Cycling Unsavvy

December 20, 2018 § 20 Comments

I have for years supported the bike education and riding techniques developed by Cycling Savvy. They are awesome and they work.

However, in their latest newsletter they ran the following post. I’m going to leave aside the fact that this is exactly the kind of crap that makes people refuse to ride bikes.

Wait. No, I’m not.

Because this is exactly the kind of crap that makes people refuse to ride bikes.

Looks matter

This guy looks like an insane person, and that’s okay. Bicycling has always been a refuge for the weird. But as a bike advocate, this is not okay because the single biggest factor in bike safety isn’t wearing reindeer mirror-hats or reflective jackets, it’s motorist behavior.

And motorist behavior doesn’t change until motorists have to confront cyclists in large numbers, as part of the normal traffic scheme. Countries where there are shit-tons of cyclists, i.e. Eurobikedisneyland, have far safer environments for cyclists, than, say Florida.

That’s one of many reasons it’s uncommon to see anyone with a helmet in Vienna, and absolutely fucking inconceivable to see someone decked out with goofball car mirrors on their head like a tin-hat Republican.

In other words: when you tell people that bike safety requires you to look like you just got kicked off Santa’s sleigh, most people aren’t gonna ride bikes–and that makes the roads deadlier for those of us who do.

Good luck charms and shit

What’s worse about this “instructor’s” “manifesto,” Cycling Savvy explicitly teaches you to learn to turn yer fuggin’ head and look before you swerve across forty lanes of freeway traffic. Using a mirror is a complete waste of time at worst, and at best it’s a lame crutch that supplements what you should already know how to do, i.e. turn your fuggin’ head without jerking your handlebars into the next county.

The dork with the mirrors subscribes to the talisman theory of cycling safety, which basically says “I have this special thing that keeps me safe and unless you have it too and use it exactly as I prescribe, you will DIE!!!!”

It’s like the high priest’s mumbo-jumbo where you have to eat the raw newt testicles, boil the spider vag, and turn around twice under a full moon when Aries is in Liposuction, and then, and only then will you be safe. The net effect is that normal people look at that shit and say, “Um, I think I’ll go ahead and drive.”

Taking the heat off the wrongdoer

The real perps in traffic aren’t bikers without mirrors. They are cagers who hit and kill them. And it’s the cager’s behavior that has to change, not the biker’s. Biking is a safe activity, it’s healthy, fun AF, a great way to torch calories and friendships, and if you bike commute, it’s also the very best part of your day.

Bikers shouldn’t be lectured and shamed by idiots who dress up like space aliens. They should be encouraged to use the lane, learn the tenets of Cycling Savvy, and get on with their day, not told to BUY MORE STUFF CUZ OTHERWISE YOU WILL DIE!!!!!

As a pointless aside, this fool’s helmet protuberances will easily turn a harmless fall into a spine-destroying injury the minute those horns get caught on something, hit at an angle that causes a violent twist, etc.

Save your hate mail

Please don’t comment or email telling me that you have a mirror and that it saved your life, helped you make a smart buy on the stock market, got you laid by your brother’s wife, or made a snazzy impression at the Little League draft. Rather, please do, but be aware that I don’t care because I think mirrors are like helmets. They are fine if you want to wear one, just like the guy biking in a leotard-thong on the bike path a couple of months ago. If it makes you feel jolly, then scratch that itch.

But don’t pose as an expert on bike behavior and make gimmicky stuff the sine qua non for staying alive. It’s fake, it’s false, and it makes people choose the car.



Dreamy …

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§ 20 Responses to Cycling Unsavvy

  • Linda says:

    Interesting. Normally you will dissect issues with a bit of dispassion but not on this topic. I do agree with you that choosing to use a mirror is like choosing to use a helmet. Either way, you look like a dork and whether it helps or not is entirely subjective on a case-by-case basis. The author did raise some good points and I would love to see you give it a try yourself. Once upon a time, you didn’t ride with front & rear daytime lights, either, and somehow you were convinced to give it a try and somehow you got hooked. I don’t hear you condemning use of lights (at all), unlike your condemnation of mirrors. Don’t you suppose that telling a newbie they have to be lit up like a Christmas tree visible from space is going to dissuade them from riding every bit as much as telling them to use a mirror?

    • fsethd says:

      I don’t condemn lights, mirrors, helmets, or thongs. I condemn manifesto-ing them and making cycling a turn-off.

  • Damn, I’d mentally pushed that thong image to the dark recesses of my memory and now I’m getting flashbacks

  • dangerstu says:

    As a pacifist, I want punch this guy.

  • LesB says:

    When I first started riding I tried a helmet mirror and almost crashed whilst looking in the mirror.

    • fsethd says:

      It is a general principle of bicycling, not to mention life, that most of your problems are in front of you.

  • For many it’s not about the risk factor it’s about the stupidity factor. You walk down the street and get hit by a car and die; shit happens. You ride your bike to work 3 miles and get hit by a car on Wilshire; you’re an idiot for riding a bike in traffic. Perception is a high risk activity!

  • Serge Issakov says:

    I’ll bite.

    Fashion changes, even among cyclists. A few decades ago nobody wore helmets. Now they’re not only accepted, but required on most group rides. A few years ago taking the lane was something a few did, but even then, “only when necessary”. Now it’s catching on.

    That said, most people on bikes still ride near the edge most of the time and from that position a mirror is virtually useless. As you note most problems are ahead of you, you’re usually out of the way of overtaking traffic (so you get buzzed once in a while), and if you need to change lines you can use your neck to turn your head to look back.and if you do see someone start drifting towards you, it’s probably too late.

    So what’s the point of a mirror?

    A mirror is of much greater utility for the (growing) minority of cyclists that takes the lane most of the time. This is for two main related reasons:

    1) a mirror enables the full lane user to monitor rearward to know when to release (if safe and appropriate).
    2) in the unlikely event that a motorist overlooks the cyclist, the cyclist who regularly takes the lane and monitors rearward with a mirror can easily discern a potentially dangerous driver like that from the vast majority that slows or changes lanes in time. Since the vast majority reacts appropriately with ample time, the minority that doesn’t can be identified while there is still ample time and space to try to grab their attention, or ditch if necessary.

    All this – taking the lane by default, monitoring rearward regularly with a mirror, and taking action for the aberrant minority – is not for beginners and has nothing to do with getting newbies on bikes, or discouraging them. It doesn’t help nor hinder bike advocacy. It’s about making cycling even safer for the advanced ones and experts who are already quite safe, but are interested in getting that extra edge in those cases where they are otherwise at the mercy of fallible human drivers not making an error. I, for one, don’t want to bet my life on that.

    I don’t get the point of the reindeer setup, but a modest mirror on the glasses or helmet makes sense to me, and I’ve used one for over 15 years. Highly recommended though I advise everyone to give their brains a week or two to adjust before deciding if it’s useful.

    • fsethd says:

      I don’t think I’ve ever denied the utility of helmets, mirrors, or thongs. How much utility, and when, and for whom, are things I absolutely question. Except for thongs. Thongs are almost always useful.

      Reindeer-mirror advocacy, and a lot of other purchase-oriented requirements, create barriers to entry. It’s no different from telling the new kid on the group ride that he will never be any good until he has e-tap. Not only is it untrue, but it is active discouragement.

      Cycling Savvy is the opposite of this, focused on empowering people to take their place in traffic and to use learned skills to reduce the chance of collisions. So getting a reindeer mirror manifesto from a CS instructor is disappointing, since CS, as reindeer dude, admits, tells you that there is no substitute for turning your head.

  • Cherokee S. says:

    There is nothing we can wear, which will protect us from an assault. There is no place we can go, where there are so many of us, alike, which will stop someone from assaulting us.
    Safety in numbers only works if the people around them care. Safety in personal rights only works when the people around them care.
    We have seen a drivers plow through groups of riders and we have seen drivers plow through a single bicyclist. The result is always the same. The media and us too, focus solely on the victims.
    What were they wearing? Why were they out at that location? Why at that time of day/night?
    This isn’t about weather or not a mirror will help us “anticipate” an attackers actions, or weather a helmet will spare us brain damage when we are attacked. It IS about weather we are going to collectively band together and say enough is enough.
    No more media reports on what the victim was wearing. Instead report on what the attacker was doing.
    Is anyone with me on this?

    • fsethd says:


    • Serge Issakov says:

      Only a tiny minority of bike-car crashes are intentional assaults. And whether intentional or not, having some advance notice about what they’re up to back there can make a huge difference, a difference of life or death.

      • fsethd says:

        She’s not talking about, I don’t think, the CA criminal definition of assault. She is, however, describing negligence or battery. And the point is that violence against cyclists “assault” in the common parlance, is wholly accepted by drivers and by much of law enforcement. You can kill a cyclist in CA and not even lose your license … etc.

        You keep focusing on mirrors and on what the cyclist coulda shoulda done to keep from being victimized by a careless driver, an intentionally violent driver, or a driver who flat out did not give AF. She is pointing out that the mindset has to change. If you hit the cyclist you are at fault until you move some incredibly huge legal and factual burdens to prove otherwise. Something close to strict liability … you hit it, you own it.

  • Serge Issakov says:

    I used to agree but have since given up on the fantasy that there will ever be significant punishment for harmful acts not involving proven intent. Not to mention that motorists are already significantly motivated to not do stupid inattentive shit because they’re risking their own lives when they smash into stopped cars, trucks, buses, bridges and buildings. So the law of diminishing returns is already in effect, and when you factor in the very low odds that any one given motorist will ever hit a cyclist a significant punishment is not going to have much, if any, effect. So it’s just more feel-good baloney like most infra projects that are sold on the fantasy that they will improve safety but actually have little effect.

    So my focus is on what we cyclists can do to by ourselves to improve our odds. And I believe mirror use can play a significant role in that, especially for those who regularly control lanes.

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