Visibility and Reflection!

With Autumn comes shorter daylight hours and more people running, walking, and pedaling in the darker hours. Dusk in September happens to be one of the times with higher rates of statistical injuries for bicyclists and pedestrians. Part of this is due to students heading back to school, also, visibility changes as light diminishes and this is not to be taken “lightly.” (pun intended) You might stop reading here if you came only to find out about lighting for biking or walking/running. Being seen will make all the difference in your safety and the focus of this writing.

First, consider what visibility means. Visibility is the state of being seen or the ability to be seen. The distance that one can see or be seen, as in the airplane’s visibility is 2 miles. Other definitions pertaining to popularity will be left alone. When considering visibility at night for the physically active at that time, let us use the first two definitions. When low level energy lighting, such as street lights, flashlights, and car lights hit material that is reflective, the light goes in many directions, some of which come back to the person observing, as in the diagram, but not much.

On the other hand, reflective material called Retroreflectors bounce all the light back to the source. Retroreflectors are objects and materials designed to reflect. If you wear materials not designed to be reflective, the material absorbs the energy of the light or it sends it off in many directions away from the source of the light as in the diagram above which means that you become more visible.


Scientific American published Being Seen in the Dark, writing “Humans “see” when light that reflects off of objects reaches our eyes. Some colors send more light back so we see them better. For example, brightly colored objects reflect more light than dark-colored objects do. Fluorescent objects send out visible light when high-energy light shines onto them. Retro-reflective material—often referred to as reflective material, used on road signs and some safety gear, for example—bounces back almost all of the light that shines onto it.”

The main point is that being visible takes more than considerations for what you wear for colors. Black at night might be a cool design choice, a lot of runners and walkers really gravitate to black tights and workout clothes, it is not helping you be visible at all. Certainly brighter colors at night will help. Keep in mind that these will NOT make you visible from any real distance. The next step to take is wearing something that is RETROREFLECTIVE. Retroreflective differs greatly from being “Shiny.”  Retroreflectors are so much a part of everyday life that typically they don’t attract much attention. But they attract plenty of attention while driving at night, when they seem to be almost everywhere. They’re incorporated into the taillights of vehicles, safety barriers, traffic signs, and the painted stripes that separate lanes of traffic. (Learn more about how to make retroreflectors at  One type of material that is used for road signs and garments fall into the category of micro prisms. You can turn materials into retroreflectors by attaching fine glass beads ( sand like size) to material. The tiny glass beads become quite reflective.

Many options exist from small to large materials and add-ons. BEtabrand makes flashback Photobombed Hoodie coated with glass nano spheres and advertises how it transforms iPhone pictures. That may be a bit exotic. Several sources carry orange and day glow yellow clothing tape that can be stitched on to jackets, sleeves, and pant legs. . How about reflective vests and bands? A simple band that goes around shoulders and the waist. Women’s vests fit differently and cover more of the torso than the belts/bands. 


With the most brilliant being the RICO LED band.



This is a high visibility adjustable band with built in LED’s.

 Other options include DeFeet’s reflective touch gloves fro runners and bicyclists. These are a mid-weight knit glove that makes turning signals more visible. To top off the list consider adjustable bands for arms, ankles, legs, and wrists. Keeping lights on your bike and person can help you be seen as well as help you to be seen. Strobe lights can be great for this purpose, both at night and during the day. Some locations may have ordinances on strobe lights, but most places they remain legal.

Last, make being visible fun. Stop by a local department store/men’s mall for some battery operated holiday lights. Drape these over the frame of your bike. Commercially made bike lighting exists to add a little bedazzle to your ride. The Monkey Light M204 bike wheel light operates at 40 lumens, 4 LED’s, full color in 5 themes, is water proof, and can be seen in 360 degrees from your bike. Each light runs $25-30.00. Sunlite makes a similar option for 700c – 29″ wheels with 2 modes, water resistant design, and easy to install for a bit less at $15-20.00. Both setups use AA batteries that last up 40 hrs.

If you still have questions, check out your local running shop or bike shop for more ideas and answers. Stay off the injury statistics by taking plenty of precautions. Hard to over due it!