Every motorist has gone through it: you glance at your wing mirror, it tells you the next vehicle is miles away, so you make a quick turn – only to hear the blaring horns of annoyed drivers. It happens with bicycle mirrors as well and is one of the most frightening bicycle mirror mistakes that you must learn to avoid.
As a cyclist on busy roadways, every decision you make is potentially about life and death. Learn about the top 10 bicycle mirror mistakes cyclists make and how to avoid them, and you will ride safer every time.
Top 10 Bicycle Mirror Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
Not Turning your Head
This is probably the most common and most dangerous mistake you can make with a bicycle mirror. On a busy highway or urban environment, you cannot trust what you see in the mirror.
The reason for this is simple: because of their small size, bicycle mirrors use convex surfaces to widen the field of view. This means the distances are completely out of proportion, and you can easily make fatal mistakes in judging distance.
Unless the road is empty behind you, it’s better to steal a glance and look over your shoulder before turning. This is especially true with today’s silent electric vehicles that accelerate fast and seemingly come out of nowhere.
It is worth noting that some types of bicycle mirrors need you to turn your head somewhat to get a proper angle. That applies to helmet-mounted mirrors and those fixed to cycling glasses.
Either way, having a mirror isn’t a safe substitute to looking over your shoulder the good old-fashioned way.
Failing to Signal
Whether you have a bicycle mirror installed or not, there is never an excuse not to give appropriate hand signals before merging or turning. However, this problem most affects rookie cyclists with mirrors.
Even when the mirror tells you that you have a chance to merge lanes or make a turn, always make sure to give the signal to those behind you.
At best, it gives those behind fair warning and is a sign of courtesy. At worst, it avoids accidents and gives motorists and cyclists a chance to react.
A word to bicycle mirror haters: don’t assume that glancing at the driver behind you and making eye contact is enough to signal that you want to turn. They are not mind readers, and most don’t know the subtle signals used by cyclists.
Concentrating Too Much on the Mirror
Another problem for rookie cyclists is that once they have a bicycle mirror, they are swept off their senses by the novelty of it. Like children with toys, it distracts them from the task of cycling.
The thing is, unlike in driving, you don’t need to consult your bicycle mirror every ten seconds. Your attention should always be ahead unless you want to make a turn.
Bicycle mirrors can be dangerously distracting if you are not attentive. There seems to be always something going on behind you, and you forget to anticipate what is ahead.
I would recommend riding around the neighborhood after installing a bicycle mirror so that you get used to it before getting on the road.
Always remember that, according to the NHTSA, cyclists are supposed to follow the same rules and embrace similar responsibilities as motorists.
Riding Too Close to the Curb
I’ll be the first to admit that riding without a bicycle mirror has a kind of sweet carelessness to it. You think nothing of what happens behind you except what your ears can tell you, leaving the responsibility of maintaining road safety to others.
However, having a mirror means that you can now see everything. From the big trucks coming to the whizzing cars and fellow cyclists, you have much more to worry about.
In such cases, the instinct is to get as far away from other vehicles as possible.
The thing is, you have to own your space as a cyclist. Even more importantly, you need to keep out of the blind spots of other cars in urban traffic.
Veteran cyclists will tell you that for one, you shouldn’t weave in and out unless in extremely slow-moving traffic. Second, don’t be cowed into the curb.
Using Glass Bicycle Mirrors instead of Plastic Ones
Mirror safety in a bicycle is paramount.
What happens in a crash and you are wearing a helmet-mounted glass mirror? You can very easily lose your eye.
The same thing can happen with plastics that shatter into shards which pierce the delicate eyes and skin.
Today, you can get amazing mirrors made of tough plastic acrylic. They make wonderful mirrors that are shatter-proof and thus quite safe. Acrylic is the same material that makes safety glasses.
When buying bicycle mirrors, keep off the glass type. Even those mounted on the handlebar shouldn’t be glass.
After all, acrylic handles the bumps and jars of the road much better than glass.
Buying Bicycle Mirrors without Due Consideration
The case for bicycle mirrors is strong: you can take turns with minimal head turning, they allow continuous assessment of the rearward situation, and they cost next to nothing.
It can be tempting to simply walk into a bicycle shop and pick up one.
However, bicycle mirrors are one of those things which are highly specialized in function. They are need-based, which means that what works for others may not work for you.
Some of the various types of bicycle mirrors include helmet-mounted mirrors, handlebar-mounted mirrors, and those fixed onto cycling glasses.
People who wear prescription glasses might want to get those mounted on the handlebars. At the same time, riding on rough roads necessitates helmet or head-mounted options.
If you need a bicycle mirror that works for you, put in the work needed to research the various types available, try on different types, and settle on the final choice when you are satisfied.
Helmet Mirrors and Prescription Glasses
Anyone who has had to peek at a bicycle mirror set at odd angles can tell you of the frustration that comes with it. Rippled reflections, distorted figures, and migraines resulting from straining eyes are common complaints.
While it is possible to customize and set both eyewear and helmet mirrors to work in tandem with your prescription glasses, I would advise the bar-end or handlebar-mounted mirrors instead. They are more friendly to the eyes and require minimal turning.
Did I mention that having glasses means you have to turn more than 200 to see the road behind you clearly?
Installing Poor Quality Mirrors
Apart from the outright dangerous glass mirrors that ignorant cyclists use, it is also possible to buy ineffective bicycle mirrors if you are not careful. Top among the list include non-adjustable mirrors, weak mirrors, and tiny mirrors.
To be fair, there are a lot of factors that go into making the perfect bicycle mirror. It needs to be small and lightweight enough for a bicycle, yet effective. It also needs to remain safe during accidents.
Bicycle mirrors often feature purpose-designed shatter points. Then there are also price considerations.
While bicycle mirrors are generally inexpensive, it pays to invest in good quality mirrors.
Some manufacturers make tiny super convex lenses to compensate for size. However, as you can imagine, distance accuracy is thrown out the window.
Other types of mirrors cannot handle the rigors of cycling. Always be sure to buy top quality mirrors for your bicycle.
Failing to Consider the Weather
On the subject of poor quality mirrors, you might perhaps spare a thought for those that ice up when wintry weather sets it. They become completely useless in such cases unless you constantly wipe off the icy obstruction.
The same thing applies to rain, which makes cycling mirrors all but useless. In such cases, go back to using head turns like everybody else.
You can also buy high-tech bicycle mirrors that resist the weather to a greater extent. Some of these are anti-freeze and remain clear even when it’s very cold.
Not Taking Care of the Bike Mirrors
Bicycle mirrors are delicate, no matter where they are installed or what they are made of. You can snap off the connecting rods with any careless move and render the mirror useless.
The biggest danger applies to those mirrors that are fixed at the ends of the handlebars. Careless parking will shatter them, passing cars might snap the off, and road features might snag them.
Helmet mounted mirrors are also easily destroyed when storing the helmet, turning your head, bumping into things. When you have a bicycle mirror installed, you need to take extra care of it and keep reminding yourself of that fact.
Don’t forget that acrylic mirrors get scratched easily and soon become useless as well.
Which mirror is used on bicycles?
Bicycle mirrors need to be small and lightweight while maintaining a wide field of view. As such, such mirrors are either convex or super convex depending on the field of view required.
This is the same kind of mirror used on car wing mirrors because a flat mirror would be too big and heavy to have the same angle of view.
Is a bicycle mirror worth it?
The jury is still out on whether it’s better to have a bicycle mirror or not. If you ride a lot on busy roads or commute in urban environments, you should get one and learn to use it.
However, if you ride lonely trails or in the countryside, then you don’t need one. They are also very cheap, rarely costing more than $10.
How do you install a bicycle mirror?
There are different types of bicycle mirrors made by different manufactures. This means that the method of fixing one to your bike or helmet will differ from mirror to mirror.
Some have clamps you can clip onto your helmet or handlebars, others are screw-on, while some need to be glued on the required surface.
What is the best bicycle mirror?
There is no single “cure-all” bicycle mirror, and there are various types of purpose-made to fulfill various needs. For example, those mounted on handlebars are convenient but suffer from vibration and are easily stolen.
Mirrors fixed on helmets require more careful installation, but they still need you to turn your head to get accurate views of the rear.
Different manufacturers also make bicycle mirrors of varying quality and robustness.
How do you see behind you on a bicycle?
Most of the time, cyclists need to turn their heads to acquire a peripheral view of what is going on behind and to their sides. However, this action is distracting and takes their attention off the road ahead.
Bicycle mirrors solve this problem by allowing cyclists to see behind them with minimal or no head turning at all, making them convenient and safe. According to BicycleSafe, a cycling mirror is a must if you are to ensure safety on the road.
Which is better: helmet mirrors or handlebar mirrors?
The answer to this is purely subjective. The best way to find out which type of bicycle mirror is suitable for you is simply to try them out on different bikes and in different citations to see which one works best for you.
Bicycle mirrors are misused on the road partly out of ignorance and partly out of inexperience. They are quite different from wing mirrors on vehicles, and how cyclists make use of them has a big impact on safety.
For one, these mirrors do not form a substitute for turning your head. If you need to gauge distances accurately, be sure to countercheck. Make sure to signal as well before making your move.
You should also make sure to buy the right kind of bicycle mirror and take good care of it. Many factors determine what kind of mirror to use which are different for every cyclist.
And, of course, you shouldn’t let a bicycle mirror intimidate you. Keep your eyes ahead always and stay aware of what is happening around you at all times to avoid getting distracted.
The debate for and against bicycle mirrors is one of the most hotly contested. Even in cars, these handy little things only became standard in the ’60s, previously being a luxury feature.
I believe that how we use them is what tips the scales, and it is important to avoid these important bicycle mirror mistakes.