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Gear Guy

The Best Clothes for Working Out (Safely) at Night

I spent an evening sprinting in front of my car's headlights to test the latest reflective (and surprisingly good-looking) running and cycling apparel

Nothing says 'nerd' like a reflective shirt—or does it? (Sarah Jackson)
Photo: Sarah Jackson

I spent an evening sprinting in front of my car's headlights to test the latest reflective (and surprisingly good-looking) running and cycling apparel

Let’s not mince words here: “Stylish” is not usually the adjective of choice when describing high-visibility or reflective apparel. That’s for good reason. Safety gear’s first task should be to keep you safe and noticeable to drivers and other cyclists or runners. It’s not designed to be sexy.

But I like to think it’s possible to have the best of both worlds. After all, no one enjoys looking like a neon dork. So I set out to find the apparel and accessories that strike that fine balance best.

The Test

Given the nature of what I was after, I conducted the test to focus on two things: visibility and style.

For the visibility portion, I enlisted my old eagle-eyed buddy Will Urmston, whose doctor recently told him that he has sterling “pilot’s vision,” or 20/10. I parked my 2001 Toyota Camry, lights on, in the darkest portion of my street and had Will sit in the driver’s seat. I changed into each piece of gear—over an otherwise nondescript outfit of T-shirt and jeans—and sprinted at my car from different hiding spots, from the front, rear, and side to side. Sometimes I jumped out from behind a bush or tree to keep things interesting.

This all amounted to two grown men playing hide-and-seek, but it was the best controllable (albeit unscientific) way to simulate a runner or cyclist jetting into a driver’s line of vision at night.

To judge the style side, I asked Lindsay Evans, who has been making outdoor apparel for a decade and currently works as a designer for tactical apparel brand Massif, to give me her honest opinion on each item. She considered everything from cut to whether the gear has potential as a lifestyle piece around town.

Here’s what we found, with products ranked in descending order on our style-viz index.

The Results

#1: Rapha Brevet Windblock Jersey ($220)

(Sarah Jackson)

Visibility: Urmston found this piece to be the most noticeable of the bunch. “The Rapha was good across the board,” he says. “It had a nice pop to it. The white reflector is common since it’s so visible—you might see it on a trash can—but the pink stripe lets you know something is definitely happening out there.”

Style: While Evans appreciated the Brevet’s cycling-specific cut, she was having none of the stripes that gave the jersey its potent visibility. “There is a better way to execute visibility than have a blatant stripe a construction worker would have on their vest,” she says.

Takeaway: Rapha’s signature pink isn’t for everyone. But it looks good as part of a bike kit and definitely stands out at night.

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#2: POC AVIP Softshell Jacket ($275)

(Sarah Jackson)

Visibility: “Obviously, visibility from the front is minimal,” Urmston says, referring to the thin strip of white along the zipper and the small POC logo on the left arm. The back is a different story, with a huge white-silver reflective swath between the shoulders. “You approach like a ninja and leave like a white-tailed deer.”

Style: “I wouldn’t want to go out in public with that,” Evans says. The reflective triangle brings down the AVIP’s style potential, and though she would change out of this jacket before heading to a bar after a bike ride, Evans did give a nod to how the designers integrated the visibility details. “At least it has nice design lines to shape the reflective patch on the back,” she says.

Takeaway: The stylish lines make for a sleek jacket that looks good all around, but you’ll want to run or cycle with the flow of traffic in this, given how hard it is to spot from the front.

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#3: Salomon Pulse Belt ($35)

(Sarah Jackson)

Visibility: It wasn’t until the third go that Urmston even figured out what I was testing. “It’s a belt, so what do you expect,” he says. “The only time I really noticed it was when you were coming back to front—I saw the two thin reflective lines on the back, but those were all that were noticeable.”

Style: The belt actually ended up scoring the highest compliments from Evans’ critical eye. “With running tights, it would look fine, and the fluorescent part doesn’t appear overdone,” Evans says. “The belt would just look like the top of your tights.”

Takeaway: It flies under the radar for better (the belt can be discretely incorporated into an outfit) and for worse (motorists might not spot you as quickly).

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#4: Pearl Izumi Elite Thermal Arm Warmer ($35)

(Sarah Jackson)

Visibility: “I really like how the reflective logo accented the visibility,” Urmston says. “It really caught my eye. Having two reflective colors together is good. But then again, high visibility factor, high dork factor.”

Style: “Arm bands? Shut up!” Evans says. “There is no way I’d wear that after a ride, maybe while mowing my lawn so my arms don’t jiggle.”

Takeaway: The Elite was the most easily visible item of the bunch but suffered for its lack of style appeal.

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The Verdict

Rapha was the strongest all around in terms of the visibility-steeze balance. I foresee it becoming my go-to jersey this spring. I wouldn’t wear it seated anywhere but on my road bike, of course, but its in-saddle style is unmatched. And I really like the look and cut of the POC jacket but would be concerned about the lack of visibility to oncoming traffic. The Salomon belt doesn’t draw the eye as well as the other pieces, but the muted styling makes it look like just another part of an exercise pant. While the Pearl Izumi arm warmers were most visible, style doesn’t apply here—that said, they will live in my bike commuting pack for cold mornings or late-night rides home from work.

Filed To: Accessories / Running / Biking / Style