Riding in low light or after dark is almost unavoidable, particularly during the colder months in the northern hemisphere. If you commute to work by bike, or use your bike as transport when you go out at night, you will find yourself more vulnerable on the roads and therefore may wish to consider some reflective cycling apparel to help you be more visible to motorists.
Unlike hi-viz, which is brightly colored fluorescent clothing designed to be eye-catching in broad daylight, reflective clothing is designed to be seen at night, as soon as a car’s headlights point at you. They’re constructed from reflective materials that bounce light back to where it came from. Aside from kitting your bike out with decent lights, wearing reflective cycling apparel gives you the best chance of being seen in low-light conditions.
Here are a few factors to consider when looking for reflective wear, followed by our list of recommended reflective cycling apparel to help you choose the right option for you.
Reflective for night-time visibility
Reflective materials are designed to be incredibly visible at night, reflecting light rather than absorbing it, so they stand out from their surroundings. While you do need a light source to be seen, it only takes a small amount of light for them to work. While you will be lit up like a Christmas tree in the main beam of a car’s headlights, even just a little bit of peripheral light is enough to make reflective materials stand out. So even distant car headlights will light up your reflective clothing for everyone to see.
Hi Viz doesn’t mean reflective
While Hi Viz materials are a great way to make you stand out in the daylight, they won’t do anything to help you to be seen at night. If you’d rather opt for Hi Viz clothing, make sure it also includes reflective elements, so you’re visible in all light conditions.
Reflective elements vs fully reflective
There are generally two types of reflective cycling apparel: fully reflective clothing, and clothing with reflective elements. Fully reflective clothing uses 100% reflective material to offer the best night-time visibility, while clothing with reflective elements often combines them with Hi Viz materials, so only part of the jacket is reflective. These are best for when you ride in both daylight and dark conditions.
Types of reflective cycling apparel
It’s safe to say that the more reflective material you wear, the more visible you will be on the road at night. Alongside jackets, you can get gloves, socks, vests, and covers for your shoes, helmet and backpack, with reflective materials used. Reflective shoe covers are particularly effective as your pedalling motion makes them even more visible, while reflective gloves make it easier for drivers to see your hand signals.
The ultimate in reflective cycling jackets
When it comes to reflective cycling apparel, Proviz is one of the first brands that spring to mind, thanks to their unique 100% reflective material garments. In the daytime this jacket blends in, with a stone grey color, however at night when the light hits you, the whole thing glows a bright white and is impossible not to see.
The cut of the jacket is casual and loose, making it more suitable for commuters than road racers. It’s water-resistant to help keep you dry in rain showers, while the rear is slightly longer to offer some splash-guarding in your bike isn’t kitted out with fenders.
Great for when you don’t want to wear a full-on jacket
If you’re riding in low-light during the summer when it’s still warm, the last thing you want to wear is a bulky winter jacket just for the sake of being seen on the road. A reflective vest like this one from Sportful is especially useful as it doesn’t overheat you while you ride in it. It has lots of large reflective patches, plus it’s both water- and wind-resistant, to help ward off the evening chill. For convenience, it packs into its own built-in stuff bag, and once packed away it’s small enough to tuck into a jersey pocket.
Make sure your hand signals are seen at all times
When you’re riding on the roads at night it’s crucial that drivers can see your hand signals, otherwise they may have no inkling that you’re about to start slowing, and therefore won’t know to adjust their own speed. Reflective gloves are incredibly useful in this case. These gloves from ReflecToes double up as excellent daytime gloves as well, thanks to the combination of reflective elements and Hi Viz fluorescent materials. They’re designed for cold weather use, making them ideal for the winter, and are waterproof as well.
A great way to be seen, and looking good at the same time
Not all low-light cycling happens in winter, and you may find yourself getting caught out after dark in the summer as well. That’s why it helps to have some summer-suitable kit that contains reflective elements, just in case. Your outfit doesn’t need to scream ‘cyclist’ in the day time to offer some visibility at night.
These socks from ReflecToes have a reflective diamond pattern at the top, offering high visibility at night - particularly combined with the movement of your legs turning the pedals - while during the day they just look like regular socks. The diamonds are made from thousands of directionally orientated spherical mirrors, which are supposed to reflect up to 50 times more light back to the source than many reflective yarns found in other, similar socks.
Keep your belongings safe from the elements
If you commute with a backpack, you’re likely covering up a large section of your reflective jacket, or you might not want to wear a jacket at all when the temperature rises. Having a reflective backpack cover can solve both these problems in one go. A backpack is usually a pretty large accessory and takes up a lot of prime real estate on our upper half. A reflective backpack cover is perfectly placed for drivers to see you, meeting their eye line and reflecting light back to them. This backpack cover from Salzmann comes with several color options, including 100% reflective silver, or with additional orange and yellow Hi Viz sections.
Doubles up as a nifty rain cover for your head
If you want to cover yourself from head to toe in reflective materials then this reflective helmet cover from Proviz is exactly what you need. It’s made from the same Reflect360 material as the jacket, so you’re guaranteed to be very visible at night. Since it’s water-resistant, it also acts as a nifty rain cover for your head. If you don’t want to wear it all the time, it packs small enough to fit into a pocket, and when you’re ready to use it, it slips over your helmet and is held in place with an elasticated hem and drawstring closure.
The best way to make sure your movements are seen
If you prefer to wear reflectors that are easily removable (they’re not the most stylish items, after all), then ankle and wrist straps like these ones from HiVisible are especially useful. Research shows that drivers notice up-down movements, like pedalling, before the overall trajectory of a bike. Having reflectors on your ankles while you pedal is therefore a very smart move.
In addition to this, regardless of the number of lights and reflectors we have on our bikes, if we need to signal to make a turn, there’s always a chance that drivers won’t see our arms in the darkness. Wearing reflective wristbands will help them see your signal, and give them plenty of time to slow and wait for your maneuver.
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