QUESTION: I ride between 210-235 miles a week, so I’m out on the road a lot. Issue: For any given number of reasons, changing lanes, checking to see if the lane is clear, etc., you glance over your left shoulder. What I witness among the riders I see is the following (and there was no scientific study involved here!).
Veer to the left — 75% of cyclists I see do this
Veer to the right (overcompensation) — 23% of cyclists I see do this
Ride straight — 2% of the cyclists I see do this
So, what should the first 2 groups of cyclists do different, work on, be aware of, etc., so they ride like the 2 percenters?
Coach Fred: Great question! The best way to avoid the problem is to use a cycling mirror. With one, you can check behind without wavering at all. It’s great not only for changing lanes but also for keeping track of overtaking vehicles without looking behind.
I didn’t use one for over 30 years (racers don’t use mirrors…) but for the last several years I’ve used a small sunglass-mounted mirror. It’s unobtrusive and works great. I’ve decided that safety on the road trumps vanity.
If you don’t use a mirror, practice looking over your shoulder while riding a straight line. It’s easier if you look over your left shoulder while relaxing your right arm. That will keep your movement from pulling the handlebars out of line.
Put your left hand on your left thigh and rotate your hips slightly on the saddle to aid you in getting a full view behind. Some practice in a safe place like an empty parking lot will make this instinctual.
Coach John: Like Rick, I also do not use a mirror. However, unlike the younger Coach Fred, it’s not a question of vanity. I just can’t find one that works well with my Rx sunglasses – and a very, very strong prescription.
I have always worn prescription sunglasses for cycling, and the specs do not give me a totally clear field of vision across the entire lens. Thus, I have to find the “focal zone” near the center of the lens through which to look into the mirror, while angling the mirror just right to see behind me. I just can’t make it work for me. It takes me far too long to get it all lined up, when I can glance over my shoulder in less than a second.
But I don’t do it quite the way Coach Fred recommends. (Again, I would have to crane my neck and twist my head and body way beyond what the normal rider — with decent eyesight — would just to get a clear visual from the central part of the lenses in my glasses. I’m no contortionist, so that’s simply not possible on the bike.)
Really, all I need to see is whether there’s a car back there – fuzzy or not. So I have learned to just turn my head far enough, and tuck it down so that my chin touches my left shoulder – and I look as far left as I can, and down, below the lens in my glasses. At the same time, I very slightly pull the bar to the right to compensate for the natural tendency to veer left.
Through years of practice, I’d like to think I’m one of riders who holds my line while looking back. The key for me, really, is that it’s so quick there’s barely time to get off line anyway. So if you’re one of the unfortunate few as nearsighted as me, and you can’t work with a mirror, see if you make the quick glance work for you, too.