Commuting 101: Be Seen!

September’s officially here, and many recreational cyclists are hanging their bikes up for the season as the evening daylight gets shorter and shorter.   Those who commute by bike, however, still have quite a bit of good riding weather ahead. You just need to be seen, and be safe.

Year-round, one of the most fatal flaws of a cyclist is to ride in the various “no zones” and blind spots of automobile traffic.   As ours are among the smallest vehicles on the road, it’s easy for a small blind spot to encumber us entirely. These blind spots include the 3-4 feet next to parked cars (the “Door Prize Zone”), next to the rear passenger-side fender, and almost anywhere along the driver’s side of the car unless you’re near the front fender.   Additionally, the A-Pillar (the metal between the front windshield and the side front window) can block you from the view of the driver as well, particularly when you’re approaching cross-traffic.

Reflective material on your bicycle and clothing adds a key visual stimulus in low-light conditions.   The more reflective material that’s facing the motorist, the further away you’ll be when you catch their eye.   This applies mostly to the rear and sides of your bicycle and body, but having plenty of reflective material visible from the front is a great idea as well. You never know when someone will turn across your path. It goes without saying that a full set of DOT-Approved reflectors fore, aft, and on the wheels is highly recommended.

Active lighting is a must when it comes to riding before sunrise or after sundown. Lately, LED technology has gotten relatively inexpensive and the performance is getting to be quite good. While flashing light is an attention-getter, it can also be distracting and make it difficult to judge how far away you are.   By the same token, commodity halogen bicycle headlights are easy for a motorist to glance over. It’s up to each individual cyclist to determine what they need, but in general, you’re either buying a headlight to see with, or buying a headlight to be seen.   LED Vs. HID Vs. Halogen is practically a Holy War among cyclists who ride at night.   All have benefits.   Tail lights most commonly come in one form: The “Blinky“.   This can be an array from one to more than a dozen LEDs with several flashing modes and a steady mode.   They either mount with belt clips or under the seat.   There are only a few exceptions to the rear tail light rule. Again, flashing lights can make it difficult for the motorist to tell how close you really are.

My current setup is a low-power (and long-lasting) halogen flood light, a more focused and bright halogen spot headlight, and two tail lights: one in flashing mode and one in steady mode.   My bicycle has some reflective tape on it and DOT reflectors all around except on the clipless pedals, but many of my accessories also have reflective piping.   I finish it off with an inexpensive construction worker reflective vest.

What are you doing to cope with the lack of sunlight as the days get shorter?

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0 thoughts on “Commuting 101: Be Seen!”

  1. nina says:

    I can highly recommend Reelight safety lights. always on the bike, need no batteries, and at a height that seems to catch peoples attention.

  2. Mase says:

    My current setup for dusk/dawn/night is a steady LED front light (Busch & Muller Ixon [1 Watt]) with two tail lights (PlanetBike SuperFlash in blinkie mode and Busch & Muller 4D Toplight in steady mode).

    In addition, I’ve not only adorned both back fenders with generous amounts of 3M Reflexite silver high-intensity retro-reflective tape but my tires are Schwalbe Marathons with a reflective sidewall for even more visibility. My helmet has a ton of the reflective tape (including the Nathan stickers) on the backs and side too.

    Here’s a Flickr shot:

    Perhaps a tad overboard, but as I ride in Houston with its notoriously bad drivers, I’ll take the ‘dork’ title in stride.

  3. Shay says:

    Where can you buy reflective tape?

  4. Noah says:

    Oddly enough, auto parts stores usually carry the best selection. You can usually find some at hardware stores as well. Some bike shops sell it, or at least sell the “Nathan” reflective sticker sheets that Mase mentioned. There’s an abundant supply of bike and motorcycle specific reflective tape vendors online as well.

  5. My current setup is a Schmidt dynohub powering a B&M IQ Fly up front and a D-Toplight XS mounted to the rear rack, a few reflective stickers, and reflective sidewalls on the Schwalbe tires. Interestingly, none of my lights flash. My pannier cover is road-worker yellow, as is my rain jacket. So far, so good.

  6. Ghost Rider says:

    The best reflective tape available is called “conspicuity tape”…available at many auto parts stores. It’s the same silver and red stuff they line the back and lower sides of semi-trucks with. Amazingly reflective!!!

  7. Meghank says:

    I agree with nina – Reelights are great! Very bright, I never have to think about them at all, and unbreakable (so far!).

  8. Mike Myers says:

    I believe that more light is better. I run a DiNotte 600L headlight, DiNotte 140L taillight (on my seatpost), a DiNotte 200L helmet light, two Planet Bike Superflash blinkies(one on back of my helmet, one mounted to my rack), and a reflective vest with blinking LEDs. It works…

  9. Scott R says:

    I’ve been using a Trek Flare 7 on my rack set to blink and a Trek Flare 3 set on steady on my saddle bag. I’ve recently ordered a Planet Bike Super Flash from Amazon, but it’s not in yet. It will replace the Flare 7.

    Since the Super Flash is seat post mounted, I had to figure out a way to get it mounted to my rack. I did so last night made an Instructable “how-to” while I was at it. Check it out here:

    I also got some of that conspicuity tape last night at my local auto parts store (yes, I rode my bike there). It was about $12 for four 18 inch strips. This is the stuff that you see on the backs of trucks framing in the corners. You’ll also see it running the length of trailers. It is amazingly reflective. I cut some and put it on my fender. I might also try to put some on my helmet, but I’m not sure if it will stick to the styrofoam. Maybe some epoxy glue is in order.

  10. Kim says:

    Or you could go total techie and install programmable LEDs on your spokes, as described on

  11. JiMCi says:

    “You just need to be seen, and be safe.”

    Seems that daytime lights are needed too! Ran into a car last week that barely slowed down trough a stop sign. The driver said it was my fault since I wasn’t wearing bright colors. My bike is red, I am always wearing a red helmet, a red jersey and red gloves. I guess he did see the red stop sign either…

    The outcome: my (white) front light is now always on and this driver got a nice deep dent in his brand new car’s front left door.

  12. jone says:

    Lots of my ride buddies on will head up to the events.They will take some photos and publish the photos there. I am waiting for their

  13. Phil says:

    Here’s a great source of reflective tape of all kinds. I’ve purchased a variety of tapes from them. You can even buy in bulk.

    I have lots of reflective tape on the body, fork, and fenders of my bike. I also have strips sewn onto the “bags” of my Xtracycle FreeRadical kit. I use a Dinotte 200L on my helmet, one on my handlebars, and a 140L tail light. I also have a Planet Bike superflash on the back of my helmet. High Vis yellow green jerseys and jackets are almost always worn, If not, then a same colored vest w/reflective stripes is also worn. I’ve never been “buzzed” and never had anyone tell me they never saw me, especially now that I added the last two Dinottes. Yes, the price can add up over time, but it’s far cheaper than major medical bills and still far cheaper than operating a car regularly.

  14. Steve Cole says:

    Good site for the reflective tape is . They carry the bright stuff

  15. KonaCommuter says:

    Please consider updating this post as Noobs and the noobish are looking for tips and the technology available to the 2012 cyclist has evolved since 2008.

    Just my thoughts

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