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On Winter Nights, Be the Light

Vespertine's Guide to Illuminating Your Ride

Reflective clothing and bike lights help cyclists stay safe and seen.

December 21st is the winter solstice. On this shortest day of the year, night falls at 4:30 P.M. in our fair city. So while you may not consider yourself a nightrider, there’s a good chance you’ll be pedaling around in the dark in the upcoming months. The good news is you don’t have to stay in the dark. By illuminating your ride you’ll not only stay seen on the road, but also help others see you, making the streets safer for everyone. 

There are lots of ways to be more visible — and it’s actually something you can have fun with. Here are some ways to stay safe and seen this winter and beyond. 

Lighten Up

Torch Helmet with integrated bike lights. Image via Confessions of a Bike Junkie.

The Torch Helmet provides rechargeable, low-maintenance lighting [image via].

Common sense aside, NYC law requires a white front light and red taillights. The built-in dynamo lights found on Citi Bikes are pedal powered, and you can install a similar dynamo lighting system on your own ride. These friction-powered lights are very convenient because you don’t have to take them on and off, and they never run out of batteries. The only downside is you might run out of steam sooner than usual, since the system creates added drag on your wheels.

Want built-in illumination options without the drag? Try the Torch helmet, which features integrated front and rear lights. DIYers: you can create your own version of the Torch by looping small Knog or Bookman-style lights onto your own helmet. I have a friend whose helmet is entirely covered in these little lights, and you can’t miss him! The only downside is it takes a while to turn them all off and on. 

Revolights and others of a similar ilk, which light up the wheels or spokes, are another fun illumination option.

Go Retro

Vespertine reflective clothing for safe bike rides.

Vespertine's retroreflective RIDING DRESS in Black Flash.

Retroreflection — a personal obsession —  is integral to our urban landscape and the functioning of our roadways, yet we often take it for granted. Thanks to this incredible technology, which sends light back towards its source, road signs, street markings and traffic safety vests stay visible to drivers and bicyclists at night. There are even retroreflectors on the moon that help us measure its orbit!

While typical bike lights indicate a biker’s presence by a single point of light, reflective wear can delineate the rider’s breadth, providing important visual cues to other vehicles on the road. Thanks to the growth of urban cycling there’s been a big uptick in options for reflective clothing.

My collection, Vespertine NYC, ranges from fun, flattering safety vests — even one with sequins! — to more traditional clothing and accessories. Everything in the Vespertine line incorporates reflectives, and some are made entirely from reflective material. It’s safety wear you’ll want to wear everywhere (or at least that’s what I was going for). Also check out my friends at Cleverhood and Dargelos for some more amazing and stylish reflective wear.

Ride Retro 

Mission Bicycle's Lumen bike features retroreflective paint for a "cat's eye" illumination effect.

The Lumen bike's retroreflective paint produces a "cat's eye" effect when exposed to light.

Adding retroreflectivity to your bike itself is another great way to be seen, and like front and rear lights, NYC law also requires it. There are a number of ways to incorporate it into your ride. 

A red rear reflector is an indispensible basic, but Mission Bicycles has recently taken retroreflectivity to the next level with the Lumen, an entirely reflective bike frame. 

Not ready to upgrade your trusty ride? Try decking it out with reflective stickers from brands like Ryde Safe. Reflective accessories on moving parts like pedals are another good option and will help attract attention.  

Reflecting on Reflectives

As you might imagine, not all retroreflective materials are equal. Some are brighter than others, and the brighter the material, the more visible you’ll be from a distance. For work wear, there are federally regulated standards of brightness that must be met. I would suggest opting for these ANSI-approved reflective fabrics — or the equivalent European standard, EN 471 — to make sure you're getting the brightest bang for your buck. Inks and many other reflective materials do not meet these stringent standards. Making sure your reflective materials cover 360 degrees ensures you’ll stay seen from any angle. 

If you feel safer, you’ll ride more. So invest in your safety and save by riding your bike. Cyclists, for all the positives our pedaling generates on the personal, community, and environmental levels, are beacons of light. These dark winter days are the perfect time to take that metaphor literally and be the light!

In support of safe cycling, Vespertine is offering 20% off their entire collection for BikeNYC users this December. These short, dark days are the perfect time for you and your loved ones to get your retro-reflective on!

[Top image: the Vespertine MEN'S RIDING SHELL in Cinnabar Flash.]

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