Proviz – High-Visibility Cycling Gear for the Serious Cyclist
- by David Halfpenny
- Published: 5 June 2013
Unless you’re Tron, flashing blue triangles are not something you see everyday. Signs, reflectors, tail lights, head lights and blinkers are common place on the road, but flashing blue triangles aren’t. If you want to be noticed, and I mean really noticed, you need to cut through the visual noise. Short of riding nude, Proviz probably offers the best way to do that.
Proviz is a UK company providing a range of hi-vis gear with an active visibility component. Much of their hi-vis gear, such as their jackets, messenger bags, backpacks, and vests, have a large triangle reflector velcro’d to the back of them. This triangle can be removed and replaced with an electroluminescent triangle and battery pack, and it is this that produces the flashing blue triangle mentioned earlier. I reviewed the Proviz Nightrider jacket, the Nightrider backpack (rucksack) cover, and the Triviz electroluminescent triangle.
The Proviz Nightrider Jacket
I’ve been on the lookout for a good waterproof cycling jacket for my entire cycle commuting life. In addition to being waterproof, it also needs to be hi-vis; bright and with reflective elements for day and night riding. My logic here is really very simple: if you’re putting on a rain jacket to keep the rain out, visibility conditions are probably not optimal. You don’t want to be a bike ninja in those sorts of conditions.
I have a couple of hi-vis yellow rain jackets, both well known brands, and they’re completely useless in the rain. Yes, they are bright and have reflective elements, and yes, they keep the rain out, but these “breathable” jackets just don’t breath. You put a jacket on to stop you from getting cold and wet, and you end up soaking in your own juices instead; it’s not a lot of fun.
I had resigned myself to just dealing with it, until I put on the Nightrider jacket. The first thing I noticed was that it felt different to the other cycling jackets I own in that there is more structure to it. The jacket’s outer shell is waterproof material and the inner shell is a netting, like you find in some types of swimming trunks. The netting is there to provide a layer between your skin and the outer shell so that it doesn’t stick to your skin when you’re sweating underneath.
The jacket has a cycling specific cut to it with a long and curving tail to cover your plumber’s crack. There is a zip-up pocket in the rear with its entrance under a flap to keep the rain out of it. The neck has a fleecy lining to keep you warm, the full length zip is enclosed to stop water getting in that way, and the waist and sleeve size can be adjusted to create a snug fit. In addition to being well sealed, the jacket is generously sized; I normally take XL or XXL jerseys (being 190cm and 100kg), but the large sized Nightrider not only fit me well, but gave me lots of room to move when I’m on the bike without tightness or restriction. It also means I can layer up when the weather gets colder without looking like the Michelin man.
So it’s comfortable, but does it keep you dry? I’m not talking about keeping the rain out, because it does that admirably, I’m talking about on the inside. In other words, does it “breath”? Honestly, I don’t know about the breathing thing, but on my first ride wearing it, I didn’t sweat like a pig. I was surprised. Dry and surprised.
I decided to test this further, so I rode to work the next day wearing a grey t-shirt underneath the jacket and, at the end of the journey, there were no dark patches on the shirt. It really does work, that is until you’re riding in fine weather. Without the temperature difference the rain provides, the jacket gets quite warm inside, not stupidly warm, but warm enough to be annoying. Of course, there is a solution to that: vents. There are zip up vents on either side of the jacket that allow the air to enter the jacket while you’re riding. This puts a layer of air into the jacket, without turning it into a sail, reducing excess sweat. You could probably ride in light rain with the vents open without any water ingress as well, they’re very well designed.
I only have two negative comments to make about the Nightrider jacket: first is a lack of ventilation for your arms, mine got hot while my torso stayed cool; secondly, the jacket is bulky, it won’t fit in your jersey pocket, so it will take up a fair bit of space in your panniers or backpack unless you’re wearing it. Minor inconveniences, in the scheme of things, and not things that have stopped me from using it, especially when you consider its other benefits.
The Nightrider is available in hi-vis yellow and in stylish black. I don’t understand the point of the black jacket, but then again I prefer to be visible at all times, day and night. It’s at night when both versions of this jacket really shine (pun intended). From the rear the Nightrider jacket advertises its presence to headlights by displaying “Nightrider” in reflective text along with a big white glowing triangle. Most of the reflective elements on the jacket are of the reflective silver material variety, so the bright white triangle provides some interesting contrast.
From the front and the side you can see that this jacket was designed for cyclists. Most standard hi-vis gear is designed to be worn by people while standing up, so when they’re on a bike, they’re only really reflective from the rear. The Nightrider has very large reflective strips along the sides of the body and the top of the arms, exactly where a head on or side on car would be throwing its light, giving 360 degree reflection. I have not seen this much reflective material on any other brand of jacket and, when you consider that you can make this night time visibility more active using the magic blue triangle mentioned before, it really is a confidence inspiring piece of clothing.
The Triviz Light Pack (a.k.a. the magic blue triangle)
Triviz is the magic component in the Proviz system. It’s the Tron triangle I talked about earlier, an electroluminescent 16cm equilateral triangle that gives off an eery blue light when turned on. As mentioned before, glowing blue triangles are not part of the normal road landscape and, when it’s at a driver’s eye level, it stands out. The light works in 3 modes: steady, fast blink, and slow blink. I tended to use the fast blink mode when in traffic, but if you were on a lonely stretch of road at night, the slow blink would probably be more suitable. Whichever way you use it, it helps to make you much more obvious.
The Triviz triangle is a self-contained add-on for a variety of Proviz products, attaching to them in the most advantageous location by velcro; you remove the reflective white triangle on the item and replace it with the Triviz triangle. If you’re using multiple Proviz products, you can switch the Triviz between them as needed, so when I’m using the backpack cover and jacket, I stick the Triviz on the backpack cover, but when I’m riding with just the jacket, I can stick it onto that. It’s wonderfully convenient and means you only need one Triviz light for all of your Proviz gear.
You only need to see it in action to see that the Triviz is the most brilliant safety device (pun intended, again). While the magic blue triangle works a treat, the battery that drives it was a major disappointment. Fistly, the pouch that the battery and electronics sit in looks cheap and tacked on. It is a weird grey colur with an on/off symbol on the fabric. This is, apparently, what you are meant to press to turn the triangle on and off, but since it’s not actually connected to the switch, it only vaguely tells you where to put your finger. I found myself touching this point and then digging around with my finger until I found something underneath to press, and then hoped for a click.
Getting the battery in and out of this pouch is also annoying. The battery is a large rectangular package with the texture of a pencil eraser. It connects to the control electronics via a micro-USB cable, but because it’s weather proof, the connector is quite hard to disconnect and reconnect. If this were the only problem, I could almost ignore it, but the battery itself has problems.
According to the Proviz website, the battery is meant to charge via micro-USB in 4 hours, and provides 12-16 hours of light, depending on the mode being used. This sounds right, since electroluminescent lighting is quite efficient, but it’s not something I ever experienced. The problem I had was that the battery wouldn’t hold charge. I would only usually need to use the Triviz for half an hour or so a night, but the battery charge would only last a few days. If I charged it on Friday and used it only on Friday night, by Monday night there would be nothing left. I would charge it again on Tuesday, use it for almost two hours total over three nights, and by Friday it would be dead again.
I don’t know whether it was a faulty battery or not, but I’ve given up on it and have replaced the battery pack with something homemade and which keeps its charge (a nice, reliable 18650 battery, the same type I have in my headlights). The battery pack and controller really needs some work, but even though the battery was horrible, I was willing to go to the trouble of rigging something up because I think that having the magic blue triangle is worth it.
The Proviz Nightrider Hi Visibility Rucksack Cover
This rucksack cover is almost too small for my backpack. I don’t have a large backpack because I don’t like riding with stuff on my back, just enough to hold my jeans, a t-shirt and my lunch. The Proviz cover fits it, but only just and it’s a stretch to get there. I have other hi-vis backpack covers that I use on my panniers, which can also be used on backpacks, and they’re bigger than the Proviz one, despite being of the same basic design.
The Proviz cover is nothing particularly special or different from other hi-vis backpack covers. Its biggest selling point is the bright white triangle reflector which can be removed and replaced with the Triviz magic blue triangle. You could probably get the same effect by buying some velcro and attaching it to a backpack cover of your choice, but it’s not too expensive for what it is and it does fit in to the whole Proviz system.
Proviz have a small size backpack for not much more than the backpack cover (£29.99) which I didn’t try, however that may be the way I end up going. It’s available, as with most of the Proviz gear, in black or hi-vis yellow. I don’t use a backpack much for commuting, but I would like a cycling specific one.
While riding with the Proviz gear on I really did feel that drivers could see me better at night. I tried it out for myself by sending my daughter up the street wearing the jacket and the Triviz, while I sat in the car with the headlights on. Without the Triviz turned on, the Nightrider jacket stands out from all angles. With the Triviz light on, it is so much more obvious that there’s something there, even when I turned my headlights off. The triangle drew my eyes, it made me look, and I suspect it would do the same to any driver.
I often see cyclists riding at night with no reflective gear and from behind all you see is a small flashing red light. When they turn sideways, they all but disappear. That’s why my bikes have reflective tape wherever I can fit it and why I keep a reflective safety vest rolled up my panniers. Actually, pretty much all of my commuting kit has hi-vis and reflective elements to maximise my visibility. I try to create a big visual footprint, and the Proviz gear makes that footprint much, much bigger.
Proviz supply a range of products that cover a number of outdoor activities. They offer quality clothing and accessories with visibility enhancements specific to the tasks they are designed for (such as motorcycling or horse riding). You can get Proviz gear directly from Proviz in the UK: www.proviz.co.uk
Proviz are also welcoming enquiries from Australian wholesalers.
Joad Sportz Supplies (NSW) are now the official Australian contact for dealer as well as customer enquiries for Proviz