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What with daylight saving time ending and it now being pitch black by the time I finish work, I'm not exactly trusting of just a couple small lights on my bike being enough to make me visible to drivers. Seeing a couple cyclists around here wearing them got me thinking, would it be worth my while to get a reflective jacket? I did a bit of a hunt and found a place near here that sells them.

The general price I seem to find is $50 for an uninsulated one, $100+ for insulated. Neon-yellow with reflective stripes, same stuff construction workers would be wearing. Heck, some even have a spot for a name tag :-P

I'd likely get the uninsulated one, just so it can be used in a wider variety of weather, and I can layer clothing under it easier.

So my question is, would it be worth putting my money toward the jacket, or toward getting a new light and some reflective stripes for the bike itself?

EDIT: Re-reading this, I made a mistake in what I was saying. I have a couple lights, they're just not the brightest going.

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I would agree with the uninsulated one. Layering is definitely the way to go with cycling in inclement weather. –  bikesandcode Nov 9 '10 at 19:23
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@Slokun - Good question, I took a stab at a better title to help focus the question, but please revert my edit if this isn't what you had in mind. –  Neil Fein Nov 9 '10 at 21:18
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I always think that the backward facing light is the most important thing on your bike. I always spend twice as much on my back light than my front light. –  sixtyfootersdude Nov 9 '10 at 23:38
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Daylight Saving Time doesn't actually add any daylight to the day. You can go to work an hour "earlier" (by the adjusted clock) and leave an hour "earlier" and have the same amount of daylight you had before. –  Sparr Nov 10 '10 at 0:21
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@Sparr True, but I wake up at the same clock-time anyway, have to be at work same clock-time, leave work same clock-time... But really, I'm not losing anything, because sun was just about set by the time I left on Friday, now it's just completely set. –  Slokun Nov 10 '10 at 14:53
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up vote 12 down vote accepted

While the obvious answer is that you really should have lights and a reflective jacket or vest, I'm assuming this is the real world and you have limited resources! Let's go by what conditions you ride in:

  • If your route is mostly well-lit and being seen is more of a requitement, I'd concentrate on a decent cycling jacket or safety vest. I prefer uninsulated jackets, but I also have one that's lightly insulated; I sometimes wear the safety yellow jacket over the black insulated cycling jacket. You can also get small, cheap LED be-seen lights you can clip on your helmet or wear on your head if you don't wear a helmet.

  • But if you ride in the pitch-black, I'd suggest a cheap safety vest, making do with a non-cycling jacket you may already have, and put the rest of your money towards a good light, something like a Dinotte or a MiNewt. They aren't cheap, but they're worth every penny.

One final point:

Reflective gear and a good headlight are more than just safety equipment, they're good PR. I get compliments on my safety equipment, particularly my 200 lumen headlight, quite often, from people in my town (often parents with children), drivers (more than once, someone at a red light will roll down a window to tell me my lighting and safety equipment are uncommon, and keep it up!) and once from two New York City cops (who yelled out "that's the way to do it!" as I rode by at night).

Yeah, the idiot wrong-way "ninja" cyclists make us all look bad; but cyclists with safety equipment make us all look good.

Whatever you decide for now, keep in mind that this isn't an either-or choice in the long term: As I'm sure you know, you can always get more safety equipment later on. Yeah, it may seem as if those dinky lights don't do much, but when you have a lot of them, they make you quite visible indeed.

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Mostly well-lit, and have a couple lights as it is. Turns out the uninsulated one has a removeable liner, making it nicer. Picked one up just now, going to try it out tonight. –  Slokun Nov 10 '10 at 19:54
    
I agree with you that in pitch-black area or heavy foggy one, a reflective vest is really a benefit. However, a city should have the standard safety measure so this reflective clothing are not needed. Are they pedestrian wearing reflective clothes? That's the right question, and cyclist should not be obliged to wear those, much like pedestrians, they deserves the same protections: well lit area and protected cycle path. My conclusion is: don't buy, but go voting :-) –  Huygens Nov 10 '10 at 20:35
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@Huygens - I disagree. Pedestrians walking in unlit areas with auto traffic should be wearing reflective clothing, and it's unfortunate that they aren't educated to do so. Fortunately, joggers seem to be picking up on this and are starting to realize they need lights and safety vests. –  Neil Fein Nov 10 '10 at 23:18
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my view is perhaps a bit extreme, but it is not up to the pedestrians to put reflective clothes, but up to the car drivers to drive safely (at an appropriate speed). Thus in my views not enough effort is done to regulate speed limits and speed limits should be down to a crawl in badly lit parts of the city (when it is not a nonsense of course). Human being should not adapt to car, but cars should adapt to human being :-) –  Huygens Nov 11 '10 at 7:54
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Or to put the PR thing another way: twitter.com/t1mmyb/status/405340126978375681/photo/1 –  armb Nov 27 '13 at 12:56
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Yes, get a jacket. Also, you can get reflective bands which you can put around your ankles - I think these show up really well to drivers.

For road riding, it's all about being safe and that means you need to be seen by others. Top of the range expensive lights will help you see where you're going. They will help drivers see you too, but most drivers have got headlights, so if you can cover yourself in bright, reflective material, that will probably do a far better job of getting drivers to see you than some brighter lights.

If you're an off-road mountain-biker and want to be able to see obstacles in the dark, then that's when you need the expensive lights.

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You'll be visible unless you not directly in the path of their headlights. Even being in the "ambient" illumination area of headlights severely decreases your visibility. –  James Schek Nov 26 '11 at 7:09
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As a car driver I recommend flashing LEDs front and rear, and also reflective strips around the ankles; both of these really catch my attention early.

DO NOT ASSUME the car driver can see you just because you can easily see the car. At night or dusk cyclists and pedestrians are often invisible, and in our lower position we can be blinded by other cars' lights or even street lights and those bright security lights. Also remember that some drivers fail to properly clear their windows of ice and windows seem to have a habit of steaming up at the wrong moment.

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+1 for ankle straps. The up and down motion screams bicycle :-) –  Karl Sep 7 '11 at 0:27
    
And they tend to be visible from 360 degrees! –  James Schek Nov 26 '11 at 7:08
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This discussion has been mostly about cycling safety at night. Daytime matters too, and in daytime a brightly colored (say yellow) jacket is a huge safety asset compared to normal clothing.

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Good point. I would even recommend using lights in flashing mode during the day so long as these are bright enough. Examples are a Planet Bike Blaze 2W for the front and a Planet Bike Superflash for the rear. Since I started running lights during the day I noticed motorists noticing me and pausing by to let me cross intersections more often. –  cyclo Mar 15 '12 at 2:22
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If you need the jacket for warmth or wind protection, then get an appropriate jacket for the conditions. The reflective properties of the jacket are secondary. I would not purchase a reflective jacket simply for the sake of reflective materials; rather, I would purchase a good quality jacket for the conditions and then supplement my clothing or bicycle with lighting and reflective strips.

One point that often gets lost when discussing reflective materials is that they have a very limited range of visibility. They work great with direct illumination (or when using a flash), but are virtually useless if viewed from just a few degrees off angle.

The specific scenario I have encountered numerous times were reflective materials are useless (and is a frequent cause of accidents) is when a vehicle is travelling perpendicular to the cyclist and pulls in front of or into the cyclist. Usually, a cyclist is travelling down a road and a driver pulls out of a driveway or cross street. Reflective materials will alert the motorist to your presence about the moment the car hits your bicycle.

  <----- Car (Driver looking to the left cannot see reflective materials)
 ^
 |   (Not illuminate by car lights here...
 |    virtually invisible with reflective materials)
Bike  

Reflective strips are a vital part of backup lighting, but high quality lighting is far more effective. Flashing lights, lighting strips/tubes, or high intensity lights will be far more visible than reflective strips when you are not directly in the center of the car's headlights.

Don't buy a jacket just because you want reflective clothing. Buy the jacket because you need the jacket. If you want reflective clothing, buy a safety vest and ankle straps.

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Yes. For riding in the dark, you really do want some form of reflective clothing (as well as lights).

You can get a high visibility vest very cheap. I picked one up for about £2. I just made sure mine is a couple of sizes too big so I can comfortably wear it on top of warm clothes during winter.

It also means it works great in the warmer weather if you're riding late (or early).

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I once saw a cyclist who had affixed an ordinary CD to his backpack (sewn on with monofilament line or similar, I would guess). That thing was amazingly bright; I was impressed. As DIY ideas go, it seemed worth a try!

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High-vis is the best 2 quid you will ever spend. If you wear a rucksack get an extra large one that will go over the rucksack or tape/glue/tie one onto the backpack.

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My nighttime (and daytime) commute through the suburbs is no longer scary now that I am using a DiNotte taillight. I bought one after I read someone refer to the philosophy of being annoyingly visible.

I get at least a half of a lane to myself now.

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I use a long sleeve lightweight jacket that conforms to EN471 Class 3, which is what is required to work on motorways (not that I suggest cycling there :D) The bands on the sleeve help arm movements to be visible, and every bit helps. £4.50 should be accessible for everyone.

They are a very open material so not too hot on longer rides.

eg http://www.fashionsystems.net/product.aspx?ProductId=77

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Cycling Weekly reports that "Study finds hi-viz clothing has no effect on driver passing distances".

Contrary to the researchers' expectations, there was no marked difference between ‘experienced rider' kit, and a vest marked ‘Novice Cyclist', nor between ordinary clothes and hi-viz kit.

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I suspect this was referring to daytime, though. At nighttime it's important to get the attention of the driver. (And a British study a few years back found that people gave more passing distance to cyclists in non-cycling garb.) –  Daniel R Hicks Nov 26 '13 at 18:09
    
This also makes no mention of when the motorist noticed the cyclist. I suspect motorists notice cyclists in reflective clothing sooner and thus have more reaction time. While this might not make motorists give you more clearance when passing, it can mean that they don't hit you because of not seeing you. –  jimirings Nov 26 '13 at 19:46
    
I always understood "high visibility" as bright colours, but reflective clothing should be self given when cycling in the dark. I find that most shoe covers have reflectors around the zippers which is nice since the feet move and are easy to spot. –  jurgemaister Nov 26 '13 at 20:59
    
I'd be more interested in a study that shows how high visibility/reflective clothing relates to cyclists getting hit by cars. It would be nice if cars gave me more passing distance, but I'm more interested in not getting hit. I wish accident reports of car-bike collisions would say what the rider was wearing and whether or not he had lights. I see a lot of nearly invisible riders at night wearing dark clothes and relying on reflectors with no lights ( sometimes no reflectors either). Even during the day, dark clothes and a dark bike can make the cyclist hard to see in the shade. –  Johnny Nov 27 '13 at 0:15
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