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!
- Scott's neighbor's entire unlit, unreflectored bike
- My pannier
- Scott's rear light (maybe)
- Both headlights
- Ankle and pedal reflectors
- Scott's neighbor's jacket
- Scott's helmet and backpack tape
- 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.