Blue Skies Above Us

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.

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Founded 2005. Over the years I've posted writing, comics, ringtones, and stuff about maps, bikes, programming, pinball. And I had a robust music blog mostly about '90s hardcore punk (category = music).