The lost art of watching your rear

Be honest, when you hop on your bike or scooter, ready to accelerate, do you check your mirrors? Do you adjust them? Does your ride even have a stable/working mirror?

Do you look at the mirror while riding? Both of them? What do you see? Your own face? Your passenger’s face? The vehicle behind you? Or do you see the front bumper of the vehicle tailing you? The driver’s face? The vehicle’s tyres?

These questions play in my mind only when I am not riding a bike. After I hop on my ride, nothing else matters other than accelerating, changing gears, and braking–that is, the bare minimum I need to focus on to get to my destination.

Sometimes, I wonder why the person who taught me how to ride, my uncle, didn’t bother to teach me the absolutely essential skill of positioning mirrors correctly? Perhaps that was because, as with most of us, he too only learned to accelerate, change gears, and brake whenever he felt like it.

Lately, I have been observing, and taking pictures, of how Nepali riders position their mirrors. The findings might not shock you–because the photos might represent how you mostly handle your mirrors too.

A nation of nonchalant riders

While I was scanning the other bikes’ mirror positions during a recent traffic jam near Singha Durbar, I noticed a rider behind me on a 220F. Both of his mirrors were facing his crotch, as if they had been deployed to enhance the bike’s aerodynamics, rather than performing their actual role of ensuring a safe ride. 

I called out to him, but his response to my sarcastic comment about his mirrors was not offensive. He smiled and admitted that he had never seriously thought about his bike’s mirrors.

After thinking about this incident and researching this peculiar Nepali attitude for a while, I have gathered some possible reasons (which might apply to you too)–not an excuse–for why Nepalis just don’t seem to give a damn about their mirrors.

Mirrors and regulations

Has anyone ever thought about whether there are any enforceable rules out there regarding a bike’s mirror adjustments? Nepal’s traffic police certainly has guidelines for motorcyclists, which literally says:

“You should be aware of what is behind and in the sides before maneuvering. Look behind you; use mirrors if they are fitted.”

But I doubt the police would book you for riding a bike with oddly angled mirrors. Mirrors are as compulsory as helmets, but that requirement is probably all that you need to comply with.

The authorities could have used the license trial as the perfect opportunity to teach Nepalis how to work their mirrors–by having mirror-adjustment capability as a mandatory requirement–but it looks like they too don’t think that niggling detail warrants attention.

A hard habit to break

Growing up, most teenagers go through that phase where they have the urge to learn how to ride a bike/scooter. Even if you skipped that period, you will eventually have to learn how to ride sooner or later–it is inevitable in this generation.

Which brings up the question of, did you or have you learned how to properly position your mirrors? Or let me ask you an attendant–perhaps far more pertinent–question: do you feel the need to use them properly? From what I’ve observed, most Nepali riders prefer to rotate their head over the shoulder, instead of using their mirrors, to get a good rearward view. Is this Nepali habit a response born of Nepal’s traffic chaos, or is it one born of our sheer laziness to learn how to use mirrors? Of course, relying only on swiveling your head is not enough. 

Because Nepalis’ riding habits seem to be the most obvious response to Nepal’s traffic chaos, many of us are already convinced that there is actually no use for bike mirrors. It’s almost as if we’ve been conditioned to disregard the mirror entirely. Even if a rider has the perfect mirror setup, they will still turn their head slightly, just to make sure–that seems to be the Nepali instinct. 

Safety first, beauty later

If you want to get your mirror game going, you first need to know that different bike models usually feature different types of mirrors. The mirror type is often determined by a model’s design language, and many bikes may have sacrificed their mirror-placement options for the sake of aerodynamics. Unless you are a professional racer, you might want to re-adjust your mirrors from their default settings if you have opted for a bike with this issue. 

Most bikes also come with small mirrors with fixed, short arms–again, mostly designed that way for the purpose of styling. These barely help keep you safe–and especially if you’re wearing big riding jackets, your arms and shoulders will block your rear view. If possible, you could look into swapping out these tiny mirrors for ones with larger faces.

A few tips for getting a better rear view

Most riders position their mirrors such that they pretty much get only the view of what’s immediately behind their vehicle’s centreline–a narrowed overall landscape. By angling your mirrors outward, you can expand and optimize the rearward view while still seeing everything that’s directly behind your vehicle’s centreline.

The ideal mirror position will allow you to see a vehicle directly behind you, in both mirrors, but with minimal overlap of the section captured by each. You should have a distinctly different view on the mirrors’ peripheral areas as well. The right mirror should reveal more of the space adjacent to your bike’s right side (where cars pass), and the left mirror should expand the view of the space to the left of your bike (where merging vehicles appear). Doing this will significantly expand the scope of your total rearward view. 

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