Sunday, July 18, 2010

Because Seeing is Believing

I have changed my position on using mirrors whilst cycling.

My position has been for years that unless you were astride a recumbent, or had impaired neck movement, mirrors were a silly distraction to the task at hand.

The reason for this is that the perils that face a cyclist are far and away predominantly ahead of him. We face hazards in the form of road surface impairments, obstructions and debris, and the turning movements of other traffic.

My feeling has been that until one is preparing for a movement that will potentially cross the path of following traffic, knowing what traffic behind you is doing is of no concern.
This not always true.

I now recommend the use of mirrors for cyclists

When one first takes to the roadway with a defensive position that uses body language to communicate his presence, he ought to use a mirror.

I can describe how traffic reacts to the presence of a slow moving vehicle, but few who are new to driving their bicycles in the traffic lane will really be confident of that until they observe it for themselves.

So when you grow weary of the close passes and the near misses of suddenly opened doors, right-hooks and left crosses and begin to assert your right to the roadway as an equal user of the public roadway, use a mirror.

Count the times you nearly get "runned over". (You might be surprised to see that it never happens!)

Observe how overtaking traffic yields to your presence. Take note of the delays you create. You will soon learn that any such expectation is simply a myth.

When you get tired of watching for such things that never happen, and have proved to yourself how even high speed traffic have no difficulties in overtaking you, you can put the mirrors away.

Because then you will have seen for yourself that the perils you face are in front of you, not behind you.


  1. On my one day WITH a mirror, I found it very helpful in improving situational awareness, just as mirrors are helpful for the same purpose when used with an automobile. FWIW, one of my cars has no side mirrors at all - they were only required starting in 1968. My experience is recounted at:

    And, yes, I have a new mirror, though I've not figured out how to mount it yet. Pound for pound, and used properly, I think they can help safety more than reflective tape. They are also EXTREMELY helpful for nearsighted people, as Keri Caffrey pointed out.

  2. Speaking as a stiff-necked German... Welcome back.

  3. I see no reason to "put away the mirror."

    Every other user of the road has a mirror(s) to help them share the road... to determine when to change lanes and to see when there are gaps in traffic.

    Funny that you promote the use of a mirror only as a tool of observation, and not as a traffic aid.

  4. I'm with Anonymous on this one. I like to use my mirror to help me make informed decisions about lane changes.

  5. Also... and probably more importantly...
    WELCOME BACK!!! I'm looking forward to more posts! :D

  6. Glad you're back with us.

    I'm ambivalent about mirrors. Handy for lane changes. *shrug*

  7. I like that mirror pictured! I am thinking of getting one myself.

  8. I have 2 mirrors on my helmet, because I'm not always in the outside lane and it's nice to be able to see when people are trying to pass on my right even when I am in the outside lane. You would not believe the number of people that think they can pass a bike on either side in the same lane, just because there is (almost) enough room to the side.

  9. As I mentioned in the essay, riders of recumbent need mirrors for safe operation in traffic, because they have restricted head turning ability, much like stiff-necked Germans.

    Thus I approve of Opus's use of them while astride his recumbent.

  10. There's hope for you yet; at least you are considering alternatives.

  11. Doohickie, I always consider the alternatives. The fact that I make different choices than you do is not evidence of close-mindedness, as your comment seems to suppose.

  12. I like mirrors as when you are towing a child you can make sure they are holding on. You can also keep an eye for cars coming up at speed, especially those that appear to be in your lane, and for which evasive action may be required.

    It's also good for riding with other cyclists, lets you track their position, and when you are being reeled on a hill, let the reeler get almost to your rear wheel before you drop the hammer and leave them behind (that way they suffer more).

    However, looking over your shoulder not only eliminates some blindspots, it can provide an implicit signal to others that you are planning something -this may be beneficial.

  13. Late to this conversation, but...

    Like many things, I think adults can and should choose for themselves. I like mirrors. I have a big one attached to my handle bars. The danger is most certainly in front of me. But there may be a texting teenager behind me. It's good for me to keep an eye on things to the rear.