Navigating the roads, trails or bike lanes safely is a concern for every rider. Anything that could help towards that would seem like a must-have accessory for a bike. But when it comes to bike mirrors, there are divided opinions amongst cyclists. Mirrors are compulsory for cars and even eBikes in some countries, so why would some cyclists feel they are safer without one?
We took a look at how adding a mirror might benefit your cycling safety, as well as the reasons why you might decide not to use one. As mirrors come in a variety of styles, we checked out the different design options and highlighted some of our favorite and most effective models.
Reasons to Use a Bike Mirror
While the majority of bike mirrors are designed to be attached to either a cycling helmet or handlebars, the concept is still the same. Cyclists often need to see what’s behind them without constantly turning their heads.
Having an understanding of the vehicles behind you, how fast they are traveling, and how close they are is quite valuable. Mirrors allow you to make important adjustments that could very well save your life.
It’s important to point out that a mirror shouldn’t be a replacement for turning your head. Turning your head eliminates blind spots that a mirror can’t see. Like driving a car, your mirror shouldn’t be your last check before pulling out.
What a mirror does offer is an ongoing awareness of what’s around (think of how many times you check a mirror in a car) and that reduces the need to turn your head as frequently to monitor your surroundings.
Mirrors are most effective when used as a complementary awareness device that makes your riding more efficient. They should not be used as confirmation that it’s safe to pull out, but they can be relied upon as confirmation that it’s not.
Riding in Groups
If you’re riding in groups or with children, seeing what’s behind you is particularly helpful. Using a mirror is much quicker than making small movements with your eyes rather than constantly turning your head. When you’re looking behind, your eyes aren’t on the moving cars, bikes, and pedestrians in front of you. A mirror can help reduce this time to a minimum so you can give more concentration to what’s going on in front.
Mistakes happen on the roads and everyone who has spent time riding or driving will most likely have seen some near-misses at the least. People lose focus, get distracted, and make mistakes. The further you can go to protect yourself from these mistakes the better – and mirrors can be another tool that adds to your safety.
If you ride regularly, you will develop a good awareness of moving vehicles and listening out for approaching cars becomes sending nature. With the rise in hybrids and eBikes, more and more vehicles on the roads make little noise and thinking of new ways to improve awareness when cycling will likely be something riders give more thought to.
A mirror (like a helmet) doesn’t offer a complete safety solution and can’t be solely relied upon, but it can offer additional insurance and awareness of the space around you. And while the price of a high-end helmet can be expensive, many mirrors fall between the $10-$40 dollar range, giving you additional protection and reassurance at an affordable price.
Why Shouldn’t You Use a Bike Mirror
It would be hard to argue for reasons not to use a bike mirror, but some cyclists do exactly that.
Too Much Reliance
One of the main issues that people have is over-reliance. It’s human nature to look for easy solutions and shortcuts. Some riders feel using mirrors makes them complacent. Falling into the habit of using your mirror instead of turning your head is an easy and dangerous habit to fall into. It can be tempting to not engage your peripheral vision and even your hearing if you have an easier option to use.
Another downside of using mirrors is that they can get dirty. If you’re riding in the rain or dirt, your mirror can become useless. While you can clean them off, having to constantly stop to clean it isn’t ideal.
Aside from getting dirty, some mirrors can get out of alignment, get knocked around, and even fall off. Mirrors on mountain bikes especially get a lot of abuse as they can break during falls or snag on trees.
Different designs have different challenges to deal with and some mirrors do move around easily when knocked and it can be inconvenient to find you’re needing to realign your mirror frequently on rides. Some of the poorer designs can even fall off which moves from being a frustration to creating potentially dangerous situations.
For riders who concentrate on performance, there is a small amount of extra weight to carry. Some handlebar mirrors will add a little bit of drag due to the shape and positioning.
Riders who take price in their bike’s style and appearance, might not like the look of a mirror on their bike. If you’re spending thousands of dollars on a beautiful bike, there might well be some resistance to adding a cheap $15 mirror to the front. While some riders might think it doesn’t make sense to jeopardize safety for looks, it is a trade-off. You’ll often find riders not using helmets or lights even though it’s the safest thing to do.
One of the important considerations is how mirrors change how you communicate with cars around you. When you turn your head, you do see behind you, but it also communicated to the driver that you are about to pull out.
While you wouldn’t rely on this solely, it is part of the subtle language between rider and driver. If you’re using a mirror you will be less likely to be turning your head as frequently and that small signal that drivers often expect is gone.
Lack of Focus
Riding on roads can require a lot of different senses, quick decisions and an awareness of moving situations. Some riders feel a mirror is an item that takes away from being able to concentrate fully. With the need to readjust and dealing with the blind spots, they can be a distraction rather than a help. They can also offer a false sense of security that prevents a safe ride rather than adding to it.
Another situation where bicycle mirrors might not perform well is with sun glare. When the sun drops low and is behind a rider’s back, it can cause glaring reflections. Not only does this make the mirror useless, but it can be distracting. If you shop around though, you can find anti-glare bike mirrors to help.
While sun glare is a problem, another problem is that some mirrors aren’t as effective in the dark.
Which Bike Mirror to Get
The only way to know whether a bike mirror works for you is to try one yourself. There is debate about using bike mirrors, but they are relatively cheap and can make a big difference to your riding.
While there are different opinions about using mirrors, there are also different opinions about the different kinds of mirrors to use. We have broken down the designs and features of the most common types to help you make a decision.
Helmet Mounted Mirrors
Helmet mounted mirrors are just that, mirrors mounted to your helmet. The main advantage of these types of mirrors is that you can quickly see what’s behind you. Unlike other mirrors, you don’t have to glance down at your handlebars and take your eye off the road.
The other advantage of helmet-mounted mirrors is that they are closer to your eyes. This means you’ll be able to see objects larger with more clarity. This is unlike handle-bar mirrors that are further away.
Another important benefit of these mirrors is the lack of movement due to bumps. A lot of other mounting options struggle to stay in place as bikes take on the impact of the road. With helmet-mounted mirrors, your body absorbs most of the impact so they stay relatively unaffected.
So why wouldn’t everyone choose a helmet-mounted mirror? There are some issues that are very much a personal preference, but which riders feel strongly about.
Having the mirror constantly in your eye line is a frustration for riders. While some riders find it helpful and reassuring, some would rather move their head or eyes down towards the handlebars than have something continuously in view. It seems obvious but as you move your head, the mirror moves too. This can take some getting used to or be a deal-breaker for people who would rather have something that has a static mount.
Finally, if you’re a little rough with your gear and toss around your helmet, it can easily lead to a broken mirror. Helmet mounted mirror models are usually quite small, so if you do remember to remove it, you can easily put it in a bag and take it with you.
Bar Mounted Mirrors
Bar mounted mirrors are amongst the most popular choices for mirrors and there are a variety of different options for bar mounts. You can have mirrors that sit on top of the bars, on the side, underneath, or even on the bar ends on racing bikes. The under the bar options allow the mirrors to be most discreet but they can be knocked quite easily with your knees.
All bar mounted mirrors have a tendency to be susceptible to impact from the bike and rider, as vibrations can also small persistent movements. The heavier models are a little sturdier. These heavier models are bulkier which may not suit everyone.
Where helmet mounted mirrors follow the rider’s head movements, bar mounted follow the turns of the handle-bars, so effectively you’re moving the mirror by steering. This works well for some riders but there is a blind spot. If you do use these mirrors, checking over your shoulder should be a priority.
With bar mirrors, there are some other inconveniences. Mirrors on the end of bars that stick have issues when you put the bike down or need to go through tight spaces. There are models that attempt to deal with this that we will look at later.
Other Mounted Mirrors
Other options include wrist mount mirrors that are worn like a watch. The RearViz Wrist Watch, in particular, actually does look like a watch when folded. Often these models will clip up when you need them and can be clipped back into place.
If you’re looking for a mirror that’s inconspicuous, there are small mirrors that can be attached to the inside of sunglasses. These are small and light but many riders don’t find them as useful as helmet or bar mounted.
There are even bike mirrors to fit on the frame. These mirrors address the problem of where to put the mirror so that’s it’s out of the way, rather than choosing an effective position to help see the road.
If you decide you do want a mirror, we would recommend leaving the frame mounted versions and trying one of the recommended products below.
Recommended Bike Mirrors
Below are some of our tip picks for bike mirrors from different categories. We understand not all riders want the same type of mirror. What works for one rider might not work for another.
Take a Look Bike Mirror
One of the most widely known models is the Take a Look Mirror. If you’re looking for a helmet mounted mirror, this is one of the most popular on the market. The original design has been available years and has had very little changes as the product ‘just works’. It can take some time to get the exact setup, but there plenty of tutorials online to help.
As it’s thin and light you may find some movement, but riders have successfully used this attached to both helmets and glasses for many years.
Cat Eye BM-45
If you’re on a budget and want something light and easy to use, the Cat Eye-45 is worth considering. It’s an often recommended bar end mirror and the size fits the sweet spot. It’s large enough to give a good view of what’s behind you, but also small enough to fit within the proportions of a bike. For a low price, you get a mirror that’s adjustable but is also tightened by a bolt. So although there will be some vibrations, the mirror is quite secure.
This particular mirror is used for people who want to try a bike mirror with the potential of upgrading. Once set up though, many riders find it’s actually sufficient for their needs.
Busch + Miller E-Bike 701
If you have an eBike or a large bike like a cargo bike, the Bush + Miller 701 Mirror may be a good fit. It sits at the end of the handlebar and is similar to a car mirror.
While it sticks out, it can fold inward during an impact. It isn’t sprung exactly the same way a car mirror is, but there is some flex that allows movement.
The mirror also tests well for vibrations and it’s quite large and sturdy in comparison to many other models. This isn’t aimed at racing bikes, but if you’re riding an eBike or something sturdy this would be a good choice.
Hafny Stainless Steel Lens Handlebar Bike Mirror
Hafny’s stainless steel mirror can be rotated into different positions which is great if you have different riders who use the bike regularly. It also has a reflector which is a nice touch. While it’s a little heavier than some at 130 grams, it’s a good versatile mirror that can be used on lots of different bike models. The 360-degree rotation also means the mirror folds back on itself which avoids issues for storage.
The purpose of mirrors are to help improve your vision and keep you safe on the road. For some riders they are as important as a helmet, and are a key part of keeping them safe and aware on the roads. Others find them a distraction and is one more thing to worry about.
The good news mirrors are relatively cheap and won’t break the bank to try out. And if you do find a design that helps improve your awareness of what’s around you, it may well be the best value investment you can make for your bike.