Keeping track of what’s coming from behind

June 29, 2012

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.

Happy Times in Portsmouth

April 21, 2011

Some of my happiest memories as the father of teenaged sons and daughters include bicycling in the Ohio town of Portsmouth, located where the Scioto River flows into the Ohio. Because of these memories, I am especially grieved by a report published this week in the New York Times (April 20, 2011) that tells of the devastation in Portsmouth caused by rampant use of painkilling prescription medicines, especially among young people.

The article itself is discouraging. The comments—a long list of them—are heart rending and should stab at the conscience of Americans everywhere. What has happened in Portsmouth is but one example of the distress that is emerging everywhere in America, in part, because of the character of our “advanced” economic system that destroys small towns and, in part, because of the heartless response by many people in business and government.

My first trip to Portsmouth was May 13-14, 1972, with Mike, the older of our two sons, who was soon to celebrate his fifteenth birthday. We had become enthusiastic bicyclists and were extending the range of experience and abilities as athletes on two wheels. With considerable trepidation, we had registered for TOSRV—the Tour of the Scioto River Valley—a two-day, 210 mile round trip from Columbus to Portsmouth. It was our first experience cycling with a vast assemblage of other cyclists. Even then, in its tenth year, TOSRV registered 2,200 participants.

Everything about the trip was exotic: travel through country we had never seen, the remarkable logistics to support the cyclists, the chance to see a wide range of high quality road bikes, the challenge of cycling with more experienced riders, and the exhilaration of practicing some of the road skills we had been working hard to learn. The greatest thrill came from the fact that on this trip we rode our first centuries—100 miles—and this not once but two days in succession.

TOSRV riders slept on the floor in schools and other public buildings, and we were assigned floor space in a grade school gym in downtown Portsmouth. After picking up our gear and spreading our sleeping bags, we cycled up the steepest hill of the day to the evening meal, which featured fried chicken, served at the CAY facilities by members of this organization—Catholic Adults for Youth. They were a boisterous lot, these Portsmouth business people and other parents of the city’s teens. How they must mourn the downturn of their town!

Downtown was alive that weekend because Portsmouth was celebrating its annual street festival. We spent time at the bandstand where Mike, a trumpet player in the Shortridge High School band back in Indianapolis, listened with amazement tinged with envy to the brass ensemble. There were booths of various kinds to wander past. The evening air was balmy, people seemed relaxed and easy-going, and we had nothing to do except revel in the delight of being alive, confirmed as cyclists by the day’s ride, and happy to be with each other.

Mike and I continued doing TOSRV the next few years. At various times, sister Sharon, brother Kenneth, neighbor Ron, and girl friend Diane rode with us. After they left home, I continued to do TOSRV every year until 1994, shortly before retiring and moving to Arizona. For many of those years, my traveling companion was good friend Paul (just older than my children) who had learned his cycling skills during his student years at Indiana University in Bloomington.

We became acquainted with the pastor of First Christian Church in Portsmouth and were hosted as overnight guests at his home for several years and at the church after his retirement.

On my last TOSRV (when I was 62), I bicycled the entire distance from Portsmouth to Columbus—105 miles—in six hours and five minutes, total elapsed time. Maybe I could do it in seven hours now, more likely eight.

I wish that I knew how small town America could be transformed so that places like Portsmouth could once again be the kind of community that people really want to live in. At this point, all that I can do is grieve with those who grieve, all the while rejoicing in the memories of this town and the gracious welcome it gave me and mine year after year.

The image at the top can be accessed here. The images of dinner at the CAY building in Portsmouth come from “The Mighty TOSRV,” edited by Greg and June Siple, 1986.