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Every year I marshal a family ride organized by my local cycling campaign. As it's targeted at people who don't cycle long distances, the main job of the marshals is to offer help to people with mechanical problems, as well as to give them confidence they're following the right route.

To make us more visible among the huge crowd of bikes, we carry flags, like this:

Rider with flag

Picture courtesy of Mike Clark

These flags are very effective and visible, but have some problems:-

  1. They tend to fwap people in the face. Most of the ride is on cycle tracks, and if a wind blows from your left, the flag flaps out to the right, taking the whole width of the track and inconveniencing oncoming riders or pedestrians.
  2. The bamboo canes sometimes snap if we go under low signs or tree branches too fast.
  3. Part of the route is lined with high brambles. If the flag rubs against the brambles, they tug at it, pulling the bike off-balance (and this can snap the cane too).
  4. If you stop riding in a tail wind, the flag envelops you and you can't see anything until you start moving again.

They also help a little with publicity, as passers-by always stop and ask us what the flag is for and where we're all going. (The design of the flag itself is irrelevant: the one pictured here happens to be the county flag of Northumbria, but all the marshals have random flags.)

Is there a way to improve on this design, removing one or more of these problems without making the marshals less visible? HV jackets just won't cut it: you can't see one HV jacket in a dense crowd from more than about 20 m away. Besides, some normal cyclists wear them, which could cause confusion. Rigid flags won't work either, even if they're shorter: there are parts of the route where even the riders have to duck under low branches.

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What about mounting an orange strobing light on top of your "flagposts" instead? At least in Germany, anyone may use orange strobes. –  arne May 7 at 13:02
    
@arne Would that be visible on a bright day? How big a battery would it need? –  Dan Hulme May 7 at 14:01
    
That obviously depends on the kind of strobe, and the battery size depends on the time the strobe needs to work. I haven't spent time on finding commercial products of this kind, but I imagine they exist. Also, the guy in the photo has a rack. You could strap a motorcycle battery on top of it; this should give you hours and hours of strobing. –  arne May 7 at 14:13
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Flags don't have to be flexible - Bob Stuart in the US uses a rigid tailfin with a vertical pivot to good effect, and you could get the same effect using a flagpole and a strip of (semi)rigid plastic sheet. Coreflute (corrugated cardboard made of plastic) is common in advertising signs and most commercial printers can easily deal with it. Or you can paint it. –  Mσᶎ May 8 at 1:40
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I would suggest something like this. –  Marco Poli May 8 at 5:17

5 Answers 5

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Despite editing this down I could make it into a comment (plus:pictures), so here are some ideas:

At the very least 1 or more streamer (like wide ribbons) would be less likely to snag than a large flag, as well as being less of a shock if it gets someone in the face.
Streamer flags

You need height for visibility as you implied - maybe a bamboo cane to a bit over head height then something more flexible (springy wire, I can't quite think of what but I know I've seen something recently). You could bend this to give you some stiffening pointing backwards making it less likely to blow in your face. I guess a neat spring mounting to allow the flag to be pulled down and back under a branch would be too risky for a close follower.

Alternatively: helmet plumes: Cavalry helmet plumes

You duck your head anyway if the branch or whatever is that low.

Note though, I'm used to (non-cycling) events where the organisers are in fancy dress or at least distinctive hats)

(Images from:

http://images.cdn.fotopedia.com/flickr-4629855353-hd.jpg

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d2/Cavalry_Trooping_the_Colour,_16th_June_2007.jpg )

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I know the fish streamers are a good idea, as we've actually used those too. They're a lot more manageable in wind, but are more prone to getting caught on low branches, so it's swings and roundabouts. They're less visible than flags but adding several like in your picture would make that better. –  Dan Hulme May 7 at 13:57

Some local recumbent users have a different style flag on their bikes rather than the rectangle or the pennant. I couldn't find a photo online, but the flag is about a 1~1.5 meters tall, and the poll runs up the whole length of it. It is then about a half meter wide. There is very little flapping around and nothing loose to blow in faces and get tangled up. I came across them driving so I can say they make you visible. I have seen businesses use them before for advertising signs in windy locations.

Here is a image from Wikipedia. It is called a vertical flag on it, the type I'm describing is 3. (image credit)

enter image description here

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I think what you mean are called beach flags: kattan.de/fahnen/beachflags.htm –  arne May 7 at 14:36
    
That sounds like a good idea - how flexible are the poles? –  Chris H May 7 at 15:01
    
Google image search for beach flags does illustrate what I was describing. –  BPugh May 7 at 16:44
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@ChrisH Beachflags usually use fibreglass poles, so they are even more flexible than bamboo cane. There are a lot of shops that custom-print these things as they are used for advertising. –  arne May 8 at 7:06
  • Print t shirts. It's what festivals and bands do, and it's cheap. If you want them to stand out pick an unusual colour, but regardless, print something big on the back and front. If you're already selling ride t shirts, use those but make the helper ones stand out with coloured sleeves, long sleeves, or a different colour.
  • Use lights. Buy a bunch of cheap yellow or orange LED blinkies and put a couple on each helper bike.
  • Use better flags. Flags don't have to be flexible - Bob Stuart in the US uses a rigid tailfin with a vertical pivot to good effect, and you could get the same effect using a flagpole and a strip of (semi)rigid plastic sheet. Coreflute (corrugated cardboard made of plastic) is common in advertising signs and most commercial printers can easily deal with it. Or you can paint it.
  • Use smaller, vertical flags. Like BPugh says, vertical flags will probably work better. Flags also don't have to be quite that big, you'll probably find that head height and 20cm deep works just as well. Maybe a taller flag on the ride leader so they can be easily identified in a crowd.
  • Use sound. Buy some cheap piezo beepers and give all the helpers one. They don't have to run continuously, and if you pick one of the silly "kid's bike horn" ones you'll have a variety of tunes to choose from. Or mount a proper sound system.
  • Use distinctive bikes. Tall bikes will obviously stand out hugely, but even fat tyre cruisers are pretty noticeable. Or use load bikes, so that the fitter regular cyclists have a handicap to help them ride slowly. And recumbents, especially velomobiles, stand out a lot.
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+1 for cargo bikes: You could even carry something to drink, med kit, tools, ... Also: Velomobiles rock! –  arne May 8 at 7:08

Find some recreation types who could make you a Sashimono?

What's the budget, if any, for buying commercial off-the-shelf Cycle Campaign advertising flags (could perhaps be re-used at desk outside Guildhall or similar events)? Something like http://www.printlit.co.uk/expo/beach-flag/backflag/eco backpack mounted flag

From http://www.bannershop.co.uk/products/teardrop_wind_flag.htm "Other commonly used names for this product are beach banners, free-standing flags, wind flags, promotional flags, advertising flags, custom printed flags, or retail flags."

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Well, this is a bit of an aside, but the Campaign already has official flags that they use for stalls &c. These marshals' flags are just extras for the large ride(s). I'm glad you mentioned sashimono as that's the first thing I thought of when I looked at your picture :-) –  Dan Hulme May 9 at 13:28
    
I was just thinking that buying something like that just for the Reach Ride was out of the question, but might be feasible if it could be reused. Maybe it could be used as inspiration for a DIY version though. I must have a look in my shed.... –  armb May 10 at 15:11

I suggest simply installing a couple of rear bike lights (the red flashing type) on top of a moderate length of PVC.

Being small and lightweight it will practically eliminate the problem with side winds, a bike light is usually designed to be mounted on a seat tube, so you don't have to do any bizarre engineering there. Also you can use them for the regular purpose when not marshaling, thus cutting expenses. (Seeing it the other way, you can just borrow lights from people not riding that day)

I recommend using "fresh" PVC in of 1/2 inch nominal size, since it is very flexible. I Insist that the PVC has to be fresh, I mean newly fabricated, because this material tends to loose flexibility over time. If you decide to use it, just test it before installing in the bike bi trying to bend it by hand. You should be able to bend it enough to make a semi circle with a length of 2 meters. If it's not possible, better not use it (it may be old and brittle). When not in use store it in a cold place where it's not hit by sunlight nor sun/heat radiation.

On the funny side, the bike will look like a police patrol motorcycle, childish but awesome!

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Flexible fiberglass poles are readily available for not much money. These are used to mark driveway entrances, et al. –  Daniel R Hicks May 7 at 15:59
    
I don't think I've ever seen a bike rear light that was noticeable in daylight from more than a couple of metres away. –  Dan Hulme May 7 at 16:44
    
@DanHulme trust me, they're out there. I see them regularly on the bike path on my way to work. Some of them are not just visible, they're blinding. –  Mσᶎ May 9 at 11:37

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