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Riding with a Bicycle Mirror - Do You Need One?


Art installation in Santiago, Chile of cyclists finding their way.

It’s been some time since I have posted an article. As many, I’ve been caught up in artificial intelligence discussion over ChatGPT and its ilk. That said, I’ve wondered how well it would do with the topic “riding a bicycle with a mirror”. After making the query, the bot turned out a passable article in seconds! That said, I do believe the human element is essential for any relevant insights on this topic. So, I’ve taken the comments generated by the AI (italic/bold) and included my own direct experiences and observations. So here goes:


Riding a bicycle with a mirror can have both advantages and disadvantages, depending on the circumstances. Here are some of the main considerations:


Advantages:

Improved situational awareness: A mirror can give you a better view of what's happening behind you, which can help you anticipate traffic and avoid collisions.


I completely agree with this statement. Similar to drivers, cyclists also have blind spots. One of my existential fears is being hit from behind by a vehicle. In my mind, through no fault of my own, I could be taken out by a car and perhaps not even know it until after the fact. Despite that concern, for years I resisted the notion of riding with a mirror, preferring instead to periodically turn and look over my left shoulder to see what’s coming from behind.


About five years ago, after a friend's hearty endorsement, I decided to give it a try. Since she rides often and has contributed articles to this blog, I valued her advice to purchase a mirror for my helmet. At first, I purchased one that had a rigid post which stuck out 5+ inches. My thinking was the further out it extended the better my viewing. Sort of a biker’s version of the huge mirrors now affixed to the side of pick-up trucks. Did you know that trucks have been getting steadily bigger and heavier, and thus posing a greater risk to cyclists and pedestrians?


Well, the mirror did not quite work in the manner I expected. Trying to align it with my line of sight was tricky. Further, the mirror moved during the ride. As a result, I would quickly lose any settings. Quite frankly, it was a hassle and distracting. However, I did notice for the few minutes it would stay aligned, the view was helpful. So, my initial reaction was good idea, poor implementation.

Convenience: Checking a mirror is quicker and easier than turning your head to look behind you, especially if you need to keep your hands on the handlebars.


Agree with this statement as well. As mentioned, the mirror was helpful when it worked. I checked in with my friend to see the model of bicycle mirror she was using which was a Cycleaware Reflex bicycle helmet mirror and purchased one. It had the benefit of a flexible post for easy adjustment, and the mirror itself pivoted for extra adjustment. Best of all it retained its position. An added bonus was the mirror detached from the base affixed to the helmet so I could easily remove the mirror when I wasn't wearing the helmet. The new model worked like a champ.



Cycleaware reflex bicycle helmet mirror.
Mirror has flexible arm for easy positioning.

Confidence: Some riders find that having a mirror makes them feel more secure on the road, especially if they're not used to riding in traffic or on busy roads.


Agree with this statement as well. Initially, I used the mirror to glance to see what was happening behind me especially to my left side where a car may be approaching. But out of habit, I regularly turned and looked over my left shoulder. And this habit has persisted. Even today, I always look before switching lanes. That said, having easy insight into what is happening behind you is very helpful, even on a busy street. And the bicycle helmet mirror provides that easy insight. There is no doubt the mirror helps me to feel more secure on the road. Like my helmet, without the mirror, I feel naked on the bike.


Riding confidently with a helmet-mounted bicycle mirror.



























Disadvantages:

Distraction: Constantly checking your mirror can take your attention away from the road ahead, which can be dangerous, especially in fast-moving traffic.

View from mirror on bicycle helmet.

Agree with this statement too. It is easy to get distracted by looking at the mirror instead of what’s in front of you. I do think however, it’s a bit like learning to ride with clipless pedals. At first, it feels a bit awkward, and like most riders, I forgot to release my foot and feel over at the first stop. With the mirror, it's a bit more like finding the right balance of when to look ahead and behind. I recommend initially using the mirror on a less busy street. For me, after two/three rides, I started to get the feel of how to use the mirror effectively.


False sense of security: A mirror is not a substitute for looking over your shoulder or being aware of your surroundings. It's still important to scan the road ahead and be alert to potential hazards.


Yes, to this statement as well. As a cyclist, you are ultimately responsible for being aware of your surroundings. Because as cyclists we are vulnerable and it helps to ride defensively.


View of traffic thru bicycle mirror.

Limited field of view: A mirror can only show you what's directly behind you, so it may not be useful in all situations. For example, if a car is approaching from an angle, you may not see it in your mirror until it's too late.


Well, this statement is true, the mirror does not show everything. However, there is significant value in gaining insight into what is behind you. It is especially helpful to see what vehicles are approaching from behind on my left side.


​There are other types of bicycle mirrors including the ones that mount on the end of handlebars. Many years ago, I tried using one, but really did not find it that helpful since it showed a lower view of the street. The helmet mirror is mounted higher and closer to my eyes. Additionally, as I move my head the view in the mirror changes, unlike the mirrors that are fixed on the ends of handlebars. In the end, I find that a helmet mirror provides a more relevant view of what is happening behind me.

A bicycle mirror is helpful even riding on rail trails; you can see fellow riders on the path.

Ultimately, whether riding a bicycle with a mirror is a good or bad idea depends on your personal preferences, riding style, and the conditions you're riding in. Some riders swear by mirrors and find them essential, while others prefer to rely on their own senses and situational awareness. If you do choose to use a mirror, it's important to use it responsibly and not let it distract you from the road ahead.

Agree with this statement too, although if feels like the AI bot picked up some product or legal disclaimers in writing this statement. My experience using a bicycle mirror has been very positive and over time, I’ve learned how to use it to my advantage. Today, it is an essential bicycle accessory for my bike riding.


What is your favorite safety accessory for biking? Add your comment below. 

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