Being visible while cycling to work is a must, especially if you spend a fair amount of time on the roads. The first question many bike commuters ask is the following:
How can I make my bike more visible? Use simple added features like inexpensive spoke reflectors, good quality lights all over your bike and body, tires with reflective trims and even reflective strips on the frame of your bike.
I’ve found that I’ve been able to increase my visibility over the years of bike commuting with a few accessories (and techniques) that don’t break the bank and are easy to do/use right away.
In this post, I’ll start with the simplest things you can add and progress down to some of the more advanced items as we go through the post.
I also want to say that the ideas here should help you to be more visible on your cycle commute since they are based on research from Australia which found that drivers were more aware of cyclists at night when they had reflective detail on parts of their body which moved, particularly around the wrists and ankles as these parts move the most when we are cycling.
Being That Bit More Visible to Other Road Users
Essentially, it boils down to a couple of key points:
- Use as much reflective clothing and accessories as possible to make yourself be seen at night. This is because the lights from cars will make you stand out a mile when the reflective detail on you or your accessories reflects back at them. It’s incredibly powerful if you have enough of it.
- Hi-viz items will help during the daytime to make you more eye-catching. These items are certainly recommended but there is a caveat: they are not particularly helpful at night, hence they come second in this list to reflective items in terms of importance.
- Don’t do anything crazy! I know, it sounds simple, but the amount of cyclists I see who don’t want to wait at lights and decide to run the light, or skip a minor traffic jam by undertaking the cars is ridiculous! It’s those kind of actions that will make you invisible to other road users, so keep a cool head and follow the rules of the road to enhance your chances of being seen even more! This might seem an oversimplification but you really don’t need to increase your chances of an accident by knowingly putting yourself at risk for a minimal time-saving at best.
With that said, let’s have a look at the key items you can get to help you register that bit more in the eyes of other road users, mainly car drivers as they are the most common.
1. Hi-Viz Reflective Snap Bands for Wrists and Ankles
These are a really simple and practical addition as they can be put on and off in seconds, they help to keep your trousers clean and they also make you more visible in the key areas of ankles and wrists.
These snap bands are inexpensive although I have found that they generally only last a year or two so buy a few packs of these reflective snap bands in one go and you’ll be fine.
This is something I wear every day on my legs. They also work well in winter for sleeves on my cycling jacket as they help to stop the wind getting inside (even though I have the sleeves tightened!)
This small adjustment makes it that bit easier on those bitterly cold days and also adds a nice bit of extra visibility when it comes to turning.
If raising your arms to indicate your turn properly, this can help your signal to be seen at night, so definitely consider getting a few more of these bands for your wrists.
2. Reflective Shoelaces
A pair of reflective shoelaces will also make you more visible on your commute as they offer reflection in one of the key areas of movement, namely your feet.
The constant movement means they will be an added source of noticeable visibility for drivers from the front and sides, yet again helping you to be more visible on your cycle commute.
I currently use the black Clarks Triactive Run trainers for cycling and work (semi-casual dress code and they look enough like work shoes to get away with it!). They are extremely comfortable and come with laces with reflective detail as an added bonus.
This again adds to visibility in the key areas of movement when you are on your bike.
3. Reflective Overshoes or Shoe Covers
Obviously, we all know that the British weather is not all sunshine and rainbows. As such, when you need to cover your feet for winter or on a rainy day, you will lose the visibility of the shoelaces mentioned above.
To get around this, try buying reflective overshoes for your cycle commute. If you get these shoe covers with full reflective detail, as with the Altura Thermo Elite Overshoes.
These will keep your feet toasty, keep out the rain and water, and make your moving feet attract the attention of drivers, making you that bit more visible on your cycle to work.
You could also combine these overshoes with the corresponding Altura Thermo Elite gloves, which have their patented ‘darkproof’ technology, making them highly visible to car drivers, too.
4. Add Spoke Reflectors
These are really small and extremely cheap to buy, yet they light up your bike really well if placed appropriately.I bought two packs of bicycle spoke reflectors and they were enough for both mine and my wife’s bikes.
These show up best when you are turning as they create almost a complete circle of reflection around the wheel area, as you can see in the photo I took below of my old bike.
5. Keep Your Bike and Gear Clean
This might sound a little strange but bear with me just a moment. Bike commuting on roads means that your bike, and many of your accessories, can become dirty and covered in grit and grime over time.
This is particularly a problem after days of rain as the wet weather can cause splashes of dirt to stick to your bike in the coming days, effectively reducing the reflective properties of all the items and accessories mentioned here.
With that said, make sure to give your bike a good wipe down on a fortnightly basis, or even more often if you regularly ride in the rain. This simple bit of maintenance should help you to stay that bit more visible.
6. Use a Helmet with LightsOn
The first way is to get an additional rear light that attaches to your helmet. This works because the helmet is on a part of your body which moves constantly when cycling, namely the head!
The strap on these kinds of lights should also mean that you can quite easily attach them onto your helmet – my wife does this as a regular fixture of her commute.
7. Use Reflective Tires
As you will have seen in the photo above, I have tires with reflective trim as well as the reflective spoke reflectors. This provides a constant source of reflective light on the dark roads and helps to add even more intensity to the reflective spoke reflectors.
The nice thing about these is that they are not expensive and can be easily added in under an hour. Even if you have good tires, you can keep them as back-ups and install tires with reflective sidewalls.
The other nice thing about using this kind of tires is that many tires have this added feature so it’s quite easy to find them and get the right tires for your commute.
8. Reflective Tape for your Bike Frame or Handles
You can also increase the reflectivity of your bike by placing some reflective tape or strips on the handlebars and the frame.
These can again be quite inexpensive although I’d suggest going for a mid-range product in terms of price as the cheaper stuff will likely only fall off, leaving you less visible and with more work to do to stick it on again!
The handlebar tape is generally a bit more expensive as it is more specific as it has padding and is of a certain material.
The reflective tape you can use on your frame can be just about anything that is weatherproof, although try to find a bike-specific product if you can.
If I were to use only one of the two, I’d opt for the frame tape as the handlebar tape is going to be covered by your hands more often than not and is fiddly. It might also be something you don’t need to add, so creating more hassle for a minimal gain in terms of visibility.
9. Use Hand Signals!
This might sound a little obvious, but one of the best things anyone can do on a bike commute in the dark is to use the appropriate hand signals when turning or changing lanes on the road.
One of the most surefire ways to become effectively invisible on the roads is to make unexpected moves on your bike. With this in mind, keeping your hand signals clear before every movement makes you far more visible on the roads at night!
10. Use a Helmet with Lights
More and more helmets are available now with lights built in, but you can also quite easily add lights yourself. The key point about having lights on your helmet are that it means you have lights that move, a known way to make your lights more noticeable and visible to other road users.
Some of the helmets with integrated lights can be quite expensive, but fear not: many smaller, inexpensive bike lights can be attached to a helmet, both front and back, with ease. The kind of lights of that can be fitted in this way have an attachment like a wristwatch strap. This gives you the most flexibility and adaptability, and of course added visibility!
Either way, adding lights to your helmet, or a specific helmet with integrated lights, is yet another way to help you stand out on your commute in the night.
11. Add Reflective Detail or Hi-Viz Cover to Your Bag
Most good bike bags should come with reflective detail, so remember to get one with this added detail to your bag of choice, be it a pannier or backpack.
Be aware that having a backpack will block some of the reflective detail on your back so you need to make up for this either in having the same reflectivity on your backpack/pannier, or in the cover that you put over it.
12. Carry Back-up Lights
One of the worst things to happen on a bike commute in the night is for the battery on your bike lights to run out, leaving you literally in the dark! The clear, simple solution is to carry a back-up light with you in your bag at all times.
This will give you the confidence in your bike commute and means that you don’t need to worry about the charge left in your bike lights at all times. As these are a back-up, I’d suggest going for a cheaper, smaller option than your main light but still one with a good amount of lumens so that it is visible on the road.
13. Don’t Do Anything Crazy!
The main point here is that you becomealmost invisible when you start doing unexpected things, especially on a bike!
By that, I mean doing crazy maneuvers like undertaking cars or trucks, or riding close behind large vehicles. The stopping distance on a bike is similar to a car, so remember to keep your distance so that vehicles in front of you so that they have a good idea that you are actually behind them!
To round up, this might sound a little obvious, but lots of bike commuters I see don’t do it! The gold rule is: follow the rules of the road at all times when bike commuting if you want to have the safest ride you can!
Hopefully this has given you some inspiration for different ways you can quite easily make yourself a heck of a lot more visible on your cycle commute.
Remember the key points about using reflection and also focus on adding lights/reflective detail to the parts of your body most frequently moving.
Doing this should increase your chances of being seen by other road users and give you the confidence to keep commuting by bike.