Backward Vision: The Case for Mirrors

Today’s guest post was written by Charlie Otto, a friend of Bike Overnights blogger Mac McCoy’s. Charlie, who was co-founder and longtime owner of Grand Teton Brewing in Wilson, Wyoming, and Victor, Idaho, began bicycle touring in 1979. Since then, he says, “I have taken more than 15 trips of a month or longer. These include rides in New Zealand, in Europe, and on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.”
I find it interesting that most cars come standard with three rearview mirrors, but bicycles are sold without any! Perhaps the thought is that bicycles don’t have a reverse gear, so why would you need mirrors for backing up?
But seriously, cycle mirrors not only let you see what the cars behind you are doing—if used correctly, they can also enable you influence how the traffic will pass you.
I have traveled with cycle tourists not using mirrors, and their strategy seems to be dependent on their ears telling them when cars, trucks, or buses are coming from behind. When they hear approaching traffic, they get over to the edge of the travel lane as far as possible to give as much passing room as they can … then they pray a bit. What else can you do?
Well, I prefer to see what’s coming from behind and position myself on the road to influence the situation for the best outcome for both bicycle and car.
My first goal is to get passing traffic to slow down. I do this by constantly monitoring traffic that is coming up on me. When a vehicle is still quite a ways back, I position myself about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way over into the traffic lane. Approaching drivers see me “in the middle of the road,” and they typically slow down. I can usually hear the change in sound of their engine, confirming that I have influenced their speed.
My second goal is to get them to give me some extra room as they pass. Here if I were to use the “get over to the edge as far as possible” approach, the driver would see that he has “lots of room,” so he would keep barreling down on me. I would prefer to have him think he doesn’thave lots of room. So, with the use of my rearview mirror, I move over just a bit to let the driver know I’m aware of his presence; I don’t move all the way over just yet, however. I am still maybe a foot or two from the edge of the road. In order to have him pass me responsibly, I want the driver to have some “skin in this game.”
My goal is to give the driver, for just a few seconds, two choices: In order to pass he will either 1) have to run me over or 2) stick his neck out by putting his car out into the oncoming lane. Faced with these two choices, most drivers wake up a bit and start paying more attention to the situation I have put them in, and prepare themselves to make a clean pass out and around.
My third goal is to have the driver actually make that clean pass. Remember at this point I am still not all the way over to the right (or the left in New Zealand, et. al.)—not completely trusting that the driver has expert driving skills, and/or a complete understanding of all the spatial relationships involved in pulling this pass off safely.
As I can see in my mirror, when the driver goes to make the pass I finally move all the way over to the edge of the road to give him an extra foot or so of space. The driver wasn’t expecting to get this, and it gives both of us an extra margin of safety and comfort. Hopefully, another clean pass, and smiles all around.
Of course, a mirror can also inform you when a pass isn’t going so well, and when you might actually need to bail off the road. Sometimes, like on a recent tour I made in New Zealand, in my rearview mirror I would see five milk trucks barreling down on me; often my best choice was to just gracefully slide off the road altogether and let them pass without challenging the situation. After all, it’s all about cycling tomorrow and the day after that, too.
Of course, mirrors have other uses, such as telling you when it’s safe to use the full road for cornering, and for keeping track of what your drafting partners behind you are doing. I also find my mirror pretty handy for shaving my face at the more remote campsites!
It’s great know by seeing as well as hearing what is or isn’t approaching from behind.
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Two Views (Can be Better Than One)

Instead of cycling the main highway in Southern Laos, we opted to pedal the tracks and foot paths along the Mekong. It was slow going, but the ability to be so close to people’s daily lives was worth the effort.

One early morning we came upon a man who was busy mending a fishing net. I asked if could take a photo and positioned myself so I could capture his silhouette. He was such a master at his craft that his movements, rather than being abrupt, were balletic.Kat was on the opposite side and snapped a photo of the fisherman in the glorious morning light.

Two images of the same subject and moment in time. I love them both.

It is also what I love about cycling with a partner. You not only have another set of eyes observing the world you are traveling through, but also two different perspectives. What one of us overlooks, the other often zeroes in on.

I grew up watching birds, so my ears are attuned to chirps and calls and small movements in the trees. Kat was a art history major, so she often sees details and patterns in everything from fabrics to architecture, that I would completely miss. At the end of the day, even though we’ve been along the exact same road, we have plenty to talk about.

Traveling solo has it’s own advantages, but sometimes, two views can be better than one. 

Photos: by Willie Weir & Kat Marriner

SIGHTS AND SOUNDS is posted every other Friday. Willie Weir is a columnist for Adventure Cyclist magazine. His latest book Travels with Willie: Adventure Cyclist will inspire you to hit the road and just might change the way you approach bicycle travel. He lives in Seattle with his wife Kat. You can read about their adventures at

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Salsa Enabler Fork: First Impressions

A peculiar looking fork, Salsa’s Enabler first caught my eye a few years ago when introduced as their rigid 29er “adventure fork.” It has since become the stock fork on their Mukluk line of fat bikes and it is becoming a go-to option for a fatbike frame build. While putting together a fatbike build earlier this winter, I took an opportunity to purchase one and put it to use with my setup. Although I haven’t tested it to it’s fullest potential for overnight adventures and gear hauling, it has steered wonderfully so far and I have thoroughly enjoyed some of the features of this unique fork.

Equipped with a 1 1/8” threadless steerer tube, 135mm hub spacing, and disc-brake mounts, this chromoly fork can run a standard 29er rear wheel or a fat front wheel. When paired up with a fat bike front wheel, it gives you the ability to turn a 29er mountain bike into a “snow bike lite” or “half fat bike” for enhanced handling on snow, sand, and similar terrain that would cause trouble for an ordinary mountain bike tire. Mounted on a 29er or fat bike, the fork offers a variety of braze-ons for the touring cyclist.

Versatility and Utility
The Enabler is incredibly versatile and has been described as the “swiss army knife” of forks. Much like the features of the Salsa Fargo‘s fork, the Enabler has a variety of braze-ons, allowing you to carry an assortment of cargo and accessories including dual back-of-blade, triple-boss waterbottle cage mounts and Salsa Anything Cages. The fork also has mid-blade eyelets for use with low-rider front racks, and dual eyelets at the dropouts for racks and fenders. All of these features can help you turn an ordinary fat bike or 29er into an adventure-ready rig for bikepacking or loaded touring.

Tire Clearance
The fork is capable of handling a variety of tire widths, from skinny 29er rubber (on a rear 29er wheel) up to some of the widest fat bike tires currently available on the market. With larger tire/rim combinations, tire deflation may be required for clearing the disc brake caliper during installation.

Special Considerations
This is where things get tricky. Since the fork dropouts are spaced at 135mm, you can’t mount this on a 29er and expect to run your front wheel on this. If you have a spare rear wheel, you can use that. For fat-front mode, you’ll need a zero offset or symmetrical fat bike front wheel with a 135mm hub.

Surly also now offers a similar product, the Moonlander fork, which can be paired up with a Pugsley for additional front wheel/tire clearance, and hosts plenty of braze-ons for dual bottle cages and front racks. The Moonlander fork comes stock on Surly’s Moonlander and Neck Romancer Pugsley complete bikes.

Photo by Paul Hansbarger.

BIKEPACKER is written by Casey Greene and Paul Hansbarger, Adventure Cycling staff, part-time adventure seekers and gear nerds alike.

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Three Tours: A Pictorial Review

 Photos from the 2012 Colorado Family Fun Tour
Check out the 2013 family tour!
 Photos from the 2012 Vermont Inn-to-Inn Trip
Check out the Vermont 2013 tour.
Photos from the 2012 Black Hills Inn-to-Inn Tour
View the 2013 Black Hills trip.
Want to see more tours in review? Head over to the Adventure Cycling tours group on Flickr, where you can view pictures from our participants!

ON THE ROAD is written by the tours team — Mo, Paul, Madeline, and Arlen — tours specialists and intrepid bicyclists, covering all things related to Adventure Cycling’s tours Department. Check out our 2013 Tours!

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Fat Bike Geometry

In the current issue of Adventure Cyclist, I brought up compact frame geometry in my Fine Tuned column. One benefit of compact geometry that I failed to bring up in that article is in the case of fat bikes, where it seems to be heavily favored.

When you’re hopping on and off a fat bike while standing in a couple inches of snow, you want as much stand over clearance as you can get. Because of this, I’ve seen a few people drop down a size when purchasing a fat bike. For instance, if they rode an 18-inch mountain bike, they would opt for a 16-inch fat bike. The problem with this approach is that while you may get a better fit as far as stand over height is concerned, you sacrifice a good seat position relative to your bottom bracket, and you may find yourself swapping out for a longer stem, which can cause your already sluggish handling to become even more so.

If you’re into comparing geometries from one fat bike to another, there are a lot of other features to keep an eye on. Before you get too deep into comparing spec charts, it’s best to determine the style of riding you’re interested in. Two things I tend to look at closely are head tube angle, and bottom bracket drop.

Looking at the bottom bracket, fat bikes tend to have a 100 mm bottom bracket shell, which is wider than what you would see on most mountain or road bikes. With a wider stance on the bike, you are more likely to clip a pedal when cornering unless you raise the bottom bracket. If you think you’ll be riding your fat bike on trails at higher speeds, this can be an issue. However, if you plan on mostly riding wide open snowmobile trails and roads, this doesn’t come into play as much.

Head tube angle is a little trickier to judge. In general, a steeper head tube angle (closer to 90 degrees) can give you more responsive handling. This can be attractive for people looking at more technical trails that demand quicker handling, but it’s not the only way to tweak handling. A shorter stem, shallow fork rake, or even higher tire pressure can create more responsive handling.

These are good things to have in mind, but in the end, your best bet is to just get out and test ride a few bikes and decide for yourself what you like. Otherwise you’ll end up spending an exorbitant amount of time reading forums, and checking out geometry calculators, when you could spend your time out riding.

Photo by Josh Tack.

Grab a free issue of Adventure Cyclist magazineTOURING GEAR & TIPS is written by Joshua Tack of Adventure Cycling’s member services department. It appears weekly, highlighting technical aspects of bicycle touring and advice to help better prepare you for the journey ahead. Look for Josh’s Fine Tuned column in Adventure Cyclist magazine as well.

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Your feedback helps us grow!

It’s time again for the Adventure Cycling Annual Member Survey! We want to know what our members love (or don’t love), and how we can grow and improve as an organization. The feedback from past years has been useful and enlightening. It has helped us set priorities and improve our systems.

Please share your thoughts, opinions, and experiences. If you are a current member of Adventure Cycling, you can take the survey. The survey will take about 10 minutes to complete. It will be open until March 1, 2013.

Thanks in advance for all of your feedback!

Photo by Jennifer Balaco on Flickr.

MEMBERSHIP HIGHLIGHTS is typically posted every other Friday by Amy Corbin, Membership and Marketing Coordinator. Membership Highlights spotlights the various benefits of membership,our accomplishments thanks to member support, and even interviews with some of our most passionate and dedicated members, both individual and organizational.

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Black Hawk, Colorado Ban Overturned

Two and a half years ago, three touring cyclists were cited for violating Black Hawk, Colorado’s ordinance banning bicycling on most streets in their town. The ordinance made the town impossible to legally ride through. We reported on the situation in two blog posts when we heard about it in June 2010, Ban on Bicycling in Black Hawk, Colorado Impacts Route and Bicycling Ban in Black Hawk Update. With the support of Bicycle Colorado, the cyclists fought the tickets. After failing in the first two rounds of court proceedings, they continued their appeal all the way to the highest court in the state.

On February 4th, 2013, the Colorado Supreme Court released their ruling on the case. It strikes down the city’s local ordinance in favor of state law. Traveling cyclists may now ride through Black Hawk on the popular Peak to Peak Highway/State Route 119 or our Great Parks South route without fear of being ticketed. You can get the complete ruling at the Colorado Supreme Court website, Webb v. Black Hawk (PDF).

Unfortunately, Black Hawk is not alone in attempting to restrict access to cyclists on their roads. Similar issues are also being debated in Iowa and Ohio. Hopefully, this case will help to define the issues and lead to solutions that are beneficial to all.

Image from Adventure Cycling’s Great Parks South Bicycle Route, Section 1 map.

GEOPOINTS BULLETIN is written by Jennifer ‘Jenn’ Milyko, an Adventure Cycling cartographer, and appears weekly, highlighting curious facts, figures, and persons from the Adventure Cycling Route Network with tips and hints for personal route creation thrown in for good measure. She also wants to remind you that map corrections and comments are always welcome via the online Map Correction Form.

Posted in GeoPoints Bulletin | 5 Comments