Thursday, November 5, 2009


I was reading a repost in the Seattle PI online edition (only edition) that discussed tactics for bicylists to improve their visibility. The article has a lot of good tips and photos accompanying it. You can also employ these on your kids' bikes, trikes, wagons, strollers, etc. to wheelchairs or walkers and also to your pets, or to your own attire or accessories as you're out walking in the seemingly prematurely arriving dark evening hours.

On my own, recently, I too beefed up my visibility on my commuter bike, a REI brand Novara Transfer (which you can read about here). The cool things about this bike is that it comes set-up for commuters - not only is there a color-matched rack and full fenders, it also includes a rear blinky light (integrated into the rear fender) and a front hub powered headlight. As I have found, however, this is just a rudimentary amount of lighting most commuters need. Essentially, it keeps you legal, but it doesn't give you a whole lot of visibility.

Initially, I augmented the rear blinky tail light with a red flasher I got for free courtesy of a community event hosted by WA State's Safe Routes to School Program. Soon after I added a cheapie ($6 at Fred Meyer) but very bright multi-LED flasher to it as well. So I had a built-in light, and two supplementals zip-tied to the rear rack.

Not content with just that alone, I added a flasher (by Planet Bike? Cateye?) to the back of my helmet, again with a zip-tie.

To augment the front headlight - especially important since the hub generator driven headlight does not stay on when you stop for a light or stop sign - I again went to a zip-tie solution and zip-tied a cheap 9 LED flashlight ($6 from Fred Meyer) to the stem.

About the same time as I was making these initial illumination enhancements, I found a wide-mouthed water bottle (a cool Austin music festival one) alongside a road heavily traveled by cyclists. I wasn't going to use it for drinking, but it made a perfect take-along emergency toolkit. It is just the right size for stuffing a patch kit, emergency ID, wrenches and other tools, etc. To fit with the illumination theme here, I added strips of red reflective tape to the sides for additional visibility.

The cool (recent) part - from a local sign shop (that makes highway signs) I received gratis pieces of the hyper-reflective material they use for road signs. This was stuff that would have ended up in the trash otherwise. I got yellow, hi-viz yellow, white/silver, and a clear red that itself isn't reflective, but it is when added over the white/silver. Below are shots of the materials under normal light and in the dark with the flash.

I trimmed strips to fit the front, back, and sides of the Transfer on the frame, fenders, fork, and rack.

And seat stays...

For the motion effect, I also added them to the crank and pedals (to the outside end of Shimano MTB SPDs) for the motion - I did the same with the wheels but have not yet decided if I like that look or not.

I also added the smaller scraps to my helmet.

As you can see from the photo, the combined effect really lights up the bike. No lights are turned on in any of these photos.

In the front view, the only added element is on the forks - the others are reflectors in the headlight or a traditional handlebar-mounted CPSC reflector.

In the rear, the stock red reflector is in the middle of the rack - everything else is from the reflective tape.


expletive_deleted said...

How about also wearing a reflective vest?

Of course, use of reflectors assumes the motorist has his lights on.

Michael said...

The sign shop that gave you the free scraps, was that the city sign shop, the county sign shop, or a private business? I think we live in the same metropolitan area...

Nate J said...

I should have mentioned I have been wearing a "Nathan" brand cycling reflective vest too. Plus, I just got "Glow Glovs" which have illuminating tape on the knuckles and palm (on the palm is a red stop sign).

Nate J said...

Hi, Michael. I just sent you an e-mail responding to your question (sorta). :)

Damien said...

Essentially the same question as Michael:
How would one go about tracking down WHICH of the many, many sign shops in the greater Seattle area (where I happen to live with a criminally unreflective bike), would be in the business of making these kinds of signs (and hence, throwing away this kind of material)?

Ben Kleinman said...

Any chance you could route some of those scraps my way? Not picky as to color. In fact, ugly might make the bike less stealable ;). I'm happy to pay for postage and any other nominal amount.

Nate J said...

I'll see what I have left. I think a lot of it is gone now, maybe down to a few strips.

Maybe if this economic downturn persists, I've found a cottage industry... LOL.

Nate J said...

I might be able to put some scraps into the mail, for, as Ben puts it, a "nominal amount".

I'll post soon with an idea for how to make this work. I'd also come up with an idea of how much illuminating material would be sent for X dollars.