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Mirrors On Your Motorcycle: Do You Need Them?

Most of the time you’ll see motorcycles with at least one mirror, if not two. Despite this, not all places require that you have them, and some riders seem to prefer riding without them. But knowing whether or not you need mirrors on your motorcycle can ensure you stay both legal and safe.

Mirrors aren’t necessarily required on your motorcycle, depending on how and where you ride, but they’re a really good idea. The safety and additional awareness they provide can make riding not only much safer but also much less stressful. You don’t always need them, but you should have them anyway.

While having mirrors is my recommendation, it is still a personal choice if you live in a place that doesn’t require them by law. There are some different factors to take into consideration when deciding if mirrors are for you. I’ll go through all of these factors below.

Do Motorcycles Need Mirrors?

Motorcycles don’t need mirrors, but they make riding safer and less stressful. They aren’t specifically necessary, but they save you from having to turn your head at high speeds, and they make it easy to see directly behind you, a great safety feature that could prevent an accident.

Mirrors On Cars vs Motorcycles

Cars have a lot of visual obstructions that prevent you from seeing things behind you when driving. Frame pillars, seats, people in the back seats, the list goes on. Motorcycles do not have these visual blockages, so it’s much easier to look behind you without the aid of a mirror.

Cars are also much bigger than motorcycles, and mirrors are a fantastic tool to help understand where the boundaries of your vehicle are in relation to other drivers and obstacles on the road. Motorcycles also do not have this problem, as their small size makes understanding the boundaries of the space they occupy very easy.

Helmets & Mirrors

The biggest visual obstruction when riding motorcycles is actually your helmet. Helmets can sometimes have a limited field of view. While many are designed to be as open as possible, they won’t ever be as easy to see out of in comparison to not wearing one, and many do not achieve a clear view in all directions.

Helmets are also big and bulky, and they make turning your head harder. The neck strap, as well as the size of the helmet itself, prevents excess head motion. This is a very useful safety feature for a crash, but it doesn’t assist with trying to see things.

Helmets are a crucial safety feature for motorcycle riding, and are required in most places, so not wearing one isn’t always an option or a safe option. This is where the usefulness of mirrors really shines. Motorcycle mirrors prevent you from having to strain your head to try and look behind you.

This advantage is not only one of convenience but also of comfort and safety. The less you have to strain your muscles in weird ways, the better. At times I’ve ridden bikes without mirrors (or with not very good mirrors), and I’ve found that after a longer ride, my neck feels very strained. Avoiding any excess pain is encouraged for your long-term health when motorcycling.

Why Are Motorcycle Mirrors Important?

Beyond the physical comfort that mirrors allow, they also provide a quick view directly behind you. Most people simply don’t have the flexibility to be able to look directly behind them, so even if they turned their head and body, they would only be able to see part of what is behind them.

Mirrors have no such human restrictions, and provide a clear view directly behind you. This view is limited and small, but it is pointing in the direction most difficult to look at. This allows you to assess your full surroundings at a glance, an incredibly important thing to be able to do when riding a motorcycle.

Safety While Stopped

Statistics show that a high amount of motorcycle accidents have occurred when a motorcycle was rear-ended at a stop light. In many cases, the driver of a car just wasn’t really paying attention, and somehow didn’t see the motorcyclist. This type of accident is relatively common.

While sometimes these accidents are minor, in some cases they’ve been fatal, depending on the nature and speed of the crash. Some riders have been sandwiched in between two cars or run over and ended up with severe injuries or death. This is definitely a situation to avoid.

So, how do you avoid this? Clearly it wasn’t the motorcyclist’s fault, if they were stopped and waiting at a stop light. The answer is simple, monitor your rear zone. As soon as you stop anywhere, you should be checking behind you consistently to make sure others are stopping safely.

Monitoring Your Rear Zone

Without mirrors, monitoring your rear zone well is basically impossible. While you can certainly look behind you when stopped at a light, you can only do so briefly, in between looking in front of you to make sure you’re aware of the light changing or any other important pieces of driving information.

Either way, you’re going to be looking at either your front or rear zone and not seeing the other. Mirrors allow you to glance at your rear zone easily and comfortably, while maintaining focus on your front zone. This way you can monitor your full surroundings well.

In general, it’s good to keep an eye on the rear zone when stopped, but once you have a buffer of vehicles behind you, you’re usually safe from the risk of being rear-ended. The general rule of thumb is to have a buffer of 2 cars behind you; once they’re stopped you can focus a little more on the front zone.

Still make sure to keep an eye on the stopped cars behind you though. Sometimes people move forward at stop lights without realizing it, and it’s better to be vigilant and potentially avoid an accident, even if very minor at low speeds.

Safety In Motion

It’s also a good idea to keep watch of your rear zone when in motion. As motorcycle riders, we’re very vulnerable, so maximum awareness of our surroundings is incredibly important. The best way to do this is again by using our mirrors.

While at low speeds, it’s not too uncomfortable to glance behind you. At high speeds it’s at best uncomfortable, and at worst it’s dangerous. The faster you ride, the more wind resistance you have, pushing you from the front and making it harder to turn.

With this wind resistance, turning your helmet to look behind you can be dangerous. Most helmets are designed to be aerodynamic, but really only in one orientation – facing forwards. If you turn your head to the side, the wind resistance will push it backwards.

This sudden change of force can throw off your balance and potentially cause minor injury, if not a crash. This will depend on the speeds at which you ride and what helmet you have, but it’s true to some degree across the board.

Keep Focus While Riding

Herein lies another important benefit of mirrors. Mirrors allow you to quickly check your rear zone while in motion, without needing to move your head at all. You really only need to divert your eyes for a second to check that everything is fine behind you.

This allows you to continue to stay focused on what’s in front of you, as a quick dart of the eyes doesn’t take very long to do. The safety benefits of this are huge. It’s important to pay attention to what’s behind you, but if you have to physically look because you don’t have mirrors, you could miss seeing something in front of you, and end up crashing.

How Many Mirrors Do You Need On A Motorcycle?

Two mirrors on a motorcycle is better than one, but one is way better than none. In general, it’s best to have two mirrors on your motorcycle, as that gives you the most rear vision. It also can look a bit more symmetrical, which may be worth considering if you value your bike’s aesthetic.

While you don’t always need two mirrors, in general, having a better view isn’t a bad thing, and you can certainly miss out on points of information by limiting yourself to only one mirror. Usually you’ll still be fine, but it’s nice to have more rear visibility.

Rear Visibility

The other reason to have two mirrors is that it’s more likely that one of them will be pointing the right way. Because most motorcycle mirrors are mounted to the handlebars, when you turn the handlebars, your mirrors are no longer pointed directly behind the bike. But it’s important to still be able to see behind you, even when turning.

Having two mirrors increases the chances that one of them will give you a good view of the road behind you. Also, in the event that you lose a mirror due to hitting something, or someone knocking it off, you have a backup mirror. While that reason may seem a stretch, that situation actually happens somewhat often, depending on where you live.

Again, having a mirror at all is the most important thing. Many riders ride with just one mirror, as it still allows you to keep an eye on your rear zone most of the time, and it also happens to be the legal requirement for a bunch of places (more on that soon).

Why Wouldn’t You Want Mirrors On Your Motorcycle?

For some people, it may not be clear why you wouldn’t want mirrors on your motorcycle in the first place. There are a few different reasons people don’t want to use mirrors.

On most motorcycles,the mirrors are placed about as wide as the edge of the handlebars. This isn’t always true, though, as sometimes they are placed wider. While riding they can also push out further, especially when turning.

This contributes to the bulkiness felt when riding a motorcycle, especially in tight spaces. Many motorcyclists who ride in busy city traffic dislike mirrors for this reason. The bulkier and wider your motorcycle is, the harder it is to maneuver around and in between cars, other motorcycles, and whatever other obstacles you come across.

Sometimes off-road motorcycle riders also dislike mirrors for the same reason, as they can get snagged on tree branches, rocks, or any other hazards one may encounter while riding on a narrow off-road track. It’s simply easier to avoid hitting things without them.

Another reason some motorcyclists dislike mirrors is their looks. While some mirrors look nice, not all of them do. Some riders just don’t like the looks of any mirrors, even the nicer ones, so they’d rather not have them at all. But some places legally require motorcycle mirrors, regardless of how you feel about them!

Which States Require Motorcycle Mirrors?

The states that require motorcycle mirrors are:

  • Alaska – Requires both a left and right mirror
  • Arizona – Requires one mirror
  • Arkansas – Requires one mirror
  • California – Requires one mirror
  • Kentucky – Requires one mirror
  • Maine – Requires one mirror
  • Maryland – Requires both a left and right mirror
  • Minnesota – Requires one mirror
  • Missouri – Requires one mirror
  • Nevada – Requires both a left and right mirror
  • New Hampshire – Requires one mirror
  • New York – Requires one mirror
  • North Carolina – Requires one mirror
  • North Dakota – Requires one mirror with a surface of at least 10 square inches
  • Ohio – Requires one mirror
  • Oklahoma – Requires both a left and right mirror with a surface of at least three inches in diameter
  • Rhode Island – Requires one mirror
  • South Carolina – Requires one mirror
  • Tennessee – Requires a left mirror
  • Utah – Requires one mirror
  • Washington – Requires both a left and right mirror
  • West Virginia – Requires one mirror

Which States Don’t Require Motorcycle Mirrors?

The states that don’t require motorcycle mirrors are:

  • Alabama
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

How Should You Position Your Motorcycle Mirrors?

When positioning your motorcycle mirrors, you want to be able to see behind you and possibly your blind spots. The most important thing is to make sure that your mirrors show the road behind you clearly, as that’s the hardest view to obtain while looking forward on a motorcycle.

With that said, the mirrors, assuming you have two of them, do not need to show the exact same thing. It’s important to make sure you can see behind you, but you can also use your mirrors to show more areas, such as your potential blind spots.

Rear-Facing, A Little To The Side

My favorite way to achieve this is by centering the mirrors so that they both show roughly the same thing, then angling them both outward slightly. This is enough to gain some rearward side vision, but not so much that the rear vision is lost.

Different riders will have different preferences when it comes to mirror angle and placement, but rear-facing and a little to the side is a good place to start. This angle still allows rear vision, but it could potentially save you from missing a vehicle in your blind spot and making a mistake on the road.

Mirror Position & Safety

Hopefully that type of accident shouldn’t happen anyway, as you should normally glance to the side before switching lanes, and before making other such movements. With that said, everyone gets tired or distracted at times and can make mistakes. Setting up your bike in order to be as safe as possible can save you from potentially dangerous mistakes.

While motorcycles don’t have as many blind spots as cars do, your helmet can still prevent you from seeing everything. A slightly outward mirror position helps you avoid making mistakes, and it’s my personal recommendation for mirror position. At the end of the day, mirror placement is still a personal choice.

If you only have one mirror on your bike, I’d recommend trying to point it to get the best possible view of the road behind you. I’d also recommend getting another mirror. The benefits of having two mirrors are greater, and the potential drawbacks of having two versus one are pretty much the same, so there’s no obvious reason not to.

How To Adjust Motorcycle Mirrors

Most motorcycle mirrors are pretty easy to adjust. Usually, you don’t even need any special tools, as you can just grab the mirror and force it to the orientation you prefer. This isn’t always the case, though, as some mirrors may require undoing bolts or nuts in order to adjust them.

Types Of Motorcycle Mirrors

In general, finding a mirror that has a ball mount (at least one) will give you the most adjustability. This is my favorite type of mirror, as it allows you to aim the mirror where you want. While the ball systems aren’t always as strong as other mounts, the adjustability is a worthy trade in most cases.

If your mirror is made of good materials and built well, you shouldn’t have any issues with ball mounts, even at high speeds. At this point, many mirrors will have at least one ball mount, but not all do, especially some bar-end mirrors, classic style mirrors, and some cheaper mirrors.

Adjusting Your Mirrors

These other types of mounts usually adjust in an intuitive way. See if you can find a bolt to turn or a nut to loosen. Once you’ve adjusted the mirror, just tighten the bolt or nut again and you should be good to go riding.

Some mounts do not have a bolt or nut to undo, and in this case you’ll just have to adjust them by hand. However, if there is a locking nut or bolt, it’s best to use it, even if you can physically move the mirror by hand. This practice ensures you don’t prematurely wear out your mounting hardware.

The 5 Best Motorcycle Mirrors

1. CRG Hindsight LS Bar End Mirror

* Check Price Here *

The CRG Hindsight LS (Lane Split) is a high-quality choice for an aftermarket mirror. It’s a bar end mirror, so instead of mounting near your main controls and buttons, it mounts to the very end of the handlebars. The mirror itself is made from lightweight CNC machined aluminum, and the hardware is stainless steel.

The real benefit of this mirror, beyond the quality of its construction, is the folding feature. This mirror may stick out past your handlebars, but it has the ability to fold into the bike, for use in tight riding situations such as lane splitting, or for easier storage of the motorcycle. It is the most expensive one on the list, so keep that in mind when considering it.

2. Doubletake – Indestructible Mirror

* Check Price Here *

The Doubletake Indestructible Mirror was built specifically with adventure riding in mind. This mirror was born out of the founder’s annoyance with cheap mirrors that constantly broke. These mirrors are manufactured in the US out of incredibly high-strength materials designed to hold up to almost anything.

The stiff RAM ball mounts make these mirrors easy to fold and place however you like. Unlike some other mirrors that have limited adjustability, these can be placed in an almost infinite variety of positions.

You can buy sets of these mirrors on multiple websites, but if you go to the official company website, you can customize what style of mirror and hardware you want to use. A standard set will usually set you back more than $100, so they’re not cheap, but if you want something that’s pretty much unbreakable, they’re a great choice.

3. FENRIR Aluminum Cafe Racer Bar End Mirrors

* Check Price Here *

These mirrors are my personal favorite of the options on this list. They’re bar end mirrors, but they still sit inwards, so they don’t actually add any width to your handlebars, which is a great feature.

They’re made out of CNC-machined aluminum, like the first mirror on this list. While it’s possible the quality may not be as high, they’re still pretty strong and they’re very well rated. These mirrors have a cool style that I personally love the look of. They’re also a bit cheaper than the first two options, and not too expensive for a quality mirror.

4. BikeMaster Stainless Cruiser Mirror

* Check Price Here *

This is one of the cheapest mirrors on this list, coming in at around $10-$20 per mirror. Despite that price, these mirrors look nice, and they have a wide surface area that’s great for rear visibility. They’re made from stainless steel, so while not as light as aluminum ones, they should be of decent quality.

I’d recommend these mirrors if you have an older motorcycle that didn’t come with mirrors or that needs new ones. The chrome styling fits the look of older bikes very well. I’m sure these mirrors aren’t as high grade as some of the more expensive ones, but for the low price they’re still a good deal.

5. Kemimoto Universal Motorcycle Mirror

* Check Price Here *

These mirrors are my personal budget pick. They’re about as cheap as the last ones, coming in at around $25 for a set. They’re made from ABS plastic, so durability shouldn’t be an issue. These mirrors have nice adjustability given the price point, and are fairly easy to adjust.

My favorite feature of these mirrors is the mirror itself, which is interestingly shaped, but most importantly, quite big. These mirrors should provide a great view of the road behind you, and they are a great pick if you need something cheap but that does the job.

Final Thoughts

Motorcycle mirrors aren’t always required, depending on where you live and what kind of riding you do, but they’re a really good idea regardless. The safety benefits they provide could absolutely save you from injury or worse, and they’re often not terribly expensive.