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In a paper from the mid-1980s, there is a kind of PSA box listing some things that small children should NOT have on their bicycle. Most of them make sense, but there's one that confuses me: "back mirrors".

Why is that bad? Isn't it a good thing if they can see what's going on behind them without having to turn their little heads?

To make it clear, I'm talking about those round mirrors attached to the handlebar, allowing the operator of the bicycle to see what happens behind them. Plus they look kind of "cool", like the kid is using a police motorcycle or something.

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  • 12
    Also, mirrors are not aero :-)
    – Criggie
    Feb 18 at 7:12
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    When you drop a bike or a motorbike the mirror is the first thing that breaks off.
    – RedSonja
    Feb 18 at 8:55
  • 3
    You go where you are looking on a bicycle.
    – D Duck
    Feb 18 at 9:28
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    @khye Do you have a link to the rest of the list? I'm now curious what else is listed.
    – Criggie
    Feb 18 at 11:45
  • 2
    When cycling one of the more important skills is the 'over-the-shoulder-look'.
    – Carel
    Feb 18 at 12:17

3 Answers 3

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Literally, TMI [too much information].

Kids shouldn't have to deal with what's behind them. When learning to ride, they have the dual challenge of learning bike-control and balancing as well as not running into things.

Expecting them to look behind without falling over is just too much information for them to process.


A second downside is that kids do fall over. Having a spike on the bars could be a bad thing - there have been fatalities from being impaled on the end of handlebars.

Kids should not be on the road at that age, so rear spatial awareness is less important.

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    You write that age. But what age, actually? No specific has been mentioned in the question. In the Czech Republic, kids can receive an (unofficial, but organized by the police) bicycle riding license at the age of ten. The law allows kids at the age of ten to ride on their own anyway, having gone through the course for the license or not. Feb 18 at 9:41
  • @VladimirF fair observation. Question says "little kids" "small children" and "little heads" so I'd presume the kids to be roughly 3~7 years old and learning to ride for the first time. For completeness, Kids are the whole range between babies and teenagers, but might include teens depending on context.
    – Criggie
    Feb 18 at 10:21
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    "Kids should not be on the road at that age," you haven't been to The Netherlands, have you?
    – SQB
    Feb 18 at 10:37
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    @SQB No. This is getting away from the point of comments and devolving into chat. Feel free to add your own answer to the question. Or we have Bicycles Chat for that.
    – Criggie
    Feb 18 at 11:44
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    I remember seeing a bicycle safety video as a kid telling kids that if they hear sirens behind them, the best thing to do is not look back and to safely pull over to the side, or if you are unable to do that for whatever reason, just keep to the side and go in a straight line. Cue the video showing the kid looking over their shoulder and veering to the side, cut away to the kid lying on the ground and the ambulance that was on it's way to help someone else now has to stop and help the kid they just hit.
    – Kibbee
    Feb 18 at 14:33
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I would think about a few reasons, the short version is that using mirrors correctly requires skills that little kids haven't developed yet, and they shouldn't be in a situation where they need one:

  • kids haven't learnt yet to pay attention to what's important and what's not. If they think that the mirror is more interesting than the road ahead, they will look at it — and maybe get closer to them to look at the details.
  • to use a mirror correctly, one needs to be able to only glance at it very briefly and process the information.
  • a mirror requires a very good sense of balance to limit handlebar movements. If they learn to balance and/or ride slowly, it's likely that they will do big movements with the handle bars, so the mirror will rarely point to the right direction.
  • they shouldn't need one: the normal situation should be that they ride on places that are safe for them (in most jurisdictions, little kids are allowed/obliged to ride on the sidewalks, if there's one). But if it's not possible, an adult must be behind them for supervision (if the adult is riding).
  • a mirror is pointless unless correctly adjusted. Adjusting a mirror for someone else is very difficult, and I wouldn't expect a kid to adjust a mirror properly (too early). So there are little guarantees that the mirror will be properly adjusted, and then useful.
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    I've been cycling for almost 60 years now and I've never felt the need for mirrors. Even on my motorbike, I turn my head before overtaking or turning even after having looked into the mirror. Quite often you see things that have been in the dead angle.
    – Carel
    Feb 18 at 17:37
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    And as driver, I have also seen a bunch of cyclists that would benefit from having mirrors... I personally didn't feel the need either until I start driving a car: I took the habit of using them with the car, so I also installed one on my bike. Let's say if it's among the kind of stuff that you don't need ...until you get used to them.
    – Renaud
    Feb 19 at 14:06
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Security.

  1. Kids, especially small ones, can't be expected to reliably "solve" complicated road problems such as "a car is closing in and it's going to pass around", because they are going to make errors in there. A typical one is dismounting the bicycle to "be safe" and stepping in the road instead. It is required by law in many countries that you keep an eye on kids when they are on the road, serving as both the rear mirror and a decision-maker. This is for a very good reason.
  2. At this point, the rear mirror function reduces to a source of fun/distraction (increasing chance of neglecting danger and falling) and additional complexity in case of actual crash (the pipe that holds the mirror blocks a part of the usual "escape way" when hitting a large object with a front wheel, and shattered mirrors (even plastic ones!) are super-sharp).

Utility of a mirror would increase as 1. gets solved with age (I'd say 12+ years).

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    Most adults, when they turn their heads to see what's behind them, will unconsciously steer a bike off whatever line they were on, towards the direction they turned their head. That can be in the path of car or another rider. Of course kids will do the same thing. Given that, I hardly think a kid using a mirror to see what's behind is any less dangerous than a kid not using a mirror. The only situation that might apply is that a kid may focus too much on looking at the mirror to see what's behind and therefore no longer look at what's ahead.
    – Mohair
    Feb 18 at 19:53
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    Yeah, that bit of swaying when looking around is super dangerous too (looking around is btw an example of a bad reaction to doubt). My point was more like that letting the kid go unassisted between cars (1) is just incomparably more dangerous than the difference between having and not having the mirror, and in all other situations the mirror is a piece of ballast irrelevant to actual security (2) and the stats may start working against it.
    – exa
    Feb 18 at 20:25

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