Thursday, 31 October 2013

The RearViz rear view mirror for cyclists: a review

Checking out traffic behind my bicycle is a big issue for me, particularly in the moments before I need to pull into the road to ride round an obstacle or to make a right turn. Sure I can turn my head but when I do, I'm losing sight of the road in front and getting only a fleeting impression of the view over my shoulder. Plus, no matter how hard I try, every shoulder check is accompanied by an alarming wobble.
A while back I tried the CyFy WristView mirror for size. If you're interested, you can read my review of that product here:
The big issue with that mirror is that it is flush to your wrist. To get a view of the road behind, you have to raise your arm until your wrist is in line with your face and twist your hand slightly. At that point you've got only one hand  on the bike and your unusual hand signal is confusing the heck out of oncoming traffic. It also got bashed about when stowed in a bag at work because I kept forgetting to cocoon the mirror in an old sock.
So when I got wind of the RearViz armband mirror, I was really excited. I've been waiting for their website to go live since the summer and got my order in as soon as possible in September. This week my new armband mirror finally arrived from sunny Australia, via its manufacturing base in China. It's already travelled further than I'll probably cycle in a lifetime.
First things first, the packaging: the RearViz mirror comes in a sturdy, stylish box that is well able to withstand knocks in transit. Inside, you'll find the mirror housing unit along with your chosen armband.
My RearViz unit arrived safely in its sturdy box
There are two versions of the RearViz at launch: the Classic and the Standard. I chose the Classic, which comes with a higher-spec build quality and an armband that is designed to be comfortable against the skin for long periods. It also incorporates an ID tag insert to provide emergency contact details in the event that I am found weak through lack of cake.
Having identified your preferred version of the RearViz, you then need to choose from a range of funky colours and finally, take your pick from three lengths of armband, depending on where you want to wear your mirror as well as your size. The short band, which adjusts between 190mm - 250mm is intended to be worn anywhere from wrist to elbow on the forearm, while the long one is worn on the upper arm and adjusts between 230mm - 360mm. For those with particularly bulky clothing or especially beefy arms, there is an extra-long band measuring 330 - 450mm.
I chose the long armband and to make up for shipping delays on my order, RearViz also included a short band which has allowed me to try both wearing options.
In my first couple of rides using the RearViz, I used short band, worn at just below elbow height. As well as rotating around the coloured disc, the hinge on the flip-up mirror is stiff enough to hold adjustment on the vertical plane, too. Because I've worn the mirror in the same place on my arm, I found that I haven't needed to alter the rotational position of the mirror again. So once I have positioned the strap where it feels comfortable and firm, it's just a matter of flipping the catch to lift the mirror and moving it up or down a little to get the best possible view.
The RearViz worn on the small band, just below my elbow.
The problem with wearing the mirror on your lower arm is that it isn't on the widest bit of your body as you ride, so you have to twist your arm a bit to get a decent view past your own elbow. I also found that I knocked the mirror out of line each time I reached down for my water bottle. 

I've had a lot more success using the long armband and wearing it tight enough not to slip, on my upper arm. That way I get a brilliant view of the road behind, without moving my arm and the unit hasn't needed adjusting during the ride. 

I have felt a lot safer in traffic wearing the mirror. I can see in front and behind pretty much simultaneously and I get an early heads-up when something is coming up on my outside. As I approach a junction or need to change lanes I can check the traffic behind and having signalled, get a good idea whether the car behind me is slowing to allow me to pull out. Because I'm not turning my head and wobbling into the kerb, I can take a longer look at the road via the mirror, rather than relying on a quick glimpse. I also find I'm doing more checks as I ride, instead of waiting until I'm about to manoeuvre. When all that is needed is a quick glance to the right, it's easy to keep myself informed about what is behind my bike.

I still do the shoulder check before I pull out but it's a final movement to make sure I haven't missed anything. I also find that drivers notice a head turn and are better prepared for me to move. Because I don't really need to move my head to check the mirror, I'm just giving that extra advisory indication that they need to give me space.
The RearViz is less useful at night but in fairness, since the clocks went back, the dark evenings of my evening commute mean that I get a very good idea about oncoming traffic as their headlights illuminate the dark country lanes in front of me. In fact, this is one time of year when I welcome a hesitant motorist sitting on my tail for half a mile!
1. The RearViz works! Because you choose where to wear the band and can then rotate the mirror to suit, you make sure that you get a really good view of the road behind your bike.
2. You don't have to take your hand off the bars.
3. You can glance into the mirror as you ride, rather than just making a special effort prior to a manoeuvre and your eye tends to be caught by movement as you ride. That means that there are fewer surprises from vehicles approaching from the rear.
4. The mirror snaps shut when not in use, protecting it from scratches in your bag. That's not a factor on a recreational ride when you can simply leave it in place until you get home but for commuters who need to pack everything away during the day, it's a big deal.
5. It boasts Velcro unlike any I've previously encountered. Remember that advert where a stuntman was so confident in the stickability of a particular brand of glue that he pasted his clothes to a big board and hung, suspended below a helicopter? I wouldn't be surprised if you could do the same thing with this powerful Velcro. It is certainly unlikely to drop off as you bounce over a pothole.
6. The wristband is washable (by hand - I wouldn't risk a machine. Apart from anything else, that Velcro would wreak all kinds of mischief on the rest of your kit) after a long and sweaty ride.
7. It's got in-build durability. If you come off your bike and damage the mirror, you can get a mirror replacement unit from RearViz. If you tire of the colour you can snap in an alternative insert to match your new kit. It's UV resistant and waterproof - although not recommended "for constant use underwater." So it should be OK unless you are planning a cross-channel cycle.
1. At the time of writing, there isn't a distributor in the UK so you need to order direct from the RearViz website I ordered on 26 September and it took just over a month to receive my mirror.
2. Cost. The order price of my RearViz Classic was 47.99 Australian dollars - about £28.40 at today's exchange rate. Shipping added a further 15 dollars and when it finally arrived in the UK, Royal Mail wouldn't allow me to get my hands on it until I had made a trip to the sorting office and parted with another £13.62 comprising the VAT owed to Customs and a frankly irritating 'handling fee' for the Royal Mail of £8. So for a cyclist in the UK, that totals a hefty £50.90 by the time the mirror gets anywhere near your arm.
3. The RearViz is a little bulky for someone who has twig-like arms and it doesn't offer the simplicity and flexible fit of a slap-band. In theory, you could wear the unit on your wrist but my wrists are tiny and the unit is verging on too wide to sit comfortably there. If you are similarly puny the small band will still be OK, just wear it higher up on your forearm. 
**** I'm giving the RearViz four stars. It misses out on the full five due to the cost and delays involved in obtaining it from Australia and because I do like the high visibility, one-size-fits-all slap-band on the Cyfy.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

2014 Ride London 100 - I'm in!

I entered the ballot for next year's Ride London 100. You don't find out whether you have been successful in the ballot until next February but as I will need accommodation in London anyway, I've been keeping an eye on the Sports Tours International website: They offer packages of guaranteed ride entries plus bed and breakfast accommodation. It's aimed at overseas cyclists but I spoke to them a couple of months ago to check that I'd be eligible to apply. Having been reassured that this was OK, I signed up for their newsletter to find out when their places became available.

Yesterday, just as I arrived home, the email arrived. Booking was live and there was an early bird discount of £100 for anyone grabbing a place now.

I had planned to book one of their two night packages, judging by what they had available last year. This time, though, only the full three-night ones were offered, so that's what I've gone for. All confirmed. Three nights in London with my husband and a guaranteed place in the ride for me.


The advantage of organising it this way is that I have as much training time as possible. To date, the furthest I've ridden is 53 miles. I've got to nearly double that. But then, a year ago, the furthest I'd ridden was 8 miles and I covered nearly seven times that distance without too much difficulty in June. It's actually not the distance that frightens me. Sheer bloody-mindedness, combined with plenty of training will take me to the century.

The pace is another matter. I have to finish inside nine hours. It's not like the London Marathon, where you can take as long as you need to stagger to the Finish. If I'm not keeping up the pace I'll be taken off the route. Last year some people were taken off at sixty miles. Imagine that! I can't let that happen.

I'm looking around online for training plans. Most of them seem to be eight week schedules but they are probably for people who are starting with a better average speed than mine. So I'm starting today. I've got just under ten months to shape up, pick up the pace and master hill climbs. If anyone can recommend a good training schedule, I'd love to hear about it. 

I'll also be collecting sponsorship. I didn't want to take one of the official charity bond places because the requirement to raise so much money would add to the fear of failure. Instead, I'm going to invite friends and colleagues to help me support a very worthwhile cause: the Rhino Protection Unit in Pilanesberg, South Africa.

Over a number of years we've spent a lot of time watching the rhino in Pilanesberg. Their survival chances are improved considerably by the wonderful members of the Rhino Protection Unit who go to extraordinary lengths to keep them safe. An indication of the impact they are having came during our last visit in December 2012. At that point, 40 rhino had been poached in the Kruger. Pilanesberg had lost none. We were leaving Pilanesberg as night fell, on Christmas Day. A storm was raging, with lightning as bright as day and rain hammering down on our car. As we exited we encountered members of the Rhino Protection Unit, about to spend Christmas night safeguarding the rhino.

If I can do anything to help the RPU stay one step ahead of the poachers then it will be worth every turn of the pedals. You can ready more about the battle to protect the Pilanesberg rhino here:

And after all...if Boris can do it, surely I can too!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Brompton to the rescue

I haven't been well for the last week or so and until the antibiotics work their magic, I'm not up to the lovely long cycle rides that the glorious weather deserves. I've had to use the car. I even had to put diesel in it - breaking the spider's web which had rather satisfyingly spread across the fuel cap.

The dogs still need exercising though and when I took them out for their usual walk I was so exhausted I had to sit down along the way and slept for a couple of hours on my return. I'm miserable off the bike, too.

So yesterday I hit on the perfect solution. When the going gets tough, the tough...fold. I turned to my trusty Brompton folding bike.

The advantage of the Brompton is that I can fit the bike, a dog crate and two excited spaniels into the back of the car. So that's what I did. It's a ten minute drive to a disused railway line near my home. An early victim of Dr Beeching, it is now popular with walkers, runners and cyclists.

The spaniels, having fun with the Brompton
I go there a lot with the dogs but not normally on my bike because it's an uncomfortable ride  on road tyres. My Brompton, though, has chunky, go-anywhere tyres. I realised that by using this bike, I could give them a really good run in the comparatively short time that my current energy levels allow.

And it worked. We were out for about 40 minutes. I had a very easy-paced ride on the flat, the dogs had a hurtle and this time when we got home, the spaniels were the ones in need of a snooze!