Use Reflective Tape to Make Your Bicycle More Visible at Night

My daily commute involves a four mile bike ride to a bus stop. Two miles of the route are on a four lane road with no bike lane and heavy car traffic. On my return trip, it’s often dark out. Feeling safe, and being safe, are my top priorities. I use bright front and rear flashing lights. I follow a “I’d rather be safe than right” mantra when interacting with other road users. And I ride at a safe pace (say, when car traffic is clogged, I don’t whiz between them and the parked cars at top speed). But I don’t wear a whole lot of reflective gear (just reflective bands around my ankles). In order to feel safe on my bike, it’s reassuring to know that people driving can see me well. In many parts of Los Angeles, people driving are not used to encountering many people bicycling, and they’re eager to get home after a long day of work. There’s little point in making them strain to see me.

So I took some cheap, easy measures to increase my visibility:

  • – Reflective tape on my bicycle frame
  • – Spoke lights

This post will only cover the reflective tape. Here’s my rig:

bicycle with reflective tape

In my opinion, the California Vehicle Code’s bicycle safety requirements are inadequate (white headlight, rear reflector, side reflectors on pedals). Even when fully complying, you may not be especially visible to others. And if you fail to include one of those elements, you’re basically invisible from some angles. In Los Angeles, Operation Firefly is a great program, wherein volunteers hang out on a corner and stop people who are bicycling without lights. Then they give them a free set of lights! Great program. Lights can be expensive; they can be stolen; they can break. There are many reasons why people aren’t properly set up with gear.

Luckily, you don’t need special bicycle gear or expensive technology to add more reflective material. Just buy a roll of 3M Scotchlite reflective tape, and get creative! Now, my bike isn’t fancy, and so I have no qualms about covering it with tape. If you do, you can cut the strips into really small shapes and place them discretely on the bike. And you can buy colors that match your bike. The cool thing about reflective tape is that it only works when a light is shining directly on it. Otherwise it looks like normal tape, and can blend in fairly well.

I bought a roll of 1 inch x 20 feet 8830 Silver Marking Film – 3M™ Scotchlite™ Reflective Material. I got it on Ebay. And I used probably 3/5 of the roll. The image above shows how my bike looks in daylight, and how it looks with a light reflected on it. Remarkable difference. As you can tell, I covered much of the frame. I tried to get all angles, and I added some to the pedal crank so that a moving part is reflective. As far as I can tell, other road users are well aware of me.

If you want to get more creative, you can cut the tape into interesting shapes. Some bicycle part manufacturers already sell small reflective stickers in shapes. But a set of stickers is much more costly than a roll of tape from ebay. Perhaps Operation Firefly, or another safety program, can start giving away a few feet of reflective tape. It could also be popular at school-based bicycle safety programs.

SketchUp Assignment

I thought I’d share an assignment I completed last quarter. Over the course of the quarter I went out to the site (a real block, in South Pasadena), measured everything, and created various architectural drafts (by hand). Then I modeled it using SketchUp. Then I added “enhancements.” In these views, you can see the things I added: pedestrian-activated crosswalk; bike corral; wayfinding sign; parklet; bike rack; etc. I put a lot in there, mostly as an exercise.

Click each image to see them larger.

It’s a nice street, with locally-owned shops, and trees, benches, and nearby amenities (library, farmer’s market, light rail station). My goals were to improve safety for people crossing the street, and to remove some of the free curb parking to allow better use of the space (there’s a huge parking lot half a block away).

I really enjoyed using SketchUp. I used a few third-party sprites: trees and plants; trashcan; bicycles, crosswalk signal; people; cars. But everything else I created myself (including the wayfinding sign, sandwich board, and railing). The third-party sprites bogged down the program. Otherwise, it was a joy to use. I occasionally have anal retentive behavior, and SketchUp really brought it out. There were a few points where I tried to cut corners and, say, not measure the width of a door on a building on the far end of the view, but I just couldn’t do it. Everything had to be perfect.

(If I could change one thing – which I can, of course! – I would remove the black border around the crosswalk.)

Pinball Map API Tutorial

When I’m figuring out how to add features to websites, the chances are strong that someone else has already accomplished my goal. And, since programmers seem like really giving people, they’ve probably posted a tutorial on how to do it. I rely enormously on those tutorials.

So, in that spirit, I wrote a little tutorial on the Pinball Map Blog, called, “Using the Pinball Map API to list machines on your website.” The audience for this tutorial is micro – limited to businesses that have pinball machines and want to tell site visitors their current line-up. But it’s a nice example of “set it and forget it” programming. I don’t think anyone’s used it aside from me. But maybe someday someone will.


A couple new comics

I drew a few comics about a year ago, but then forgot to upload them to tiny mix tapes. But now I have, and they’re appearing on the site every few weeks. Here’s the latest. And there are a couple more in the pipeline.

I haven’t been drawing a whole lot lately, though I’ve been trying to work on some short illustrated stories. Overall, I’m out of the groove.

I Snagged a Sustainable Surfboard

This post gives some background information about environmentally-friendly surfboards and surf gear, as goes into my super simple journey to pick up an EcoBoard.

Eco Bro

Surfers are a heterogeneous group, and we approach the activity from different perspectives. To some it is a sport/career, to others a spiritual endeavor (though the “spirit” may just be the natural elements of the earth), and to others simply a way of life. The thing that unites all surfers is our love for bobbing around in the shallow zones in the ocean until a wave comes along, and then paddling our butts off to catch and ride it for a few seconds. It’s a particular type of activity in that it totally relies on natural processes of wind, ocean, tides, and reefs in order to work. A disruption to these natural elements yields a disruption in our ability to access the waves we need. Yet, oddly enough, to ride the waves, we for the most part rely on petrochemical sleds that damage these elements.

There seems to be a bit of a disconnect there, but the simple explanation is that it’s the result of the market at work. Polyurethane (PU) surfboard blanks were the best viable alternative following wood blanks. Wood blanks are heavy and expensive and difficult to shape. PU boards are light, cheap, and easy to shape, and they brought forth a revolution in shapes and in surfing itself. Expanded polystyrene (EPS) blanks gained some popularity in the late ’70s, but never obtained a foothold in the market (I got one custom EPS/Epoxy board in the late ’90s, shaped by Max McDonald and glassed by epoxy guru Clyde Beatty Jr – it was one of my favorite boards, and it lasted 5 years of heavy use). EPS is the standard packing material foam. The sustainable surf gear movement looks to be embracing EPS foam as the most viable way to move beyond traditional PU into something eco-friendlier. I’ll go into some of the benefits and drawbacks of EPS.

Sustainable Surf seems to be the largest organization making a coordinated effort to bring sustainably-made surfboards to the mainstream. They have a couple of successful projects, they provide waste/recycling support at events, and they have the endorsement of SIMA and many surf brands. One of their projects, the EcoBoard Project, provides a framework for surfboard manufacturers to follow if they’re aiming to build a less-wasteful board. Similar to LEED certification, they classify the materials used to construct a surfboard, and if the overall constructions qualifies, they label it an “EcoBoard” and enter it into their registry. The board I recently custom-ordered was around #1400 in the registry.

Here’s my board! More details about it further below…

my board
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Who lambada’d it better?

I was at the gym last night, and a song came on that was vaguely familiar. It was a dance song, and the familiar part occurred only during the chorus. I wobbled with distraction trying to figure out who they were sampling. I made an effort to memorize the lyrics (something about “dance the night away”) so that I could look it up later. But then right as the song faded, I figured it out! They were remixing Sun City Girls! Specifically, “The Shining Path” from their 1990 album, Torch of the Mystics.

This struck me as the most bizarre thing ever. Sun City Girls were an experimental psych band with a tendency toward pastiche. Many of their albums are annoyingly hard to find (especially the singles). But Torch of the Mystics is their most well-regarded (and most accessible) album… so who knows, maybe this dance/house artist happened across it and decided to sample it?

The Shining Path is my favorite song on the album – and it’s certainly the catchiest – but I’d never taken the time to dig into its background. Like many of their songs, it uses the sounds/melodies/instruments from some far off, seemingly-exotic locale (but still, I assumed it was an original song). It begins with a old western-sounding whistle, accompanied by minimal guitar and drums, with expressive Spanish vocals. Some sort of pan flute carries between the verses.

The youtube comments for the song quickly revealed to me both the origin of the tune, and the dance revision. The original is a Bolivian folk song called Llorando se Fue, by Los Kjarkas (1981). It reached greater popularity in 1989 when it was remixed/gaffled by a French group called Kaoma. As you can see from that wiki entry, the song already had a rich history of dance hall remixes. The Sun City Girls version was recorded in 1988 and released in 1990. And then last year (2011) Jennifer Lopez remixed it in “her” song, On The Floor. I was hearing the J. Lo version at the gym, of course.

Here are all four versions. And scroll down for some bonus pictures of Sun City Girls.

The original lambada, Llorando se Fue (1982):

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