Reflecting on Reflectivity

I started making my own bicycle-friendly clothes with reflective trim last year because I was looking for options that didn’t scream “I bike!” Everything I found was too niche, too sporty, too expensive, too Tweed Ride, and often, only in dark colors. I wanted to be able to look stylish as I biked to work, when The Mechanic and I are out on a bike date (or running errands, less romantic but more common), met friends for coffee, and so on. Nothing fit my admittedly high standards of reflective cycle chic.

Latest sewing project

Latest sewing project

Even though I enjoy making my own clothing, I haven’t stopped looking to see what else is out there. And recently I found some things at REI that I got a bit excited about initially, but didn’t end up buying.

I really liked the look of this Novara shirt. I think it’s this Ruston Plaid Bike Shirt .The colors on the website are a bit too “I’m a lumberjack” for my taste, and sadly, this color in the store wasn’t available in my size.

Reflective shirt at REI

Reflective shirt at REI

I also love that the tabs are totally reflective – what a great idea. But it does mean that you pretty much have to roll up your sleeves for them to show. I’m not in love with the mesh sides, but don’t disagree with the need for some ventilation. Just not work appropriate. Alas, I didn’t take a picture of it with the flash.

Then I found these Novara Pilsen Cycling Shorts, which I was also pretty tempted to buy. The back of the waistband is higher than normal, which is nice, and there is a loop to tuck  your U-lock into, it’s got those reflective tabs, and a padded seat.

I love the reflective tabs, but I don’t like my shorts to be too short, plus, every pair of shorts I’ve ever owned that rolled up ended up being too tight for my large thigh, so then I couldn’t wear them rolled up. I didn’t try these on, maybe it wouldn’t have been an issue.

The biggest problem with these pieces is that it’s as if the designers threw every “bike” feature at them without thinking about it. The shirt will clearly work for cruising around town as well as for mountain biking, but with that reflective fabric, it seems to be to be more practical for running errands on a late summer or fall evening, when you want drivers to see you better. What’s going to reflect on a mountain bike path? Do you often mountain bike in the wee hours? Or even dusk? Unless you are an extreme athlete , that doesn’t seem very safe.  And do mountain bikers carry their U-locks with them? The padded seat – if you are just biking around town, do you need the padding? So are they mountain bike shorts or casual “townie” shorts? These pieces are bit too much of everything to make them really great. Okay, I haven’t yet been mountain biking, so many I would want to carry my U-lock, reflect so the bears can see me, and flash my thighs at the deer.

I don't think he's carrying a U-lock. Or worrying about being reflective.

I don’t think he’s carrying a U-lock. Or worrying about being reflective.

One of the things that BikeArlington and goDCgo like to emphasize in their bicycling outreach is that one does not need special clothing to ride a bike. It can be done in yoga clothes, jeans, business suits, whatever you feel like wearing that day. I like anything that reflects on the back, arms, and legs, and bigger than a wee logo on a hem (Lululemon, I’m looking at you) or a tiny square on the back of a shoe (Merrell, now I’m looking at you). And a reflective patch on the underside of the collar is a good start, but seriously, I’m not going to channel my 1980s high school classmates and go all preppy with a turned up collar. It’s nice that those designers consider those details, but they haven’t thought through, apparently, how useless those little bits are if they are your only reflective touches. That’s why I love the reflective plaid fabric – it makes you much more visible in the dark, even as a pedestrian. I would love to see more reasonably-priced fashions designed with better visibility in mind, as well as some truly practical bike features.

Maybe the reflective mountain bike shorts would be useful on my next bike camping trip?

Maybe the reflective mountain bike shorts would be useful on my next bike camping trip?

If you were to design your ideal bike fashion outfit, would it include anything reflective? Does visibility make any difference to you? Do you wear anything to make you more visible to cars? Or am I the only one so obsessed?

14 thoughts on “Reflecting on Reflectivity

  1. I’m not quite getting tucking the U lock into the back of my trousers. Those things are heavy: wont they just pull my trousers down?

    I care about being seen, but tend towards wearing light colours to do so. In winter, I always have my rain/wind jacket on and it’s got lots of reflective bits. I do like adding little reflective things to whatever I’m wearing, so your reflective belt for example (though its been so cold I’ve not worn it yet!) or reflective trouser cuffs. And as a car driver, the reflective things i notice most are the little things that move, not the lights, strange as that sounds.

    Have you seen Deer and Doe’s Belladone dress? I and another Melbourne sewist plan on making versions with reflective binding! Won’t need it until summer rolls aro d he, but its gonna be fun!

    • Oh that’s a cute dress, thanks for sharing! I want to see your version when you are done.

      I try to get light colors as well, and as much as I like reflective stuff, I’d never go all out. Shoes and belt, my North Face jacket, but all at once? Only for photos : )

      I totally don’t get the U lock in pants thing, but I know some people like it so I try not to judge… I think it’s a hipster thing, or street cred or something. Just seems silly to me!

      : )

  2. I LOVE that you can make your own clothes! I am completely incompetent when it comes to such matters. Fun post!!

    And, if I were to design my ideal outfit it would absolutely include reflective material, because visibility makes a big difference to me. Cycling in traffic is scary and I want to do whatever I can to make myself known and obvious to drivers.

    Have you heard of Monkeysee Harnesses? I love mine, and my partner loves his too. You might like them. They are the most attractive harnesses I’ve ever seen (seriously–but let me know if you know of more), and they’re easy to carry around. I also have a little light that has a loop attached (it was a gift) and I’m able to loop it onto the ring, so I have the harness on AND a blanking light dangling in the middle of my back.

    Maybe we could have a contest =) who is more obsessed with being seen! haha

  3. Someone did make a rear pocket flap that was reflective so you could go to work with it tucked in and pull it our for the ride home. Smart.

    • I saw those somewhere, and thought it was a great idea! I’ve seen lots of great ideas, but alas, I can’t afford to support them all, no matter how much I want to. Maybe someday…

    • I can’t wait to try mountain biking; my BF is building me a bike right now. I think I’ll really like it. And of course it means new accessories! Even if none of them are reflective, haha!

      I haven’t looked at We Be Flashy’s website in a while, that polka dot pullover is adorable! I have a tee shirt from DarGeLos but I really want their reflective mesh vest – Again, not in the budget right now : (

  4. Less of the gadgetry and more functionality please. I think you’ve got a better approach–normal clothing with reflective fabric or trim that doesn’t scream “playtime” (or is that “geek”?) The North Face has a decent line of commuter bikewear that has reflective thread woven into the plaids or stripes, but they seem to be focusing on menswear. I have 2 of their short sleeve Hayes Burst shirts from last year, and they made a long sleeve plaid for gals this year (the Brushcut). Maybe the mens Hennepin shorts (they have a lovely brown plaid) would work since you are tall and lean? We have also found that climbing shorts are nicely stretchy and long enough for decent coverage, albeit lacking any reflectivity. (Not surprising since that’s usually not an issue for that sport. ) I have no idea why REI padded the Pilsen short but I just saw they are on sale. I can cut the padding out!

    • I have one of those North Face Hayes shirts and I LOVE it! I have the jacket too, although I wish it was a bit more water resistant. I seriously considered the men’s shorts, since they were easier to find, but didn’t get them. yet. I haven’t looked to see if they are doing more for this fall; I’ll have to check. Or get summer stuff on sale too!

      : )

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