The most important factor in bicycle safety is visibility. At the R&D OpenLab we're exploring creative ways of increasing visibility. Making more cyclists more visible means fewer accidents. For years visible safety apparel often came at the cost of style. But recent developments in retroreflective design are turning safety into slick fashion.
Guy Hill's tweed textile company, Dashing Tweeds is make heads turn internationally with its high-end reflective tweeds suits. They've developed a unique fabric, LumatwillTM, which combines twill with a reflective yarn from 3M. The results are astonishin. By day its a colorful tweed but by night the bright stripes turn retro-reflective. The suits aren't cheap but their certainly changing how people view form/function of cycling design. We ordered samples for ourselves to get a better look LumatwillTM.
A retro-reflective yarn is spun together with a wool thread (for strength) and then woven into the fabric itself (rather than stitched in). The material, from 3M goes by the name Scotchlite and is available in as a yarn from the Metlon Corporation as Retroglo®. In fact we just ordered samples of the thinnest reflective yarn we could find (1/69"). Currently we're researching ways in which we can weave it into our own fabric, preferably without the pricetag of Savile Row. One idea is to develope a reflective pin-striped suit, where all the stripes are retro-reflective.
Other methods of increasing visibility start with the bike itself. In NYC you can even get a ticked for not having a rear reflector/blinky and headlight. However these little lights and reflectors just meet the bare minimum standard of safety. Instead, imagine if the entire bike glowed and reflected amidst headlights of passing cars!
We ordered and tested two retro-reflective paints. Krylon Reflect-A-Lite (clear) and Dupli Color Nite-Lites (silver). A retro-reflector is a material which reflects light back at the source with minimum scattering, so the light is nearly equal in brightness when it reaches the drivers eyes. In paint, tiny glass beads are ground into a fine powder which is mixed with paint or an adhesive, the beads act as micro mirrors. On paper, Dupli-Color was more visible, while Reflect-A-Lite remained more subtle. Reflect-A-Lite requires a bright white base for full effect. Next steps include application research whether by hand (spray paint) or more controlled (powder coat). Stay tuned for more documentation as our retro-reflective research continues.