By W.M. deRosset

Test Products

The following items were tested for this review.

Ankle Bands
      4 REI 1-inch nylon
      4 Aardvark 1-inch nylon
      4 Sayre/RUSA 2-inch elastic
      4 Acme/Rivendell 1.5-inch vinyl "cow tags"
Vests/Sam Browne belts
      4 DOT/ANSI visibility vest by Diamond Rubber
      4 Nathan Standard vest
      4 Nathan Cycling vest
      4 Nathan shoulder sash
      4 Sayre/RUSA Sam Browne belt
      4 2-inch vinyl tape Sam Browne belt (home fabrication)
      4 Aardvark hazard triangle

Night riding is an ordinary part of randonneuring, and can be a magical experience—the gentle murmur of the generator hub, the lane-wide beam of white light drawing you onward, trailing a red light for others to follow, are all intoxicating, and the heightened sense of sound and smell in the gentle night air can be addictive. However, most cyclist fatalities occur at night, and it is prudent to increase one's visibility to motorists beyond the minimum required by law (typically front and rear lights and a rear-facing reflector, though these requirements vary from state to state)1. The ACP and RUSA also require all randonneurs riding at night to wear additional aids to conspicuity, typically a reflective vest or Sam Browne belt and ankle bands2. Reflective tape may also be added to the bicycle, and many events require such modification3.

Many types of reflective ankle bands, tapes, vests, and Sam Browne belts are available. This review samples from this very large selection and provides a qualitative assessment of reflective materials readily available to an American randonneur.

Testing Procedures

The materials used on the garments were tested at approximately 100- foot range with a 4-D cell flashlight for dry and wet (10 minute immersion) reflectivity performance for on-axis (straight on, light approximately 9 inches above the observer's eyeline) and off-axis (30 feet to the left of the object, light approximately 9 inches above the observer's eyeline), and for dry on-axis reflectivity at 400-meter range and at 100-meter range. Reflectivity and recognizability were qualitatively assessed. The garments were also assessed for fit, adjustability, comfort, ease of use, storage, and reflectivity both off of the bicycle (standing) and on the bicycle (crouched, on the hoods).

There are two basic types of reflective materials used on these items. The first has a dull, matte, or slightly rough finish, and is often printed onto a garment. This material varies somewhat in reflectivity, reflects white, tends to be very bright in on-axis light (with one exception, see below), is less bright for off-axis light, and is rendered less effective by soaking. It is also sensitive to abrasion and use. The second material is a 2-layer vinyl, has a smooth, glossy finish, and reflects the color of the vinyl (chartreuse, red, or white in this review). It is very bright in on-axis light, was typically brighter than the printed/dull finish materials in off-axis light, and was not affected by soaking.

Ankle Bands

The ankle bands tested reflected incident light effectively, with the exception of the REI ankle bands, which were noticeably less bright than other bands, were rendered non-reflective by soaking, and recovered reflectivity very slowly.

The Acme/Rivendell bands were the most visible in the test, with a six-inch long reflective flap extending to the side of the band when it was fastened around the ankle. They were not affected by soaking. Unfortunately, the unlined vinyl material was not comfortable on bare skin. Consequently, they were doffed at daybreak. The reviewer still uses these items for commuting in street clothing. The Aardvark and Sayre bands were both comfortable enough to wear all day and provided moderate to excellent dry reflectivity. The Sayre RUSA bands are 2 inches shorter than any other band tested, and may be too snug for some users. Both were rendered ineffective by a thorough soaking, though the Sayre band material recovered its reflectivity relatively quickly.

Upper Body Gear

This review tested two types of upper body reflective garments: reflective vests and Sam Browne belts. In general, all of the tested garments were very effective aids to conspicuity and lost some effectiveness when the rider was crouched. The reviewer found the garments with both horizontal and vertical or diagonal bands to aid in recognizing the reflective object as a cyclist at a distance.

Mesh worker safety/surveyor's vest by Diamond Rubber. This vest is typical of light-duty highway worker safety vests. It has a chartreuse nylon mesh body, with twin vertical 1-inch vinyl reflective bands on both the front and rear of the garment, elastic side-tapes, and a Velcro front closure. It is easy to don and doff, does not adjust, and impedes (but does not prevent) access to rear jersey pockets. It is somewhat bulky to store, flaps in the wind, and does not stay securely fastened. It may be easily modified to fit the cyclist's physique better, and, with a second Velcro closure, would be adequately secure. Its primary advantage is one of cost and availability: similar vests are widely available and are not expensive (<$20).

Nathan running vest. This tabard (a tabard is a continuous garment from front to rear, with an opening for the head and side closures) is constructed from orange nylon mesh, with a vertical 1.5-inch yellow vinyl reflective stripe along the left front of the garment, triple 0.5-inch red, white, and yellow horizontal vinyl reflective stripes on the front body, and a single horizontal 1.5 inch wide yellow vinyl stripe on the back of the tabard. It is secured by elastic side tapes and Velcro. It is very adjustable and widely available in running and cycling stores. It is somewhat bulky, awkward to put on or remove, and hinders access to rear jersey pockets. The visibility when viewed from the front is excellent. The visibility when viewed from the rear, particularly in a crouched position, is poor compared to the other tested garments. Extending the vertical stripe over the back of the garment would substantially improve visibility from the rear. Reflectivity was not affected by soaking.

Nathan cycling-specific vest. This tabard has an orange nylon mesh body, with triple 0.5 inch wide red, white, and yellow horizontal vinyl reflective stripes on the front body, and two 1.5 inch wide horizontal vinyl reflective stripes on the back of the garment. The lowest rear stripe is on an extended tail. The tabard is highly adjustable, with elastic and Velcro side straps and a bulky 1-inch nylon web belt securing the extended tail. This garment was awkward to put on and adjust, was moderately bulky to store, and tended to ride up in front over time. It had the most effective reflectivity of all the garments tested when used in a fully crouched position. The garment provided only adequate reflectivity when the rider was standing and did not aid in cyclist recognition as well as the Sam Browne belts or the DOT vest due to the lack of vertical stripes. It also rendered rear jersey pockets inaccessible. With the addition of a vertical reflective stripe on both the front and the rear of this tabard, the garment would be a strong choice for a safety-minded randonneur who didn't use rear jersey pockets at night. This tabard was the most expensive garment tested—$25.00.

Sam Browne belts consist of a shoulder sash combined with a waist belt. They provide 360 degree visibility and a minimum of two reflective stripes—one horizontal at the waist line, and one diagonal along the shoulder sash. Sam Browne belts do not typically interfere with rear jersey pocket access. Historically, they have not been widely available in the United States.

Sayre now produces a Sam Browne belt. It is constructed of 2 inch wide chartreuse elastic with a 0.75 inch wide printed reflective center strip. The connection between the waist belt and the shoulder strap was poorly implemented and required care to avoid turning the non-reflective back of the shoulder strap inside out when putting it on. Once on, the reviewer's arm tended to brush the junction, though this problem was not noticeable while riding. The printed material was very bright when dry but was rendered ineffective by soaking. It did recover its reflectivity quickly. The garment was otherwise quite comfortable, was very adjustable, and stored compactly. RUSA and SIR both offer Sayre belts with their printed logos. The Sayre Sam Browne belt is very affordable, costing the reviewer between $5.00 and $11.00.

Nathan makes a shoulder sash that, with the addition of a reflective waist belt, makes an effective Sam Browne belt. Nathan's shoulder sash is constructed of 2 inch wide yellow vinyl reflective tape lined with a fleece material. It comes with a bulky and non reflective 1 inch wide nylon web belt. The sash was adjustable and comfortable. When the non-reflective waist belt was replaced by a Sayre waist belt, it was an effective aid to conspicuity and did not interfere with access to rear jersey pockets. It is bulky to store when not in use, and was the second-most expensive garment in the test ($15.00 + $5.00 for a Sayre belt). The shoulder sash reflectivity was not affected by soaking.

For those who do not fear small sewing projects, a fitted Sam Browne belt may easily be made from an 8 foot long piece of unlined 2 inch wide vinyl reflective tape. The reviewer produced one to simulate a fitted Sam Browne belt available in the UK or Europe. It cost $12.00 for a 10-foot length of 2-inch vinyl reflective tape, required one 2.5-inch seam, three 2- inch long patches of Velcro, and approximately 30 minutes to produce by hand. It fit very well, was slightly adjustable for additional layers, stored compactly, and provided excellent reflectivity. The unlined edges of the vinyl tape irritated bare skin. It was very comfortable when worn over a jersey. The material the reviewer ordered had a center stripe of dull- grey reflective material that was highly brilliant under on-axis light conditions, but was rendered ineffective by soaking, though the reflectivity recovered quickly. The reflective properties of the outer portions of the tape were not affected by moisture. Triangles

Reflective triangles are available from Nathan, Aardvark, and other sources. These items are typically made from orange nylon mesh with a yellow vinyl reflective tape border. The Aardvark 6-inch triangle tested was an effective aid to conspicuity from behind when it was attached vertically to the bicycle, and was a useful addition to the various reflective garments. Conclusions

Smooth-finish 2-layer vinyl reflective tape was the most effective retroreflective fabric tested for wet conditions. Both vinyl reflective tape and the dull or printed reflective materials were effective for dry conditions. Combined vertical and horizontal reflective bands improved visibility and recognition from a distance.

All tested garments substantially increased visibility compared to an unreflective cyclist. Sam Browne belts were more compact to store, provided equivalent or superior visibility, and hindered access to rear jersey pockets less compared to the vest and tabards tested. No single garment was ideal, though some would have been substantially improved by relatively minor modification.

W.M. deRosset is a second-year randonneur.