Wednesday, September 10

Banned From Bike Shops

Old Reflectors Looked Like This One, Which Was Made in the USA
Way back when, people bought rear reflectors for bikes like the ones in the photo above. It was all that was available. It was basically made to the same SAE standard as automotive reflectors. Unfortunately, these reflectors had poorly engineered attaching hardware that caused the metal to fail as shown in the photo below. In addition, reflector technology is better than it was 40 years ago. In the normal course of events, this would have been no big deal, since better combinations would have evolved. Unfortunately, government got involved, namely the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. Instead of doing the sensible thing and requiring a rear reflector using an existing standard, they required ALL new bicycles to be equipped with their own standard which compromised rearward reflectance in favor of “all direction” reflectance. You can see discussions about reflectors here, here, and here, as well as many other places. I’m not going to repeat all that.
Old Reflectors Failed Like THIS
The practical effect was that every manufacturer and every bike shop stopped selling SAE reflectors in favor of the CPSC variety. I have never seen a SAE reflector at any bike shop. It’s sort of like the Snell bike helmet standard, which has been eclipsed by the inferior CPSC standard. I can’t say that I’m happy with an inferior standard legislated for cyclists when better exists, but government DOES get influenced by industry as well as the public, and we might not always endorse the outcome. Perhaps I’ll cover this in some future post or posts.
However, things are not all bad for those that are willing to do a little extra work. SAE reflectors are readily available at auto parts stores and RV supply stores. In Ocean Shores, people also frequently buy them to stick to posts and mailboxes. Following is the story of how I adapted better reflectors for my bike. Better reflectors than you can currently buy at almost any bike store.

First off, current SAE reflectors are not configured to make them real easy to attach to a bike rack or rear fender, much less any other bike part. Fortunately, I was able to find a “Tie Plate” that was just big enough to mount two reflectors and even had holes in it that matched the spacing I needed. The only item I needed to buy that cost over $3 for two reflectors were the tin snips I needed in order to cut the tie plate to a “good for a bike” size. Interestingly, the tie plate was located for me at Ace Hardware by a clerk that caught on after he realized I did not want to attach my reflector to a car, RV, or post. Thanks, Ace! You may not have a bike rack, but your people know their stuff.

STEP 1: Cut the tie plate in two with the tin snips.

Tie Plate is Cut into Two
STEP 2: Cut each half of the tie plate with the tin snips so that the sharp metal edges won’t extend past your reflector. A Sharpie pen helps here to mark enough of the metal to trim, while leaving a lot left for the reflector adhesive to stick to.

Tie Plate Trimmed to Suit the Reflector. Excess is at Upper Right. Fasteners are at Upper Left
Ace Hardware Part Number is on the White Tag
STEP 3: Attach the modified tie plate to your rear rack. The photo shows it attached to a Topeak Explorer rack which has two holes that conveniently EXACTLY match the holes already in the tie plate. If you have an old Pletscher rack, it’ll only have one hole, so you’ll have to make a choice between a less solid fastened installation, or reinforcing things with glue. If you have other racks, you’ll have to improvise, or not. Either way, it’ll be FAR better than either an ancient reflector or anything the CPSC would endorse.

Tie Plate Installed on Topeak Explorer Rear Rack Prior to Reflector Installation
STEP 4: Stick the reflector to the tie plate. I used nails as a guide, as in the photo, to ensure that the holes lined up before the adhesive contacted the tie plate. That ensured I’d be able to put fasteners in afterwards. See “Belt and Suspenders” post recently.

Reflector Getting Stuck to the Tie Plate - Nails Act to Line the Holes Up
STEP 5: Install the fasteners and you’re all done! A better reflector than is available in any bike shop, or from any bike manufacturer, all for about $2 in parts per reflector. This reflector is installed strongly enough that I expect it to last for decades to come.

Finished Installation on Topeak Rear Rack. Cowabunga!
NOTE: I selected a RED reflector. If you read literature, such as here, you might wonder why I picked a RED reflector, rather than an AMBER one that has double the reflectivity of a red one. Well, it is because most local laws require RED. While I typically ride in the dark with a red rear light as well as my reflector (meaning I comply with the law even if I had an amber reflector), should the light fail (not uncommon with bike lights), only a RED reflector would comply with all state and local laws. Sigh…


recumbent conspiracy theorist said...

Great Idea Steve! Looks good on the rack too.

Justine Valinotti said...

Yes, this is a great idea. I think I'll try it.

Khal said...

Nice. I use a reflector with a small hole in the middle meant for nailing or screwing to a post. I put a small bolt through the hole and attach the reflector to a right angle bracket that I bolt to a rear rack. In some cases, I drilled a small hole in the rack and used that to screw on the angle bracket. Parts here.

Steve A said...

Khal, thanks for reinspiring my search for reflectors. I'd originally looked for ones with a hole in the middle, but none of the local sources (RV, hardware, and automotive) had any - they just had big ones with external brackets or with spikes to stick them in the ground. I was reluctant to use mail order and my solution keeps the reflector well below the "gets banged" level of the bike rack compared to the typical 3.5 inch round variety. However, I hadn't considered using a bracket in combination with a large round reflector AND, as at I hadn't considered looking at MOTORCYCLE shops. They've got the kind that USED to be available for bicycles. What's more, I'm considering that ROUND ones are PERFECT to install on rear light brackets left over after the rear light they secured has failed. BTW, the Hy Ko reflectors got bad Amazon reviews for poor reflectivity.

cafiend said...

The back of my rack is taken up by the tail light. The lens of the light includes a reflector. Since reflectors are only as good as the light hitting them I prefer not to depend too much on them. I do use reflector leg bands in lieu of pedal reflectors and have started buying tires with a reflective stripe on the side wall. But only active lighting will enhance your visibility in early dusk when people might not have their lights on, or in rain and fog which might make their lights less effective at reaching you in a timely fashion.

Steve A said...

Cafiend, my own PREFERRED configuration is shown at It includes two lights, one of which includes a reflector, and the other of which normally operates in "flash" mode. It ALSO includes a reflector that is permanently attached to the bike. Should both lights fail (uncommon, but it has happened to me) or get stolen, the reflector will always work and will also meet the legal rear requirements. I also wear reflector leg bands - sometimes. Personally, I can't see much use for side reflectors. According to , it was noted that "subjects did not detect the bicycle target until the vehicle was close enough to illuminate the mannequin and bicycle." Meaning the various kinds of side reflectors did not help at all. For side detection, only active lights help in the real world because a motorist will not illuminate side reflectors with headlights until that last moment before he or she broadsides the bicycle target.

Khal said...

Here is a post where you can sorta see how the reflector and rear mounted LED taillight are mounted on one of my commuters. On this bike, the reflector mounted directly to a tab on the rear rack meant for a reflector.

I'll take a picture of my other commuter after I leave laboratory property tonight and post it.

Steve A said...

I don't believe that setup would work on my Topeak rack where the bag slides in from the back. In the other photo, the two inch round reflector just provides enough clearance using the lower hole, so I'd have to drop it down via a bracket. I hope to locate a modern SAE equivalent to the 2 incher at a motorcycle supply place. I look forward to your post.

Durango said...

Steve A, thank you for alleviating me of my reflective ignorance. I had no clue reflectors had changed. I don't think I have even thought to notice the reflectors on my new bike. I guess I have had no reason to since I've not been on if after the sun goes away for the day.

John Romeo Alpha said...

Thanks Steve, I'll stop by Ace to get a tie plate to attach a reflector to the bottom of my rear fender, still leaving the rack position open for the light.

Steve A said...

JRA - alternately, the tie plate could be used in combination with a bracket and clamps to affix the reflector to a seat stay as I'm now considering.

cafiend said...

Or you could stud the back of your jersey/vest/jacket with little round ones that spell out "Back Off."

Chandra said...

Thank you for the practical advise and step-by-step instructions for the much needed widget on a cycle.
I have played around with such mountings myself and I find yours a nice solution.
Come to think of it, my Thorn Nomad has a plate on the rear carrier to which the tail light/reflector is mounted.
Way to go!
Peace :)

Post a Comment

No Need for Non-Robot proof here!