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Reflectors - better than lights!

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Reflectors - better than lights!

Old 08-07-12, 01:48 PM
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Reflectors - better than lights!


Reflectors - are they better than lights?


Well.. not always better. They don't help you see what's in front of you, they're NOT a replacement for battery lights. But for being seen, they are awesome. Not to mention, you get plenty of return for your hard-earned dollars.

Why they are awesome comes to a simple thing: a very good lumen output/size for your money. Ok, maybe you're not seen from two miles away. But, local authorities give official numbers that on a dark road, a good quality reflector can be seen from 300 yards away when lit by regular car high-beams. We're talking output at the level of a cheap LED light, or thereabouts, I guess. And when a car comes closer, the light intensity grows.

300 yards.. what's that in seconds? For 50 MPH speed difference (car passing a stationary bike or a pedestrian) that's 10 seconds away. 35 MPH difference (Bike doing 20 MPH, car passing doing 55 MPH) that's 20 seconds. It takes about 2 seconds for an average driver to react to an event, so 10-20 seconds is plenty of time for the driver to adjust to your existence.

Some things where reflectors actually do better than LED lights:

1) Price. 100 bucks for a powerful headlight that only points only one way? 10 bucks gets you a couple of mounted reflectors, and a couple of feet of reflective tape, or a hi-vis reflective vest. You can make all the surfaces on your bike and yourself plenty luminous for 20-30 bucks. All it takes is a car headlight to hit you and you're seen.

2) Surface area. Bigger visible area = better visibility. Battery-operated lights make you look like a bright floating blip in the dark, and it can be difficult to see what the light actually is, or to tell it's speed or distance. By using reflectors, you can actually cover your bike and your clothes in reflective materials for little money. Not only this makes you a big bright object, drivers will actually be able to tell that you're a cyclist from your shape.

3) Zero maintenance, zero fuss. No need for recharge, no need to switch them on, works for years and years. And who would want to steal reflective tape off a bike?

4) Environmentally friendly. Less natural resources and less energy wasted.

5) Can be placed and pointed anywhere. There's tons of different types of reflectors that can be stuck on any hard surface, or attached on your clothing and helmet. Tape, magnets, bar-mounts, pins, iron-on patches, reflective cloth.. And no worry about blinding anyone, either.

A couple of comparison pics for your viewing pleasure:

With a couple of lights.. https://3.bp.blogspot.com/-Qn-bP3otUz...ety+jacket.jpg
..with reflective clothing https://3.bp.blogspot.com/_9efRhFZCpt...0/CIMG1063.JPG
..or you could even join a club! https://blog.cascade.org/wp-content/2...tion_20111.jpg

In conclusion:

In my opinion you still want to have LED head and tail lights - but when it comes to bang for buck, you can't really beat the good old reflectors in multiple formats it when it comes to making you visible. Lights + reflectors make a brilliant combination.

It's funny to check out online bike stores for lights and reflectors. Where they might have dozens of lights up to several hundreds of dollars, you only have one or two different products in reflectors Maybe a bit of a forgotten safety item?



Sheesh, did I write all this? You know when you get carried away when you need to start using subheaders..

Last edited by proileri; 08-09-12 at 02:01 PM.
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Old 08-07-12, 02:29 PM
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Reflectors don't work for being seen by drivers looking into the side view or rear view mirrors since their headlights are pointed the wrong way.

They also don't work when drivers drive without headlights since there is no source of lighting. Those drivers are the most likely to kill you also since most of the time they are essentially driving recklessly.
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Old 08-07-12, 08:22 PM
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Sounds like the OP would be a fan of K'Tesh's work. https://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...wn-the-road...
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Old 08-07-12, 11:55 PM
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I completely disagree, active lighting...as long as the bats are good! will always be better then passive lighting. Having said that it's wise to use both. Active lighting can be seen from different angles, passive can only be seen if the headlights catch the reflector just right otherwise your invisible.

My personal bike lighting and reflector set up is this: Active: a Philips SafeRide light attached to the bars; a Cygolite MityCross 480 attached to the helmet; a very old Vistalite amber xenon flasher mounted to where the front reflector was at; Soma Road Flares bar end lights; Blackburn Mars 4 as my main light on the seat tube; and a Cateye LD600 rear light attached to the helmet. Then for passive I use 3M's superbrite ankle reflectors; the shoes have built in reflectors; the saddle bag has a reflector strip; the helmet has reflector tape; and then I wear a lime green safety vest with the large reflector strips.

Not saying my way is the best way, or saying you should do as I've done, but simply showing how I do it. I've added to my lights as the years went by and only retired lights when they were no longer useful. I always add to the bike and only retire a light if it became obsolete and I already had a better redundant light doing it's role.
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Old 08-08-12, 03:47 AM
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It's not like you have to choose between lights and reflectors. I've got a decent headlight and a multiple LED 3-mode taillight as well as front and rear reflectors. I also wear safety yellow or orange clothing with reflective accents and have reflective accents on my shorts and helmet as well. I also opt for chrome or polished aluminum wherever possible on my road bikes.
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Old 08-08-12, 03:56 AM
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Reflectors are useless during the daytime in city traffic; however lights are visible and add an extra layer of safety.
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Old 08-08-12, 06:22 AM
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I was riding about 10 feet behind my son at night on an unlit trail with a 250 lumen light and I couldnt see his reflectors at all
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Old 08-08-12, 06:53 AM
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The big automotive/trailer reflectors work well like the one found here:
https://surplustrailerparts.com/image...460R_large.png

The little dinky reflectors supplied with bicycles are mostly just to comply with CPSC rules and are not very effective in my opinion. Yes, they work, but not great, but better than nothing.

The reflectors on pedals do work well at times, as do the side facing reflectors on spokes that most of us remove from our bikes.

But, yeah, use both passive and active lighting and reflectors.
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Old 08-08-12, 10:52 AM
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In many (most) jurisdictions in the US, at least, you need both for night (between legal dusk to dawn) riding. My state requires a red reflector for legal night riding. Additionally, if you live in a state with a contributory negligence clause (I do), lack of a reflector may affect your ability (or that, $DEITY-forbid!, of your heirs) to sue/collect insurance/get authorities to enforce their reckless driving/vehicular manslaughter/injury laws if you are struck by a vehicle. I don't depend on a reflector (my daughter says my rolling light show is stupid-obnoxious bright), but my commuter bike has one to keep the lawyers happy.
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Old 08-08-12, 12:36 PM
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Reflectors are extremely directional. They work well only when you are viewing from exactly the same angle that the illumination is coming from. They work well for oncoming cars at a distance. They work less well when the car and bike are close. Then the small offset of the cars headlight from the driver's eyes start to matter.

Best to have both reflectors and good lights.
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Old 08-08-12, 01:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Ziemas
Reflectors are useless during the daytime in city traffic; however lights are visible and add an extra layer of safety.
True, but if you want even better option for daytime traffic, use a bright shirt and helmet. White/yellow/hi-vis is very easy to pick up in traffic. You could say it actually works as a reflector for sunlight. That being said, flashing lights are pretty good too, especially on cloudy days and around dusk/dawn.

Originally Posted by Hendricks97
I was riding about 10 feet behind my son at night on an unlit trail with a 250 lumen light and I couldnt see his reflectors at all
Sounds you have a fake reflector there. Some cheapos don't actually have the correct prism structure underneath, but are just fancy pieces of red plastic. I have one of those in my cheap led tail light as well, it's a big red glinty thing, but has absolutely zero reflection even with a good flashlight right at it. If it's a functional reflector - even one in your clothes/shoes - it definitely will glow when you shine a flashlight at it indoors.

Which reminds me, those reflective pipings on sports clothing can be surprisingly good as well, in dark conditions. No need to go all hi-vis vest if you don't want to.

Last edited by proileri; 08-08-12 at 01:07 PM.
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Old 08-08-12, 01:03 PM
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I like both. Reflective tape is what i like best. Little weight and can be cut to fit. I run front and rear lights both on bike and helmet, and then tape where it counts. I have had lots of comments on the yellow tape on the bins telling me they saw that before everything else at night.

The white on my helmet is tape also.



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Old 08-08-12, 01:07 PM
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2 vehicles neither of which have lights will collide with each other, sight unseen ,
because someone has to have active lights to reflect back from the reflector.
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Old 08-08-12, 11:36 PM
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Originally Posted by ks1g
In many (most) jurisdictions in the US, at least, you need both for night (between legal dusk to dawn) riding. My state requires a red reflector for legal night riding. Additionally, if you live in a state with a contributory negligence clause (I do), lack of a reflector may affect your ability (or that, $DEITY-forbid!, of your heirs) to sue/collect insurance/get authorities to enforce their reckless driving/vehicular manslaughter/injury laws if you are struck by a vehicle. I don't depend on a reflector (my daughter says my rolling light show is stupid-obnoxious bright), but my commuter bike has one to keep the lawyers happy.
EXACTLY. I live in Fort Wayne Indiana, in the Fort the police will not give a ticket to a cyclist that has no lights or reflectors at night because of the negligence clause, even if I run a red light and hit and perhaps kill a cyclist and 100 witnesses all say I ran a red light, but that cyclist had no lights or reflectors then the cyclist is the one that is screwed, I get off scott free.
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Old 08-09-12, 03:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Proileri
Originally Posted by Hendricks97
I was riding about 10 feet behind my son at night on an unlit trail with a 250 lumen light and I couldnt see his reflectors at all
Sounds you have a fake reflector there. Some cheapos don't actually have the correct prism structure underneath, but are just fancy pieces of red plastic. I have one of those in my cheap led tail light as well, it's a big red glinty thing, but has absolutely zero reflection even with a good flashlight right at it. If it's a functional reflector - even one in your clothes/shoes - it definitely will glow when you shine a flashlight at it indoors.
Maybe, but if it is a bar mounted headlight then at ten feet the difference between handlebars and eyes is enough to completely darken even a proper reflector. I just went out and looked for myself, though with more like 50-100 lumens since that was what was near to hand. At about 10 feet, with the light at eye level (about my riding eye level), the reflector (3" automotive red) mounted just above my rear rack is nice and bright, even at that angle. Move the to about my handlebar height, and it is scarcely more glinty than red fabric. Also, from about 30', I looked in the light of some LED Christmas lights. From bulb level the reflector is bright and clear. Move down three feet, and it can scarcely be seen.

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Old 08-09-12, 02:36 PM
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Originally Posted by no1mad
Sounds like the OP would be a fan of K'Tesh's work. https://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...wn-the-road...
True that! Colored reflective vinyl is pretty awesome for anyone who wants to put on "stealth" reflective surfaces. You can even get it in black!

Originally Posted by Tor
At about 10 feet, with the light at eye level (about my riding eye level), the reflector (3" automotive red) mounted just above my rear rack is nice and bright, even at that angle. Move the to about my handlebar height, and it is scarcely more glinty than red fabric. Also, from about 30', I looked in the light of some LED Christmas lights. From bulb level the reflector is bright and clear. Move down three feet, and it can scarcely be seen.
Ah, right, the reflective angle. Yeah that's true, it is pretty narrow, but when the distance is 20 yards or more, it doesn't matter that much - in fact, tighter the angle, stronger the reflection is. But it's a good point to make and I actually didn't think about that reflector do come in somewhat different designs - narrow angle makes you seen far away, wide angle is less effective but makes you seen up close.

Now that I've finally located my reflective tape, I did a quick test: I stuck a reflector on the wall at eye level, and using a flashlight, the reflector glows pretty well when holding the flashlight 1,5' below my eyes. So I'd say the reflective angle is about +/- 3 degrees for tape. Car headlights are usually what, 2' or 3' below your eye level? On a 3 degree angle, you get 3' rise at the distance of 60'. To get a 3' rise at the distance of 100 yards, you only need a 0,6 degree angle - or, at 100 yards, you can be 15' away from the light source.

Reflective tape or vinyl is good for sticking it around any curved surfaces, like frame tubes or your helmet, so you'll be seen from pretty much any direction.

Last edited by proileri; 08-09-12 at 04:03 PM.
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Old 08-09-12, 04:11 PM
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Originally Posted by proileri
A couple of comparison pics for your viewing pleasure:

With a couple of lights.. https://3.bp.blogspot.com/-Qn-bP3otUz...ety+jacket.jpg
..with reflective clothing https://3.bp.blogspot.com/_9efRhFZCpt...0/CIMG1063.JPG
..or you could even join a club! https://blog.cascade.org/wp-content/2...tion_20111.jpg
And here's a picture of a bike completely covered in reflector and reflective tape with a rider wearing a reflective vest, but your car's lights are facing somewhere else:

https://crazytownmayor.com/blog/wp-co...y-2010-151.jpg

(OK, so that's probably not what the picture is of, but it is a remarkably good simulation.)

In my opinion you still want to have LED head and tail lights - but when it comes to bang for buck, you can't really beat the good old reflectors in multiple formats it when it comes to making you visible. Lights + reflectors make a brilliant combination.
A reasonable position, but it doesn't jive with your title ("Reflectors - better than lights!") *at all*.

The reality is that if you must pick one, lights are better than reflectors (as long as you maintain and actually use them, and you did cover that), but of course there's no need to pick just one -- use both.

Note that I do disagree with several of your assertions. $50 (let alone $100) can get you a flashlight that's bright enough that people will confuse your bike with a car, and it's clearly visible from a 180 degree angle in front if your bike. It'll even help you see where you're going! $20 will get you a good quality name brand tail light that will clearly scream "bike!" as it flashes and is visible in a 180 degrees arc behind you many blocks away. Add some side lights such as a "Spoke-Lit" and people will clearly see you from any angle, even without lights of their own.

Your "bright floating blip in the dark" seems to be based on really wimpy lights. This is 2012 -- good, really bright lights are easy to get for not too much money, and you're a hell of a lot more than a "floating blip". When I think of "floating blips" on a bike -- I think of pedal reflectors, going up and down. Not a bad thing, but nowhere near as effective as a PBSF or Radbot.

Lights can be placed just about anywhere as well.

You're right on about the zero maintenance, of course.
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Old 08-09-12, 04:44 PM
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Originally Posted by dougmc
And here's a picture of a bike completely covered in reflector and reflective tape with a rider wearing a reflective vest, but your car's lights are facing somewhere else ..
But, isn't that a pretty unlikely scenario? If your car lights are pointing somewhere else than in front of you, you are probably not going to be driving on a dark road anyway

Many people claim that reflectors or car headlights are "too directional" - but this is not the case, really. The reflective tape I have that has slightly bubble-like surface, when slapped on the wall, still reflects rather well from about 45 degree angle to the side (10 feet back, 10 feet to the side from the centerline, flashlight next to my head).

Car headlights are not that directional either, there's always plenty of scattered light.


Your "bright floating blip in the dark" seems to be based on really wimpy lights. This is 2012 -- good, really bright lights are easy to get for not too much money, and you're a hell of a lot more than a "floating blip".
Not really if you are seen, but also how it makes you appear

The most important thing, of course, is for the drivers to see there's something on the road. But, in addition to being seen, it also increases your safety that you are identified as a cyclist, so they know you're probably doing about 20 MPH. It's also important that they can somehow judge your distance. Usually this is done judging from your size, and with a single light it can be a bit difficult to tell.

Here's a bright light after dark: https://www.utahbikelaw.com/images/st...dlight_opt.jpg - very hard to tell the distance or speed, until you see the reflection from the ground and can judge it based on that. To my experience, it's actually the same thing with powerful car hi-beams, if you have a long stretch of road.

I do admit that I put "better than lights" in the topic to rise a bit of attention I use both - but I consider that reflectors are 50% of the system.

Last edited by proileri; 08-09-12 at 05:01 PM.
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Old 08-09-12, 10:21 PM
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Originally Posted by proileri
This comparison is not fair at all. Confirmation bias much?
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Old 08-10-12, 08:51 AM
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Weight, energy, cost, maintenance, ambient lighting all add into this. There are two things you need biking at night. You need to see and you need to be seen. Reflectors do nothing to see and have a limit to how well you are seen. They are designed to be retro reflective and all the methods they use have different degrees of dispersion but in general they send light back to the source. In the case of cars the source is close to the line of the driver’s vision. The greater the distance the less the angular error. The good news is cars have very bright and reflectors let them see you at a very great distance. Once the driver sees something they become engaged in the thought process of thinking about you being out there. The benefit of reflective tapes is they have almost no weight and lots of surface area. They don’t replace lights but I have 400 square inches about of reflective tape on my bike and I wouldn’t want to haul around that much light producing equipment just to be seen. On the other hand I like lights to see by. Depending on your speed and stopping distance that’s how much front facing light you need to be safe. Back facing lights blinking do something reflectors cant and that’s blink. That blinking also causes the person seeing it to start thinking.

On my bike I actually feel much safer at night than day. I see cars coming up on me to start reacting much greater at night than during the day.

The other light related thing is seeing and a mirror at night is a must. Knowing when to move over is major when being overtaken.
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Old 08-10-12, 10:00 AM
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Reflectors alone are not a good plan, always supplement them with active lights. I've encountered people driving with their lights off quite frequently, making reflectors useless. The most common two causes are 1) they can still see well enough to drive the car, and/or 2) they started from a well-lit parking lot and have not yet discovered that their lights are off. But I've also seen people driving in darkness or near-darkness with their lights off. Reflectors won't help you, and even hi-vis clothing won't help you. You need your own light source.

Another problem with reflectors is that the intensity of light drops with the square of distance. So light that has to travel from the viewer to you, then back again, is going to experience a high loss of intensity with increasing distance. Add fog or rain, which attenuate the intensity much worse than clear air, and now you have a serious problem. Given that I routinely ride on 60mph highway shoulders, I want to be detected from long range so people have time to plan their highway exit without me being a last-second discovery.

Also, active lights can strobe. Getting noticed is different than being technically visible to someone.

As a visual demo, here's my bike and myself decked with massive amounts of reflectivity, plus active lighting. I've set a powerful flashlight next to the camera to show the reflective stuff. I'm heading towards a 500-foot-long right-turn lane that I need to pass safely. If you're the driver doing 60mph and looking to hit that exit lane, the taillights are far more effective than even an all-out reflective arsenal for giving you time to plan a safe exit.


As you can see, at about 30 seconds into the video, which is a range a car will cover in a few seconds, my reflective profile has dwindled to something on par with the roadside marker posts. My taillights are waaaaay better.

Another example:


Think your reflectors will do squat against a backdrop like that?

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Old 08-10-12, 10:34 AM
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Originally Posted by proileri
But, isn't that a pretty unlikely scenario? If your car lights are pointing somewhere else than in front of you, you are probably not going to be driving on a dark road anyway
Your car lights are pointing ahead of you -- but there's a bicycle coming on a cross road towards you. (Let's go ahead and say you have a stop sign at the intersection and he does not.)

Or there's a bicycle to the right of you, matching your speed.

Or you're about to make a 90+ degree turn, and there's a bicycle over there on the cross road. (Your headlights might catch this one, but probably not well.)

It [your headlights are not pointing at a bicycle that you still need to see] is not an unlikely scenario at all, and it's one of several reasons why reflectors are not sufficient.
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Old 08-10-12, 11:03 AM
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Thankfully there's no need to choose.

Reflectors are indeed pretty awesome sources of light for almost no weight and almost no money. Trouble is that they work well 95% of the time which means they fail for 1 out of 20 cars you encounter. Put in those terms, even a light source that works 99.99% of the time isn't good enough, because it means you're likely to get hit every few years on the road.

IMO in this era of distracted driving, you need to be lit in such a way that a driver who is traveling at 60 MPH and is only really looking at the road once every 10 seconds is still going to notice you in time to decide that maybe they'd better actually pay attention to their driving until they get past you. As such I want to be HIGHLY visible to any driver back to at least 300 to 400 yards back regardless of the situation, and that includes on curves and hills. Reflectors just don't work very well on curves and hills.

Personally I would not ride without BOTH. I have a fair amount of reflective tape, wear a very bright vest when at night (and bright yellow at all times), and I have two daytime-visible taillights that run day and night and two bright headlights for evening/night seeing.
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Old 08-10-12, 03:57 PM
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Originally Posted by mechBgon
Reflectors alone are not a good plan, always supplement them with active lights. I've encountered people driving with their lights off quite frequently, making reflectors useless. The most common two causes are 1) they can still see well enough to drive the car, and/or 2) they started from a well-lit parking lot and have not yet discovered that their lights are off. But I've also seen people driving in darkness or near-darkness with their lights off. Reflectors won't help you, and even hi-vis clothing won't help you. You need your own light source.

Another problem with reflectors is that the intensity of light drops with the square of distance. So light that has to travel from the viewer to you, then back again, is going to experience a high loss of intensity with increasing distance. Add fog or rain, which attenuate the intensity much worse than clear air, and now you have a serious problem. Given that I routinely ride on 60mph highway shoulders, I want to be detected from long range so people have time to plan their highway exit without me being a last-second discovery.


Think your reflectors will do squat against a backdrop like that?
That last video is really telling of the lack of ability of reflectors. If some of you have missed it go back and look again, there is a small 3" wide by maybe 3' tall break away warning bar with reflectors on it just to the left of the car on the center line just before the intersection, you don't even see the reflectors till you're almost on it.
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Old 08-10-12, 04:08 PM
  #25  
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I use reflective gear and lights. Some of the riding I do requires it, but I feel uncomfortable without reflective gear even though I have lights. I was out in my car chasing a rider on a randonnee once, and was a little worried about catching him because I was worried about his visibility. When I caught him, his reflective gear was incredibly bright. His lights were also bright, but they are smaller.

I don't have reflective tape on any of my bikes any more. It probably shows up, but a reflective vest and ankle bands are much more visible. The reflective ankle bands moving up and down are pretty hard to ignore. I'm a believer in pedal reflectors too.

Last edited by unterhausen; 08-10-12 at 04:11 PM.
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