Looking Backwards

Safety Corner logoby Eli Post
from the April 2006 issue of WheelPeople

You may not realize how often you look in the rear-view mirror while driving a car, but it’s a frequent maneuver for most motorists. Many cyclists also use rear-view mirrors because they realize that being more aware of what’s behind them makes bicycling more relaxed and safer.

In heavy traffic conditions, where lane changes are required, knowledge of traffic conditions to the rear is essential. At other times you may want to monitor the motorists behind you to get advanced warning about passing cars, turning cars, and other traffic conditions. When you are wearing winter headgear, it may be difficult to turn your head to see what is approaching from behind and a rear-view mirror can make sightings easier. When riding in a group, rear-view mirrors enable you to keep track of your fellow riders. People with limited neck flexibility may not be able to swivel their head to look directly back, and a mirror becomes an essential piece of equipment. On most recumbent bicycles, it is not possible to swivel one’s head far enough to look directly back, and a mirror overcomes that problem. In fact, after wearing a mirror for a while, many riders find it so natural and so convenient that they feel uneasy without their mirror, especially while in difficult traffic.

While some see rear-view mirrors as an essential piece of cycling gear, they are not for everyone. Many bicyclists get along quite well without a mirror. Some try a mirror but don’t become comfortable with it. Some claim the mirror distracts them from watching the road ahead, and they spend too much time looking behind. Others have a real problem with a split-viewing field. Still others have fears that, in a crash, a helmet- or eyeglass-mounted mirror might injure an eye. Finally, some experts believe that even if you use a rear-view mirror, it does not provide a full field of view, and it is therefore important to be able to look behind you for traffic before changing lane position.

If you are disposed to using a mirror you will be interested in investigating the various types. All are relatively inexpensive, usually under $20. Each type has different clarity, mounting, vibration sensitivity, and susceptibility to frost/fog. What follows is a brief review of the more popular mirror types. Resources for more information are included at the end, and new technologies are always in the works. This list is by no means exhaustive.

Handlebar mirrors fit on one end of your handlebars. These mirrors are subject to vibration, and you may have to move your head or body to see what is behind you if your arm blocks the view. These mirrors require that you take your eyes away from the road ahead to see what is behind.

Helmet-mounted mirrors either mount on the hard shell, or come with a glue patch. The down side of helmet mounts is that it is sometimes difficult to get a good mirror placement because of the shape of the helmet. Also, if your helmet moves around even a little on you head the mirror will be out of position part of the time. There tends to be less vibration in these mirrors than with handle bar types.

Eyeglass-mounted mirrors are very clear, with hardly any vibration, and very adjustable. They provide a larger field of view than most helmet mirrors, and require less head movement. However, learning to use an eyeglass mirror may take practice and patience. Both helmet and eyeglass mirrors offer the advantage of a “panoramic” view when you turn your head side to side.

On-lens mirrors attach directly to the inside of your eyeglasses. They are very small, and have an adjustable swivel base. These mirrors will only work if you don’t need the correction supplied by your prescription lenses, as the image in the mirror does not come through your lenses. They are best suited to cyclists wearing sunglasses or who do not need correction for distance vision. They will not work with wrap-around sunglasses.

There is no “one size fits all” option, and one may have to try several types. Like many bicycling techniques, mastering the use of a mirror takes a bit of practice, and some adapting and getting used to.

Remember—safety is about choices. What choices will you make?

References:
http://www.bikexprt.com/bicycle/mirror.htm
http://www.icebike.org/Equipment/cyclingmirrors.htm
http://search.bikelist.org/?SearchString=rear%20view%20mirror
http://www.sheldonbrown.com/harris/mirrors.html


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