Saturday, July 25, 2009

Helmet-Mounted Mirror

If you use a bicycle for transportation, you will, at least some of the time, be on the road with motor vehicles. When I first started commuting to work, I used SONAR to keep track of traffic behind me. Seriously.... I pretty quickly learned to tell when a car was in the lane behind me, and when it was changing lanes to go around me, just by the sound it made (the bump-bump-bump of cars hitting Botts' Dots lane markers were a tip-off). But this method had its problems: First of all, while I had some directional sense of where a car was based on the sound, it's much harder to tell how close the cars were. Then, if I wanted a visual confirmation, I had to turn my head all the way around to look, which meant I wasn't looking where I was going and I also tended to swerve off my line of travel. I came to the conclusion that if I kept up this way it was only a matter of time before I made a critical error.

I considered buying a mirror. There are several options available- handlebar-mounted, glasses-mounted, and helmet-mounted. Because I ride several different bikes I figured it would not be very economical to mount my mirror to the bike itself; I'd have to get a mirror for each one. After looking at the selection at my local bike shop, I decided to go with a helmet-mounted mirror. I got a 3rd Eye Pro Helmet Mirror.

It is supposed to mount with double-stick tape to the inside or outside of the helmet. It was literally a five-minute installation. Unfortunately the adhesive didn't last, and I reattached it to my helmet with a nylon zip tie.

Here is what it looks like mounted to my helmet.

And here you can see the zip tie mounting. I had to drill holes through the foam.

So how does it work? Actually, very well.

If you are familiar with using the rear-view mirror on a car, this is very similar, and in some ways better. Because the mirror moves with your head, you can aim the field of view of the mirror with small head movements. So when you first look in the mirror, if you don't see in the area you want, you can move your head a little and see what you want, and you can get a very wide field of view behind you by moving your head a little.

Are there any downsides? Yes. Be aware that the mirror itself creates a blindspot just off to your left. You very much need to remind yourself to move your head (and therefore the mirror) occasionally to be able to see in that area. It is a quick adjustment, but just be aware of this. Also, don't ever totally trust the mirror. When getting ready to change lanes for instance, a quick turn of the head is still necessary. Don't depend on the mirror to give you a total picture of what's behind and beside you.

Also, there is a little bit of an adjustment period. When I first got the mirror, I tended to look into it almost as much, or even more, than I was looking forward. Your brain has to get used to having instant access to the additional information and it takes a little while to "integrate" the extra information into the total traffic picture inside your head. After a while, though, this is all seamless.

Now that I'm getting used to the mirror, it seems to be an almost essential part of my safety equipment and it's hard to believe I could ever get by without it. If I could change anything at all, I may have bought the glasses-mounted version of the mirror so that bonding to the helmet would not be an issue.


Steve A said...

I presume it really looks like the bottom photo. Cool! I've got a mirror that's supposed to mount to the end of the handlebar, but I've never figured out how to mount it.

Anything in particular that caused you to choose a helmet mount as opposed to one that'd clip to your sunglasses?

Just as in the case of a car, the point about doing a head check remains very important.

jeff said...

I've had trouble telling how far a car was, and even if it was over the hill in front of me, or behind me. If I think there's a car behind I move over as far as safely possible.

Doohickie said...

Steve: I got the helmet-mounted one because that was in stock at my LBS. I didn't put a whole lot of thought into the purchase beyond thinking that if I got a handlebar-mounted mirror, I'd need several.

Jeff: A mirror does help me manage the traffic behind me to a great extent. Most of the time, it's just a comfort because I see traffic changing lanes to pass me long before they get up to me. But don't let a car intimidate you over to the right if there isn't enough room to safely pass.

Big Oak said...

I've been thinking about a mirror for quite a while. I didn't want one mounted to my glasses because I didn't think I would be able to see with it.

I like the helmet-mounted one though because I can ride it with all of my bikes. Thanks for your post!

Big Oak said...

Oh, and I can't rely on the sound of approaching cars since it is usually windy enough around here that I can't hear them approaching. That's why I've been wanting to get a mirror.

Chandra said...

Nice post! Great pictures, especially ones where you see things in the mirror!!

I am glad you zip-tied the 3rd Eye to your helmet. I wasn't that smart and mine fell off while I was in traffic and got ran over by an automobile :(

I did replace the "accident victim" with a brand new one of the same kind from 3rd Eye. But, within a year or so, the mirror portion came off the arm (similar to one's arm popping out of one's shoulder socket) :(

I eventually bought a Tiger Eye Helmet-Mounted mirror (made in USA, right in TX). I have this one zip-tied to my helmet also. In this one, the mirror is actually a mirror (not plastic). I have had the best luck with this brand.

Well, I also like the fact that it is made right here in the US of A :)

I hope the 3rd Eye Mirror works better for you than it ever did for me.

Let me conclude this comment by saying that you made a fine choice by picking a Helmet-Mounted Mirror instead of them other kinds!

Peace :)

Rollz said...

Are you concerned that drilling a hole in the helmet may compromise it's ability to protect you during an impact? Everything I have read and learned involving helmets of all kinds say that you should never alter the structure of the helmet.

Doohickie said...

Rollz: Let's just say this is what I did. I am not recommending it to others; that's a decision you would have to make. That's part of the reason that if I had it to do over again, I would buy a glasses-mounted model.

She Rides a Bike said...

I was very dissatisfied w/ the helmet mirror as it kept getting knocked off and was so easly moved out of place during the ride. I now have mirrors mounted to the left side of my handlebars on both bikes and and very pleased. Either way, I've found having a mirror very helpful.

Chandra said...

Here is my 2 cents on the glass-mounted mirror.

They did not work for me in St. Louis, where I used a Balaklava to ward off the cold. The Balaklava would rub against the mirror's arm and move it like every so often. I aggravated the living day lights out of me, to say the least.

I am not sure you need a Balaklava here in the winter, unless you ride fairly early in the morning.

Peace :)

Doohickie said...

I've used one a few times around here. I've commuted as cold as 17 degrees.

ChipSeal said...

Back when I was cycling in California, I used a mirror that mounted on my glasses. I was pleased with it's performance and used it for many years.

I haven't used one in Texas, because of the wonderful narrow outside lanes. Now I subscribe to the "first rule of Italian driving: What'sa behind me is not important!" (Found here at the one minute mark: )

A more full explanation of my reasoning is found here:

For those who are still not sure about taking the lane on busy streets, I can see that it would be very useful in shortening the period of anxiety on the way to being comfortable out there.

Thanks Doohickie for a very good write-up!

Mark T said...

I've got mine mounted the same way. I've been wearing it so long that when I walk down the street I want one for my hat.

Dottie said...

I bought one of those but then never got around to mounting it. I've since installed handlebar mirrors and I like those. I switch up my helmets more than my bikes, so it makes sense :)

Keri said...

Two of my road bikes have bar-end mirrors. The mountain mirrycle is my favorite... even on a road bike.

Because I have barcons, I do not have a mirror on my Surly. At first I really missed it because I had used a mirror for close to 20 years. But after that initial transition, I've been fine without it. Not having a mirror has forced me to develop a rock-solid head turn, something I'd always been slightly lazy about before.

A mirror is very handy for setting up a merge on a high-speed road, though. That's when I'm most likely to miss it.

I recently tried to use a temple mirror, because I need that for helmet-cam video, I'm struggling with it. I've always had a hard time with having the mirror that close to my face. I might try a helmet mirror... thanks for the post & discussion :-)

Anonymous said...

I've used a Third Eye bar end mirror on both MTB and Road and it's great.

@Keri - Perhaps an aerobar computer mount might work? I've seen a bike with a drop bar and what looked to be one of those used to mount a mirror. I think it was in the last Bicycle Times mag.

@Doo - Nice blog bro. :)


Doohickie said...

Heya gonzo!

JohnB said...

I agree with Keri (as usual). A mirror is a nice to have, especially for a beginner, and can be easier than a head turn in some situations, such as considering a merge. But if you are physically able to do a head turn (I know it can be hard for older folks), and do it without swerving (which you can practice), it's more reliable because there is no blind spot, and it's always available, no additional hardware required. Even if you have one, you may be sometimes using someone else's bike that does not.

I started leaving mirrors behind when I acquired more than one bike, and the additional maintenance time has made me more and more a minimalist. I've owned probably a half dozen mirrors of different types over the last 7 years, and they inevitably end up either lost or broken within the year.

JohnB said...

I would also echo ChipSea's comment, which my friend Ken is always harping on at my Commuting Meetup: What's behind you is not (very) important!

gonzo777 said...

I like my mirror for a quick and easy way to know what's behind me for merging purposes and general awareness of my surroundings.

From what I can see in my mirror I can time my merging appropriately based on traffic conditions, same as in a car.

I learned as a motorist to (at least try to) stay on top of traffic for two blocks ahead and one block behind. That has followed me into cycling. I wouldn't take the mirrors off of my car, and I feel naked on a bike without one.

The last time I went mirrorless on my commute I did not feel confident enough to secure my lane properly approaching a roundabout and had a pickup try to overtake me at the entrance and he ended up going through it alongside me.

Over-the-shoulder is still a must-do, and means several things for me. It is a good confirmation of what is in the mirror though sometimes worse info, because I wear glasses and don't have great peripheral vision. Most importantly it is a message to other vehicles that I am paying attention. I do see them and yes, my hand signal and lane positioning means I do intend to merge. I think most people are less likely to try to squeak past you or be rude if you have looked at them.