Lightweight mesh vest with separate front/back
LED flexible light tubes can provide good
visibility in the dark, but not without some
issues in execution and construction.
I think the visibility thing is
catching on with motorcyclists, or at least I'd
like to think so.
I should qualify that statement
though -- it's the North American motorcyclists
who seem to be catching on, not European
motorcyclists, who have long since learned about
the benefits of life-saving gear like helmets,
full leather and Scotchlite.
Maybe -- just maybe -- it's
actually becoming "cool" to wear proper safety
gear and colors other than black?
Even Scorpion and Icon, two
companies whose primary audience are
twenty-something motorcyclists, now offer high-viz
products like the EXO-700 Neon helmet and the
Icon Mil Spec Vest.
I'm not sure how many
20-year-old stunters will be wearing Neon helmet
any time soon, but the vest sure seems like a
Crawl out of any Tube station in
London though and just about every "motorbiker"
you see is fully outfitted in leather,
head-to-toe protective gear and some type of
highly visible and reflective vest.
yellow with white reflective striping seems to
be the eye-burning color of choice and you see
it on everyone from construction workers to
Bobbies to signalmen.
BikeSeen jacket we reviewed some time ago is
an example of that type, and since it's also
waterproof, some riders wear over their
leathers. But we've also published many
other reviews of lighted and reflective vests,
jackets and other high-visibility motorcycle
gear over the years.
Here's one more: the Roadgear
LED vest. This one is quite different, and
that's both good and bad, as we'll see.
The concept of a self-lighted
high-visibility garment isn't new. We
Safe Lites Beaconwear Vest a few years back,
and this remains one of the most interesting
self-illuminating vests available.
The Safe Lites vest uses the
flat "GlowSkin" technology, which consists of
magically thin, lightweight, flat stripes that
self-illuminate with an eerie glow. The
GlowSkin is powered via a small battery pack
that fits in a pocket. That vest is also
very well made, with a body consisting of
heavy-duty mesh and a thick nylon zipper.
Roadgear LED Vest front (L) and rear (R).
Fabric covering the batteries.
CR 2032 batteries power each LED light tube and
are protected by a plastic slip-on cover.
The Roadgear LED vest takes a
somewhat different approach -- and guess what?
The label says that the vest is made by Poly
Brite for Roadgear. It just so happens
that we reviewed a
Brite brand lighted LED vest, which is
similar, back in 2005.
The Roadgear vest uses "Nite Ize"
lighting technology and "Actiglo" illumination
tubes, the same technology used in the Poly
Brite vest. I'm not sure why Roadgear is
calling this an LED vest rather than an Actiglo
or Nite Ize vest (licensing cost issues, I'd
guess), but I did find some information that
states that "Actiglo illumination is a patented
light technology that transmits light from an
LED through a flexible plastic material called a
The Roadgear vest -- which is
really a bib and not a vest -- has a very light
mesh body and it carries the two separate LED
light tubes on the front and back on the left
side, mounted vertically. I'm assuming
that the LED Actiglo tubes are on the left
because motorcycles travel on the right in North
America, but I'd rather have the LED tubes run
diagonally across the front and back of the
Each light tube is powered by a
single CR 2032 flat watch battery, which
Roadgear says should last about 150 hours.
The LEDs are said to have 150,000 hour lifespan.
The batteries sit on a very
small circuit board at the end of each tube.
The tubes end at the top of the left shoulder,
covered by a thin section of fabric that is
secured with some hook-and-loop fastener.
The body of the vest includes a
reflective strip across the front and back.
This strip is made from a type of clear vinyl
that covers the retro-reflective material.
A single "Roadgear" reflective logo strip runs
vertically up the right side in the front.
The vest has two thin elastic straps on either
side of the bib and they attach to the front or
back panels with hook-and-loop.
The LED light tubes are
contained inside of translucent orange fabric
channels. The tubes do not contain
individual LED "bulbs"; rather, the entire tube
itself lights up. I'm not sure how it
works -- perhaps there is a single LED somewhere
in the tube and the Actiglo technology diffuses
the light throughout the tube?
The tubes have an oval
cross-section, so they lay relatively flat.
The entire vest, including the batteries,
doesn't weigh much at 96 grams (3.375 oz.).
Video: Roadgear LED Vest
Each battery is held in a sort
of metal membrane. Pressing the membrane
"clicker" switch once and the LED tube light
will burn steady; press it again and it will
blink, and press it once more and it turns off.
Since there are two tubes and two batteries,
each must be pressed to turn on both the front
and back lights. This also allows the
lights to be switched differently; for example,
the front can be steady while the rear LED is
It's very difficult to capture
the effect with the camera or videocam.
The LED lights are not extremely bright, but
they do show up very nicely in the dark and the
retro-reflective material on the vest also works
well. The photo at the top of the page was
taken with a flash, and you can see the
reflective material on the vest along with the
same on the
Tierra del Fuego Jacket (review).
So far, so good, right?
But there are a couple of problems. First,
I think the vest material is too lightweight.
It's very thin and gossamer-like, and the vinyl
LED light tubes seem to have a natural bend that
is constantly trying to twist the material.
This means that I have to keep pulling on the
lower part of the bib to keep the vest in place
-- you can see the model in the video doing it
too. I think Roadgear would have been
better served to license the original
Brite brand lighted LED vest we reviewed in
Having both tubes on one side
doesn't help either, because this offsets having
no tubes on the right side of the vest, making
everything feel out of balance.
The combination of the thin
carrier material and the twisty tubes also makes
the vest rather difficult to put on. Once
I'm all tucked in to a heavy jacket, I find it
very difficult to reach around and find the thin
elastic straps and get them secured under my
arms on each side. It's best to find
someone to help, but if there's no one around,
it's a struggle.
One other small problem involves
the placement of the batteries. The two
tubes meet at the top of the shoulder, but on
this vest, the tubes overlap right at the
batteries (which are covered, by the way, by
slip-on plastic sleeves that I hope won't get
lost). So whenever I want to turn on the
lights, I have to fumble around to select each
battery to turn it on. It's impossible to
tell what's going on in the rear tube, so the
only solution is to turn on the lights before
you put on the vest.
The light "clicker" membrane
switch on the batteries is also nearly
impossible to feel when wearing gloves, so it's
difficult to turn the lights off if necessary
when riding, although I'm not sure why that
would be necessary.
An interesting and very lightweight, unobtrusive
vest that can be worn over motorcycle clothing
for added visibility, but a bit difficult to
My suggestion would be to make
the vest of thicker material; make it in a true
vest style with a single zipper in front like
Safe Lites Beaconwear Vest rather than using
a bib style, which is much harder to put on over
a heavy motorcycle jacket. Another idea
would be to have four individual light tube
pockets in the vest so the owner can insert the
LED tubes (or buy another pair to have 4 tubes)
in a variety of positions.
Comments are ordered from most recent to oldest.
Not all comments will be published (details). Comments may be edited for
clarity prior to publication.
From "Doug" (11/08): "I'd be concerned that
motorists would confuse "blink mode" with a left turn signal.
Having 2 "tubes" on each front and back surface would help
prevent that. I would cross them because a bid red "X" is
a fairly universal sign of danger or at least a situation
requiring caution or extra attention. Anything to jolt the
half-asleep cagers on my morning commutes would be helpful."
Editor's Reply: Good point...
From "P.M." (11/08): "I just read your
review on Roadgear's LED vest. Seems like a product that
may be more useful in pieces than as a whole.
Are the LED "polymer lenses" easily removable
from the vest itself (for cleaning, etc)? Are the strips
themselves colored, or is the glow color a product of the orange
material they're behind?
With a little creativity (and a bit of
waterproofing of the switchgear) those strips would make killer
side-markers for saddlebags, lit "notice me" strips on helmets,
glowing arm stripes sewn onto a jacket... and for $40 it'd be a
Editor's Reply: The LED
strips are removable, but try
for ready-made strips.
From "D.J.W." (11/08): "I have to wonder
reading the article about the LED vests and the prior reviews of
similar products (and some manufacturers no longer in business),
why Firstgear, Roadgear, Icon, Joe Rocket, Olympia, Tourmaster,
etc just don't add the $5-10 worth of LED/wire/battery (to)
their already seriously expensive armored and weatherproof
At overseas manufacturing costs (which they all
do) and volume it would seem to be a trivial additional cost in
material to an otherwise sturdy bike jacket. I often see
giveaway led flashing bike light-type promo items at shows, so
you know the material cost is nominal. You'd think they
would jump on differentiating their products at a relatively
tiny incremental cost when these jackets often run $250-$400 to
Editor's Note: Excellent
suggestion! How about it, manufacturers?