Cycling mirrors are one of those subjects that bring on arguments almost as intense as the “Helmet Wars” found on any cycling discussion on the Internet. They come around once every 6 months or so, and usually leave a lot of acrimony hanging in the ether.
Roadies think they are too sexy to use mirrors, mountain bikers don’t need them and break them too often anyway, but bicycle commuters and recumbent riders seem to gravitate toward mirrors sooner or later.
So if you are not disposed to reading the ranting of a mirror advocate it is time to click another link and surf to some area of agreement. This page is for mirror users or those investigating various types of mirrors in anticipation of a purchase.
When you are all bundled up with a balaclava or a hood, it is somewhat more difficult to turn your head to see what is approaching from behind.
Further, if you wear eyeglasses, depending on your prescription, you may have to turn your head farther than other cyclists in order to look out of the lens rather than beside it. This is especially true of near sighted cyclists as the image presented when peeking out beside the lens is often useless.
In heavy traffic conditions, where lane changes are required, knowledge of traffic conditions to the rear is usually essential. At other times you just want to monitor the motorists behind you to get a little advanced warning about passing cars, turning cars, and bow wave blasts of wind from trucks.
There have been many days, usually in heavy snow, that I feel far more comfortable keeping my eyes on the road and determining when it was safe to move left with the mirror than taking a risk of hitting a snow rut while trying to do a proper head turn in winter clothing.
There are basically 4 different varieties of cycling mirrors, all of which are in-expensive, usually under $20, most under $10. Each type has different characteristics of clarity, mounting, vibration sensitivity, and susceptibility to frost/fog in winter conditions.
Handle Bar Mirrors
Handle bar mirrors are designed to fit on the end of your handle bars and stick out further than the widest part of the rider. There are various attachment methods, some simply replace the end-plug of your mountain bike bars, other come with swing-away hinges etc.
Pictured is a Rhode Gear mirror that mounts with Velcro. These are appreciated by cyclists who ride the same bike all the time, and/or those who do not wear eyeglasses or helmets suitable for other types of mirrors.
You can also walk into a store without appearing like a “paranoid dentist”. They may ice up if you leave your bike out in the cold, but you can usually warm them with your hand.
Although most roadies avoid mirrors, Rhode Gear makes one that fits the hood covers of drop bars. It is probably one of best for the full tucked position, in that your sight line is often blocked by your shoulders with other mirror types.
The draw backs with handle bar mirrors are that you generally have to buy one for each bike you ride, the do not transfer easily.
The exception is the Rhode Gear pictured above which attaches with Velcro and is easy for you (or a thief) to move to another bike. Further, when the bike tips over and impacts the ground the handle bar mirror usually hits first. Some have swing away mounting, most just have “break away” mounting.
Since it is mounted on the handle bars it is subject to vibration. This can make the image useless unless the mounting system has some built in damping. You may have to move your head or body to see what is behind you, and in extreme cases, you will have to steer the bike to maneuver the mirror.
Finally they require that you take your eyes away from the road ahead to see what is behind, although this can be done quicker than a head turn.
Helmet mirrors come in two basic types which differ predominantly in the mounting system. One system mounts on the hard shell, usually with a screw clamp arrangement. The other mounting system (which can be used on almost all helmets) is a glue patch.
The mirror is positioned via a stalk above and to the left or right of your eye. Pictured below are mirrors by Nashbar.
The helmet mirror sits well outside your hood, balaclava, and helmet and usually the only view obstruction will be your shoulder or “big hair”.
A simple 10 to 20 degree turn of the head allows a full sweep of what is behind you.
These are cheap and easy to attach, and are always with you regardless of which bike you ride – as long as you wear your helmet. If you have two helmets, avoid glue mounts. Those that screw-clamp mount on the helmet shell may not be reversible, so be sure your order it in the country where you will use it. The ones sold in the USA are made for riding on the right side of the road.
The down side of helmet mounts is that you must be careful when setting your helmet down. It is sometimes difficult to get a good mirror placement because of inconsistent helmet position or because the mirror is too high due to the fit or shape of the helmet body. If your helmet moves around even a little on you head your mirror will be out of position part of the time. There tends to be more vibration in these mirrors than those below.
Eyeglass mounted mirrors attach to the temple or bow of your eyeglasses or cycling glasses. They typically use a three point mount along the left bow (or right side for those who drive on the left).
These generally position the mirror either at the same level as the eye (or slightly above) and just far enough to the side to clear your helmet and balaclava. When riding with a hood on, it is occasionally necessary to adjust the mirror and turn the head slightly more to accommodate the extra bulk
Again, a simple 10 to 20 degree turn of the head allows a full sweep of what is behind you, 45 degree head turns let you see what is on your right. Eyeglass mounted mirrors tend to suffer less vibration than other models, you can often read the license plate of the car about to pass you. The positioning of the mirror is the best of all models.
The company Third Eye is making eyeglass mirrors. Third Eye uses plastic mounts, and the part that attaches to your eyeglasses bow is rather weak.
I have had several pair fail while trying to attach or remove them, most often in freezing weather.
The adjacent picture shows the most common failure mode, where one of the three-point-attachment legs breaks off rendering the mirror useless. This is part of the design, it is intended that the mirror break away here in the the event of a crash rather than in front of your eye.
Third Eye will honor the warranty, just mail the broken parts back to them. I sent in a couple broken mirrors and they sent me several extra of the three-point-attachment parts which can be snapped together with the shaft and mirror.
Take A Look
Manufactured by Bicycle Peddler of Greeley Colorado, these are the finest bike mirrors I have run into. Impervious to the cold, all of the critical parts are metal.
The three point mount is a single piece of metal and is designed to be bent at specific places to accommodate wide or narrow glasses bows.
The mirror can be rotated on three axis, and the entire assembly can be flipped upside down and mounted on a helmet shell. The un-framed mirror is acrylic. They are unconditionally guaranteed by the manufacturer.
These are very clear, with hardly any vibration, and far more adjustable than other eyeglass mirrors I have run into. They provide a larger field of view than most other helmet or eyeglass mirrors, and require less head movement than any other mirror I have tried.
The mirror, being plastic can be scratched with rough handling, but it survives drops well.
Cycle Aware is a relatively new manufacturer of cycling mirrors and they offer a product in each of the categories on this page, handle-bar, helmet, eyeglass and on-lens.
We tested the eyeglass model and found a new twist. Twist, Bend, and Adjust, but no break. The main stem of these mirrors is made up of a bendable plastic that is supposed to retain its shape after being bent to fit your glasses and to position the mirror. Being a little timid about bending plastic parts we approached the task carefully.
Sure enough, we found we could accomplish quite a bit of adjustment without breakage. The stem did tend to retain its bend for some time, although after many days it tended to need adjustment. We haven’t tried this adjustment in freezing conditions, it seemed wiser to do it indoors.
The fingers that hold the mirror to your glasses were beefy and have a non-slip pad built in that does not come off and get lost like some others. These are very strong and you can bend the main shaft between the fingers to achieve a tight fit.
Note that the mirror is an OVAL shape, and is more vertically oriented than others such as the Take A Look. We think this is a mistake and the mounting stud on rim of the mirror should (in our opinion) be positioned half way between the end of the mirror (where it is now) and side of the oval so that you could position the mirror in a more horizontal orientation and thereby achieve a wider viewing angle. Other than that we found the mirror stable and the mounting sturdy.
On lens mirrors
The final category of cycling mirror are the on-lens mirrors. These are very high quality mirrors that attach directly to the inside of your eyeglasses. They are very small, and have an adjustable swivel base.
Several companies make these, including Third Eye.
These mirrors, although meant for eyeglass wearers, will not work if you need the correction supplied by your prescription lenses, as the image in the mirror does not come through your prescription. They are best used by cyclists wearing sunglasses or who do not need correction for distance vision. They will not work with wrap-around sunglasses.
Since these sit inside your glasses your rearward vision is blocked by your own head, and you will have to turn your head considerably further to scan traffic to your rear than you would with a helmet mirror or eyeglass mirror. But they are hardly visible behind a pair of sunglasses. Great for the aging roadies who does not want to be seen wearing a mirror, but finds the head turns more difficult with each passing year.
Using cycling mirrors
Loss of eye fears
One reason that non-wearers frequently give for not wearing helmet or eyeglass mirrors is the fear of losing an eye in a crash. I have no statistics on this, nor have I ever heard of an incident of this happening, but I would bet that somewhere in the world it has happened. There is no history of litigation on this matter, so it must be extremely rare.
Eyeglass wearers are somewhat protected by their prescription lenses (you ARE wearing plastic, NOT glass lenses aren’t you?) so one would imagine this danger would pertain more to helmet mounted mirrors, if it exists at all.
In the one serious crash and several minor ones that I have experienced, my eyeglass mirror was never damaged or even dislodged. Yet, I have managed to drop one onto the only rock in an otherwise well manicured lawn, and broke the mirror. Go Figure!
You have to head turn
The other reason frequently given for not wearing an cycling mirror is the need to do a “head turn” to be absolutely sure nothing is behind you. Generally good advice, nothing wrong with being safe. I do it myself most of the time.
The problem is, this bit of advice is is often put forth with self righteous vehemence based on superstition and habits formed from driving automobiles, and always by someone who does not wear a mirror, and probably never tried one.
Most drivers have had an experience of peeking in the mirror, and starting a merge into the left lane only to hear the irate blare of a horn from another motorist lurking in the “blind spot”.
However, with a helmet or eyeglass mirror, THERE ARE NO BLINDSPOTS. A simple, quick 10 to 20 degree turn of the head provides a full rearward scan, curb to curb with no place for a car or even another bike to hide.
You will occasionally hear people rail against mirrors because (they claim) the mirror distracts you from watching the road ahead, and you spend too much time looking behind you.
Right! Yet they are required by law on every motor vehicle and even jet fighter aircraft use them! This argument is often put forth by the same people who insist you have to do a head turn. The fact that a head turn is far more distracting than a peek in the mirror never even occurs to them.
If they spend too much time looking behind it is because they have never tried a mirror long enough for the novelty to wear off. In a sense, this argument is essentially that mirrors work TOO well, so well that you will not be able to concentrate on where you are going.
As stated above, after wearing one for a week, you will find it so natural, and so convenient, that you will wonder how you ever got along without them. You will feel positively naked without your mirror while in traffic. You will even catch yourself peeking to your upper left while walking down the street.
Loss of communication
Finally, there is the turn your head to “communicate” with motorists argument, that says your head turn will tell the blue haired lady in the Suburban exactly that you intend to turn, and she will instantly understand and grant your wish, even though she hasn’t been on a bike since the 6th grade.
Non cyclists have no idea why you turn your head, other than to believe that you turned and obviously you saw them and are therefore responsible to avoid them. If you wanted to turn, you would have signaled! That’s the law. That’s what they expect.
So the mirror lets you see, your signal lets them know, and your head turn satisfies your fears and superstitions regarding ghost cars that don’t show up in mirrors. Uncharitable characterization? Perhaps, but no less so than those used by the anti mirror crowd, one of whom writes “Cyclists who have developed their worries more than their skills are strong advocates of rear view mirrors…”.