Cover your bike with reflectors right away — because those bits of molded, light-refracting plastic can save your life!

By making your bike more shiny and visible, you reduce the risk of accidents. That is why I have so many reflectors on my bike: a red and a white side-reflector in the spokes of each wheel, three white reflectors facing forward from my handlebar, three red ones attached to the back of my seat-post, a yellow one on the front and back of each pedal — plus many strips of red, white and neon green reflective tape stuck all over my bike’s frame, forks, handlebar and rear-view mirrors. I also have reflective tape on my helmet, my Kryptonite lock and my tire-repair kit. When I’m out riding at night, lit by headlights and streetlights, I am extremely visible. I’m proud to say that I’ve been described as looking like a low-flying UFO or a wind-blown Christmas tree.

My enthusiasm for reflectors is, I believe, why I have a near-perfect cycling safety record. (It would be a perfect record, if not for that incident in Ainslie Wood’s Alexander Park with my tricycle and the sandbox, forty years ago …)

Today, globally, reflectors are getting more prestigious. In the Tour d’France, for example, only the fastest rider is allowed a reflective yellow shirt, which keeps this special athlete safe (from cars, not from steroid tests). The Arcade Fire’s latest hit song, “Reflektor,” is a passionate anthem about cycling safety and the life-affirming power of shiny plastic. After all, “to reflect” is just another way of saying “to think deeply” …

Not everybody has jumped on the reflector bandwagon. I have a friend who takes the reflectors off every bike he buys before using it. He insists that they are just unnecessary extra weight. I admit that reflectors add some weight to your bike, but they are worth it — just as the fire-extinguisher strapped to my handlebars is worth it, for giving me the peace of mind of knowing I’m ready for a crash with a fuel truck.

Of course, I always wear a government-approved helmet when cycling — plus elbow- pads and shin-guards. My cycling shoes have sturdy ankle support and steel toes. I ride with two bottles attached to the bike-frame: one of water and one of blood plasma, in caseI need a roadside transfusion. Also essential for two-wheel safety is frequent use of the handlebar

bell. Your bike should feature a loud, clanging type of bell. On my bike, I have two, one for each hand; my left hand plays a C-flat note, while the right is D-sharp, enabling me to play the theme song of my favourite Cable 14 show.

On a trail or sidewalk, ring your bell(s) as hard as you can when you are about to pass a pedestrian from behind, to startle them into attention. The higher a pedestrian jumps when you pass on your bike, the louder the gasp of surprise they make, the safer it is for everybody.

Some cyclists shout, as they approach unsuspecting pedestrians, “On your left!” or “To the right!” Then they yell, “Thank you!” if the walker manages to leap out of the way. For me, that is too much conversation; I’ll stick with my bells.

Today’s corporate world knows well the value of cycling safety. Locally, look at the popular social-bicycle start-up, SoBi. Each of their rental bikes is generously equipped with reflectors, plus flashing lights at the front and back end. As well, each SoBi bike is equipped with a Global Positioning System unit. That’s all well and good, as far as it goes, but the safety level could easily be improved. So I sent a few emails and voice messages to the CEO of SoBi, advising her to link the bike’s GPS to an “emergency distress signal” button installed under each bike’s seat. That way, if your bike breaks down (e.g. flat tire, slipped chain, cracked reflector), you can just push the button and, in a few minutes, a satellite-dispatched helicopter will be hovering overhead, with bike-techs sliding down ropes to fix your broken SoBi and to get you safely rolling.

Why, some may ask, am I so “obsessed” with cycling safety? Well, part of it began when I became a parent. I want to keep my kids safe and I don’t want them to grow up without me. That motivates me, even though I know that putting extra reflectors onto our family bicycles does not guarantee safety. We all face the risks of natural disasters, disease, crime, war and non-bicycle accidents; scary things that are mostly out of our control. I also worry about the non-physical threats — e.g. out-of-touch trustees who close schools and give vulnerable children unhealthy bus rides – that are also out of our control (except at elec- tion time). It’s stressful to think about all the things in life that are out of our control. It’s nicer to concentrate on the things that we can, at least partially, control — like putting lots of reflectors on our bikes and the bikes of our kids.

My extreme pro-safety philosophy is becoming mainstream. In the last few years, con- struction workers and truck drivers and outdoor City staff have started wearing shirts, vests and pants in neon orange, green or yellow, with shiny silver reflective fabric patched on. Outfits that the wildest young bohemians of the past would have considered too garish to wear to a disco or a rave are now the Monday to Friday, 9-to-5 uniform of hard-working, down-to-earth men and women. Progress!

The City of Hamilton, to its credit, is a leader in municipal reflectivity. Until a few years ago, all of the pylons used on city streets were just plain orange plastic. Under Mayors Bratina and Eisenberger, however, the city boldly phased out those primitive relics, switching to ones with white reflective tape at the tip. If it saves a single life, the tax-dollars invested in shiny tape has been worth it; plus, they make construction sites look pretty cool at night.

Some local folk point to the North End’s renaissance, Eisenberger’s re-election and the LRT announcement as signs of positive progress in Hamilton. To that list of success stories, I would add Hamilton’s switch to snazzy reflective pylons.

Reach, Dream, Rise, Shine!

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