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Bicycle Tips
I’m always trying new equipment. I pay for it except when noted. If it’s an improvement over what’s on the bike it sticks. If not it’s immediately relegated to a box in my favorite bike shop where it joins other used equipment that’s given to UNH cycling team members. Here is the second in a series of product reviews.
Plus: Super easy install and adjustment, lightweight, wide field of view, comes in colors, available at all local shops

Minus:  None. 

No manufacturer’s website but widely available on the web.
Italian Roadbike

Plus: Great design, no moving parts, almost invisible, real glass mirror may be brighter and last longer

Minus: Bars need to be taped, adjustment not as smooth, field of view smaller, real glass mirror is heavier.

A Tale of Two Mirrors

About 90% of the information we process on a bike is visual, so what’s ahead should take care of itself but knowing what’s behind is sketchy.  It’s where hearing replaces vision and where Ipods are a ticket to Darwin’s waiting room.

Under normal conditions looking back is quick and easy but in tight situations where undiminished control is imperative, flexibility, strength and experience enable accomplished riders to take a healthy look back when nothing less will do.

Logic says a rear view mirror in our safety driven culture is almost a no brainer. It’s surprising that something as simple and affordable has not been embraced with the same religious fervor as the ubiquitous, self-mandated helmet.

I always wear a helmet but no mirror even though they’re more useful.  Adding anything to a race bike has to come with a totally compelling reason. On drop bar bikes the current crop of mirrors, designed for upright bars, are an awkward fit and even worse get in the way.

That hasn’t prevented those who feel traffic angst, including some friends who love the look of their race bikes, from jury-rigging what amounts to a trailer hitch on their human powered Ferraris. 

Good for them doing what they feel they must, but that doesn’t stop me from pointing out to them every chance I get that Michael Schumacher will never be a U-Haul spokesperson.

At long last, 2 new products are specifically designed for drop bars.  One is almost unobtrusive and the other almost cool; both afford an effective field of view.

Online and at bike shops they both retail for about $30, both have a convex reflective surface, one is real glass, and both are designed to mount on the traffic side drop bar replacing the handlebar plug. 

Sprintech is the friendlier of the two. It’s now a permanent fixture on my winter bike and a couple of dozen years overdue since wearing a balaclava hinders peripheral vision and hearing. 

It’s a 2-piece ball and socket system with the socket doubling as the new handlebar plug. No need to retape bars, just pull out the old, in with the new and insert the ball end of the plastic mirror. Fiddle away.

Adjustments are fluid, even on the fly but only when it gets bumped is there a need to fiddle further; on a bike ride it stays put.

The Italian Road Bike Mirror is half the size but at 54 grams is 20 grams heavier.  That’s most likely due to its real glass mirror of which they are very proud.

The IRBM seems a bit brighter but that’s lost on me since a rear view mirror is for quick recognition not lingering views.  Focusing on what’s in the mirror while zipping across tarmac makes for short rides.

The IRBM is a one-piece design with the mirror/plug molded to a split sleeve that slips easily over the bar and then handlebar tape holds it in place. Its viewing area is smaller by a third than the Sprintech but does the job just as well.

Installing it was easier than the overly fussy instructions that suggested careful positioning, pre-taping and trial and error prior to final taping.

Held in place by electrical tape, close was good enough to tape the bars as usual. There’s still enough wiggle room to manipulate it into the optimum position. Once in place it stays there.

With either mirror it took a couple of rides for total trust but with that came the realization of how the physical act of turning to look back sometimes intrudes on my speed and control.

From past riding with mirrors on 3 speeds, I’d forgotten how useful rear view capability is even though cars and trucks can still be heard well before they come into mirror view. 

While that’s always been good enough, a confirming glance sometimes reveals a trailing car or two whose presence is masked by the noise of the passing vehicle. That’s extremely helpful when there’s a turn or intersection ahead.

On downhills where wind noise is totally intrusive and what’s in front requires total attention, experience equals bliss.  It’s where safe riding is relegated to the rigid boundaries of a pre-determined line.

That’s always the plan but on any given ride there are any number of out of the box moments and a recent one convinced me a mirror is worth its weight.

It’s a January ride and the roads are wet in patches from snowmelt. I’m in Kittery Point heading downhill on Haley Road toward 103, about to ride past Chauncy Creek and then zip by one of Rachel Carson’s yards where she gets a silent thank you.  The turn around is at Seapoint Beach.

I’m also musing how much fun it would be to keep going until I get to England.  Not exactly the best time for a muse as I’m also doing a gravity fueled 20 something when just ahead Lake Big Surprise engulfs my side of the road. It’s too late to take the careful look back the situation demands and without the mirror it’s either a screeching halt or I’m stupid wet. 

A quick glance in the mirror reveals nada and I’m able to move to the centerline and avoid something I should have seen in plenty of time except I was on my way to a London pub.

Going in to this, my so far so good history seemed to obviate the need for a mirror.  But trying these two proved how everyday useful they are.

My guess is most riders will find the Sprintech’s total ease of install and adjustability irresistible.  It’s also lighter, has a bigger viewing area and I doubt anyone cares that the mirror is plastic.

I much prefer the IRBM because there’s less of it.

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