Reflectivity, why not more?

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  1. sumadis May 20, 2008 at 12:29 pm -  Reply

    personally, I prefer to customize my gear with reflective tape, but I agree that manu’s could stand to use a bit more on their products. noted that rapha, while a bit pricey, includes lots of reflective details in their kit.
    as commuting interest increases, I’d bet we’ll see a return to more reflective items incorporated into accessories and products.

  2. Anonymous May 20, 2008 at 12:49 pm -  Reply

    Haven’t you read the stickers on bikes?
    It’s dangerous to ride at night!

    I actually think the photgraphy issue might be a significant part of the problem as you surmised.

    I also think because the reflective capabilities degrade, if customers use the product for a long period, the safety feature of the reflective also degrades and may leave some open to lawsuits.

  3. Karl McCracken May 20, 2008 at 4:44 pm -  Reply

    Of course, if the manufacturers made all their logos out of reflective materials, the cost difference would be tiny . . . and they’d get to show off their names at night.

    Alternatively, perhaps most bikes are designed with Seals / the SAS / your local friendly SWAT team in mind.

    Hut! Hut! Hut!

  4. Jacques May 20, 2008 at 7:16 pm -  Reply

    I have to agree with your thoughts on being seen. Most of my commuting is done in heavy traffic. I have a reflective vest, tape on my helmet and my lights that blink front and back. I think the manufactures are reluctant to make their products more visible because of some warped sense of liability. If they made their bikes with more reflective material and someone got hit and the cause was stated ” I just didn’t see them”, someone would be looking to file the papers with their local lawyer. The manufactures default position now seems to be that bike riding is a “daytime activity”.

  5. Ron May 20, 2008 at 9:43 pm -  Reply

    The bicycle indsutry needs more engineering. Engineering as in really making products that people want or are having problems with. To me, this sounds like a great opportunity for any company to branch out, with new ideas to make more money. Why they aren’t doing things like this beats me. I wonder whether being here in America has anything to do with this issue, since this is really a car country and not many care about cyclists. How would the situation be across the Atlantic, in parts of Europe. I certainly don’t know but I expect its different. Good post.

  6. Ron May 20, 2008 at 10:36 pm -  Reply

    As to the question of photography, reflective elements can be shot by zeroing the flash, using polarizers, and other means. For example, the glow in the dark Puma bike was shot with a black background. I think it came out pretty decently.

  7. Anonymous May 20, 2008 at 11:54 pm -  Reply

    Please stop using blinking head and tail lights.

    While they may make you marginally safer by forcing everyone around you to concentrate on YOU, they make everyone ELSE around you much less safer. You are forcing drivers and other bicyclists concentrate on you instead of each others and actual road hazards.

    Blinking lights are usually associated to EMERGENCY vehicles. A bicyclists is not an emergency vehicle. You are diluting the importance of a blinking light.

    It is actually pretty hard to figure out the direction and velocity of the bicycle when the only visible indicator disappears and reappears constantly.

    So, as a driver and bicyclist, I plea that you put the light on steady and wear reflective clothing. Be a responsible bicyclist. A neon yellow light road worker’s vest with large reflective strips is absolutely the best safety device you can have. The visibility it provides is incredible at night and marvellous during the day.

  8. bikesgonewild May 21, 2008 at 5:07 am -  Reply

    …i agree that our litigious society is a factor in liability issues faced by manufacturers…i assume that’s why there is a “standard” in the industry…the lawyers have decided on the ubiquitous wheel reflectors & the little aforementioned ‘sticker’ allowing for disclaiming responsibility…which is perfectly understandable…

    …& anon 12:54am…i have a very different perspective & i couldn’t disagree w/ you more…in a world full of advertising lights, infrastructure lights, blindingly bright gas-discharge vehicle lights & drivers disconnected w/ the task at hand through use of distractions like cell-phones, i’m quite glad that “blinking lights are usually associated w/ EMERGENCY vehicles”
    …w/ drivers distracted by all of the above, i consider getting your ass & mine safely to our respective homes, an ‘emergency’…
    …what happens when someones brain registers a flashing light while driving ???…they usually pay better attention & slow accordingly…
    …i also think a flashing light & a reflective surface light are equally as hard to judge in regards to distance & depth perspective, at night…
    …anyway, it’s only my view but i think you’re missing the target on this one…i suggest using two rear flashing lights on different pulses or patterns…

  9. Anonymous May 21, 2008 at 6:28 am -  Reply

    @ bikesgonewild : When you ride with a blinking light, you become the distraction to those people who do not impose any threat of accident to you. This means that you have become a road hazard.

    In the populated areas, where there are many lights, your blinker is useless and you need to rely on reflective and bright clothing. Outside city, especially in dark, your blinker captivates the eye of the driver and makes him concentrate on you instead of everyone on the road. You are putting everyone else to danger with the blinker. And you have the nerve to suggest using two blinkers.

    You getting home safely is not an emergency. Getting an accident victim to a hospital or fire fighters to a fire is an emergency You are putting yourself to the same category with the police, fire fighters and ambulance drivers.

    I don’t often meet people that have a more selfish attitude than you do. Like, share the road, dude.

  10. Anonymous May 21, 2008 at 7:58 am -  Reply

    Good morning,
    As a 50yo cyclist, and one who has been doing it for transportation for 42 years without a serious accident, I hope you’ll consider this. I don’t know any cyclist alive who counts on motorists to see them. Your safety depends on you….

    1) Staying out where you can be seen
    2) Looking out at everything around you
    3) Leaving a way out if it’s coming at you.

    As has been mentioned blinking lights can be a disruptive nuisance, eg to someone trying to pass a cyclist with less than the legal 3-ft separation (I know it shouldn’t happen but it does – do you want a light flashing in that person’s eyes when they do?).

    I can strongly recommend that you put (steady) tail lights or reflectors on either side of your bike (on my recumbent I put them on either side of my seat frame. Drivers will give you wider berth when passing.

    Hope this helps.
    Nick Hein
    Morgantown, WV

  11. Robb Sutton (198) May 21, 2008 at 9:23 am -  Reply

    Thanks for linking my Industry Nine tour! That place is really incredible walking through.

  12. James May 21, 2008 at 11:17 am -  Reply

    Thanks for all the comments everyone. I am pressed for time, so I will just address the blinking light comments right now.

    Anon 12:54, you said “While they may make you marginally safer by forcing everyone around you to concentrate on YOU, they make everyone ELSE around you much less safer.” You are saying I make it much less safe on the roadway by running a single LED light? Are you serious? During the daytime, the light I use is very small, so I can’t believe that you said I am diluting the importance of blinking lights on emergency vehicles. I’ll check into the flashing vs. steady idea, but I have been commuting for nearly twenty years, and have never heard anyone complain about the use of a red rear light.

    The fact that average vehicle sizes have increased and that drivers pay less attention (talking on cellphones, etc) has made the roads less safe for all users, so I just don’t buy into your argument that somehow I am the road hazard out there. I also have to say that I think you are unwarranted in calling bikesgonewild selfish for disagreeing with you. If you want to argue with people, you should at least be willing to sign your name to the comment. Like, be civil, dude.

    Nick, I have been riding for a long time too and I agree with most of your comment. One thing seemed contradictory to me. You said, “I don’t know any cyclist alive who counts on motorists to see them.” Then the first point you make is that your safety depends on “Staying out where you can be seen.”

    A cyclist I knew was killed by an elderly driver who just plowed into the paceline in which he was riding. The point is, sometimes you can do everything right on the bike and still be killed. Being alert, taking the lane, behaving predictably- those are all important, but doing everything you can to be visible to motorists is important too.

  13. bikesgonewild May 21, 2008 at 1:28 pm -  Reply

    …dear mr anon…while we both may be obstinate in our pov regarding flashing bicycle safety lights, your comment “i don’t often meet people who have a more selfish attitude than you do…like, share the road, dude” is a rather disingenuous & self revealing statement…

    …while my opinion is different than yours, i, like you, am here sharing what i think is an intelligent viewpoint regarding what ???…our very lives, quite literally…

    …your entitled opinion is just that & i don’t see any results of transportation studies providing intelligent backup of your personal pov…

    …my actions, whether here posting or out riding at night w/ a flashing light or two are far from being selfish…

    …to begin w/, the red flashing tailight has been the accepted ‘norm’ for years & you might note the the manufacturers often include several different ‘blinking’ patterns…why would that be if not for a purpose ???…as kids in the ’50’s & ’60’s, most of us simply had reflective tape on our bikes but that was eventually deemed as inadequate…

    …secondly, selfish as it may seem to you, not everyone wears (or ever will wear) all the ‘safety gear’ you purport to use…therefor a red blinky light is, in my book, a viable ‘alternative’ to your recommendation…
    …as i stated previously, in a world of high intensity, gas-discharge vehicle headlights, the wattage output of any rear safety light on the market means that they are substantially less distracting & blinding than modern headlights…

    …on a personal note, i’ve been living & cycling in a highly populated area for 40 years & (knock on wood) i’ve never been hit by a vehicle…close calls, indeed but “paying attention has paid off” if you will…

  14. jimmythefly May 21, 2008 at 4:29 pm -  Reply

    I snipped a bit for length, but

    anonymous said: ” When you ride with a blinking light, you become the distraction to those people who do not impose any threat of accident to you. This means that you have become a road hazard.

    In the populated areas, where there are many lights, your blinker is useless and you need to rely on reflective and bright clothing. Outside city, especially in dark, your blinker captivates the eye of the driver and makes him concentrate on you instead of everyone on the road. You are putting everyone else to danger with the blinker. And you have the nerve to suggest using two blinkers.

    You are putting yourself to the same category with the police, fire fighters and ambulance drivers.

    1. Unfortunately I cannot choose to aim my blinky at only those who do pose a threat. As a consequence, those who pose no threat do see the blinky, but at least those others who are a threat also get to see it. If you develop a threat-selective blinky, I’d be happy to buy it.

    2. The blinker is not useless, as by your own admissions people notice it in the same manner they notice emergency vehicle flashers. Reflective clothing only helps if the threat has headlights, and does nothing for pedestrians stepping off the curb and into me, cars pulling out from side streets, etc. I agree with you about how a lone blinky on a dark road can sometimes draw a drivers attention, but have never seen it shown that this makes one worse or better off than going “full dark”. Making myself conspicuous is not putting everyone else in danger, in much the same way that if I were invisible it would not make everyone else safer. General driver attentiveness is the issue, no matter what that driver is looking at. Place blame where it’s due.

    3. Wrong again. The amount of blinkiness an object posseses does not make it an emergency vehicle, there are other considerations. Consider the motorcycles with blinking headlamps and brake lamps. Also, my being blinky does not make emergency vehicles less important, especially since I am clearly not an ambulance (I’m not crying wolf with a blinky).

    I’m curious if you would outlaw the tanktops and sundresses that have miraculously begun to appear with the weather, as those can be much more a distraction than anything I can muster!

    Jimmy Livengood
    Seattle, WA

  15. jimmythefly May 21, 2008 at 4:34 pm -  Reply

    And now to the original question…

    I’m assuming it’s a cost/demand issue. That is, the cost of developing or adding reflectivity to a product can not be sustained by the expected selling price.

    Sounds too simple, there must be another explanation, but I don’t know it!

  16. bikesgonewild May 21, 2008 at 6:13 pm -  Reply

    …jimmythefly…i really believe it has to do, as i mentioned in my first post, w/ a set “standard” & the litigious nature of our society…

    …it’s a case of “cover your ass” to a degree but not too far… manufacturers have to loophole it so that they don’t accept too much responsibility or some ‘dumbass’ w/ a good lawyer will try to take them to the cleaners…

    …plus (& this is minor in comparison), where or do you draw the line as a financial separator so the guy buying the high end colnago isn’t put off w/ plastered on stickers…

    …although the industry mavens could incorporate specifically designed “nice looking & appropriate” reflective safety stickers or decals…

  17. sport shopping May 22, 2008 at 6:58 am -  Reply

    Helmet Tips–You Should Always…

    - Wear a helmet when you ride
    - Wear your helmet low in the front to protect the forehead
    - Fasten your buckle and tighten your chin strap
    - Check your adjustments every time you wear your helmet
    - Inspect your helmet regularly for signs of wear or damage
    - Wear a helmet designed for your activity.
    safety ride.

  18. Roger May 22, 2008 at 10:59 pm -  Reply

    While anonymous has put everyone offside with his strong comments, I have to say that this issue deserves more consideration than people are giving it. After a debate about bicycle safety at my place of work, I have been trying to find any studies that show that blinking lights are safer than steady ones.

    So far, I have found none whatsoever. Everyone just seems to assume, “they look more obvious, therefore they are safer.” Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Some studies clearly have shown that people have greater difficulty judging the distance and speed of a blinking light, compared to a steady one. Other studies have shown that when presented with a cluster of unsynchronised blinking lights, attention is drawn to the centre of the cluster and ignores its edges. There is also a lot of anecdotal evidence: that people have slower reaction times when surrounded by flashing lights; motorists who admit seeing a bicycle’s flashing light, but with the illusion that it was a larger vehicle showing a steady light in the distance; motorists who admit to seeing the light, but thinking it was an equipment indicator light off the side of the road, and so on.

    Perhaps the strongest “eye opener” is a study by the Illinois state police which showed that patrol cars which operated flashing lights while stopped on the road verge were actually several times more likely to be hit by passing vehicles than those without; they have since removed their light bars!!

    None of this is categorical evidence that flashing lights are unsafe, but it really does call into question the hand waving, wishy-washy sort of arguments that seem to pass for bicycle safety policies.

    So anyway, if anyone knows of any actual evidence that flashing lights are safer, I would be interested to hear it.

    (In my personal opinion, by the way, the most valuable lights for night riding are pedal reflectors; ankle reflectors or crank reflectors are a close second. Those orange rectangles rhythmically pumping up and down are so characteristic that they scream “Bike!” from a great distance, and also enable very rapid estimation of distance and speed. Most bikes come from the factory with pedal reflectors, but more and more often I am seeing them without.)

  19. bikesgonewild May 23, 2008 at 1:50 am -  Reply

    …roger…glad you weighed in on the subject…good contribution even if nothing is actually conclusive…

    …the illinois state police info is interesting & rather scary…makes you wonder if there’s something subconscious going on when certain types of mindsets make an association w/ cops & flashing lights…

    …& any input you bring to the table is appreciated, even if we all reserve the right to differ…

  20. jimmythefly May 23, 2008 at 1:22 pm -  Reply

    Yeah, I definitely seem to correlate “more noticeable” with “safer”, even though that’s not logical.

    Another piece that seems to be missing is how far away something is noticed. Consider a blinky(hard to judge distance and speed/direction) that is noticed at 300 yards vs. a steady light (easier to judge) that isn’t noticed until 100yds.

    I guess my unsupported contention is that I’d rather be noticed while I’m far away and ambiguous than noticed at the last second.

    BMW or one of the motorcycle manufacturers that use blinking lights must have some supporting info?

    LIke pedal reflectors, I think reflective tape on the rim, reflective tires (or OEM style spoke reflectors) does a great job of saying “I’m a bicycle!”.

  21. Anonymous May 23, 2008 at 1:43 pm -  Reply

    I am a buyer for a bicycle retailer and am always asking my vendors to make products with more reflective features…except for Illuminite (you should check them out, their reflective properties do not deminish that i am aware of) Nice post and comments/discussion. Reflectivity is important. The fact of the matter is that practical application of reflectivity in products make cyclist safer than without, it not only make you safer…it makes a cyclist “feel” more visable and more safe…The safer people feel on the bike, the more people will ride more often. The bicycle industry does not need more engineering, it is already a product driven industry that needs to focus more on the true heart of the problem…work with your local governments and shops to be an advocate for a cycling friendly community, complete streets and bike to school programs.

  22. Carl May 25, 2008 at 3:48 pm -  Reply

    @ron:

    “The bicycle indsutry needs more engineering. Engineering as in really making products that people want or are having problems with.”

    i’m sorry, but that’s not engineering. you just described “design”. and that’s what this blog is all about, isn’t it? :)

    sorry, as an industrial designer, i have that “people think engineers do everything”-chip on my shoulder. ;)

  23. Anonymous May 26, 2008 at 1:04 am -  Reply

    Carl, your right on.

  24. bikesgonewild May 27, 2008 at 5:03 am -  Reply

    …carl…so where is the dividing line between engineering & designing…i would surmise that an engineer might be better trained to understand or define the stresses involved in an mechanical structural process…

    …but if you’re redesigning or modifying the actual function of something (w/in reasonable parameters), are you not in actuality, re-engineering it ???…

    …serious question as i think ‘common sense’ (again, within reason) can play as big of a role as education, in regard to many processes…i’m honestly interested in how it’s all defined…

  25. Charles May 27, 2008 at 2:10 pm -  Reply

    As a commuter with 10 years of experience in the city I was surprised to find that the most positive comments from drivers referred to the reflective tape on the hub-facing parts of my rims. 5 strips per wheel, equally spaced between the spokes provides a highly distinctive rotating pattern.
    A home brew 48 white LED headlight and tail light with steady and flashing red LEDs was also used.
    There is reflective material on my helmet, shoes, panniers, and rack pack; but everyone commented on the wheel strips.
    Oh yes, and ride defensively; you don’t get to be an old bike commuter by taking stupid chances.

  26. kind1 May 27, 2008 at 2:58 pm -  Reply

    It is happening slowly, even at the high end. Sidi’s have red reflectors on the heel, Campy shorts have reflective piping on the seams. A few well known brands are using relfective downtube decals in some of their bikes.

    The question is why is it not prevelent at the bike level? There are a number of reasons:

    You are asking the same companies who are selling the crap out of bikes with no brakes for use in an urban environment to also add safetly features to that same line…

    Every bike that is sold in the US must have front and rear reflectors and wheel reflectors. The industry/gov’t/watchdogs do a poor job of requiring this to be on the bike at final sale the way the European Union standards do.

    The industry in general does a good job of forcing products on consumers, not necessariy listening to what consumers want.

    When looking at units and dollars, commuter specific bikes represent less than 5% of all sales in the US. And while gaining prevalence, the numbers state it still is not a huge catagory.

    Most of the dollars and focus of the industry is spent on a small segment – high end use. Look at Interbike for example. About 18 million bikes are sold each year. Of that, about 4 million bikes are sold per year through the LBS channel (though it does represent about 46% of the total dollars). Trek is the largest and doesn’t even show up to interbike and a few other brands in the top ten don’t either. This means that you have the main trade show for the industry that caters to less than 3million of the 18 million people who buy bikes annually.

    This last point is the root of many of the issues in the industry today – including this one.

  27. jimmythefly May 27, 2008 at 4:36 pm -  Reply

    BGW:

    A quick-and-dirty way of thinking of it is that engineering involves math, industrial design is most everything else.

    If a product is modified, both disciplines are involved (even if it’s all done by the same person!)

    Note I said quick-and-dirty. There are many things I don’t know, and things like budget and intended customer and human factors and all other sorts of stuff need to happen for a new product, too.

  28. bikesgonewild May 28, 2008 at 3:38 pm -  Reply

    …jimmythefly…thanks for the input & ya, it’s basically what i assumed…i was just looking for a world view…

    …i’ve done (years ago) some design work in the bike biz but w/ absolutely no specific training other than a sculptural background & a love of bicycles…

    …i’ve said it here before…there have always been (& i’ve met a few of ‘em) gung-ho young engineers coming out of tech schools w/ the intent of re-inventing the bicycle & setting the biz on fire…

    …but take a look around at how the bicycle has been on a constant evolutionary path…the basic concept was wonderfully sound in the beginning & remains so…

  29. James May 28, 2008 at 4:29 pm -  Reply

    Great discussion here. Thanks to all of you for some really good comments.

    Carl, you are right. I am an industrial designer as well, so this blog is about design not engineering. I also agree that Ron’s statement does describe what an industrial designer should do. In general, I would say that designers are (usually) more in tune with how a user relates to a product, aesthetically and physically, while engineers are focused on the details of making a product function well. Of course, that is a gross generalization. In my career, I have worked with some engineers who had a great eye for design and others who seemed to forget that people actually had to use the products they were engineering. To be fair, I have also known industrial designers who design products without really seeing the big picture (usually they are more stylists than designers). Training and education are obviously important, but I think a lot of it comes down to the individual and how they think. Anyway, as jimmythefly pointed out, good products are usually a collaborative effort between industrial designers and engineers.

    And Charles, I agree, reflective strips on the rim between spokes are a good idea. I have them on my commuter bike too.

  30. Biker Dude May 29, 2008 at 12:35 pm -  Reply

    Kind1 –
    I’ve actually spent time in Trek’s booth at the last two Interbikes. I think they had the largest display at the demo. On the issue of Interbike, will Kind Bike (www.kindbike.com) be exhibiting at the show this fall? Curious to see the bikes in person – they look nice. Like the philosophy, too.

  31. kind1 May 29, 2008 at 10:27 pm -  Reply

    Biker Dude, Thanks for the words.

    Yeah Trek was there last year at the Demo but they have not been a part of the show at the Sands since ’05.

    As for Kind at Interbike, we will not be on the show floor. We feel like most in the indusrty that the expense to payback ratio at interbike is small – a good (but old) link on what some in the industry say about it:

    http://just-riding-along.typepad.com/just_riding_along/2005/08/the_interbike_q.html

    However we but may try to get involved if the talked about organized urban ride along the strip comes to fruition.

    This brings me back to the original post – the show is geared towards the super high end and some say borders on elitist. Maybe we are part of the problem by not showing up with our sub $1000 line but we can’t justify the cost. We would rather take a road trip to individual shops, get to know them all at a fraction of the cost.

    Oh and yeah, we will have reflective decals on our second production run…

  32. M June 15, 2008 at 12:49 pm -  Reply

    Regarding the whole “blinking light” argument, the UK Highway Code says you CAN’T put your light on blink mode, probably for the very reasons mentioned (distraction to drivers etc.)

    It MUST be on constant-on mode, which makes it look more like car tailights, and less distracting.

    You’re breaking the law if you don’t use the light though!

  33. Helmet Design Engineer December 11, 2008 at 4:27 pm -  Reply

    I am the lead design engineer for helmets at one of the largest bicycle helmet manufacturers. Sorry, but I can’t/won’t name which.

    There are several issue that I would like to mention regarding the subject. Before I begin, let me say, “We are working on it…”

    1) Cost
    Things cost money. Unfortunately, if you want manufacturers to spend $0.25 more on a helmet, you do have to pay an extra dollar. Stop buying the cheapo $40 helmet!

    2) Durability
    Most reflective materials come in tape form and have to be applied to the outside surface of the helmet, which is most prone to damage from daily abuse.

    3) Liability
    Once you claim that your helmet or product is safer because it is reflective, you have to back it up with evidence. Unfortunately, there is support for AND against reflective materials.

    Also, if you material becomes damaged during use, who is liable for the resulting lack of safety?

    4) How do you rate the level of extra safety that your customers are provided?
    Distance you can see the product?
    How well you can see it?
    Lumens?

    5) Do all of the customers VALUE the reflectivity, knowing that it is a trade-off and the helmet won’t look as cool?
    Although more safety conscious customers will buy the helmet, many others will now NOT buy it.

    6) COST (again)
    Seriously

    To sum up, it is not as simple as it may seem.
    Regardless, “We are working on it…..”

  34. Sean August 30, 2012 at 12:23 pm -  Reply

    Cyglo tyres are the best tyre lights ive seen, when i was at the Cork Cycling Show sooper cool! Take a look cyglo.com Aura rim lights to i think both are still in the RD stage

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