Most books or web pages on bicycling begin with instructions on how to select a bicycle and accessories. This one is going to be different. We’re going to start by talking about a more significant acquisition: attitude.
The most important factor in how you ride your bike is how your feel about it. If you find bicycling enjoyable and reasonably safe, then you’ll want to cover greater distances and go more places. But to do so, you usually have to ride in the company of cars – and sharing the road with cars calls for an attitude of security and confidence.
Once you have that attitude, you can safely and enjoyably take on a commute to work in city traffic or a long day’s tour on almost any kind of road. Almost anyone can become a confident, streetwise cyclist. This article will show you how.
A few short words about equipment — you do need the right equipment to put the ideas in this article to use. Then on the next page, we’ll get to the really important stuff.
Your bicycle should match your riding style. Choices range from an ultra-lightweight, fast road-racing machine to a rugged mountain bike. Consider where and how long you want to ride. A decent bike will last at least 5 years, a quality one probably 20 years.
A real bike shop will help you make the right decision. Sales staff at a department store are not likely to know how to properly fit an adult bicycle – they may know more about hockey skates, or appliances, or bedding.
For comfort, your bike must fit your body proportions like a good suit of clothes. Finding the right frame height by standing over the bike is just a start. Other measurements are equally important. For example, many women need to take extra care to buy bikes with a short top tube, since women’s average upper-body length is shorter in proportion to leg length than men’s.
Components like pedal cranks, handlebar stem, handlebars and saddle can be exchanged with other models or brands to fit you better. Knowledgeable staff at good bike shops can help you select the parts that are right for you when you buy a bike, or afterwards if you want upgrade your parts.
New or “old faithful”, your bicycle must be in good working order. The gears must shift smoothly, and most importantly, the brakes must work well. If you aren’t sure that your bike is in top shape, take it to a qualified mechanic.
A helmet is a bargain in injury prevention. Wearing a bicycle helmet whenever you ride can reduce your risk of a serious head injury by 85%. A good helmet will protect against most of these. It reduces the risk of a fatal bicycling crash to about the same level as a car driver’s, for the same amount of time spent at either activity (National Safety Council and H. Katteler; Minutes of the Velo-City Conference, Bremen, Germany, 1981).
Many people can learn to look behind themselves while riding, but not everyone is comfortable doing this. A rear-view mirror can be helpful when manoeuvring in traffic. A small, helmet-mounted mirror gives a wide field of view and good isolation from road shock. Aim it along the side of your head, looking directly back. You should just see your left ear in the right side of the mirror. You’ll need a couple of rides to learn to use the mirror. You can also get excellent small mirrors that clip to your sunglasses or prescription eyewear. If it still doesn’t work well for you after that length of time, consider a handlebar-end mirror instead.
Every bicyclist takes a fall sooner or later, and puts out a hand to break the fall. Unless you wear gloves, the pavement will sandpaper your palm. Fingerless cycling gloves improve your comfort on long rides by cushioning your hands against road shock from the handlebars, too.
A small tool kit, tire patch kit and frame pump – and the knowledge to use them – will get you back on the road when your bike has a flat tire or other common minor breakdowns. A spare tube is quicker to change than patching the old one, especially if it’s raining! Most on-road repairs are simple and easy to learn. Get an experienced club member to show you. We also have seminars from time to time, usually in spring.
A frame-mounted water bottle lets you drink as you ride — important on any trip of more than an hour. A small handlebar bag or rack-mount bag will hold your tools, extra clothing, maps and other items you take with you on your rides. A bag on the bike is a far better choice than a backpack, which will leave your back hot and sweaty in warm weather. And it’s easier to balance without a backpack. Why should you carry the weight? Let your bike carry it!