Reflectors are forms of passive visibility, while lights are great for active visibility. Read on to see where each one is helpful and most efficient.

Finding visibility for safety and fun in fall’s limited light

by John Brown

Now that fall is officially here, we must keep visibility in mind while staying active amongst all autumn colors. As the days get shorter, while enjoying your favorite outdoor activities this time of the year, the primary forms of visibility we need to focus on are passive and active visibility. Things like reflectors and bright colors are passive forms of visibility, While lights and blinkers are great examples of active visibility. Read on to see where each one is helpful and most efficient.

First Passive visibility

Most autumn bike rides start in the light and gradually evolve into darkness as the rider pedals. In these cases, most riders rely on passive visibility to get them home. Provided your ride is under street lamps or some form of light, that passive visibility will get you home. The most common form of passive visibility is the lowly reflector. These plastic devices are required by the CPSC (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) to be installed on all bicycles sold in the United States. You will find reflectors in two colors: white (front and wheels) and Red (rear).

Additionally, many apparel companies install reflective materials onto their products. Like the reflector on your bike, these reflective materials will take any light directed your way and return it to the source of the light so you are seen. Where passive reflectivity falls short is when there is no light source to activate the visibility.

This jacket offers excellent visibility through color and reflective materials.

Several manufacturers make cool winter gloves that are both visible and insulated.

Active visibility

When the area is devoid of a light source, as a rider, you need to create that light to keep yourself safe. For cyclists, Lights and blinkers are the most common devices for light. Where the light and the blinker differ is that blinkers are designed to be seen, while lights allow a rider to both see and be seen.

Great lights are usually rechargeable and use an LED bulb. For riders who spend a lot of time off-road or on unlit paths, these lights are a necessity. While most mount onto the bars or helmet, there are a few companies that integrate lights into the bike or your helmet.

MagicShine Bike Helmet and remote (inset)

MagicShine Bike Helmet and remote (inset)

Blinkers are usually battery-operated and use an LED to flash intermittently. These blinkers can easily be mounted to your bicycle. In some cases, blinkers are incorporated into helmets, gloves, shoes, saddles, and handlebars.

The Omni Bike Helmet, with photo receptor covered and lights on.

The Omni Bike Helmet, with photoreceptors, is covered and lights on.

What to use this Fall

For the fall season, mount a pair of lights to the bike (one front and one back). When you get stuck in low light and high traffic, switch on the lights. Even If your route uses a road with street lights for any portion, a front light makes things safer. Overall, think ahead before your next ride and be prepared to ensure you can see others and they can see you.

About John Brown, the author

As a lifelong cyclist and consummate tinkerer, John operates Browns Bicycle in Richfield, MN. It all started for him in grade school when the bike bug bit. Now, and over the past thirty years, he has worked at every level in the bike industry. He is starting, like most, sweeping floors and learning anything he can about bikes. He eventually graduated as a service manager and then as a store manager.
Through the years, he has spent extensive time designing and sourcing bicycles and parts for some of the largest bike companies in the world. All the while focusing on helping as many people as possible enjoy the love of riding a bike. In that pursuit, he has taught classes (both scheduled and impromptu) on all things bikes. John also believes in helping every rider attain their optimal fit on the cycle of their dreams. Please feel free to stop in any time and talk about bikes, fit, and parts or share your latest ride. You can also see John’s tricks and tips on the Brown Bicycle Facebook Page.