Making life easier… (1) Mirrors

This article was published in 1997, in Newsletter 10.

If you have a suggestion or tip which you think makes life easier on a bike, write and let us know. That’s what this new column is for. In this first article, it’s a product which I would put first on my list of optional accessories, but which relatively few cyclists have on their bikes – a rear-view mirror.

Dave Earl.

All of us are concerned about safety, and one of the first requirements of safety, whatever kind of road user you are, is to be aware of everything that is going on around you. On the other hand, looking over your shoulder on a bike isn’t the easiest thing to do in traffic. I have found a mirror to be very helpful.

But first a word of caution: never rely on a mirror. Mirrors usually have blind-spots, and are often convex which means vehicles appear further away than they actually are. Therefore, when making a manoeuvre, it is essential to look over your shoulder whether or not you have a mirror.

However, a mirror means you can glance at it frequently so that you are aware of vehicles approaching and know in advance whether it is safe to make a particular manoeuvre, or when to slot into the traffic flow to make a turn. I think it increases my confidence in traffic because of the much wider awareness it gives me.

There’s mirrors and mirrors! Basically there are four kinds:

  • bar-end
  • brake-lever
  • handlebar
  • helmet.

A helmet mirror is small, is like a dentist’s mirror on a stem, fixed to a helmet and therefore close to your eye. Of course, this is only appropriate if you wear a helmet. It’s advantage is that it is easy to fit. However it is vulnerable to being damaged if you carry your helmet around. One of these will set you back around £12 before your Cambridge Cycling Campaign discount, and Rob at Ben Haywards tells me that these are now the most popular type they sell. However, that may be because the other kinds seem harder to get.

picture of helmet mirror (7k)

The other three types fit to the bike in one way or another. Before touring bikes had their brake cables hidden, you could attach one to the top of the brake lever, but this only works on the brakes that go with drop handlebars.

You can also get mirrors that attach directly to the handlebars. But most common now, with the prevalence of mountain bikes (and appropriate for straight handlebar shopper bikes so common in Cambridge) is a “bar-end” mirror that plugs into one end of the handlebar. This can also be made to work on drop handlebar bikes as you can see from my own.

mirror.jpg (15k)

Mine is called Mirrycle, but apparently this make has now disappeared – shame. You might still find a shop selling them. There are other makes, and Ben Haywards has one at about £16. Make sure any bar-end mirror is rigid. If the stem is made of slightly flexible plastic it will vibrate while cycling, making it hard to see a clear image. Also if you have drop handlebars, make sure the stem is at least 5 cm long or you will find your arm obscures it.

Dave Earl.