Paint Your Bike / Bicycle / Gear Reflective!

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Introduction: Paint Your Bike / Bicycle / Gear Reflective!

About: Just another tinkerer.

This Instructable will cover the topical application of retro reflective microspheres (here on out known as glass beads). The concept is that you are essentially making your chosen item reflective via the same manner that your local Transportation Department makes painted stripes on the roadway reflective.

I chose an easy part of my bike to "reflectablize" as one of my friends would say. A detachable fender that I mostly never detach.

Before we begin, I must state that I tried the two main manufacturers of "reflective spraypaint" on the market. Those being Rustoleum and Krylon. The amount of reflective material in the spraypaint was almost non existent. I found that I had to do way too many coats to even get noticeable reflectivity. I ended up seeking a refund from each company. Therefore, I strongly advise you NOT to waste your money. You could always go the reflective tape route but I found it to be expensive as well and just didn't seem as cool as what I am about to instructablize you on.

Step 1: Materials List

1) The part that you want to reflectabilize
2) Krylon Clear Acrylic Coating (or similar clearcoat paint)
3) Masking tape (if you need to mask anything)
4) Paint tray or suitably sized object to catch glass beads
5) Empty spice shaker
6) Any necessary tools for disassembly of bike part
7) Retro reflective Microspheres (glass beads)

Let's begin!

Step 2: Prepping the Part You're Painting

I washed and scrubbed the fender I am painting with a grease cutting dish soap. Any surface that you paint should be clean and free of dirt / grease / etc. Be sure part is dried thoroughly before painting.

I also disassembled the fender to make masking easier, see photo.

Step 3: Fill Up the Spice Shaker With Glass Beads

I did some research on glass beads and decided on a glass bead size (mesh size) of 80 - 120. This corresponds to a size (diameter in millimeters) of 0.177 to 0.125. This is much finer than salt / sugar granules.

You can source glass beads from several manufacturers / retailers. Google can help.

Note the gold spoon, this is a classy Instructable folks, no silver spoon here!

Step 4: Spraying the Clearcoat

Spraying the clearcoat on your part in this step is different than if you were actually spraypainting it. I applied a thicker than normal coat so that when I sprinkle the glass beads onto the wet surface there is enough paint to adhere them to the surface.

I highly recommend you do a test run on a piece of cardboard to get a feel for exactly how it's done.

You will want to avoid a really thick coat, you do not want any runs, drips or pooling of the clearcoat.

The clearcoat I used stated it "dried in minutes" which ended up being a slight problem (I'll describe later). If you can find a non-quick dry clearcoat it would give you more working time to sprinkle the glass beads and re-sprinkle as necessary to get proper coverage.

Step 5: Applying the Glass Beads

Here I put the fender in the paint tray and went to work sprinkling.

I went with a thick coat, let it set for 10 seconds or so, then tilted the fender over the paint tray to let any loose glass beads fall off, many will. You only need a single layer coat of the beads, not a thick coat.

Allow the piece to dry fully.

Do NOT clearcoat over the beads, for best reflectivity they should remain uncoated.

When finished and dried the surface will look as if it has a winter morning frost on it, it's not particularly attractive but when safety is concerned I will take function over form.

Step 6: Reflectivity Test!

This turned out better than I expected! Below you will find several photos with notes.

The photos speak for themselves really, the fender turned out quite reflective I must say.

Step 7: Wrapup / Future Ideas

I would not apply these beads to any surface which is regularly abraded (rubbed, touched, etc). The finished surface is rough (though not sandpaper rough).

As I have disc brakes on my bicycle my next application will be on the rims. I have yet to find a tire that I like that has reflective sidewalls, many manufacturers just don't do reflective sidewalls.

My next experiment with adhesion of the glass beads will probably be using an industrial 2 part clear epoxy which takes much longer to dry and should provide much better adhesion for the glass beads.

You could also use a colored paint to adhere the glass beads, there's no reason it has to be a clearcoat. Rattle canning your old bike frame? Why not make it reflective too!

I will also be doing this to the # sign on the front of my house so the numbers are reflective, just need to do a bit more masking.

Thanks for your attention!

Ride safely!

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76 Discussions

Where did you buy your reflective glass beads

If any one need reflective powder for reflective bike, you are welcome to contact us. :) here is our product link for your reference: http://www.ymjcolor.com.cn/En/Product_Detail.aspx?UserInfo_ID=796177&CorpProductClass1_ID=88508&id=1105495. my email:ehuang0212@gmail.com

1 reply

Hi I would like to know more about your products but the website is not in English. ? Could you send me some info?

This looks like a lot of work to put reflective on your bike. Great idea, though. It's the same basic idea as what they do when they paint lines on roads.

There's other reflective materials that are more user-friendly and are more reflective. The retroreflective microspheres are probably bright, but if you compared them to what construction workers use on their vests, they are not nearly as bright.

There's a company called ReflectYourGear.com that has some interesting products, and if you sign up you can get free samples. The website is helpful in getting an education on the types of reflective materials available, and how visible they are. Even if you don't buy anything they have great information.

They have a decal-type material that is colored but still has much higher reflectivity than most of the tapes on the market. It sticks to almost anything. With this material, you don't need to use a lot to make a big impact on your visibility.

I admire the DIY mentality ... but maybe the spray on paints are more realistic for some people? Volvo has come out with a new paint recently, but I can't find it anywhere in Amsterdam. Only this www.reflect-all.eu

Does anybody know where to buy the Volvo Life Spray in NL (or Belgium)?

1 reply

Sadly the Volvo Life paint seems to only be sold at a few stores in England. I was hoping I could find a store in New York state that sold it, sadly not :(

Great instructable. I'm lazy so I used reflect-all spray on Amazon. It's about $28. It works great and you only need to apply light coats so a can will do an entire bike, and more.

Serfas makes a 26" MTB tire with reflective sidewalls.

I'm guessing it won't look so bad on a white bike? One probably wouldn't really be able to tell at a glance?

dude hell yea. that works out super well

Hi q1)If you do your rims, how are you going to maintain thier balance? q2)Why, in your photos, did yer fender,go from dark to bright white? before&after; perhaps? q3)Is bright photo taken in an unlit room with a flash? Also, why not just put the reflectors that might have been stock on your bike, back on? (cheaper & less work) Cheers from Canada

4 replies

1) Bicycle rims are hardly in balance to begin with. 2 & 3) Yes, before and after, the bright white is the flash reflected in the beads. The room was partially lit. Mountain bikes don't come with reflectors and this is more reflective than standard bicycle reflectors.

I did take the time to balance mine one time, because I got bored and figured out how on the tyre balancing machine (used to be a tyre fitter) and found and attachment that fit the axle... It is a strange feeling if you did it right after getting a rim trued aswell, high speeds felt slower...) If you want to make balanced tyres they have balancing dust, anything non-abrasive works nicely and its fun, use something fluorescent and you get clouds of colour when a puncture happens...

Every now and then someone rediscovers the easy way to tension spokes by pinging them and tuning them like a guitar. Sounds like a joke but it works - a trade secret of many bike repair shops. Give it a try if your spokes have never been adjusted. Google for: acoustic tensioning bicycle spokes

That will let you know if one or more or seriously different than the rest, but without a proper stand, you will have difficulty getting hop and true correct.

I did this to a gas tank on a moped once. It was very bright, like the
photographed fender. I got the glass beads online from a supplier. It
came in 1, 5, 20, and 50lb bags. I got 2lb and still have a bag and 1/2 bag left. Some was lost while adding it as a coating, and some on test pieces. I
used a coffee mug as a shaker to distribute the silica powder, over a big plastic
tote.

Could someone explain the differences in retroreflective tapes? The Internets have loads of tapes on sale at wildly different costs. It would be good to know where the money goes, how long tapes stay reflectivity, and what the difference in brightness of tapes are? Great instructable! I really want to do this.

1 reply

For black surfaces (like GoodGnus' bike) "Lightweights Stealth Tape" ( www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001P3UR9U/ ) is black in daylight but very reflective on your bike at night if you want to put it on the frame and forks for side-view safety (btw I also have a black bike). I've had mine on my bike for two years and it has lasted well.

Also this pack (www.amazon.com/Motorcycle-Reflective-Safety-Tape-Adhesive/dp/B000NPNXP6/ ) contains a 12in x 4in rectangle that's useful for larger jobs (especially if you have a vinyl cutter and want to make some custom reflective letters).

But for a white surface, GoodGnus' instructable is probably a better bet.

I'm interested in seeing if a hybrid of white reflective background plus black letters made from reflective tape would be enough to stop a car number plate from being photographed by a number-plate camera using flash... (plus some bright (but invisible to humans) infra-red LEDs for IR-sensitive night cameras) :-)

I've found after the paint / bead mix has set the resultant paint can be very abrasive when rubbed against another anodized part. Any thoughts to remedy this would be greatly appreciated. Is there possibly another method to achieve reflectivity without glass beads?