Introduction: Bright Bike


Bright Bike is a project we've been researching at Eyebeam for a while now. Why?

1. Biking can be dangerous.
2. Biking at night, in a city, can be even more dangerous.
3. Increased visibility is the best and easiest way to make these things safer.
4. There are some remarkable materials that can make bicycles much more visible to cars. These materials are called RETROREFLECTIVE.

Retroreflective materials have tiny glass beads suspended on their surface that reflect light back to the source. What this means is that a retroreflective material normally appears as a solid color but shines bright white to any direct light - like a car headlight.

The question is, "How do I make my bike Retroreflective?"

The answer is five easy steps.

After that, you've got a beautiful, solid-colored bike, that makes you more visible to cars than ever before.

Step 1: Material Acquisition

There are many different retroreflective materials: threads, inks, vinyls. We found the most useful material for applying to a bicycle is 3M's Scotchlite Plus Reflective 680 Series Engineering Grade Vinyl. This sort of vinyl is sold by sign supply distributors.

An average bike will take at most 6' x 15 to fully wrap. It can be hard to find a sign shop willing to sell that little. We got our vinyl from Beacon Graphics in New Jersey ( They were so excited about what we were doing with it, they agreed to sell smaller, DIY quantities of the material. Information about these kits should be on their website soon, but you can call them at 1 800 762 9205 to get your own DIY kit.

However you get it, it's probably a good idea to take accurate measure of your bike first (see step 3), so that you get the right amount.

You will also need:
Some sponges and soapy water.
Paper towels.
General bike tools (wrenches, etc.).
A cloth measuring tape.
An exacto/utility knife.
A straight edge.

Step 2: Bike Prep./Washing

It's much easier to work with your your bike if it's mostly disassembled, wheels off, any additional attachments removed. Make sure you save any screws you remove. It will be difficult to put your bike back together without them. If the bike is at all dirty (most bikes are) then the grit and dirt will keep the vinyl from sticking.

With everything removed, make some soapy water, grab a sponge, and scrub. No big secrets here, only that you may be surprised but how much dirt can be on one bike.

It's also useful to have a chain washer on hand. Washing your chain isn't completely necessary, but if you don't do it, you'll want to be extra careful. A bike chain can very quickly spread oil and grease over everything. So you should either clean it, or try and bundle it up in a bunch of paper towels.

Step 3: Measuring

Taking your time and measuring accurately is important. The bike that we wrapped first could be divided into 11 main sections. For each section, we measured the length, and the circumference (or thickness). That's why it's useful to have a cloth measuring tape like they use in tailoring. A metal tape measure, like they use for wood-work won't bend around the circumference of the bike parts.

The notes we took, and the measurements we ended up using are below.

For the wheels, there are a number of options. We made small strips (2cm x 4cm) to place on the wheel rim, in-between all the spokes. This way, with the bikes wheels moving, the persistence of vision will hopefully make the reflection appear solid.

The vinyl won't wrap very well across and around larger curves, so if you have a bike with lots of serious bends, you might need to plan on using more, smaller sections of vinyl. It's most likely far better to have two well-applied sections with a seam of non-reflection between them, than one continuous piece that ripples and bends around a curve.

Step 4: Cutting

Once you have the measurements of your particular bike, you need to plan out how you're going to cut each piece. By careful planning, you can ensure that you don't waste any of the great retroreflective vinyl you've acquired. We were working with a section of vinyl 15" by 6', and we required the measurements we listed in the last step, so below is the plan we came up with for cutting the individual pieces. Some pieces we cut to exact measurements, some we gave a fair amount of extra area.

Do all of your work with the reflective side down. You can make any marks you want on the backing without ruining your vinyl, and it will be easier to cut. You should also number, and clearly label each piece that you cut, as you will end up with a number of them that are very similar, and you want to avoid confusion.

When actually cutting, always follow a few guidelines:
1. Make each measurement twice. You can measure as many times as you want, but you can only cut once.
2. Make one measurement, then one cut, then the next measurement, then the next cut. Doing all measurements and then all cuts can leave you with inaccurate pieces.
3. Make sure to really press firmly on you straight-edge, holding the vinyl in place. It's more important to keep the vinyl in place than to press down crazy-hard with the knife.

Step 5: Wrapping

With all the pieces cut and ready to go, you can start applying the vinyl to your bike. It doesn't matter what order you go in, but it might be best to start with the straighter, simpler bits so that you can get the hang of it.

Doing a final wipe-down with a dry paper towel before beginning each piece isn't a bad idea. Go slow. Apply each piece from one end to the other. Press firmly. The biggest problem you'll run into are irregular bubbles and creases. Some of these will be unavoidable, but do your best to minimize them.

Going around curves is tough, and may require you to make small incisions with an utility knife to get the vinyl to fold and lay properly. Also, a lot of bikes have numerous screw holes and other features that will make it impossible for the vinyl to lay flat. You can either wrap right over them, doing your best to flatten the vinyl out, or you can make small incisions, and have the vinyl adhere around the feature.

Step 6: Riding

You're all done!

The only thing left to do is take the bike out with some friends and get them to verify that it shines in the light. Also, if you have any vinyl left over, you can add it to whatever you want: helmet, bag, shoes - anything.

Your mileage may vary depending on how often and rigorously you ride your bike. Most engineer grade vinyl is "rated" for 7 years, but probably isn't intended as a bicycle covering. If anyone develops any tips for upping the life-expectancy of the bicycle-vinyl, post a comment, or get in touch with us.

We've got a Bright Bike site at:

Also, if you wrap your bike, or want to see the bikes of others please visit our Flickr group to browse or upload your own: