PORTLAND, Ore. — On a dark winter morning in Portland, dozens of bicyclists pass by on their way to work. All have the required white light on the front of their bike and a red tail light, or at least a reflector.
But not many wear bright or reflective clothing. It can make drivers crazy and even frustrate fellow bike commuters.
“I have been a bicycle commuter in Portland for 30 years. And I’ve gone through all sorts of different gear and I also drive my car. And I get really frustrated when I’m driving my car and I see people wearing black—on their bikes with headphones on,” said a friend of mine, Lea Anne Easton.
One night while driving home from work, I spotted a coat so reflective it was hard to believe. I could clearly see the entire shape of the bike rider several blocks away.
I decided to find out what it was and turned to the internet. I quickly found my way to a company called Proviz. It's based in England and began making the super-reflective coats in 2014.
Co-founder Rupert Langly-Smith told me he and his brother came up with the idea over beers. Both were bike riders in London and felt there should be a better coat than they could find -- something that would not have a reflective strip or two, but be entirely reflective.
“So we went about looking into the reflective material,” he told me over Skype.
“We thought, 'Woah! If we could just get that material into a full jacket that would be incredible!' It would be a game changing product,” he said.
They took their designs to a factory and had the coat made. It sold quickly.
“It took off instantly,” said Langly-Smith. “It was one of those products that just went -- it appealed to cyclists."
The coat earned some critics online who thought it was too hot, or the sizing was not quite right. Langly-Smith said the company listens to the feedback and makes tweaks in the design with nearly every production run.
The basic cycling coat sells for roughly $150. Proviz has expanded into running coats, backpacks, gloves and more.
In the Fall of 2018, the company reported Portland was in the top five of all cities where people were accessing its website. During that same time Portland was No. 2 for actual purchases of Proviz products, second only to Seattle.
Talk of what bike riders should wear often raises the hackles of bike riders. I asked Jonathan Maus from the widely read Bikeportland.org, to offer his thoughts.
“There should be no debate: Everyone who uses the road should be visible,” Maus said. “But lets be clear that when we drive, we have an even greater responsibility to go slowly and look out for others, regardless of the type of clothing they wear.”
There are other reflective options. River City Bikes in Portland carries a wide range of alternatives, from strips of reflective material that will stick on clothing or helmets, to reflective straw-looking devices that fit around the bike spokes and make them reflective.
The store also carries coats by Showers Pass that have interesting city street grids stamped on the black exterior of the coat, the street grids reflect when hit with light. The coats costs $279.
I asked store manager, and bicyclist Brice Stivers why more riders don’t wear bright, reflective clothing.
“That’s a grand question. I also own a car—and I walk quite a bit as well. I find it really hard especially during the winter months to see people. So, I really wish cyclists would use a little more reflectivity,” he said.