Getting Back On Your Bike: Cycling Essentials Part One
Words by Jane Bedford McLaren and Jonathan Keenan.
Image by Lucy Sykes.
You do not need all the gear, or a £1000 bike or a professional bike fit. There is, of course, a place for these things if you decide you want to expand your cycling horizons, but they are not necessary for short rides or commutes.
- Cost – the reality is that a good, reliable bike is not likely to give you much change from £500 as new, and e-bikes will cost more. We will cover what to consider when choosing a new (or new to you) bike in Part 2 of this series as there are some important factors which will make a massive difference to your enjoyment of the bike. However, given the cost of a decent bike is not particularly cheap, you might want to consider the following options:
- Cycle to Work – If your employer has a Cycle to Work scheme you could buy your bike via that scheme, which will give you a tax break and you pay via instalments.
- Second-hand – Alternatively, you might want to investigate buying a good second-hand bike as you will get better value for your money that way. I would recommend identifying what sort of bike you want as if you were going to buy new and then look for similar second-hand bikes. At this point, I would strongly recommend joining cycling interest groups on social media, as bikes are often advertised in those groups and they are also full of advice should you have any questions on bikes you might be interested in.
- Fit – two important factors: saddle height and reach to handlebars. The saddle should be at your hip height as you stand next to the bike. When sitting on the saddle, it is normal to be able to reach one foot to the floor on tip toes, with the other foot on the pedal. But if this feels wrong to the point you don’t want to ride, then ignore me and ride with the saddle at the height you are comfortable with. You can think about adjusting it as you gain confidence. You should be able to reach your handlebars with some flex in your elbows.
Both issues are typically easy to fix by your local bike shop without needing to replace your existing bike unless the bike is completely the wrong size for you. You may able to sort out the saddle yourself if you have a quick release seat pin clamp (google this if you are not sure).
If you are buying a bike but are not sure about sizing, you can check this via many sizing tools online. As a rule, sizing is based on height.
*Special note for women here: whilst this is generally improving, it is still too often the case that female specific bikes have a lower specification, but are more expensive than the male versions. Just because you are a woman doesn’t mean you definitely need a female specific bike, so that’s something to bear in mind! All my bikes are not female specific.
I am sure other cyclists will say that there are many more factors to a bike fitting properly and they would be correct. However, for the purposes of getting your bike to be comfortable without spending lots of money, I would say these are the two most important factors.
Saddles – these sometimes can feel like instruments of torture when they are new to you. As you ride more, the saddle will mould to your shape and become more comfortable. Sometimes the saddle will be fine from the outset and sometimes you’ll never get on with it. There are solutions if that happens – don’t give up! Good bike shops will be experienced in advising on adjustments that can be made and help you get one that suits you.
The current circumstances we find ourselves in are scary and unusual. I find it reassuring in these times to see those helping and supporting others. I thought about what I might be able to offer. As an experienced cyclist seeing loads of new and returning cyclists out and about, I thought I might be able to give some simple tips on making your cycling experience easier and more comfortable. I have collaborated with Jonathan Keenan of Walk Ride Greater Manchester on putting this blog series together.
The main thing to remember is that cycling is a simple pleasure. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of information out there. If you have a bike that you like and feel good riding, then read no further!
But if you are wanting some pointers on either improving your cycling experience or are looking to start riding, then I hope this series is helpful.
About the writers:
Jane Bedford McLaren – is solicitor acting for vulnerable road users at Leigh Day and also rides a bike regularly. She cycles to work and likes to ride bikes at the weekend with her local women’s cycling group, Team Glow, of which she is ride leader coordinator. She also gives her time and voice to Walk Ride Chorlton.
Jonathan Keenan – is a freelance photographer based in his Northern Quarter studio and living in Chorlton. He’s a secret petrolhead and occasionally drives for work but it makes him very grumpy. He took to cycle touring as a youth, including organising an expedition to cross Iceland long before that was somewhere anyone went. Interest in architecture, regeneration and urbanism came together with his interest in cycling when kids came along and it became obvious how much their independence and freedom was stifled by our car-centric design and planning, so he became an activist for better cities through the medium of cycle infrastructure. He now has an unfortunate inclination to suggest a bike is the solution to any and every social problem. Because it is.