Getting Back On Your Bike: Cycling Essentials Part Two
Words by Jane Bedford McLaren and Jonathan Keenan.
Image by Lucy Sykes.
There are loads of different bikes intended for different things and there is a lot to consider. This section of the blog series is the longest – we have tried to keep it as short as possible and we really want to avoid overwhelming people with too much information. However, we have tried to balance that with equipping you with the essentials as this is probably the most crucial stage in your cycling journey.
If you are digging out a bike that has been in your shed for a number of years, you might be limited on what you can do to make it fit for your purposes. I would recommend taking it to your local independent bike shop so that they can give it a service before you start riding it. You can also have a conversation with them about what you will be using it for as they might be able to offer some modifications so that it better suits your needs. The list below are some things to consider.
If you are buying a bike, then you should think about what you will be doing on it. There is a bike for every occasion, for every budget and taste. This piece is aimed at everyday journeys such as short commutes, shopping, schools, friends and similar trips. Probably only a few miles, possibly carrying shopping or work stuff.
There are a few types of bikes that are often preferred by people using a bike for the above sorts of journeys:
- Dutch style bikes – If you look at somewhere like the Netherlands, where cycling is a part of everyday life, the majority of people are using simple bikes with few gears that aren’t light but are strong, uncomplicated, comfortable and capable of years of use with relatively little maintenance. They get you about with all the wonderful sense of freedom that riding a bike brings. If slow and steady is your thing then seeking out a ‘Dutch’ bike may be a way to go.
- Hybrid – The nearest equivalent is the ‘Hybrid’, so called because it is a mix of a touring, racing and utility bike kitted out to make the sort of journeys this blog series is about. They come in many budgets, shapes, and sizes, so if you are visiting a shop then try a few.
Gears: These are your secret weapon. Generally speaking, the more you have the easier your riding will be, so long as you make use of them.
Gears can be built into the hub of a wheel, which keeps out the dirt and requires little maintenance – a lot of Dutch style bikes have these gears. Hub gears have the advantage of being able to change gear whilst stationary (say whilst waiting at traffic lights) so you can always be in the right gear to set off again, but it is also easy to get used to changing gear as you slow so you are ready to set off.
If you are trying out a second-hand bike, make sure the gears work and that the lowest gear (easiest to pedal) is plenty easy enough for you to pull away on a hill or whilst carrying a load. You’ll be glad of this if you find yourself heading home against the wind one day!
Here are some features you will probably want but are often overlooked:
- Mudguards or mounts – so you can ride the bike in wet weather. Trust me when I say you do NOT want to ride in the rain without mudguards and other bike riders you encounter won’t want you to either! If you have a bike without these or the mounts for them, you can buy clip-on mudguards.
- Rack or mounts for it – this is so that you can carry your stuff in rack-mounted bags (called panniers) instead of on your back, which will leave your back sweaty. It is not something you might want to use immediately, but it’s good to have the rack or mounts for it if you end up wanting to use panniers.
- Tyres – clearance for tyres that are wide enough to cope with potholed roads, canal paths or other off-road cycling paths – I don’t mean full on mountain bike tyres, but say around 28mm to 42mm (this is the width of the tyre). This will mean a smoother ride and makes the bike more versatile.
- E-bike – these are bikes that have a small motor to assist when you encounter a hill or just need a boost. I love e-bikes – they have made cycling accessible for so many.
- Pedals – bikes generally don’t come with pedals so you will need to order those too. I would suggest going with standard flat pedals so that you are not having to change your shoes.
- Dynamo hub – this is definitely not essential, but if a bike has one fitted it means that you don’t have to think about lights, as these are powered by the dynamo which is powered by the rotation of the wheels.
Quick note on frame materials / design:
- Steel – this can be a great material, as it can be strong, cheap, can be light, last indefinitely if cared for and is fixable. It can also be very heavy depending on the quality and how it is constructed.
- Aluminium – strong and relatively cheap and light.
- Carbon Fibre – strong and expensive and can be super light. Used mainly on racing bikes, but is increasingly used on some parts of the frame, like the forks, as they can absorb a lot of road vibration.
Bad things to look out for:
- Steel bikes pretending to be aluminium; these tend to have big tubes and be extra heavy and will be a horrible ride.
- Full suspension ‘mountain bikes’ that sell new for under £500. They will be very heavy and bounce along in a very tiring way, absorbing most of your energy into that bouncing movement. If you are intending on riding your bike down a rocky mountain, a full suspension mountain bike is definitely a good idea. However, one that is properly designed for that purpose will be much more than £500 as new and is not designed to be ridden on tarmac or flattish trails.
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.