I was biking home the other night when I came across this small crew of road workers applying new 'biker graphics' to a bike lane in Williamsburg, BK. Pretty cool, right?! They were very friendly and let me document the process. The shapes of the graphic are actually big decals that they adhere to the road with a blow torch, like a giant version of the torch you use to make creme brulé. Then, when the graphic material is hot, they sprinkle these beautiful reflective beads on them, which is what makes them reflective and visible to drivers at night.
They told me that they work from 5PM-5AM - Thank you essential workers! & Of course they are wearing ANSI approved reflective vests. I'm in awe of the work you do every day (and night).
I'm also amazed when I think about how powerful truly bright, high quality reflective material is. (Note: consumer beware, not all reflective is truly "safety" reflective!) Road workers and cops directing traffic can stand in the middle of the road at night with only the reflective of their highly regulated ultra bright vests to keep them safe and seen.
This got me thinking, most people are not aware of it, but reflective material is all around us, keeping everyone safe every day (and night!). The lines on the road and road signs ( highway signs, streets signs, stop signs, etc...), are all made with highly reflective material/ reflective paint. This is why you can read them when you're driving at night, even though they are not lit.
Roads also have plastic reflectors, embedded in the pavement or on barriers along the road. Traffic cones have reflective stripes. Wide vehicles like buses or trucks will have reflective tape spanning the breadth of their width so other drivers / riders on the road have a clear sense of how wide they are.
It's a logical conclusion that cyclists and pedestrians, who are especially vulnerable road users should wear reflective material, too. In the animal kingdom of road users, we're kind of like turtles with out a shell compared to drivers of other vehicles. Bike lights, of course, are required by law for cyclists (not pedestrians). But generally speaking bike lights are a point of light. They do not indicate your girth to other drivers. Thus drivers can't tell how much space you take up on the road nor how much space to be sure to allow you when passing, until they are practically upon you which is even more dangerous when vehicles are traveling at higher speeds.
The brighter the reflective, the farther the distance from which you will be visible. It's like this, a weak light will not be seen from far away, but a bright light will be seen from far away. Reflective material reflects the light directionally back at the source. But if the reflective material is not powerful, it will reflect less light back. A weak reflective is essentially a dim light. It does little to protect you because drivers won't notice it until they are very close to you, giving them little time to react to (& avoid!) you.
We use the brightest reflective. The 3M Scotchlight™ material in our Vespert vests is 500 candlepower (the unit used to measure reflective) and visible within 2000 feet of a car's headlights (over a third of a mile away). It far exceeds standards for Ansi and EN471 approved work wear reflective vests, which is 300 candlepower. To put it in perspective, some consumer grade reflective material may be as weak as 10 candlepower. This low grade reflective is a novelty item, it will not keep you safe on the road.
Most brands that use reflective elements or detailing don't talk about how reflective their material is, often because it isn't very reflective. It's like selling a light bulb without telling people how how many watts it will emit. Reflective material in general is expensive, but it is even more expensive when it is truly high quality, bright safety reflective. Most brands want the cache of claiming they have included reflective in their products but they don't want to incur the added expense.
As you might imagine, quantity matters, too. The more reflective you have, the more visible you will be. In workwear quantity and placement of reflective are regulated as well as brightness (and washability, that's another story!). Bottom line, while a reflective logo may be a nice touch, don't count on it as a primary source of visibility.
At Vespertine, we are all about true sustainability (Made in NYC), true fashion and true safety. Reflective is every where- so why not put some on you, too! ;) It's such a simple and effective way to be seen, safe and confident on the road.