerful, lightweight and fantastically breathable garment that's perfect for dry commuting and late-night training.
With a big slab of reflective material on the back, these winter gloves will help your hand signals shine in headlights and keep your hands warm oin temperatures down to about 3°C.
The Proviz Reflect 360's unique feature is that it's entirely made from reflective material. If you spend a lot of time on the roads in the dark it'll certainly get you noticed. The cut of the jacket is more commuter style than race so it's safe to assume that a streetlit urban environment is where the designers expect it to be used most.
The Reflect 360 is water resistant rather than Proviz claiming any waterproofing ratings but the material keeps out moderate rain for a decent amount of time backed up by taped seams and a storm zip. The rear drops slightly to which also adds protection if you aren't using mudguards.
Endura's Luminite jacket has been a commuting staple for many years. The Luminite II has a fabric that's slightly thinner than the original, plenty of reflectives and a built in rear LED. It's a good choice for the daily schlep to the office. The 2.5 layer fabric is very waterproof with fully taped seams and is breathable too.
Not cheap, as you'd expect, though not totally unreasonable at this discounted price, these Rapha overshoes are completely reflective. That means drivers will see two big blobs of reflected light in their headlights and the pedalling motion helps attract attention, like pedal reflectors on steroids.
Rapha is currently out of stock, but it's worth keeping an eye out for when they're available again.
The most significant point to come out of studies on cyclist visibility is that moving reflectives, of your feet or ankles for example, really do increase your visibility. These simple Respro Hi-viz Ankle Bands don't cost a lot and wrap around the ankle with Velcro securing them in place. They may not be that fashionable, but if you plan to do a lot of riding in the dark, then they're a sensible idea.
If you're commuting to work on a daily basis with a rucksack, then this Lomo 30L High Visibility Backpack Dry Bag is a highly reflective option that will keep your office clothing and sarnies dry. It's made from tough UPVC with welded seams, and there bold reflective chevrons and stripes are very prominent. There are also reflective stripes on the front of the shoulder straps.
The German-made helmet uses what’s called the KStar reflective system with reflective particles embedded into the microshell covering. The reflective particles are protected by a clear outer casing.
The helmet has a pearl grey colour in daylight, but becomes brilliant white when caught in direct light from other road users. There is also a anti-bug net at the front, leaving your hair wasp-free and unstung.
The BTR High Visibility Waterproof Helmet Cover is an easy way to add some high-level reflectivity, while also doubling up as a nifty rain cover. It packs small enough when you don't need it, and fixes over a helmet with an elasticated hem and draw string closure for adjustment.
Gloves are a good candidate for adding some hi-vis and that's the idea behind these Proviz Winter Cycling Gloves. Useful for signalling an intent to change direction or lane, there's a large reflective panel on the little finger and across the back of the hand.
Lastly, the Respro Camo Sticker Kit lets you customise your bike, mudguards, panniers, with shaped reflective panels. There's of course nothing stop you simply buying a roll of Scotchlite reflective tape and getting creative with a pair of scissors.
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David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.