By winter I will be commuting on my bike at night. How can I make my bike as visible as possible to all car drivers?
The obvious few things are:
- Front light
- Red rear tail light
- Spare batteries for said lights
- Spoke lights/reflectors for improved side visibility
- Bright clothing, ideally cycling clothing with reflective strips on them.
Get a Bright Bike kit from brightthread.com:
Bright Bike DIY kits cover your bicycle in easy-to-apply design-savvy ultra reflective vinyl for safety. It is like covering your bike with a big stickers that turn ultra-bright in headlights. The retroreflective vinyl is the same material used on the backs of running shoes, but with colors. The kits greatly improve night visibility and thus bicycle safety.
These kits are pre-cut and easy to put on.
I got the blue pinstripe set and I love it - a bright source of light, like a car headlight, hits your bike, and you light up like a christmas tree. It's especially pronounced at night, and as cool as this picture is, it doesn't do it justice. Check out the video on their website for a nighttime demonstration.
Edit: I thought I would share my picture of my bike with the blue BrightBike pinstripes on it. This is taken in my dark garage with my flash covered (just enough light to make it glow without the picture being blurry). In daylight, the color is almost the same as my paint color, so they're hard to see.
Take Karl Lagerfeld's advice:
It’s yellow; it’s ugly, it doesn’t go with anything; but it could save your life.
Don't forget side visibility. Spoke lights are great for making you visible at crosswalks or traffic lights.
3M makes Scotchlite tape that is very reflective. My wife used craft punches to punch flower shapes out of it and covered her bike with it. Her bike gets noticed day and night.
I haven't noticed any mention of flags here. Particularly on trailers or recumbents, a flag gives you a bit more height, plus the motion attracts attention. My wife hung a bunch of streamers off her flag pole.
I uses the Down Low Glow which is a tube light that mounts to your down tube. It creates an area of illuminated pavement around you which most motorists in my area treat as the "no-zone". I generally feel safer riding at night than during the day because motorists will allow for more passing distance.
You could also turn your wheels into programmable displays using Ladyada's kit, which exploits persistence of vision. Some assembly required.
A safety vest can help, they can get a bit warm but I have wrapped my backpack in one for extra visibility on the commute
Of course, having some good bright lights is a must for being visible at night! The Bicycles Stack Exchange Blog now has the most comprehensive bike taillight review on the internet (to our knowledge):
In total I reviewed fifteen different tail lights. The Cygolite Hotshot performed best in the most categories, but there are several other lights which did quite well. If you're looking for a good rear light, check out this review.
I have been using Monkeylectric spoke lights for two years now. They're very bright persistence-of-vision spoke lights that blit out patterns in a beautiful range of colors. Love em. Unlike Ladyada's kit, these work out of the box, though you can reprogram them if you so wish.
If bikesandcode's suggestions aren't enough you could always paint your mudguard reflective like this: http://www.instructables.com/id/Paint-your-bike-bicycle-gear-reflective/
There are some other suggestions on the same site for wrapping the frame in reflective material.
I use a generator front hub and front and rear lights. This setup is very expensive: the wheel itself can run almost 500 dollars. The very best of these generators and lights are imported from Germany by only a few importers, and are not widely available here in the US.
There are a couple of reasons I like generator lights:
- No need to charge them.
- No chance for them to fail in adverse weather conditions: rechargeable batteries can fail suddenly in extreme cold.
- Always available. Once they are installed, there isn't any reason to remove them. Because...
- Less likely to be stolen. The lights are mounted and wired to the bike, requiring tools to remove. The light itself is not very expensive and is not usable without the generator, so less of a target for thieves. Also, there's probably not much of a stolen goods market on high-end bike components. What makes them rare and expensive makes them hard to fence.
Lights and reflectors... lots of it. As others have mentioned you can buy tires with reflective strips on them.
(Picture taken indoors, with a flash)
I am also a firm believer of using multiple head and tail lights. When one fails there are others to fall back to. Also I stagger the time recharging my headlights... meaning I don't charge them at the same time. This further minimizes the chance that both will lose a charge when I am commuting at night. Some pics of my commuter:
To top this off I have a Planet Bike Headlamp on my helmet and a triangular reflector I stitched on my backpack. In addition to the reflective strip on the tires I also placed white 3M reflective strips on the rims (4 each) so motorist can see the wheels rotating at night. Finally I use bright orange ankle straps.
In addition to lots of reflective material and a good headlight, I recommend the super-bright Dynotte 400R tail-light.
This light is the brightest I could find commercially available and seems to be visible from more than 1/2 mile away in bright sunshine (and much further at night). I ride with it on at all times of day while commuting year round.
In my side-by side tests the 400R was significantly brighter than my car's break-lights. In the past 8 months I've had about 10 comments from drivers and as many from other cyclists about how bright the light was.
I used iron on reflective tape on my backpack (or buy a cover) and Pannier including the sites.
Reflective Ankle Bands are good, as a driver can see the movement when you are pedalling, I also use a reflective helmet band.
In short: Lots of steady light, but don't dazzle.
Multiple rear lights help a lot, both for redundancy (if the battery dies) and to give other road users an idea of how fast they're approaching. I have 2 steady and 1 flashing, and may add another to my helmet before winter. The benefit of multiple lights is really noticeable when approaching a bike from behind, fast, in the dark.
At the front, I have a 900 lumen rechargeable, for which I carry a spare battery, and a little LED on the front fork - again, multiple points of light help define the shape, which is why I've got extra spoke reflectors and light-up valve caps.
A note on high-power front lights though:
They are meant to light up the road, not to shine in someone's eyes. If a driver or another cyclist has 900lm+ shone in their eyes, they will know that something is there, but not know where "there" is very well. These lamps are almost as bright as a car headlight, and there's a reason headlights are generally required to be dipped in the face of oncoming traffic.
Personally I can see no use case for super bright strobes either - even if they don't shine directly into someone's eyes they don't do a good job of marking out where you are, and they're rubbish for illuminating the road - leave the super bright on steady, and by all means add as many small flashers as you like.
Some of this dates back to before I commuted by bike (as a driver who wanted to be nice to cyclists), but with a mix of busy (though generally quite bike-friendly) roads and completely dark paths, I've reached the same conclusions from the other direction.
A more specific suggestion: use 3M Diamond Tape (see impressive demonstration). It is really bright. Fun trivia: the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute tried to make it a standard for bike helmets, but none of 3Ms competitors could make a material so reflective.
The best reflective material is fixed in your bike, so you will never forget it. Use:
- reflectors in your pedals
- mudguards with reflective strip
- replace every broken standard reflector you can think about
- use a helmet with a vibrant color and a reflective decal, if it doesn't have, put some reflective tape. I don't understand why almost all helmets are black or gray.
- tires with a reflective sidewall (see comment below about tire durability).
- spoke reflectors are also an excellent add-on. They are cheap and probably nothing would make you visible from the side.
For every component, try to by the reflective version!
Also don't forget the active blinking lights and all the other good answers of this question!
Check out Fire Fly.
The Firefly light uses a Passive Infrared sensor in order to detect traffic approaching from behind the rider. Upon detection LEDs flash onto the back of the rider with varying intensity depending on the proximity of the traffic. The protruding arm of the device allows the light to illuminate the entire back of the rider at any angle. A set of LEDs also illuminate the ground beneath the rider; providing traffic with a proximity of depth which can be used to determine exactly where the rider is. While a rear tail-light provides strong rear presence and meets bicycle light requirements.
Not sure if it's in production yet, but still a really great idea.
One more option for total night visibility:
[Light Trails – Fully LED’ed]
As a driver I've found passive/reflexive strips totally useless in the dangerous situations on the road. Unfortunately it's not working if cyclist out of the car beams. It makes him/her completely dark and invisible in contrast to the objects highlighted by car front lights. Especially reflexive strips danger because cyclist usually have no idea if he/her visible or not.
I found this video very interesting as example of using active lighting. It shows not only the presence of the some unknown source of red light blinking but the actual size and contour of the cyclist and his bicycle.
I initially looked for a reflective vest but then found very inexpensive LED lights. I got a red one that I put on the rear that I set to flashing mode, then another white one for a front "headlight" and another red one I clip on my backpack or other place near the rear of the bike. I also bought a few reflecting tape pieces and hang them around the rear of the bike.
The favorite thing I've found for lighting is the FlashBak. It's a bunch of super-bright orange LEDs. Orange, to motorists, means "slow" - while RED is the DOT standard and required for the rear at night, I've never understood why we don't see more orange lighting.
Basically, you can't be TOO VISIBLE. lots of blinkylights, lots of reflect-o-stuff. Take everything you've seen mentioned in every reply and do all of it, and you still could add more to make yourself seen.
Part of the problem is that motorists filter stuff out. They look in a general direction without seeing things they aren't looking for. Most of them are only looking for gigantic multi-ton hunks of metal and glass lumbering down the road.
I have flashers front and rear going any time that I'm near dusk. Once the sun is completely down, I make sure to have my helmet light as well, a NitRider MiNewt:
The little thing is super bright, enough to light the road for 30 meters ahead, has enough battery power for a few hours, and it charges from a mini USB cable.
Motorists are familiar with the 'Sam Browne' reflective belt, the 'Hump' rucksack cover or the reflective jacket, typically in yellow - or orange. To them, at night, when coupled with the regular LED flashers, no thinking is required to see that there is a bike ahead.
In my opinion there are good reasons not to decorate the bike too extensively with reflective tape. When parked up you really want your bike to be as stealthy as possible so that thieves, drunken idiots and other undesirables do not pay attention to it. Furthermore, an even layer of grime can quickly dull the reflective tape, not that it is that visible from behind (or head on) in the first place.
There is an added benefit to the hi-viz jacket on the UK commute. The filth from the (diesel) car in front will make your normal coat quite dirty. Protect it with a hi-viz jacket. Also in early mornings there can be a chill in the air - a hi-viz jacket takes the chill off yet is not so tight that it will make you sweaty.
My top tip for buying a hi-viz jacket is to buy a couple of them, long sleeve and sleeveless. Also, don't buy the £££ ones from the bike shop. Unlike the cheap ones that binmen and the like wear the bike shop ones do not have the E.U. style patterns that 3M + co worked to perfect.
As noted already, trouser clips are a very good idea. The affordable 'Adie' brand ones available from any UK bike shop give motorists an idea of your relative speed and distance. If you are not wearing them, get cycle shoes with reflective heel tabs, if not wearing those then keep the British Standard approved pedal reflectors on the pedals. If you have lost those then get a set for free from your friendly bike shop - in the workshop they will have a drawer full of them knocking around.
Reflective sidewalls are a great idea in principle, however, nobody keeps their bike clean enough for them to actually work.
Approaches to roundabouts are particularly hazardous, you need the traffic already on the roundabout to see you as well as the traffic behind you. The hi-viz jacket works well in these and other scenarios where visibility matters.
I have tried the 'terror tactic' of having really bright lights on the bike, however, these can lead to unpredictable results. Basically there will be drivers that will respond with 'WTF?' and hit the brakes because they do not know what is coming towards them. You actually want to send them a 'I am a cyclist' message with symbols they already recognise - the flashers, pedal reflectors and, most important of all, the hi-viz jacket.
Two sets of lights, front and rear are a very good idea, much better than carrying spare batteries. If you can get one set hard-wired to the bike, e.g. on the reflector brackets you are less likely to get caught out without them. Also try to get a high level rear light that can be seen through car windscreens, e.g. attached to your rucksack.
Remember that helmets do not help you to be seen or to avoid accidents. If you really care about road safety go for the hi-viz jacket before the nice polystyrene hat (that doesn't quite fit properly...).
Assertive, confident cycling also helps. Do not trudge along in the gutter and be aware of traffic coming towards you from other directions, e.g. head on cars overtaking. Light for these guys too and don't assume you will be okay when you only have a rear light (and no front).
One way is to definitely make sure you have on bright clothing!
- Neon clothes
- Bright construction vests
- Light colored helmet
- Add a reflector or blinker to the top of your helmet to add visibility
- AVOID DARK CLOTHING!
Motorists are not always watching (I know from personal experience) and they are a lot bigger than you!
Another is to make the bike itself visible. Good ways to do this are:
- Add reflectors to front and rear tires as well as the body of the bike.
- Have a mounted light such as a Cat's Eye on your handlebars. This will allow you to see through dark areas better than just street lights.
- Add reflective and neon tape (as suggested above) to the frame of the bike to make you visible.
- Make lights as bright as possible on the spokes or handle bars.
Having the full set of lights/reflectors on your bike that is prescribed by law goes a long way. In Germany, that is afaik:
White working front light
Red working rear light
White front reflector (usually integrated with the light)
Red rear reflector (usually integrated with the light)
2x2 yellow side reflectors snapped onto the spokes of the wheels (this is four reflectors in total!)
yellow reflectors in your pedals
You must also ensure that
Lights/reflectors are oriented correctly (neither looking at the moon, nor directly at the ground in shame)
All these parts are at their correct locations (a rear light at the front sends a possibly fatally wrong signal to car drivers!)
None of these parts is obstructed in any way (by clothing, luggage, or bike parts).
With that, your bike does look like a christmas tree in the headlights of a car, independent of directions. Reflective stripes on the tires are also quite effective.
The only problem with this is, that it is your job to ensure that your lights/reflectors are working. And it is your job to ensure that they are actually visible. There is nothing that can save you that trouble. You must notice when your light is going dim, even when it's your rear light. You must notice when a side reflector goes missing and replace it. However, if you do so, any car driver will be able to see you.
Apart from that, it's also a good idea to wear a white shirt/pullover/jacket, if only to ensure that your hand signals are actually visible.
Many urban/commuter tires have reflective sidewalls. Next time you're due for a tire change, you might check to see if any of the tires have the reflective stripe. Someone told me (not sure if it's true) that reflective sidewall tires are required in some European cities.
e.g. Vitoria Randonneuer http://www.amazon.com/Vittoria-Randonneuer-Pro-700x35c-Reflective/dp/B0028N305O
3M makes some reflective tape that is available in many colors (even black!) to match your bike finish during the day but it reflects bright white at night.
I too use a Dinotte tail light and they are astoundingly bright. I have found that motorists with eye pain give me lots more room. The Dinotte lights are stupidly expensive though. The Planet Bike Superflash is the best inexpensive blinkies I have found. I put them on my kids' bikes and I can see them two blocks away in broad daylight; < $30.
Stay safe and assume all cars are trying to kill you.
One of the VERY best bits of clothing, for a cyclist, in terms of "everything" are bright white long sleeve business shirts from the second hand / charity clothing shops...
They significantly reduce the sun getting to your skin.
They breath well and are very light.
They are cheap, reasonably durable, easy to clean and come with breast pockets.
While many people go, "Oh fluorescent" jackets, well they are good but more so for the contrast rather than the reflectivity. White stands out all by itself in the dark, where as dark clothing is just an outright hazard no matter what else is on the bike. Just look at the pictures where the bike glows and the rider is all in "black" (or nearly so). There is about 80% of your eye level visibility gone right there.
Sensible people use WHITE clothing AND reflective tapes and adhesives, and lights and reflectors...
In addition to a reflective vest and headlight on the fork crown (to avoid blinding oncoming riders on a cycle path), I have a yellow and white LED road flare attached to my head tube, and I use a red LED road flare attached to my seat post as a tail light.
Because the LEDs are mounted on the edge of the disc shaped road flare, it also gives me good side visibility.
I've also noticed that most drivers move over half a lane when passing me, which tells me that they can see me and that I've managed to penetrate their cell phone attention bubble.
In response to the request for a picture, this link (https://d114hh0cykhyb0.cloudfront.net/images/uploads/led-safety-flare-side-vehicle-amber-strobe-mode-magnet.jpg) is a picture of an LED road flare beam pattern.
My twist on the hi-viz and flashing lights is to attach the lights backwards so that they're shining onto the vest. It means you're hi-viz pops out like a monument even if the cars' lights are out and you don't have the same blinding effect