Gear: Reflecting about Cycling Mirrors
There was recently a flurry about mirrors on our Facebook Page after I posted an Amazon link to the Take-A-Look mirror. Opinions on mirrors are varied. Some swear by them, others think they are the epitome of Fred-om and a fashion abomination. Say what you will, we think they’re infinitely useful and are an underrated safety tool.
Why would you want a mirror? Looking back to when we were novice cyclists riding on the roads, one of the most unnerving things is not knowing whats going on behind you. This is presumably why some people ride in the wrong direction in traffic. A much safer and legal solution would be to just get a mirror. With a mirror, you can judge the speed of approaching traffic, how wide the vehicle is and their general behavior.
Many people will say, “just look over your shoulder.” You could do that, but some people simply can’t hold a straight line while doing a shoulder check. Not to mention when you turn your head to look behind you, you’re completely blind to what is happening in front of you (where most causes of bicycle accidents will occur). A mirror allows you to look behind you with minimal of effort and still be aware of what is going in front of you.
A mirror is infinitely useful in making left turns in heavy traffic and twisty mountain roads. You’re constantly being updated about what traffic conditions to your rear. While on tour, you can use it to check on your touring partner riding behind you as well.
All this being said, not all mirrors are equal. After several years of touring and commuting we’ve developed some fairly strong opinions about what make a good cycling mirror. Two of the most important ones are that head mounted mirrors are more useful than handlebar mounted mirrors and horizontally oriented mirrors are better than vertically oriented ones.
For some, a head mounted mirror (either one that clips n glasses like the Take-A-Look mirror or one that attaches to your helmet like an EVT mirror) is too distracting, like having a constant picture in picture effect in front of you at all times. We can certainly sympathize. When we first started using a mirror it took some time to get use to filtering the simultaneous visual data and still pedal a straight line. However, in the long run, we feel that a head mounted mirror is better. You can quickly sweep your head (without turning your handlebars) and get a quick lay of the land behind you. Head mounted mirrors are also less prone to vibration since your body and neck act as suspension. While on the subject of head-mounted mirrors, we also find that those use adhesive or velcro will fail in short order. It is better to get something that friction clamps to your glasses and helmet like a Take-A-Look, EVT or Chuck Harris Hubbub Mirror.
Rear view mirrors in automobiles are horizontally oriented because they give you a useful panoramic field of view. However, for some reason, many bicycle mirrors are vertically oriented. I’m not quite sure why that is. Is it some misguided notion of aerodynamics? a fashion statement? A horizontally mounted mirror simply lets you take in more useful traffic information quicker and has less of a “blind spot”.
In New Zealand, my EVT mirror snapped off my helmet when I was trying to get on board a ferry and is now somewhere with the fishes in the tiny settlement of Orapu. The only decent head-mounted mirror I could find was one by Zefal. However it had an odd vertically oriented ovalized mirror and it attached with velcro to the helmet. During a ride, the velcro would shift around and narrow image was damn near useless at times since I had to constantly sweep my head to look at traffic. It drove me bonkers. As soon as we arrived in the US, I tossed it aside and bought another Take-A-Look mirror.
Here are some mirrors that we’ve tried and our thoughts on them:
Take-A-Look Mirror (original size)
This is a solid and inexpensive mirror that you will never break. They friction fit over the arms of your glasses and provide a nice clear horizontal picture. Adjusting the mirror is easy and it stays in place. This is by far one of the best mirrors out there, don’t let the nondescript packaging fool you.
This mirror provides a giant picture and is very sturdy. It’s Alien-esque looks can be somewhat intimidating for some. It seems to be optimized to mount on vented helmets better than the new style rounded urban helmets that don’t have as many possible mounting points though I have been able to get it on both Nutcase and Bern helmets with some creative zip tying.
This was the best mirror I could find in NZ and I wasn’t all that excited about it. The narrow shape was frustrating narrow and the velcro attachment wasn’t very stable.
This was one of the first mirrors that I used and loved it, but I ultimately began to see some design flaws. The mirror is vertically oriented and the plastic ball join will eventually wear out and it won’t hold its position.
Chuck Harris Hubub Mirror
This mirror has a bit of a cult following. While we haven’t used it personally, it has the characteristics of a good mirror. Large and useful image area, head-mounted and friction fit to a helmet.
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