Bicycle Mirrors: Loved by Some, Despised by Others
Bicycle mirrors can help keep you safe while riding a bike in heavy traffic. A bike mirror not only protects you from cars, but also helps you see dogs sneaking up from behind for attack. I first became aware of the benefits of a bicycle mirror while riding on narrow roads in rural Pennsylvania. My friend and I rode side by side and, because he had a mirror, he was able to pull ahead and put us in a single file that allowed cars to go around us safely. As soon as I got home from that trip I went to the local bike shop and bought a mirror for myself.
A cyclist must be aware of his surroundings at all times. A bicycle mirror can help him avoid a life threatening crash.
There are arguments both for and against using a bicycle mirror. Some claim that they obstruct your vision and teach bad habits of not looking to make absolutely sure that there is nothing behind you. Others claim that there is no safe way to see what is behind you without a mirror. Maybe some of the prejudice against mirrors is because the ones we had on our bikes as children were dorky and uncool.
While there may be some valid excuses for not using a bike mirror, most cyclists would benefit from having one. Bike commuters and bicycle tourists seem to be the most passionate about using mirrors. The least passionate are road cyclists and mountain bikers. Their main complaint is that a mirror is not aerodynamic and can get snagged on a tree branch. These extremes aside, it is worth considering that a bike mirror might be responsible for saving your life some day.
There are three main types of bicycle mirrors. Handlebar mounted mirrors can come in different sizes and mount in different places of the bars. Some mirrors are mounted on the helmet while others are mounted on the rider's glasses.
Handlebar Mounted Bicycle Mirrors
Handlebar mounted bicycle mirrors can either mount on the bar ends, clamp onto the handlebars or even stow inside the grips. Mirrors that mount on the bar ends are different depending on whether they mount on drop handlebars or straight bars. Straight bar mounted mirrors are usually larger than mirrors mounted on the ends of drops.
The principal advantage of mirrors which mount on the handlebars is that they are always on the bike. It does not matter if the rider changes helmets or whether he has his glasses or not, the mirror is always connected to the bike.
Because the mirror is much further away from the rider's eyes it would have to be significantly larger to give as much of a viewing angle as a mirror which is closer to the rider. A mirror mounted directly on the bicycle is more prone to breakage if the bike is in a wreck or just falls over when it is parked. Another problem with handlebar mounted mirrors is that they do not always point behind the rider. When the handlebars are turned slightly to the left or right, the rider may be looking at his chest in the mirror or to the landscape too far to the left to be helpful.
Helmet Mounted Bicycle Mirrors
Mirrors which are mounted on the rider's helmet give a much better viewing angle than handlebar mounted mirrors. This is because the mirror is closer to the user's eye. Helmet mounted mirrors attach to the main shell of the helmet which helps keep it stable. Because the mirror is mounted to the helmet, the rider is able to adjust the exact angle of the mirror by turning his head slightly one way or another. This mirror allows the rider to look over their shoulder which gives them a broader viewing angle without their body being in the way.
The disadvantage to a helmet mounted mirror is that the rider must always have that helmet with him. They're also more prone to being broken off the helmet if care is not taken to handle the helmet properly. These mirrors work significantly better for those riding bikes in which they can sit up straight. If a rider is using drop handlebars on a road bike and is down on the drops a helmet mounted mirror will be harder to use than a handlebar mounted mirror.
Eyeglasses Mounted Bicycle Mirrors
There are two primary types of eyeglasses mounted mirrors. One mounts to the frame of the eyeglasses: usually the temple. The other mounts to the glass lens itself. These mirrors have all of the advantages of a helmet mounted mirror in that it provides the rider and a wider angle of view and can be adjusted simply by turning the head. Mirrors that are attached to the temple of the glasses can be removed easily and carried in the rider's pocket. This allows him to use the mirror with sunglasses or prescription glasses.
The main disadvantage of eyeglass mounted bicycle mirrors is that the rider has to always be wearing glasses. The mirror also may be too heavy for the way the glasses fit and can pull them into a crooked position. If the rider is involved in a wreck, a temple mounted bicycle mirror creates a greater possibility for eye injury.
There are also mirrors which mount to the inside lens of the glasses. These are tiny mirrors which mount to the left of the eyeglasses lens and give a surprisingly large field of view. These cannot be used for people who have prescription eyeglasses because the mirror will be seen with uncorrected vision.
Purchasing Bicycle mirrors
Whether you choose a handlebar mounted mirror, a helmet mounted mirror or an eyeglasses mounted bicycle mirror does not matter as much as actually using the mirror you purchase. A local bike shop will have a selection of mirrors for you to try.
I chose a mirror which mounts to the temple of my eyeglasses. Since I wear prescription glasses at all times I am able to carry my mirror with me and slip it on as I get on my bike. I am less concerned about it getting damaged than I would if it were mounted to my helmet. I also don't have to worry about it being stolen which could happen if it was mounted to my handlebars.