I noticed something on a ride recently that I see all too frequently. Following a couple of cyclists today, it was hard to pass them since they kept swerving as they looked over their shoulder.
I see this all the time; a cyclist looks over their left shoulder and their bicycle swerves to the left. It creates a dangerous situation for them, with all the trucks and cars on the streets. And it’s dangerous to any fellow cyclists around them as well.
So, what’s going on? Why does a bicycle swerve to the left when you look over your left shoulder and swerve to the right when you look over your right shoulder?
It’s All About COG – Center Of Gravity
Next time you are out on your bicycle, try this simple test.
Pick a road that’s straight, making sure there is no traffic on the road. As you ride, try keeping your bike in a straight line. Now, lean your upper body to the left.
What just happened?
The bicycle started going to the left. Why? Because you just changed the center of gravity from the middle of the bicycle to the left of the bicycle.
Since you are balancing on 2 wheels, the bicycle will want to “fall” in that direction.
Try This Trick to Hold Your Line While Looking Back
Again, keeping the bicycle in a straight line, lean your upper body to the left – but this time, push the bars to the right.
Don’t turn the bars, just use the bars to push/lean your entire bicycle to the right.
Why are you still going straight down the road instead of swerving to the left? Because you are keeping the center of gravity centered between you and the bicycle.
And that’s the trick. When you look over your left shoulder, push/lean the bicycle slightly to the right. Using this trick, you will continue to travel in a straight line.
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Mirror, mirror on the helmet (or bar or glasses), who is the safest of them all?
I was going to write exactly the same! Wouldn’t drive a car w/o one so why would one ride w/o one? In some contexts I will do fake a look back to let known I know they’re there. Full look back at red lights; just to let them know I’m aware what’s behind me.
Besides the safety factor, there’s the courtesy factor. When a driver is afraid to pass you when there’s no oncoming or there’s plenty of lane room, I’ll wave them around and then wave thanks as they go by. Folks remember that.
GRAHAM A READ says
Never wave a motorist to pass you. Let them make their own judgement when it’s safe to pass. The bike rider may have poor judgment or not fully understand road conditions or allow for driveways. I’ve seen a rider on the back of a group signal to drivers to pass the group on one occasion the driver got alongside the group and turned left.
Because of old age and a few back injuries, I can no longer look behind me (and never mind without swerving). A mirror has been a life saver for me. It sucks getting old!!!!
Henry J says
Getting old sure beats the alternative. Turned 80 last fall and kind of lost interest in foul weather riding. But now that things are warming up, I am looking forward to getting back on the bike, with the mirror!
Dave Minden says
I am using the 1st days of cycling here in Wisconsin (60+, what’s up with that, global climate change!) to work on bike skills. Working specifically on initiating turns by moving my shoulders and trunk to the opposite side of the intended turn. This seems to allow ‘diving into’ the corner with less weight on the bars and so more ability to adjust them in the turns. Comments?
solution – helmet mirror – can point it just like a camera..
Steve Williams says
What I love about RBR is after 50 years of serious cycling I learn or better understand something regularly!
This makes total sense – for me its been turn my neck not shoulders and keep my chin tucked in, but the best is the helmet/glasses mirror (probably 30 yrs now) easily and regularly monitor whats happening behind you – try one if you have not after a few rides you’ll probably like it.
Upon entering my 70’s, after riding for 50 years, I can no longer look over my shoulder. I am now using the “Take-a-Look” rearview mirror on my glasses and am wondering how I ever got along without it. I can quickly glance behind me without moving my head or taking my eyes off the road ahead – just a flick of the eyes for a quick glance behind.
Madhusudan B Jani says
U are right. I use rare view mirror since many years. I have been safe till day at the age of 70 years. It helps lot while going straight and then turning right (Right hand driving roads). It helps to decide whether it is safe to cross. It’s exactly like driving four wheeler. My riding on bicycle is full dependent on rare vies mirror rather than turning head back to left of right.
I use a variety of methods: I look over my shoulder as Rick suggests, I would advise all riders to “look” & not just trust helmet or other types of mirrors! I have been using a helmet mirror which is handy for quick look backs for approaching traffic, but all mirrors have blind spots, I always double check by looking over my shoulder when turning & have seen closer cars that the mirror didn’t reveal!! I would advise the 70 yr old above to be very cautious in trusting only the mirror. I also use the “under arm” racer’s look, which is tricky at first & things are upside down, but with practice on low traffic areas this is my preferred “look back” method. I have just ordered a bar end mirror (road drop) to see how it compares, I find the helmet mirror a bit fussy to adjust, easy to move by accidental bumping, & too much vibration on rougher roads.
RICK SCHULTZ says
Bingo! Exactly! Use several techniques.
Take-a-Look mirror attached to the temple of your glasses solves all your rear view needs. I’ve been using one for over 20 years, or some variation, and have never had a problem seeing overtaking auto traffic. I don’t understand people who ride without a mirror, especially now with electric cars that are almost inaudible. You can’t rely on your hearing to determine if a car is behind you. Also, I’ve noticed as my fellow riders age, they lose neck flexibility and almost always turn their bike into the path of an overtaking auto when they turn their heads to see behind them. Ride with a mirror and live to ride another day. Ride without one and it may be your last ride. Just saying.
That’s a tad overdramatic. Just saying
“Ride with a mirror and live to ride another day. Ride without one and it may be your last ride. Just saying.’
Personally, I find helmet mirrors can cause significant eye strain – there doesn’t seem to be a sweet spot to eliminate this. I find bar-end mirrors to be more effective and easier on the eyes.
Roy Bloomfield says
You should preface your comment with a “with me”, as your experience with helmet mirrors is UNIQUE TO YOU. I find the Take A Look mirror to work perfectly for me, especially the compact size.
James E Wilkinson says
Thoughts on this technique? When looking over left shoulder, place left hand on back of seat. I think this also accomplishes the COG move you’ve suggested as your body weight shifts slightly to the right. Of course, that takes a hand off the bars, I will try out your technique now
Mark Follmer says
Reach behind with left hand and hold back edge of saddle.
Hold handlebar with right hand near the stem
Turn left and look back
Be careful when holding the handlebars with only one hand.
Thomas Horne says
I find that a slight twisting motion of the wrists to the right – just putting tension on the bars or hoods – is enough to keep me in a straight line when looking back.
tony m says
As already said, mirrors have blind spots. Do you change lanes in your car using just your mirrors? I hope not! Another technique is to place your left hand on your left hip or cheek (similar to grabbing saddle). Been teaching bike safety for 10 years and this is something I always tell students.
Keith K. says
Yes, lane change with just mirrors is fine if your mirrors are correctly adjusted.
Stephen Turk says
Keith – that link takes me to a webpage that clearly says “Remember, even properly positioned mirrors cannot eliminate all blind spots. To reduce risk, make a final check to the sides before attempting any lateral moves..” No lane changes with just mirrors!
I ride with a mirror on my glasses. I rode my first 30 years of serious cycling without a mirror and now have been using one for over 20 years.. After I started using one, I wished I had been using one from the beginning as it works so well. I can be looking straight ahead down the road and by just flicking my eyes to the mirror, without moving my head, I can see what is behind me. This was especially helpful cycling down mountainous hairpin turns at high speed during a cross U.S. tour. I wouldn’t have dared to turn my head to look behind me or to look down at a mirror on my drop bars. A “head” mounted mirror also allows one to “scan” behind him from side to side. My wife attaches hers to her helmet. We like the “wire” version as they last forever. The plastic ones eventually break.
I am so reliant on my glasses mounted “Take-a-Look” wire framed mirror that I even like to use it when trail walking so that I can easily see what is behind me. I feel naked without it – as though I don’t have my seat belt fastened.
I’m pretty strongly opposed to a head-mounted mirror on my bike. First, I find it takes more time for me to “see and understand” what’s behind me by looking in the mirror than it does by turning to look behind me. Further, it takes more concentration off my “situational awareness” as I’m trying to put together the picture of what’s behind me. Finally comes my position on the bike. I find glare from the sun in many settings – almost every ride when I use a helmet mount.
So the alternative mirror is handlebar mount. Now it needs to be curved to get a wider field of view. With that approach, we’re back to sun glare.
I’ll stick to looking over my shoulder, even managing it in a pack…
When I reached my 60’s and 70’s, my head doesn’t turn far enough to look behind me anymore:-(
I have tried all types of mirrors, and now use Rearviz from Australia. It mounts on your wrist, and is totally adjustable, and very intuitive. Can’t ride without it now. It’s been the best solution for me, by far. We use them on single bikes and the tandem.
FH Tom says
Please keep both hands on the bars! I was taught to lower the elbow opposite your shoulder you look over. In the states lower your right elbow, Australia the left. The core of this movement addresses the balance issue and maintains control of the bars. I love my bar end mirror, it’s not perfect but helpful.
Greg Titus says
So many opinions about mirrors! But for sure, the universal feature is that they are purely for the convenience of the cyclist (i.e., simply makes it easier to see what’s behind). I don’t think there’s any perfect substitute for a direct look at what’s behind you. If a mirror helps you do that, great! But it’s important to have the skill to turn and look behind. There are situations where a mirror is not adequate.
When you are nearing 80, you will most likely find that your head just doesn’t turn enough to look behind you. I like being able to flick my eyes to my Take-a-Look mirror to see what is behind me without turning my head at all. I can also scan widely behind me with the mirror.
Larry Best says
Exactly. I’m 77 & just can’t turn my head that far to either side even when rotating my body from my hips. I have a helmet mounted mirror & I find I can see very well with it. When looking at it I can rotate my head enough to see everything to my left & at least 1 traffic lane to the right.
Mike Holmberg says
I don’t ride without a mirror attached to my glasses. I’ve never had a problem with eye strain. It’s great to see the number of comments saying mirrors are the answer.
Graham Wilson says
One of the trick I was taught by a pro biker – before turning my head to look behind -is to place both hands very close to the stem – this will also assist the COG aspect
Catherine E Meyer says
I wouldn’t change lanes in my car without a quick look after checking mirrors and I wouldn’t do it on a bike either.
Clay Fincher says
When I look over my left shoulder to check on traffic, I just place my left hand on my right thigh and my bike does not swerve. Works every time.
Charley Bell says
I started out trying to look in back and swerved all over the place. Realizing I had to figure out a way, and began to hook my chin on my shoulder and kind of pry my face around to the back. I still swerved but not much. Then, while track riding, I tweaked that by putting my head in the position of looking back but concentrating on the ground. I could follow the road or track surface to keep straight and get a good look in back too. I have never been able to use mirrors on road bars, or on helmets.
Christopher Wright says
I do it the old fashioned way. I put my foot down and look behind me with both eyes open wide to cover the whole road. Then I have a sip of water and carry on. Too easy to miss details like pavement cracks and stones and shit all over the road while I do the mental analysis of how long before whatever is behind me becomes the #1 threat instead of the rocks and holes in front of me. I hate riding on highways without bike lanes anyway.
Peter Leiss says
Another tip is to tuck your chin to the shoulder you are looking over. This helps to keep a straight line. I ride track a lot and you have to shoulder check all the time without deviating from your line. On the road I have bar end mirror on one bike and still take a look back.. I miss the mirror when on my other bikes.
Long time ago a more experienced cyclist observed me swerving to the left when looking over my left shoulder. He suggested that when looking back I should bend my right arm at the elbow. I’ve been using this technique for 20+ years with good result and have shared with many others.
Roger C says
I am surprised that no one mentioned, when riding two abreast, put your hand on your buddies back or shoulder and let them keep you straight, this is something you learn if you ever ride in a close packed peloton
Jim Langley says
Thanks for adding that tip, Roger. We have written about looking back safely many times over the years. Here, in my story about it, I do mention using your buddy’s shoulder to look back safely:
Back in the 70’s and 80’s when I was training for racing we were told to duck our head under our left arm to look for cars behind us. Of course these days I just use a Bike Peddler Take A Look mirror like most here are doing.
David L says
Question. Any opinions on using Garmin Varia radar ?