Cycling For Dummies (UK 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.
Staying Safe on the Road and Being Seen on a Bike
You can be the best cyclist in the world, but you’re still vulnerable on a bike. Forewarned is forearmed, so keep yourself safe with these tips on how to keep yourself out of trouble on the roads:
Visibility is key: Wear bright clothes and be sure to 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 that squeezing past you in the same lane is safe – it’s not. Stay a metre from the kerb and drivers can see you 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.
The rules: Make sure you know the rules of the road for cyclists. You make yourself safer if you know what they are. Check out the Highway Code online.
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.
Browsing the Range of Bicycles Available
So you’ve decided to take up cycling, but you’re missing that vital piece of kit – a bike! Unless you already know exactly what type of bike you want, a good piece of advice is to take your time and really consider what you’ll be doing with your bike and where you’ll be riding it, or you might come away with something that isn’t a good match.
Check out this list of different bike styles and consider the things they’re good for before you make that trip to the bike shop:
Road bikes: These bikes are meant for riding 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 tough bikes 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. MTBs are great for trails and off-roading, but you can also use them 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, a back-pedal rear brake and are great for short trips but not usually ideal for fast or long journeys.
Comfort bikes: These bikes are a 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, all are designed for medium-paced to slightly faster cycling. They have straight handlebars and allow a more upright riding position than a road bike.
Touring bikes: These bikes are meant for covering long distances while also carrying all your kit. They tend to have drop handlebars, to give you a variety of positions to stop you from getting tired, and racks to clip your bags to. The frames and wheels are strong and they have lots of gears to get you over any mountain range that stands in your way. Touring bikes make a good all-round choice for a keen rider.
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.
Making Cycling a Part of Your Daily Life
When you’re new to cycling, or if you haven’t cycled regularly for a while, you might see the prospect of making cycling a part of your daily routing as something of a challenge. But cycling more is easy – you just need to think ahead and plan a little. Spend time in the saddle on a regular basis and you’ll save yourself money and get fit at the same time.
Here are a few ways to make cycling part of your daily 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, you’re very likely to 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.
Kitting Yourself Out with Cycling Gear
Like any activity, you need to gather certain pieces of equipment to get the most from cycling and to stay safe whilst you do so. Make sure that the following pieces of kit are on your shopping list when you head out to buy your bike:
Helmet: Wearing a helmet isn’t compulsory but most people think doing so is a good idea. Helmets are designed to lessen injury should you have the unlikely misfortune of being in an accident or falling off your bike.
Lights: Lights are required by law and are essential for your safety if riding at night.
Bell (or horn): A good idea if your bike route involves sharing trails or paths with pedestrians.
Shorts, 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 it 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.
Gathering Essential Equipment for Cycle Rides
Things can sometimes go wrong on a bike ride, so it makes sense to carry with you a few simple pieces of kit so that you can deal with the problems you’re most likely to encounter. On longer rides, you’ll want to pack a few extras so you can get the most from your trip. Here are a few suggestions:
Essentials for local bicycle trips
Even when you don’t plan to ride all that far from home, find space in your pack for these items:
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
If you’re heading further afield, take all the bits and pieces in the preceding list, along with 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)