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, a reflective product is more visible than a fluorescent one in car headlights.
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.
Of course, that's not terribly surprising as fluorescent clothing requires the ultra-violet wavelengths present in daylight to make it glow, but it's nice to have the inference that fluoro gear's not much chop at night confirmed by Actual Science™.
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.
European standard EN1150, which sets out the minimum amounts of retro reflective material needed, is beginning to be applied to cycling kit. EN1150 is a standard for non-professional use; a stricter standard EN471 applies to high-visibility clothing for the workplace and you could argue that EN471 Class 2, designed for use on the road, would be an appropriate standard for cycling. There aren't many cycling-specific products that meet EN471, but plenty of cheap gilets fit the bill like this one for seven quid on eBay.
Let's take a look at 17 reflective products (plus an entire range) that give a snapshot of what's available, from ankle bands to jackets.
The Spatz Roadman 2 overshoes might look odd, but if you ride in wet and cold conditions typical of UK winters, they take comfort to new levels. Just as importantly for our purposes, they have big slabs of reflective on the back, sides and front, so they should attract drivers' attention as you pedal.
Castelli offers its shiny grey high-visibility material in a number of garments. The Reflex Overshoes not only keep your feet as dry as can be with a big hole in the bottom for your shoe cleats, but help you be seen on murky days and at night. The outer material, along with being fantastically visible when lit up by car lights, is plenty windproof and waterproof.
The Hydromatic Brisker from 100% combines all the good bits of the very well-reviewed Brisker Cold Weather, with some of the weather protection of the Hydromatic. A big reflective logo helps drivers see you when you're signalling, or, given that it extends over the first and middle fingers, when you're giving them the Vs.
The latest version of Altura's Thunderstorm gloves boasts even more reflectivity than the ones we liked when we tested them. With almost the whole back of the hand bouncing their headlights back at them, any driver who can't see you signalling in these needs to surrender their licence.
Endura's Urban Luminite Pants boast simply superb waterproofing, breathability and reflectivity. As an effective pair of overtrousers for when the going gets wet, they're hard to beat. There are two huge reflective stripes on each leg – one on the outer thigh, the other on the calf – and a cute little Endura sign on the bottom.
The only cycling-specific garment we've been able to find that meets EN471, this budget gilet also has a loop out back for a light and an extended tail.
The Altura Nightvision Typhoon Waterproof Jacket is a development of the justly popular Nightvision series. During a relentlessly wet testing period, our reviewer confirmed this jacket is also highly waterproof as well as reflective, beading up and rolling away the rain after 2-3 hours battling the elements. The drop tail should also save your lower back from the lion's share of spray when riding without mudguards.
The red version we tested features extensive retro-reflective panels at key points to bring the jacket 'alive' when graced by vehicle and street lighting; and our tester found them highly effective, doing a decent job of reinforcing signalling, especially along backroads in the wee small hours.
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'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.
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.
Like dhb with Flashlight, Proviz has a whole collection of reflective clothing and accessories, even including classic cycling track mitts for warm summer evenings, Lobster gloves for the other end of the weather spectrum and loads more
Endura's Luminite jacket has been a commuting staple for many years. This is the latest version, with big slabs of reflective so it meets the EN 1150 standard (and it looks like only the lack of reflective stripes up the shoulders is keeping it from hitting the higher EN 471 standard too). 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.
These gloves are lightweight (47g), stretchy and have backs covered in lots of tiny reflective dots. High-vis yellow also sits between the fingers. A good choice for enhanced visibility in cold conditions, rather than deep winter.
The most significant point to come out of studies on cyclist visibility is that moving reflectives, on your feet or ankles for example, really do increase your visibility. These simple 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.
As is so often the case, road.cc readers have lots of opinion and knowledge on reflective gear. Here's a selection of the best comments from previous versions of this article.
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David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. 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, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes.