Keeping track of what’s coming from behind

I’ve always liked the idea of using a rear view mirror while cycling, but until this winter those that I tried failed to satisfy.

My first attempt was more than 30 years ago, early in my career as aggressive cyclist. With 7,500 other cyclists, I was doing TOSRV—the Tour of the Scioto River Valley, riding from Columbus, Ohio, to Portsmouth and back again. That’s where I met Chuck Harris from Gambier, Ohio, who was wearing a tiny mirror fastened to the end of a spoke that he had clamped around the left temple of his glasses.

Greg Siple, one of the founders of TOSRV, wrote an article about Harris in 20111. Greg’s brother Dave bought a mirror from Harris in 1972 and still uses it. I bought my Harris mirror three or four years after Siple bought his, but after a serious effort to make it work, I gave it up. Siple reports that Harris working out of his cluttered workshop with needle nosed pliers has made 88,000 of these mirrors and this income has been an important source of financial support for his family.

Commercial designs have come on to the market, and I have tried at least three models that fasten to eyeglasses or are mounted on the helmet. In each case, however, I gave up the efforts after a while. They were hard to aim in the right direction. They jiggled. I had to close one eye and squint with the other to see. I worried about having that sharp piece of steel so close to my eye.

I also tried a second type of mirror, about four inches long that was attached to the left drop bar. But it was bulky and in the way. I had trouble keeping it aimed.

Despite these disappointments, I’ve wanted to find a mirror that works. My hearing is still good enough that I can hear motor vehicles and usually can tell how close they are and how fast they’re traveling. I can still look over my shoulder for a quick fix on whatever’s back there. Even so, a third mode of keep track would help, especially when I’m riding with larger groups such as century rides during the summer and PAC Tour trips during the winter.

My friends at Cyclepath in Portland provided another choice: an end-of-the-drops, ball and socket system that mounts easily, stays stable except when bumped, and can be looked at with eyes wide open.

When I installed one of these mirrors on my new Davidson riding bike, I figured that there were two things I’d have to learn. First, was to remember to look. A couple of months later, I was riding another bike without a mirror and, to my surprise, found myself looking down all the time to glance at the mirror that wasn’t there.

The second lesson would be to interpret what I see. I’m still working on this. It’s hard to judge distances by the mirror alone, but it alerts me to traffic back there before I hear it, and helps me keep track of cyclists on my tail.

Two bloggers have recently posted their experiences with this kind of mirror. R J from Walla Walla tried one and then gave it up. One reason is a problem that also bothers me: the image is small. He now uses a larger mirror that mounts on a bracket that is clamped on the left drop near the bar end. He reports that he’s not sure why he should be so excited about a mirror, but he is.

Dave Moulton has installed a mirror similar to mine on his new custom bike. As a veteran bike builder, Dave is experienced and opinionated. He’s a late-in-life convert to using mirrors and refers to this one as his “Italian Rear View Mirror…I love it and wouldn’t be without it now.”

From what I read, the type that Dave is using has to be aimed and taped into place before handle bar wrapping is installed. The ball-and-socket variation that I’m using strikes me as being a superior design.

Will this new mirror keep me safe? I don’t know. But it helps me see some things that otherwise would catch me unawares. At that this stage in my life, that is reason enough to ride with it.

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