This picture, from our local bike to work day breakfast last week, shows one of the red blinkie lights on the back of my commuter bike. I have one on my rear rack trunk bag as well and when I am riding during rush hour, I always have at least one of the lights flashing. Even during the day, I think a red blinking light helps to increase the visibility of a rider in traffic. You can also see some of the reflective tape on my commuter bike in this picture. It may not be pretty, but like many other bike commuters, I have reflective tape on my frame, rims, cranks, shoes, helmet, you name it; anywhere to increase visibility.
The question this brings up is, “why don’t more manufacturers in the bicycle industry design products that are already reflective?” Some clothing manufacturers do, but the majority of the of the cycling clothes, helmets, and other gear that you find on the market have minimal reflective properties or none at all. A reader, Patrick McMahon, recently sent me an email asking just that question. I won’t quote his entire message, but in part he said:
“Most cyclists that I know (predominantly commuters) go through the painstaking effort of buying reflective tape and other reflective materials to make their bikes, helmets, fenders, shirts, jackets, backpacks, panniers, etc. more visible.
It seems to me as if most bike and bike accessory manufacturers design as if they’re making products for Navy SEALs, without thinking about the importance of visibility to the safety of riders. I realize that some individuals may not like the look of reflective materials, but I don’t understand why lines of clothing, bikes, and other things targeted towards commuters aren’t generously coated with reflective material. I’ve resorted to buying shirts from a highway contractor company because I can’t find a good, wicking t-shirt that will keep me visible while biking home at night.
I’ve always wondered if manufacturers were avoiding reflective materials because it made it challenging to shoot promotional photos, or because they thought it would fade and look unsightly, or if they were afraid that by putting reflective materials they thought they opened themselves to legal liability. ”
Patrick also pointed out an interesting page on the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute website. They conclude that reflective helmets are safer, but that “manufacturers will not spend the additional 25 cents for reflective trim on each helmet until consumers are willing to pay an extra dollar for a reflective helmet.” A couple of my old Specialized helmets had a sizable reflective sticker on the tail, but most helmets these days do not. Is cost really the reason, even on expensive helmets, or is fashion also part of it?
I think Patrick’s question is a good one, so I want to open it up to all of you; especially those of you who work in the bike industry. I know that there are some great reflective products out there, but if they really do increase visibility, why aren’t there more? I think cost is part of it, but I also believe there are other factors that keep manufacturers from designing reflectivity into more products for cycling. I don’t want to bias you with my theories though; let me know what you all think.