Modern motorcycles feature a range of safety features that we often take for granted. The most essential of these, the rear view mirror, was an early development. Generally mirrors were adopted first for use by car drivers before motorcyclists. However today it is unusual to try and use even older classic and vintage bikes without some kind of mirror……
Dorothy Levitt, sporting motorist, journalist and activist noted in her 1909 book “The Woman and the Car: A chatty little handbook for all women who motor or who want to motor” that women should “carry a little hand-mirror in a convenient place when driving” so they may “hold the mirror aloft from time to time in order to see behind while driving in traffic”. While this may not have been practical manoeuvre in early vehicles, which usually required a surfeit of attention just to maintain forward motion, it was a good idea nonetheless. As a pioneering feminist she also advised women travelling alone to carry a revolver!
Ray Harroun, an American racecar driver most famous for winning the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911 used a rear-view mirror mounted on his car during a race in 1911. Perhaps foreseeing Colin Chapman’s philosophy of “Simplify, then add lightness” this created great controversy as the rules specified a riding mechanic be used as lookout. Ultimately the innovation was allowed and when asked about where he got the idea for using the mirror during the race, he recalled that he had seen a similar arrangement all the way back in 1904 on a horse drawn vehicle.
Elmer C.A. Berger, an inventor of the early 1900s is officially credited with the invention of the rear view mirror. Patenting the idea in 1921 he named his device the “COP-SPOTTER” and it was produced by Berger and Company. Now interned at the Hollywood Memorial Park, Elmer is buried alongside Mama Cass Elliot. Keep that one under your hat for the next pub quiz.
With regard to motorcycles there is often some confusion over the fitting of mirrors. Referring to the Road Vehicles (construction and Use) Regulations 1986; it is stated that that a two wheeled motorcycle with or without a side car attached are exempt from being required to having mirrors fitted however if the vehicle was first used after 1st October 1978 any mirrors fitted must comply with certain standards.
Rear view mirrors do not form part of the current UK motorcycle test so it possible to present a bike for test with no mirrors even if they were fitted as original equipment. However most riders will testify that having a good quality mirror makes riding in all traffic conditions safer and more pleasant.