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Be safe on your bike without a rearview mirror

By Tatiana Vomackova

So, you are sick of traffic jams and crowded public transport and you decide to commute to work or leisure time activities around town on a bicycle. You got a helmet, lights and riding skills. You should be fine, as long as everybody else on the road is cautious, present and respecting others. In a perfect world, this article would never have to be written, so let’s bring out the facts.

Some drivers are nervous in character, some are competitive and some are in a hurry and some are just careless, so you have to make sure that you can handle a challenge on the road. You are vulnerable on a bike, no matter how protective your helmet is on paper. Unlike a car, there are no sheets of metal all around, no ABS and no rearview mirrors.

Cyclist riding in traffic at dusk

Self-confidence and flawless condition of your bike are your two main weapons. First of all, your bike should fit you. You are the one in charge and the bike is your means of transport. Always make sure it is in perfect condition before you head out. Carry the necessary equipment to fix the defects you are able to fix. If you carry a bag, backpack or a “messenger” bag, make sure that it doesn’t pull you to one side. There are plenty of bags on the market nowadays that are specifically designed for cyclists and there is a reason for that, apart from the fact that they often look quite cool.

Cyclist in amongst busy traffic in Brighton city centre UK

Resist the carrying of your bags on the handlebars, unless you are on a vacation, picking up fresh bread rolls in a countryside bakery and heading to a lake for a picnic. Same thing applies to the baskets that are attached to handle bars, don’t overload them with heavy stuff or you risk flipping over or to a side.

Once you are on the road and among cars, self-confidence plays an important role. Remember that you are an equal participant in the street traffic just like cars and buses and crazy taxi drivers. Hiding by the side or sticking to curbs is dangerous. It gives you no more space to maneuver in when something unexpected happens.

Cyclist in front of bus in London

Side of the road is often full of holes, drains, litter and other surprises that can see to your fall before you know it. Be brave and if there is no designated cycle lane, make sure you are visible, comfortable and forget about slowing people down. If they honk at you, give them a sympathetic smile that explains it all.

You are playing it safe. When there are tram tracks, ride in the middle of them. You’ve heard those stories of a wheel getting stuck in a track and you’ve probably seen the wounds. Not an experience you would want to write about on your blog or in your training log.

Couple cycling through old town, Lisbon, Portugal

Absent rearview mirrors will have you turn your head a lot. Before you make a turn and before you even start to signal your intention with your hand, observe the situation. It’s ok to slow down.

Remember when you first tried looking over your shoulder and the bike would head sideways? The trick here is to release the opposite hand from the handlebars. So, say you want to look over your left shoulder, so your right hand is released in order to keep you going straight. You can practice that with your cycling buddy. Hold on to their shoulder when you turn back. They will be your anchor and you won’t lose direction and speed.

An urban cyclist leans against a tour coach in central London.

Like anything else, it takes practice. There are situations when you need to get over multiple car lanes to make a left or right turn. Cars keep coming and they are fast. You keep looking back and signaling and no one seems to get that or even worse, care. The flow of cars will slow down eventually so rather than risking it, wait at the side.

Use that time to get your gears ready for a quick and fast start. If stopping is not a way for you, say a prayer and go for it. After all, the cars can see you and unless there is a woman in labour inside, they will slow down and let you cross the lanes. Self-confidence works the same way as your mind does. If you keep telling yourself that you won’t ever get to the other side, you probably won’t.

Bicycle with attached mirrors

Last, least and lame – you can get these funny looking rearview mirrors attached to your helmet or handlebars, but honestly, are you a child movie character from the seventies or a cyclist?