By Jeff Slotkin, Manager
Cycling has its own lexicon, filled with terms complimentary or not. One of the many labels in there intended to homogenize a diverse group is “Fred.”
I’ve been called a Fred. Probably intended as an insult but often received warmly, the term hopes to generate a chuckle at the expense of someone who is into useful bikes (as opposed to merely fast ones). Freds like tires that are kinda fat. Maybe a Fred’s bike has fenders, and racks, and lights, some kind of bag or basket…and a mirror.
Flags on poles; homemade trailers; these indicate additional degrees of Fred-ness further down what might be a slippery slope. A Fred might actually be fast, faster than some racy-looking cyclist on a racy-looking bike—because he or she might actually ride more. Or somebody might look like a Fred all week and race on the weekends. We are not suggesting you or anyone should be bound by stereotypes!
But there is a general assumption that Freds are not usually speedy. Some of that extra stuff on their bikes and persons actually does slow them (me) down a bit. But, mainly, we said all this to warn you about what your cycling friends might think if buy a rear-view mirror for your bike, which is what we are suggesting you do.
Think about this for a minute: many of us ride racing bikes on the street, but we’re usually not racing when we do it. We are not on cleared roads populated by a pack of fellow cyclists whose skills we can generally count on.
We’re on the street, with cars. Cars have humans driving them, so they are just as erratic as humans but much heavier. On your bike, you’ve got the same rights as the drivers of other vehicles, but you can’t count on them to act like they know that. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on the cars.
Here’s the thing. A cyclist can learn and develop the skill of looking behind without crashing, and skilled riders and racers do just that. But if you spend much time around other traffic, even other bike traffic, you realize that you ALWAYS want to know what’s going on behind you, but you don’t want to ALWAYS be looking back there, because there’s plenty happening in front of you also. You need a mirror.
First, one glance at a mirror lets you know when there is NOTHING behind you. That’s nice to know, and probably the best part of the mirror, if traffic is light. You can use more of the road, or go around potholes easier.
When a car approaches you from behind, you’ll probably need to look at the mirror more than once to track the car’s position until you see it move over to “share the road,” but you won’t have to turn your head. You can easily see that the car is giving you some space once it has done so. When you know you’ve been acknowledged; you and the driver will enjoy a nice safe pass.
Usually, that exact interaction is what happens. But sometimes there is inattention or even aggression at work inside the car—that too is pretty easy for a cyclist with a mirror to detect. Just as you can see an approaching car move over to give you space, you can also see if it doesn’t. You can see it a long way off too, so you get time for sticking out your elbow, or a left-pointing thumb, or wiggling your bike around some…or whatever attention-getting actions you deem appropriate.
Such communications are pretty effective, so it’s rare that a driver will be anywhere near you while passing after all that—but it’s helpful to know you will get a lot more notice when there’s a jerk back there (there still will be, sometimes).
For better or worse, you’ll get extra Fred-points if you use a helmet or eyeglass mirror. A mirror on your head can also be nice if you own a lot of bikes but don’t want to buy a mirror for each one.
A mirror that sticks out of your handlebar is a bit subtler, and is probably a little easier for most folks to deal with.
If you’ve read this far, and you’re the first to come in and ask for your prize with a straight face, then we’d like to present you with a “Mountain Mirrycle” handlebar-end mirror. It’s our favorite, and we’ll assemble and install it for you.