Saturday, March 3, 2012

Reflective Paint - the Ultimate in Hi-Vis?

image via BikeSafeBoston
I've been documenting the making of a new bike for Josh Zisson of Bike Safe Boston, and he has this crazy idea to make the entire bicycle reflective - as in tire sidewalls, wheel rims and even the frame itself. Apparently there is a paint and powdercoating company in Indianapolis called Halo Coatings and they've developed a way to add an ingredient to powdercoat that would make it reflective under direct light ("halo patented retro-reflective powder coating"). I had a hard time believing this until I saw it in person. The orange paint chip above would be the colour used on his wheel rims. And watch what happens to it when it's photographed with flash:

image via BikeSafeBoston
Neat, isn't it? Examining the colour chip up close, it's got these tiny mirror-like particles embedded in the powdercoat and they create the reflective effect. The technology is very new, and so far there is only one bicycle I know of that it's been used on - a cargo bike by Tsunehiro Cycles that won 2nd place at the Oregon Manifest last year. Here is what that bike looks like in the dark. The potential of this product is exciting - though personally I can't decide whether reflective paint is a genius idea for city bikes, or whether it's sensory overload. I would need to see it in person I guess. What do you think - would you want a reflective bike?

49 comments:

  1. For city bikes, just paint the lower part of the rear fender.

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  2. Anything that increases visibility in the dark is a "genius idea".

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  3. Totally OT, but I notice you smile a lot when the photos are not taken solely for this blog. What's up with that? Smiling is good!

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    1. Funny : ) Well in my experience, "online personas" seldom come across online as they are in real life; I guess the same is true of me.

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    2. Good grief, I hope that you remain the bloggerer of the mournful countenance.

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  4. As one who has ridden a lot on country roads at night, I'm totally for this on 'country' bikes, too! Those pick-up trucks move by kinda fast and close :)

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    1. Precisely my thought. Drivers in remote areas tend to cozy into the idea that they are "the only ones out here- for miles and miles!" and only keep a cursory eye on the road. Any way to grab a tired driver's attention is great by me- both as a cyclist AND as a driver.

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  5. Definitely. I spent years doing emergency vehicle graphics and always saved the small scraps of reflective vinyl taping for my bikes and other vehicles. It can make a huge difference in visibility, which I appreciate. I've also used the relatively thick Scotchlite reflective vinyl as a chainslap guard on my chainstays. I've often had scraps that matched or complemented the frame color as a cosmetic bonus.

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  6. They had a commercial for Blackberry here where all the bicycles glowed different colours.
    I think it's pretty awesome! Not doing it to my bike though..

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  7. Wow. Is this something that can be done to your bike after the fact, if you don't want to repaint your frame? Like a reflective top coat?

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    1. Hmm I'm not sure. I guess since they also do liquid you might be able to do a clear liquid coat? Contact them!

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    2. Reflective paint is commonly available. It just might look very good since it is usually a mat finish.

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    3. I don't know about paint, but you do have something similar in tape:
      http://www.brightthread.com/

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  8. Yes, I'd like a reflective bike. I've been putting alternating bands of red and white 3m reflective tape (looks like a barber pole or a candy cane, sorta) on my forks/seatstays or on racks, and even just that little bit seems to help alot. I think it'd be nice to have an all-reflective bike, or even just one with alot of reflective accents.

    Not just for safety; I also think it looks pretty cool. In the city, it might not help much, but i don't think it'd be sensory overload either. It'd probably go largely unnoticed.

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  9. I think it's the way of the future for bicycles.

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  10. Whether this constitutes sensory overload or genius depends on the situation I think. Can you imagine the excruciating effect it would have in Amsterdam?

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    1. I doubt it would be so bright as to be "excruciating" even in Amsterdam. It only reflects back a portion of the light that hits it, so it wouldn't be as bright as car headlights or bike headlights. Plus, the effect would mostly be from the side. So car headlights shining on a bunch of bikes crossing the street in front of them would get the effect of a silver blur ahead of them, but bikes facing bikes would only see slivers of seat tube, fenders, maybe a bit of rim.

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  11. Vel said, "The potential of this product is exciting - though personally I can't decide whether reflective paint is a genius idea for city bikes, or whether it's sensory overload. I would need to see it in person I guess. What do you think - would you want a reflective bike?"

    It's about time that passive safety caught up to bicycles. IMO all bikes should be painted with this type of reflective paint to gain one more edge in the battle for road space.

    Would I buy a bike painted with this paint? Sure I would but until I want another bike I've pimped my bikes out with lots of reflective tape!

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    1. I had a feeling you might like this : )

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  12. I think it would be fantastic for somewhere like the UK or USA where most places don't offer segregated cycling. So often I see cyclists with pesky or no lights, what a difference it would make even without lights. As someone else pointed out, the visual effect in a country like the Netherlands or Denmark, might be less than restful!

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  13. I kind of love it, especially if they can do it with colors besides yellow and orange. As mentioned above, it would be overkill in Amsterdam or maybe even Portland, but in most cities, this would be genius and if it became mainstream I'd pay more for a bike with it. :)

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    1. They can do it in just about any color, but there are some that work a little better than others. They've also developed a way to make the reflected color something other than white. I have some samples coming that reflect bright blue!

      My bike is going to be the light blue color of my website, and the rims are going to be orange color of my logo. The rims will reflect white and the frame will reflect blue. It's gonna be incredible.

      LB and I are working with Halo to help introduce this technology to the biking industry, and based on these comments, that shouldn't be too hard!

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  14. Can they do it any color, or only bright colors like the orange shown?
    I think anything that helps convey an immediately recognizable shape is good- which is why I like reflex tire walls so much- Two circles side by side immediately say "bicycle"
    I wish more companies licensed the "Illuminite" technology for clothing because it immediately creates a human silhouette in headlights, but looks "normal" in daylight.

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    1. Any colour. My understanding is that they add reflective flecks to existing powdercoat.

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  15. Daytime running lights, for me -- reflectors only work if they are lit.

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  16. I'm reminded of wisdom from Mary Poppins: "Enough is as good as a feast!"

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  17. Hi Velouria

    Sort of related AND you were asking a while ago about a book about English bikes.

    Whilst looking for something else I found this online (free!) book in pdf format about custom bikes (of the 1970s) that talks in detail about why custom bikes, paint, Mercian etc - a great read


    http://www.classicrendezvous.com/publications/thecustombicycle.pdf

    Its an excellent read and great for people with custom racer / tourers.

    Happy reading

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  18. We are supposed to have reflective strip on our tires here in NL so we can be seen from the side.. so I don't see why some of this paint tastefully done on 1/3 of a bike wouldn't be bad. I rather like it! Hope to see more of it.

    ...and here I just got my bridgestone powdercoated too soon... ummphffff.

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  19. It will be even harder to get people to put lights on their bikes. "My whole bike's a reflector. Why would I need lights."

    I'm curious as to how well the reflectorizing works from straight ahead or back.

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  20. I can see some potential issues....

    First, it would mainly be effective in cross streets/intersections when the bicycle's cross section would be most displayed. Would that address a significant risk factor?

    Second, one of the earlier comments pointed out that reflectors of any type need to be at exactly the right angle to the source of lighting to work well, and all the varying surfaces of a bicycle might not be optimum for that.

    Third, is the paint as durable as normal powder coat? Is it a good, practical finish for a bicycle? Would the reflective particles create a more rough surface finish that would more readily attract dirt and thereby reduce reflectivity?

    I'm surprised that so many people here seem to favor this.

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    1. "First, it would mainly be effective in cross streets/intersections when the bicycle's cross section would be most displayed. Would that address a significant risk factor?"

      Absolutely. While newer lights on the market are trying to provide some lateral illumination, this has always been a weak point with bicycle lighting: bikes are pretty much invisible at night when viewed from the side. Friends have commented on how bright the reflective stripe on the side of my schwalbes are, and even more so the 3m reflective tape I have wrapped around some of my bikes.

      "Second, one of the earlier comments pointed out that reflectors of any type need to be at exactly the right angle to the source of lighting to work well, and all the varying surfaces of a bicycle might not be optimum for that."

      The varying surfaces of a bicycle are what makes this application optimal, as far as reflection goes. While there are certainly exceptions, bicycle tubing is round (providing 360degrees of possibly optimal angles) and most bikes are made up of tubes at several angles (increasing the likelihood of proper reflectivity).

      "Third, is the paint as durable as normal powder coat? Is it a good, practical finish for a bicycle? Would the reflective particles create a more rough surface finish that would more readily attract dirt and thereby reduce reflectivity?"

      This is a good question, and I guess we'll have to see. The stripes on highways are sometimes applied with a reflective substance, and these work fine despite being dirty, but that may not translate to this mirror-like powdercoat.

      Someone above said that reflective finishes will discourage cyclists from using proper lights. This may be the case for some folks, but I don't think it makes sense to criticize additional visibility b/c some folks might then skimp on the more effective stuff. Think about it this way: most of us continue to equip our bikes with front derailers (and front brakes) even though we already have rear derailers (and rear brakes) to help us with shifting and stopping.

      Sometimes, more is better. I'm willing to give something like this a shot, if/when it becomes affordable.
      -rob

      I'm surprised that so many people here seem to favor this.

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  21. I likes it! Seems to me it'd make for safer night riding (plus the conversation starter built right into the paint ;) )...yeah :)

    The Disabled Cyclist

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  22. good idea, but nope. With bike lights getting stonger and stronger and a good amount of reflectors on pedals etc, one should be able to be seen! I live in the country and definitely understand the life and death urge to be be seen.
    If a truck doesn't notice me with my bright rear lights, the huge reflectors on the ortlieb panniers etc, then gods help us. Often drivers still do not dim their high beams for me even with my 600 lumen headlight(must go higher?!). In Canada there is no legal limit on high beams so people put super bright high beams on their cars. So they have even more light to see pedestrians, cyclists, dogs, deer etc.. No excuses! We can't keep letting the drivers get away with not paying attention. Trust me, if they can't see me on my bike, they aren't going to see me on a reflective bike either.

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  23. I think if this can be used in frame paint, or incorporated in the graphics (I've already started to see something similar in a few bikes we carry, with reflective strips or logos built into the finish), it will only be a good thing.

    First off, head and taillights cover you well from the front and back, but secondary, passive lighting from the sides is a real asset in being seen by vehicle approaching from cross streets. Even having the logos on the downtube light up will give you that much more visibility.

    Second, most of the commercially available reflectors for bicycles kinda suck. More often then not, they're flimsy and cheap, made with the idea that the rider will probably throw them away as soon as they get the bike home. If they don't break easily, they're often awkward and interfere with cables and bags. Plus, they're ugly.

    If the reflective surfaces are built into the frame and components, there's nothing to be in the way, look awkward or break off.

    Finally, flat reflectors are only visible from a relatively narrow range of view, by putting reflective surfaces on a variety of curves and angles, you increase the potential for being seen.

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  24. The biggest issue is that the large surfaces of the bike are visible from the sides, yet the dangers are from ahead (mostly turning cars) and behind. So it would make sense to paint the rear fender and front of the handlebar bag in reflective paint, but I see little benefit from a frame painted that way. (The seatstays are the only part visible from behind.)

    Basically, if a cyclist's side view is visible to a driver, then the cyclist will be gone by the time the car gets there.

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    1. Yeah, I've been saying this forever, and nobody seems to just accept this, coming up with ridiculous scenarios where side reflectors matter.

      Here is mine: my ride sits in a dark garage at work and cars backing out of their spot (if they go far enough to hit the wall) can hit my bike just before they hit the wall. I don't worry about this much, but they see nice & bright Schwalbe circles telling them to be extra careful in the rearview mirror.

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    2. I don't think it's ridiculous at all to use side reflectors. Plenty of riders get "t-boned" by cars coming from side streets, the front and rear are not the only sides you need to be visible from.

      I've noticed (having spent plenty of time traveling by both pedal and infernal combustion power in the suburbs) that side reflectors help when a driver is coming from a side road onto a busier street. The front and rear lights are harder to notice, especially if there is a lot of visual "noise" but the wheel reflectors, or better yet, reflective sidewalls, stand out.

      Not as important as a decent headlight, but not useless either.

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    3. Along those lines, MDI, when sitting at a stop light I'll often see a bike armed with side reflectors move through the intersection and it immediately grabs my attention and makes me more aware, cautious, and on the look out for other cyclists who may be on the streets at night.

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  25. I have been hit by cars twice in 30 years. Both times, I was 'T boned'. As a car driver, the reflective side walls and wheel reflector are quite effective at getting my attention when pulling out of side streets on dark nights. +1 for passive side reflective devices from me.

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  26. If this reflective ability can be added to basically any powdercoat, then why not? Presuming it doesn't make it uneven/weaker/uglier, what's not to like? Sounds like a very sensible addition that may not have a huge benefit, but as long as there's no negative, I'd love to have it done.

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  27. Velocity already offers this coating on some of their rims.

    http://www.velocityusa.com/default.asp?contentID=747

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  28. Defintely sensory overload, and reinforces the wrong message that cyclists shouldn't be on the road in the firat place.

    Can we have some decent cycling infrastructure instead?

    Peter from the UK

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  29. Velocity makes rims that are graphite grey and painted by Halo, I got em Safety is key

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  30. I've been messing about with powdercoating different materials since I broke down and bought the equipment last year. One of the ideas I had was to mix some glass bead media like I use in my bead blast cabinet with some powder paint to make a reflective coating. I got the idea from seeing the city street repair guys sprinkle glass beads onto freshly painted lane markings.

    I've had mixed results, sometimes the beads are covered up by the coating and aren't exposed on the surface enough to be reflective and other times only a small section or spot will be reflective, but when it works it works pretty well. Maybe not as bright as the example here but definitely bright enough to make a difference. As long as the beads are exposed (rubbing the finish with rubbing compound removes enough of the surrounding plastic from the glass spheres to dramatically increase reflectivity)the surface
    lights up pretty well.

    I don't know if it would make bikes safer, I'm trying to make a coating for motorcycle wheels and hotrods and the aim there is just to make something neat. Is the reflective coating from this company nice and smooth or does it have some texture? All my experiments came out with a fine texture like cast aluminum.

    Spindizzy

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  31. I had a similar idea a couple of years ago, while I had my dude's Surly LHT repainted (blog post about it here - http://primacyclorina.com/2012/01/22/the-un-loved-bicycle/). We tried to mix in a glow-in-the-dark pearls into the powdercoat paint, but the color went from a red/orange to a pearlized peachy pink. We immediately nixed that mix-in.

    It is nice to know that there is a reflective product out there that doesn't compromise the color of the paint during daylight. Thanks for sharing!

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  32. It is clear that this coating will make a bike more visible in some situations, but how bright will it be? There is a required minimum level of illumination in civilized places, and so... should there be a maximum?

    My experience - in particular as a commercial van driver - is that eyes adjust to the brightest object around. So an overlit cyclist - if extreme I call it "lux narcissism"! - would make less - but LEGALLY - illuminated cyclists less visible. That seems wrong, and selfish.

    I am talking about the urban envronment, in which we need infrastructure and requirements for the bikes themselves like they have in the Netherlands -- actually one can use only a non-blinking cheap LED light there, but it is still the safest place to ride.

    Reflective paint is an understandable but typically American response to a safety focusing on the individual rather than the collective.

    Some related thoughts here at the following link, which is the most popular one on my blog (I formerly referred to "lux narcissism" as "hyper-illumination, but prefer the former as it includes the psychological issues involved).

    http://greenideafactory.blogspot.de/2010/09/dont-believe-hyper-illumination.html

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  33. Whilst I agree with many of the above comments, that this paint will give maximum benefits from the side, and what is needed most is improved front and rear visibility, I see that as no reason not to use it. Any improvement in night time visibility must be worthwhile.

    I imagine that it would also be useful for helmets too.

    I was a getting ready to have the frame of my 1980's road bike repainted, so I've contacted Halo to see if this paint can just be purchased and used like any other paint. (I'm in the UK, so it wouldn't be practical to send them the frame if they need to apply the paint.)

    Rob

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  34. Where can I buy these reflective paint?

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