Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Great Reflector Shoot-Out

Scott and I had an argument a few weeks ago that almost came to blows. I suggested that the best place for reflector was about 700cm above the ground, while Scott countered that I was off my nut. We decided to settle it like gentlemen and have a duel. Our wives presided over the event with cameras in hand, and my Subaru wagon provided headlights.

First, some background. In order for your bicycle to be "fully reflectorized", you need 10 reflectors: four white ones on each side of both wheels, four amber ones on each side of both pedals, a red one in the back, and a white one in the front. People "in the know" will also mount a red or amber SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) reflector at about headlight level on the back of the bike, since SAE reflectors do a better job than the ones bike stores are allowed to sell (bikes are legally considered toys, and toy stores aren't allowed to sell auto parts).

Both Scott and my bike have these 11 reflectors. Scott and I also have retroreflective yellow ankle cuffs, which keep our pant cuffs out of the chain. We have day-glo chartreuse jackets with a narrow retroreflective band in various places, and gloves with retroreflective patches on them. For lighting, we both have red LED tail lights, and a white bar-mounted front light. Scott's got an LED front light, I've got an incandescent one. Scott, in his effort to mimic a Christmas tree, has also placed reflective stickers on his helmet, and some retroreflective tape with a red LED on his backpack. I don't have a backpack, I use a pannier, which has a retroreflective band on it.

Clearly nobody can accuse us of not making an effort to be seen.

Scott's neighbor showed up early into the shootout, with no reflectors other than his crazy retroreflective jacket, and only a rear tail light. You'll see him on the left in the photos.

So now, without further ado, here are the pictures:

60 feet, from the back, no lights. All of Scott's (on the right) reflectors show up pretty well, but what really struck everyone involved was how vivid our ankle cuffs and my pedals were. They're so bright they overexposed the shot, but trust me when I say they were by far the brightest reflectors. I think my amber reflector is a little more visible than Scott's red one. My puny "meeting the letter of the law" red reflector is practically invisible. Our fancy-pants jackets hardly show up at all, and my pannier didn't reflect a thing. Scott's backpack tape does well.

60 feet, from the back, with lights. Look at that jacket! My (middle) light shows up really well, but I might have had an advantage because I was directly in front of the car. I think the height was also in my favor, though. Scott's (right) light could be better placed, I think. Moving onto the left (traffic) side would be a good start. Once you get past the jacket, Scott's neighbor (left) doesn't have much going for him.

60 feet, from the front, no lights. Scott's (right) helmet stickers are showing up really well but I can't tell where his front reflector is. Mine (middle) is just over the wheel and really shows up well as a result. But once again, they were all dwarfed by the ankle cuffs and my pedal reflectors. Scott's neighbor (left) shows up really well with his crazy jacket but you can't see his bike at all. Let's hope he never brings the wrong jacket to work or gets hot.

60 feet, from the front, with lights. Scott's (right) headlight looks brighter in the photo but the photographers said they were about the same to the eye. I (center) only had one of my two lights turned on, but that's how I ride. From my perspective on the bike, I thought Scott's LED lit up the road better than my incandescent. And again we have Scott's neighbor (left) with his jacket giving our headlights a run for their money. Notice that you can still see the ankle and pedal reflectors, though!



  1. Scott's neighbor's entire unlit, unreflectored bike

  2. My pannier

  3. Scott's rear light (maybe)


  1. Both headlights

  2. Ankle and pedal reflectors

  3. Scott's neighbor's jacket

  4. Scott's helmet and backpack tape

  5. My front reflector

I want to caution people not to be overly swayed by that white jacket. If a headlight is turned off or burned out, Scott's neighbor will be the same color as the road: pitch black. It would be a great addition to a full set of reflectors and lights, though.

In the end I'm going to have to claim victory for my assertion that reflectors closer to the headlights will be more visible, while at the same time conceding that Scott's helmet did manage to show up pretty well.

I think the big winners here are the ankle and pedal reflectors, along retroreflective tape, which clearly has very different reflective properties than standard reflectors, even SAE reflectors.

So go get you some reflective ankle cuffs!

More information on the properties of reflectors can be found in Why Bicycle Reflectors Don't Work at Sheldon Brown's amazing web site.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Road I class

Neale Pickett and Khal Spencer, League of American Byciclists Cycling Instructors, are teaching the League's Road I course on March 2 and 3. $10 for the 9-hour course. Learn how to make basic repairs, the most common types of crashes and how to avoid them, emergency maneuvers, and more. Contact Neale at 661-4223 or neale@woozle.org to sign up. Space is limited.

EDIT: I had the wrong dates. It's actually March 2 and 3.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Quick Description of Diamond Drive Project

Wondering what the reconstructed Diamond Drive will look like?
Will it have continuous bike lanes? YES.

Here is a quick description of the Diamond Drive reconstruction project.

The text in green is copied from the Los Alamos County Diamond Project website (see link at right sidebar). The text in black is my commentary. The graphics are copied from a public presentation from February 2006, which used to be available for download on the County website but is no longer there. (E-mail me if you want a copy of that presentation.)

Phase I of Diamond Project

Phase I is the section from 35th Street to the San Ildefonso roundabout. Work in this section includes utility work, pavement reconstruction / rehabilitation, a multi-use pathway, bike lanes, roundabout improvements, and a pedestrian / golf cart underpass near Club Road.

Here is the planned nominal cross-section for this phase (click for larger picture):

There is also a version of this cross-section that shows a 4' median instead of a 14' center turn lane. Not shown (but in the plan) is a 10-foot multi-use path along the North side of Diamond.

Note that the County has awarded this bid and construction on this phase should begin April 5, 2007 and be completed by October 2007.

Phase II of Diamond Project

Phase II is the section from approximately North Road to 35th Street. Work in this section includes utility work, pavement reconstruction / rehabilitation, bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and upgrades to the Arkansas/38th Street signalized intersection. Design on this section continues with an anticipated schedule to advertise for construction bids in February 2008 with construction starting mid-March 2008. Informational open houses will be scheduled at approximately 30% and 95% design stages.

Here is the planned nominal cross-section for this phase (click for larger picture):

(Note that some stretches in this segment will have a left turn lane and some will have a narrow median in place of the center turn lane.)

Phase III of Diamond Project

Phase III is the section from the Los Alamos Canyon Bridge to North Road. Work in this section includes the addition of bike lanes, pavement reconstruction / rehabilitation, upgrades to the signalized intersections, and rehabilitation of the two existing overpasses. Council has also directed staff to investigate an additional pedestrian under/overpass at the Diamond / Trinity intersection. Design on this section continues with an anticipated schedule to advertise for construction bids in February 2009 with construction starting in mid-March 2009. Informational open houses will be scheduled at approximately 30% and 95% design stages.

The nominal road cross-section for Phase III is the same as that for Phase II above. The pedestrian overpasses near the High School will be rehabilitated but they will not be moved. Thus, in the stretch between Sandia and University, the bike lanes will be about where the sidewalks are now and the sidewalks will move outward 8 feet or so.

Please share your comments!

Helmet Hair

While I'm working on the reflectors exposé I promised Scott--it is going to blow the roof off the reflectors conspiracy!--I thought it might be handy to post a tip that I just had to remember this morning. For the first time since December I came in with no cap on under my helmet. When I arrived at my workplace, my co-workers reminded me of the unfortunate downside of warm-weather commuting: helmet hair.

Fortunately, I had my 95¢ Ace comb with me, and promptly went into the bathroom to restyle my coiffure. Over the last 5 years of bike commuting I think I have come up with the quickest and most convenient method to deal with helmet hair. This probably only works for short haircuts:

  1. Wash and roughly style your hair, using your favorite hair gel. You don't need to spend too much time here, just get things more or less where you want them.

  2. Put on your helmet and do your ride, and get helmet hair.

  3. Dump water on your hair when you arrive at work.

  4. Style your hair with the comb or brush you brought to work.

This works well because, at least with every hair gel I've used, wetting your hair un-stiffens the gel without washing it out. When you style your hair again, you will still have the gel to hold things in place afterwards. For me, this takes all of about 30 seconds. Your mileage may vary.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Diamond Project Update: Construction Begins April 5, 2007

From the Diamond Project website (see link at right sidebar):


The third request for bids for the Diamond Project - Phase 1 (east of 35th Street to San Ildefonso Road) was advertised on December 4. Four bids were received on January 16. On January 30, Council awarded the construction project to AS Horner. Construction should start no later than April 5 with completion in October 2007.

Phase I includes the rehabilitation of existing pavement through mill and inlay; roadway widening to accommodate continuous bike lanes, turning bays, acceleration / deceleration lanes, tapers, side ditches, curb and gutter; reconstruction of the San Ildefonso roundabout; placement of an underpass near Club Road; construction of a multi-use pathway; storm drains and inlet structures; traffic signing and striping; and, new roadway lighting.


I am preparing a blog entry describing the full Diamond project including pictures of the planned road cross-sections, should have it ready by this weekend - please check back!

-Scott D.