Cycling For Dummies (Australia/New Zealand Edition)
Riding a bicycle is a magnificent thing to do. Cycling is good for your health, your purse, your community and your planet. Turning over the pedals is always fun, but some things are handy to know so that you choose the right bike and the right gear, and ride safely and confidently on the roads or paths you need to travel.
Picking a Bike that’s Right for You
Deciding to ride a bicycle (or start riding again or more often) is a big step forwards. Well done. But before you can pop down to the bike shop, make a purchase and ride off into the sunset, you have to give the purchase some thought. Most bike stores have a bewildering array of bicycles to choose between, so give some thought to the kind of riding you’re planning on doing before visiting a store. Here are some types of bike and some of the things they’re good for:
Road bikes: These bikes are meant to be ridden fast, in a bent forward position, on roads. They have curved handlebars and can be very light — and very expensive. Road bikes are good for racing, training and fast commuting.
Mountain bikes (MTBs): These are tough bikes that either have front or dual (front and back) suspension. They have wide, knobbly tyres to grip any surface and gearing to help with steep uphill climbs. They’re great for trails and off-roading, but can also be used for a comfortable, less speedy commute (although you might want to think about getting smoother tyres for commuting).
Cruisers: The curvy frames, wide saddles and colours of these bikes create a style statement that can’t be denied. Cruisers generally have no gears, or just three, and a back-pedal rear brake. They’re great for short trips but not usually designed for fast or long journeys.
Comfort bikes: These bikes are safe and steady option for anyone who wants a gentle — and comfortable — ride. They usually have a wide, low saddle, often with seat suspension, and allow you to ride in an upright position. Some are made with better quality components that enable longer rides.
Hybrids, city bikes, exercise bikes and flat-bar road bikes: While the definitions for these bikes may blur and merge a little, they’re all designed for medium-paced to slightly faster cycling. They have straight handlebars and allow a more upright riding position than a road bike.
Folding bikes: You can fold and pack up these bikes in a matter of seconds — and you can ride pretty fast and far on them, too.
BMX bikes: These bikes may be small, but they’re not just for kids. BMXs are great for flips, rolls and grinds, but not the best for travelling further than the local skateboard park.
Fixies: These bikes look like road bikes, but they have no gears and the fixed-wheel system means you can’t freewheel — so if the back wheel is turning, so are the pedals. Fixies are great for being cool and urban.
Tandems: These bikes offer two saddles, two sets of pedals and handlebars, two wheels and two riders. While often chosen by lovers, tandems are also great for people who can’t (for medical or physical reasons) ride a bike on their own.
Essential Cycling Equipment
You can buy a million things to make your bike riding more enjoyable. Here are some of the more necessary accessories for bicycling in style (and staying safe):
Helmet: Wearing a helmet is the law, all over Australia and New Zealand. Helmets are designed to lessen injury should you have the unlikely misfortune of getting in a stack or falling off your bike.
Lights: These are required by law and are essential for your safety if riding at night.
Bell (or horn): Also required by law, bells bring music to everyone’s ears.
Knicks, jerseys and other bicycle clothing: If you’re racing, the right gear is essential. Even if cycling more recreationally, you may prefer to wear cycle-specific clothing. Get them at the bike shop or look online.
Pump: Essential for getting air in your tyres.
Cage and bottle: A convenient way to stay hydrated while you cycle.
Baskets, panniers and racks: A basket up front is very handy for small items or shopping. Panniers, bags that hang either side of your back wheel, are great for larger loads.
Incorporating Cycling into Your Routine
With a bit of thinking, cycling can fit easily into your schedule, so you get healthy exercise and save time and money. Here are some tips on making cycling part of your weekly routine:
It’s not all or nothing: You don’t have to commute every day if at first it seems too much. Plan out your week fitting in the amount of cycling that suits you.
You don’t have to ride all the way: Ride to the station, or ride to a station further down the line. Cycle as much as you have time for.
Keep your helmet next to your car keys: When you’re heading out to the shops, ride instead of driving. You get there quicker and, if you only take a small backpack or pannier, it’s very likely you’ll spend less.
Cycle with the children to school: Healthy exercise for everyone and you get to avoid that congestion outside the school.
Find a safer route: Just because you drive on main roads, doesn’t mean you have to cycle on them. Find a safer, quieter route and you’ll feel much happier setting off in the morning.
Motivate yourself: Don’t tell yourself that you can’t — keep reminding yourself that you can. You’ll feel much better when you do.
Road Safety Tips for Beginner Cyclists in Australia and New Zealand
Keeping safe on the roads is vital. You can be vulnerable on a bicycle, but here are a few tips to help keep you out of harm’s way:
Visibility is key: Wear bright clothes and make sure you stay in a position where other traffic can see you.
Get some company: If you’re new to riding on roads, get a friend with a bike to show you how — there’s always safety in numbers.
Car doors: When riding alongside parked cars, be wary of doors flying open in your path. Slow down and keep your eyes peeled.
Don’t hug the kerb: Don’t let other traffic think it’s safe to squeeze past you in the same lane — it’s not. Stay a metre from the kerb and you can be seen more easily from every direction.
Eye contact: You can’t be sure a driver knows you’re there until you make eye contact. Don’t be afraid to wave just to make sure you’ve been seen.
Hook turns: If you’re planning to turn right, but you’re not sure about the other traffic, make a hook turn (move to the left, stop in front of traffic waiting to go the way you wish to travel and go straight ahead when the lights change) to avoid crossing lanes.
The rules: The road rules for cyclists vary slightly around Australia and New Zealand. You’re much safer if you know what they are. Look online to find out what the rules are for you.
Stay safe: No matter what the rules are, if you think a junction isn’t safe for you, get off your bike and make your way round as a pedestrian.
Packing for Local Rides and Longer Cycling Trips
Don’t end up standing beside your bicycle, wishing you’d brought along some simple item. Carry what you need to ensure you’ll get to your destination. Here are some suggestions.
Essentials for local bicycle trips
Even if riding a short distance, don’t leave home without the following:
Allen keys (in the size you need for your bike)
Chain or D-lock
Pump and puncture repair kit
Spanner (if required to remove the wheel)
Spare inner tube (quicker than fixing a hole)
Tyre levers (for removing tyres)
Essentials for longer cycling trips
When packing for longer trips, you need everything in the preceding list, as well as the following:
Cable ties (can fix just about anything!)
Elemental protection (in case of rain or cold weather)
Fuel (in the form of food)
Map or GPS device
Phrasebook (if travelling to a country where you don’t speak the language)
Spare spokes, chain links and other bike tools
Water (enough to keep hydrated)