Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Glowing Impressions: A Halo-Coated Bicycle in Action

Some time ago I wrote about a "retro-reflective" powdercoat developed by manufacturer Halo Coatings and mentioned its potential application to bicycle frames. Two years later, framesets using this technology are finally starting to become commercially available. Mission Bicycles has recently announced their $500 Lumen frameset available for pre-order, and various publications have covered the news. As far as I can tell, few have had direct experience with bikes made with this technology, so I thought this might be a good time to share my impressions.

As it happens, I know the guys behind Halo Coatings through the Boston cycling scene. And I've had the opportunity to examine a pre-production bike made with their technology up close and personal.

The bike shown belongs to Joshua Zisson of Bike Safe Boston. Initially a Halo customer, he felt so strongly about the product's possibilities he ended up joining the company. Last year I followed Josh around the city as he rode his reflective bike. As you might imagine, keeping track of him in the dark wasn't terribly difficult.

When it comes to reflective properties, the Halo-coated bike does exactly what I was led to expect. In the glare of a camera flash or vehicle headlights, the finish reflects a bright white, setting the entire machine aglow.

In the dark, it looks like a glowing, riderless bike, which is a pretty funny sight. In my previous post and elsewhere, some have expressed concern that this degree of visibility could be too much, disturbing and distracting other road users. Observing the bike as it operated in Boston night traffic, I did not get that impression. The reflective glow is not piercingly-bright in a way that hurt my eyes or made me fixate on it. If anything, I found that on busy and well-lit streets, the bike faded in prominence. You can see this in Mission's own promotional video as well: Notice that the more street lights there are, the less the bikes stand out. On the other hand, when rolling through a dark side street or through the woods, the bike is super-visible. A reflective frameset like this might be useful on my rural commutes in Ireland.

Others have wondered whether a reflective frameset would be sufficiently visible from the front and rear. According to my observations, yes, and the pictures here demonstrate this. Even if the bike were positioned as to align perfectly straight (which in reality seldom happens), the swathe of headtube and fork makes for a large reflective area head-on, and the seat stays reflect in the rear. Of course, with a bike like this you still need a headlight and tail light, as the frame's reflective properties will only activate under strong direct light. The reflective paint is a supplementary visibility feature, not intended to replace lighting.

Aside from its luminous properties, one notable aspect of the Halo coating is the distinct aesthetic. On his pre-production frame Josh opted for the matte silver finish, which, in its non-reflective state has a flat, industrial look to it.

Under certain light conditions, there is also a velvety quality that comes through, with some subtle tonal variation. It is a matte finish with a shimmery depth to it, rather than a metallic finish, if that makes sense.

The look is unusual for sure, and may not be to everyone's taste. If you like a bike with a raw, unpolished vibe, you will be delighted. But sleek and sparkly it is not. The coating on Mission's Lumen frame is a gloss charcoal gray, which will have a different look to it while incorporating some of the same elements. I have also seen swatches of other colours, and those could become available in future. And colour aside, the finish is also said to be durable: According to Halo, it is rated to withstand over 4,300 hours in the industry "salt spray" test (ASTM B117), with zero loss in reflectivity.

Currently Halo's facility is set up to handle high volume runs, which means they can only accommodate manufacturers, not individual customers or framebuilders looking to coat one frame at a time. In other words, to get your hands on a reflective bike with this technology, you have to wait until a manufacturer decides to offer it. The San Francisco-based Mission are the first to give it a try, with delivery of their Lumen framesets scheduled for December 2014. The guys at Halo are also talking to several other companies that produce city bikes in a variety of styles, including step-throughs and mixtes, so that could be on offer soon. Considering what I've seen of the pre-production bike, I think this has potential - though perhaps even more for riding in the country than in the city. And I know more than a handful of randonneurs who wrap their entire bicycle frames in reflective tape and might appreciate this technology! I continue to follow Halo's progress with interest and wish Ryan and Josh best of luck.

29 comments:

  1. Cool idea. I wonder if at some point you could have it reflect different colors - i.e. a blue glowing bike. there was a frame builder out west here (Josh Ogle of Jericho bikes) that made a few mtb frames with glow-in-the-dark paint jobs way back in the day. I know a much different "light source", but similar concept.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Will the powder material be offered, or will Halo be the only firm doing the coating?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As I understand it, this coating requires a special application method that their factory is specifically set up to do. So I don't think they have plans to offer it.

      Delete
  3. I use 3m reflective tape on my bike; it comes in lots of colors but glows white when lit up. Works amazingly well, you can see the bike from a pretty good distance. It also double as paint protection on the forks, chainstays, etc. And it's a whole lot cheaper than a new bike.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cheaper, you can change it if you get sick of the colour, you can even make your own lugwork. But some might argue tape isn't quite as elegant as paint. And think of the extra weight it adds to your bike!

      Delete
    2. Well, the weight of powdercoat paint has to be taken into account too, of course.

      Delete
  4. And the paint is not toxic in any way?(Frame licking kids, dogs and such)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You probably shouldn't eat any bits that might flake off. But otherwise, I'm told no more toxic than ordinary powdercoat.

      Delete
  5. These are great for the driver to see you just before t-boning. Rural Ireland = fail. No surface area.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This doesn't seem like an argument against reflective paint, any more than it is an argument against front and rear lighting. This paint increases visibility. If you'd like to add sideways facing lights or a giant reflective panel in the middle of the frame, I suppose that might be handy too, but that doesn't diminish the utility of this paint. If it adds a marginal increase in safety, seems like a good choice for some consumers to have. I'm not going to buy a new bike to get it, but I wish my bike had it.
      JP

      Delete
  6. What is the cost, compared to a bike with regular paint?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Looks like Mission's reflective frameset costs $100 more than their standard frameset. It's hard to tell though, to what extent this has to do with the finish itself vs it being a small batch project and other factors.

      Delete
  7. The paint they are using is available to powdercoat painters everywhere. You may find a local painter who is willing to use it.
    There are lots and lots of other ways to enhance the retroreflectivity of your bike. The market has really taken off. 3M makes many different tapes you can use, in a variety of colors. And there is my personal favorite, the stickers and rim tapes made by Fiks:Reflective.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think their coating is the same as what you refer to. I like 3M reflective tape and have used it in a couple of projects recently.

      Delete
    2. I have a friend who does powdercoating. He got this paint a while ago. It is readily available, in different colors.

      Delete
    3. Here is the website of the stuff my friend uses: http://www.reflectionight.com/

      Delete
    4. There is a longer story here, but the cliffnotes version is that it's not the same product.

      Delete
    5. Response from a Halo representative:

      "The maker of that product worked with Halo in its early days and the product he is selling is an inferior version of Halo's earliest coatings. As such, it is neither as durable nor as bright as Halo's final product. He is also in violation of his contract with Halo, in that he is passing off our intellectual property as his own."

      Delete
    6. V., thanks for clearing this up.

      Delete
  8. Being seen at night is so important but I wouldn't choose a glow in the dark frame over other more traditional methods. I'd prefer that I been seen rather than my bike.

    ReplyDelete
  9. before I scrolled down I was thinking "this probably looks ghastly in the daylight" but it totally doesn't! great idea, I hope it takes off

    ReplyDelete
  10. Not ghastly, maybe a bit ghostly. In a good way.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I can imagine this will soon be available, locally, for anyone who wants to repaint their frame so as to not have to buy a new one just for this feature. It's a good idea if you're into hi-vis stuff.

    ReplyDelete
  12. My comments never seem to show up here, but here goes. I think this is great. Frankly, I would never choose anything else, if I had a choice. Of course, I've never bought a new bike, only used bikes, so I've always taken the color that was available, rather than choosing one from scratch. I think it looks great, particularly for a city rider where practicality trumps all (for me at least, speaking as a full-time daytime dynamo light user).

    ReplyDelete
  13. Looks cool but they need to develop something for carbon fiber.

    ReplyDelete
  14. this would be a neat choice for my frames when I repaint it down the road

    ReplyDelete
  15. I'm sure it's very effective, though being so conspicuous might not always be a good idea, depending on where you are cycling. I would rather have control over the level of visibility I have, rather than having a high visibility profile on all roads at all times.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is one problem I have with reflective stuff as well, be it on bikes or clothing.

      Delete
  16. The reflective paint looks awesome for visibility when commuting and city riding, so I thought it was rather disappointing that the only bike mission is offering is basically a fixed gear frame with no eyelets?! When I'm commuting, my bike needs racks and fenders (full fenders, and racks capable of carrying full grocery bags, not those little clip on ones). I wish they were selling a frame more like the bike in your photos, which looks much more practical.

    ReplyDelete