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Why do I need a mirror on a bicycle tour, and which one should I choose?
You rarely see mirrors on bicycles, because most bicycles are either road bikes (whose riders tend to cut down on weight as much as possible) or mountain bikes (whose riders don’t really need mirrors).
But the needs and priorities of a bicycle tourist are different, and we highly recommend that such cyclists have a mirror (or two) on his or her touring bike.
Why we recommend always using a mirror: Safety!
When you will DEFINITELY need a mirror:
- With a mirror, you always know what is behind you and can check on traffic effortlessly. Just imagine not having mirrors on your car!
- Swerving can be fatal. Even with some experience, you will always swerve a bit when you look over your shoulder - especially with a loaded bicycle, and even more when going uphill or while riding on bad roads. It is not safe to swerve or to stop looking ahead of you.
When 2 mirrors are recommended:
- When traveling in a country with unfamiliar and dangerous driving rules or conditions, including those with high accident rates (ex. India, Egypt, Bolivia, among others). In some countries, drivers might pass you or come at you from any direction, and at the most unexpected of times. In these circumstances, a mirror is crucial.
- When traveling with a partner. A mirror will help you to keep track of the person behind you; you don’t want to turn around to find out that your mate is gone.
- When traveling on a recumbent bicycle. On this type of bicycle, it is almost impossible to turn your head fast enough or far enough.
- When traveling in a country where people drive on the “wrong side” of the road. It is already tricky getting used to traffic on the “wrong side” of the road, so you don’t want to add to any risky behaviors by not using a mirror.
If you use handlebar mirrors, it is easy enough to have two of them. It comes down to additional weight versus safety and comfort. Again, I think it is a no-brainer. I personally always travel with two mirrors (one on each side). But even for those bikers who choose to use only one mirror under certain conditions, there are some conditions where it is still safer to use two :
There are 2 types of mirrors I would consider for bicycle touring: Handlebar mirrors and helmet/glasses-mounted mirrors:
1) Handlebar mirrors
- In countries where “Might Makes Right” and priority is given to the largest vehicle on the road, you will be thankful to have the extra eyes that two mirrors afford you!
- If you plan to travel through several countries and will have to switch from biking from one side of the road to the other and back again, it makes sense to use two mirrors so you won’t have to take the mirror off your bike and put it on the other side each time you cross the border. Also, you will already be used to checking both sides.
- If you plan to travel in countries or regions where a mirror might be hard to find. Having two mirrors gives you a safety net in case one breaks. On my around-the-world journey by bicycle, I had two mirrors and an additional spare one in my panniers (a good bicycle mirror is impossible to find in developing countries).
Most long-distance bicycle tourists choose this type of mirror. It is very important to choose a mirror with a short stem to prevent it from vibrating while riding. I personally use the Cycle Star by Busch & Muller and the Ultralight mirror by Orltieb; both have a ring mount so they work beautifully on "bull horn" or "butterfly" handlebar.
If you use a straight bar, it is best is to use a good quality bar-ends mirror like the ones made by Cateye, Ortlieb or Busch & Muller. For a bull horn handlebar, you can also use the Busch & Muller, using the provided ring that allows you to attach the mirror anywhere you want on the handlebar. On a drop handlebar, you can use one of the Mirrycle mirrors (some of the more recent aero levers don’t have the hole to attach the mirror, so you might have to drill one yourself).
- Wide view
- Easily adjustable
- Always present
Glass vs. plastic:
- Can be knocked out of adjustment when you’re pushing or parking your bike (although it takes only a split second to readjust it)
- Needs to be tightened every few months (more on dirt roads)
- Since they stick out, they make the bike wider (although they can easily be rotated inwards)
- More likely to get jarred or break (ie. if the bike falls)
- NOTE: short stem mirrors do not vibrate, even without suspension
Glass Pros: anti-scratch, better view quality
Glass Cons: heavier, more fragile
Plastic Pros: lighter, almost unbreakable
Plastic Cons: can get scratches over time, lower view quality
Ultralight mirror ideal for "bull horn" type handlebar
Cateye mirror ideal for straight handlebar
Mirrycle mirror ideal for drop down handlebar
2) Helmet/Glasses-mounted mirrors
Although the majority of long-distance travelers prefer the handlebar mirrors, a lot of people swear by this type of mirror. A lot of people seem happy with the Third Eye brand, they offer eyeglass and helmet mounting.
- Stays in better adjustment
- Very lightweight
- Works well when riding a recumbent
- You can screen behind you simply by slightly moving your head
- Has a good depth of field
- Takes some time to get used to it. Depending on your dominant eye, it might be hard to adjust to it. Some people simply never get used to it.
- The view is quite narrow.
- You have to always wear your glasses or helmet.
- You need to get used to the extra distance you need from your face.
- It takes a bit of time to get the right adjustment
- Some thinks it looks funny
In order to place the Third Eye mirror on your helmet make sure you’re experiencing real biking conditions and use scotch tape to find the right position before using the very strong adhesive that is provided (it can be used only once). To get a larger field of view with the glasses-mounted mirror, you can choose a version with a short or adjustable arm.
The Take-A-Look mirror is the most popular mirror in this category. It mounts on eyeglass or helmet.
Third Eye mirror is also a good choice for helmet-mounting
Third Eye can also mount on eyeglasses