Here at Bike Fort Collins we take a very broad, long term view of bike safety and how to improve it: we’re more concerned with land use and city planning than bike helmets and safety vests. That work will ultimately provide a safer, more pleasant community for everyone. In the meantime, we’re well aware of the immediate safety concerns that cyclists encounter, so here’s a handy trick to make your bike a little more visible on the road at night.
Bicycles are always sold with reflectors, but many riders remove them. Racers especially waste no time tossing out the stock plastic reflectors. It saves weight and improves wheel balance, but mostly the cheap reflectors just look out of place. Most of us don’t intend to ride our race bikes after dark anyway, but as summer fades into fall and the days get shorter, sometimes our evening rides push past sunset.
Luckily there’s a cheap, lightweight replacement: retro-reflective tape.
Retro-reflectors bounce light back towards its source. We see them all around us… stop signs, license plates, safety vests and even the silver stripes on running shoes. They glow when our headlights hit them because they reflect that light right back to us. And because they’re available as tape, adding them to a road bike is cheap and easy:
Department and automotive stores usually carry both red and white. These rolls cost me $2 each:
If you’re concerned with aesthetics it’s worth planning where you’ll put the tape to complement the existing paint and decals. Wipe down the frame with a clean rag (and rubbing alcohol if you’ve got it) and carefully apply the tape. You can even fold tape back on itself to form little flags around your spokes. The spoke flags really stand out at night, but above 25 mph they tend to whistle, so I don’t use them on my road bike.
All of my bikes have at least some reflective tape. Here’s my town bike with red tape on the rear triangle and white tape on the fork. By day it’s unobtrusive, but in the dark it reflects the camera’s flash, making those stripes light up. Of course it will also reflect a car’s headlights back at to driver, complementing my bike lights and providing a backup if I’m caught out after sunset without them.
And here’s what a driver will see if you’re caught out after dark with no lights at all:
In an ideal world it would be easy to ride at night without sharing space with cars. But in the meantime, this tape is a cheap way to make yourself a little more visible.