Mirrors: What You Need to Know

The Urbie mirror.
The Urbie mirror.

By Lou Melini

The first mirror that I ever had was metal and it curved to fit the back of my hand. Extending from this was a round mirror also encased in metal. Across the palm of my hand was an elastic strap. With a simple flick of my hand and a quick glance, I had a very good view of what was behind me. I used this mirror when I rode across the United States in 1975.

By the time I moved to Utah in 1979, mirrors were beginning to become unfashionable. Even for commuters mirrors were determined to be unnecessary. John Forester said in his book, Effective Cycling, that “cyclists spend more time looking behind them when they should be focusing on what’s ahead”. The elastic strap broke so I stopped using my mirror.

In the late 1990’s as I approached 50, I found myself less able to turn and look behind me. In addition, I decided that when commuting home in the dark during a snowstorm it was not the time to turn and look to see if what I was hearing was a car coming too close to me. So I put a handlebar mirror on my commuter and found it an essential addition to my bike. Over the course of several years, each of my bikes acquired mirrors except for my mountain bike.

Mirrycle mirror.
Mirrycle mirror.

There are a surprisingly large number of mirrors to choose from. You can mount mirrors on your handlebars, on the endplugs of your handlebars, on the brake lever, on the frame of your sunglasses, on the inside lens of your sunglasses and finally, on your helmet. Each of these positions has pros and cons as you can imagine. I primarily have experience with handlebar mirrors so that is what I am going to review. I tried a mirror on my sunglasses and I felt like a bird looking for a worm with my head bobbing to get a good glance in the mirror. I have not used a mirror attached to my helmet. You may want to try looking at Darren Alff’s helmet and eyeglass mirror review at Biketouringpro.com though his review is primarily a promotion for mirrors by Cycleaware. http://bicycletouringpro.com/blog/4-more-things-you-should-know-about-selecting-a-bicycle-mirror/

For another opinion of helmet and eyeglass mirrors checkout: http://anadventurecalledbicycling.blogspot.com/2010/02/bike-mirror-review.html. It is different than Darren’s review.

There are some considerations when choosing a handlebar mirror. Your handlebars (flat vs. drop style) may determine what mirror you require. You may need a different mirror if you are touring and have a tent or large stuff sack strapped to your rear rack as such items will block your view. You may also want to consider the size of the mirror in your choice. Generally all of the mirrors are stable, tough some require a little more frequent adjustments.

For flat bars, your only real choice is a mirror that fits into the endplug of the handle bar, though the UltraLight Bike Mirror can clamp to a flat bar. I’ve used mirrors from Blackburn, Mirrycle (Mountain Mirrycle), CatEye and most recently the Urbie (from Cycleaware). Just for disclosure, I personally purchased all of these mirrors except for the Urbie that was sent to me for this article. I addition I have used each of these mirrors for at least 4 months and some for more than 2 years.

Blackburn road mirror.
Blackburn road mirror.

On my touring bike with drop style handlebars I have used mirrors that attach to the handlebar by Blackburn and The Ultralight Bike Mirror from D+D Oberlauda (Germany). I have also used the same mirror by Mirrycle on on the endplug of my drop bars while touring. I have not used the Mirrycle road mirror that attaches to the brake for Shimano STI levers but given that all of my bikes are Campagnolo equipped, I may have my wife try out this mirror. (A review by anadventurecalledbicycling.blogspot.com said this mirror “rattles like mad AHHH!”) And finally I have mirrors that fit into the end plugs of my road bikes by Sprintech and the Italian Road Bike Mirror.

Given that I commute in daylight, at night and in all types of weather, I find that a large surface mirror works best on my commuter bike. When I bike tour, I may ride in rain, but never in the dark. So for touring my main consideration is a mirror that allows me to see past what is strapped to my rack. On my road bike, I may occasionally ride in rain or snow, so a fashionably small mirror becomes my choice.

One of the bigger problems with mirrors that extend out from handlebars is that they tend to get whacked. Also bikes may fall over, breaking your mirror, though this is more likely on mirrors that are more stable and have less give. The Mountain Mirrycle mirror needs the least adjusting in my experience. I have cracked the mirror due to my bike falling, though not damaged enough to make it dysfunctional. That took years of riding in inclement weather before the mounting bolts broke and I tossed it out. The Urbie is also stable but needs a wee bit more readjusting than the Mirrycle mirror. Both use a hex wrench to tighten the mirror. The Urbie also has the ability to “instantly flip down and out of the way” but I haven’t seen a need for this function The Mirrycle mirror is a 3 inch round mirror while the Urbie is an oval of 3 ½ X 2 ½ inches. I also liked the CatEye mirror that also had a large surface area. This mirror broke after 2 years of use. This mirror may have a reputation for breaking given the reviews of it at REI. http://www.rei.com/product/683206/cateye-bm-500-mtb-mirror. All but one of the 7 reviews liked the CatEye mirror. Overall, I like the Mirrycle, CatEye and Urbie mirrors. I have a slight bias for the Mirrycle mirror but the Urbie has also been a good mirror. The CatEye is also good so that your choice may depend on price and availability. The Urbie is sold by CycleAware ( www.cycleaware.com ) a company that seems to have the largest variety of mirrors for handlebars, helmets and glasses.

The Blackburn mirrors that I have used need the most adjusting. The handlebar endcap mirror has a plastic tightening device that I can’t seem to tighten enough. The road mirror comes with a Velcro strap. I added a second strap to help with stability. The road mirror I use for touring as it seems to work best for looking past what is strapped on the back of my bike. I’ve needed to put spacers in the Mirrycle mirror to see past my panniers when touring so that has worked out well after the alteration. In general I need to state that I need to shift whatever is strapped on my rear rack to the right to help make my touring bike mirrors more functional. Perhaps I need the mirror I saw in Germany with what looked like an 18 inch mounting arm!

Sprintech mirror.
Sprintech mirror.

Although “An Adventure Called Bicycling: Bike Mirror review” called The UltraLight Bike Mirror “the best bike mirror in the world”, I am not so sure (http://anadventurecalledbicycling.blogspot.com/2010/02/bike-mirror-review.html). Overall this blog is a good place to look at his point of view regarding mirrors. The UltraLight mirror clamps to a handlebar by a “hose clamp” mechanism. As the advertising states, it can be mounted to any handlebar. However the arm of the mirror is a bit short for touring so I had to insert a cork to extend the mirror out for better visualization past my tent mounted on the rear rack. It is a stable mirror. My biggest annoyance is the shape of the mirror. It has a parabolic shape for a wide angle view, but it makes what you are looking at seem further away. Many times while bike touring I thought Julie was drifting back. I would then slow down only to find out she was closer to my rear wheel than I thought. The same problem came up when I commute with this mirror with cars. I can only use the mirror to determine that something is behind me, but not how far.

For my road bike I initially purchased the Italian Roadbike Mirror from Aspire Velo. www.aspirevelotech.com. This is a very small, nearly unnoticed mirror on the end of your handlebar. Set-up can be a problem. First set the mirror with some electrical tape. Then check the position. Then wrap your bar tape over the mounting straps. If you don’t get it perfect, you will be twisting the mirror to make it more functional. Service is good from Aspire Velo as I once had the mirror pop off and break so Mike at Aspire Velo sent me a new unit. When my hands are on the top of the handlebars the mirror is blocked unless my hands are near the stem. I have also used the Sprintech mirror for quite awhile. The Sprintech mirror is easier to install. It simply installs into the end of your handlebar and the mirror pops into the endcap via a ball-and-socket. It is a little larger than the Italian model and allows a little better visualization with my hands on the top of the bar. It is not as stable as the Italian mirror, but not so unstable to make it annoying. The Spintech model can be found at many bike shops.

There is a very similar mirror called the Road Mirror is sold by CycleAware. I just installed the Road Mirror on my cylocross bike that has a larger diameter handlebar than the rest of my bikes. It installs with a ball-and-socket like the Sprintech. However it immediately flopped into an unusable position with each bump so I had to use tape to stabilize the mirror. Perhaps it works better on narrower bar or perhaps I should return it to the bike shop.

From a functional and safety point of view, I think mirrors have a place. I strongly disagree with John Forester’s opinion on mirrors. I have yet to meet someone that rides with a mirror that doesn’t regret the decision. The only reason people seem to not use a mirror is style and I’ve seen lots of examples of style trumping good sense. I have also heard a lot of anecdotal stories of how mirrors have assisted someone in avoiding an accident or close call, including my own story. Now I only wish I still had that mirror from 1975, or at least a plastic version of it!

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