I was talking with a co-worker this afternoon about commuting by bike. He’s been thinking about biking to the train station near his house, which is about six miles away. He seems a little apprehensive about riding on the road in traffic, and one of the things he asked me was if I had a mirror on my bike or helmet. Until he asked, I’d never really given much thought as to why I don’t ride with a mirror anymore.
Round trip, there are only two spots on my current commute where I can see a benefit from having a mirror. Both of them are places where I have to cross two or three lanes of traffic to be able to make a left turn. I can usually get a decent idea if traffic is coming up behind me just by listening, but sometimes it would be nice to know for certain before I turn my head and look over my shoulder. Looking over my should does cause me to swerve slightly.
When I first started bike commuting, back in Kansas City, I bought a mirror that attached to my helmet. I liked it at first, although it was difficult for me to get it lined up properly so that I could see directly behind me, over my shoulder, beside my backpack, and at the right lane in the traffic coming up behind me. Eventually I found that I was spending too much time trying to make it work, and took it off of my helmet. I also found that it added to the anxiety of riding in traffic, being able to see what was coming up behind me. Plus, in all honesty, it made me feel like a huge dork.
The biggest reason that I don’t use a mirror anymore is because I want to be focused on what’s in front of me. If someone is going to hit me from behind, there really isn’t anything I can do to stop them. By the time I’d realize that they were going to run me over, I wouldn’t be able to get out of the way. But the people in front of me that will cause an accident, that I can likely do something about. Drivers that pull out in front of me, not realizing how fast I’m going – I can react to that if I see it coming. Drivers making left turns into my path – I can react to that if I see it coming. The list goes on. Every vehicle that pulls up to an intersection in front of me is a threat to me, and I make sure I’m aware that they may not stop for me. I frequently have to react to drivers pulling out in front of me, something that I may not see if I spent a second or two looking into my mirror.
Maybe that’s just me though. I know that there are plenty of people who ride with mirrors. I’m just not one of them. Are you? Am I missing something?