Sunday, 6 April 2014

So you wanna start riding to work/school etc?

The light nights and warm days are almost upon us, and some may be wanting to start cycling to work or to school.

Cycling will make any trip much more fun and pleasant than being in a car & what better way to round off a day in the office staring through the window at the sun than a bike ride home in it.

Riding a bike is simple and fun, And about the only special piece of equipment you will need is a bicycle. Here's some hints and tips which certainly for me make riding for transport a lot more pleasant and easier.

The bike

If you haven't got a bike hiding at the back of the shed, then you'll be needing one.
You don't need a full suspension mountain bike with masses of travel or a top end carbon racing bike. Yea, they're great in the correct place, but riding to work or the supermarket isn't it.

All you need is a straightforward bike with no suspension, or just some simple front suspension. Look for places where you can attach proper full length mudguards, and a rear rack if (like most) it doesn't have them already. Lights are ace as well, and along with the guards and rack will allow the bike to be used anytime, and not just on dry days.

This Btwin night and day from Decathlon may not be the lightest bike, but for £230 with rack, mudguards and hub dynamo lighting it is a ready to run all purpose transport bike. If you have more, then something like this is available.

Carefully buy the best bike you can afford though as the extra money will buy a better lighter frame, and better more durable components.


If you can, then fit full length mudguards on as even on dry days with damp roads they keep the water and mud off you and the bike. Unless you have no option avoid the ones that clip to the seatpost and anything that is not full length.
If you are keen a DIY mudflap attached to the bottom of the front guard can protect your feet and the bike even more.

Racks and luggage

If one can be fitted then fit a rear rack, as they are so useful and cheap. If you have the mounting points on the seat stays, then a 4 point rack is best. You can purchase P clips if your bike does not have the mounting points. Alternatively a rack that fixes to the brake/mudguard bridge (a 3 point) will do, but will be less stable.
Cantilevered racks that attach to only the seatpost should be avoided for all but the lightest and smallest loads.
Also invest in some panniers that are separable, so you can use just one if you are not carrying much. Putting any luggage on the bike is much more comfortable than on your back, and will let you carry much more. Buy some rubble sacks (very heavy duty bin bags) from the supermarket, and use as liners inside the panniers. They will keep any rain out, and will last.
Keep a couple of elastic straps on the top of the rack as they will come in handy for the odd thing that is too bulky to fit inside the bags.


For commuting and transport, I swear by Schwalbe Marathon plus. Look for the ones with smart guard puncture protection. When you are buying and fitting the tyres, also replace the plastic tape that covers the top of the spokes with cotton rim tape such as Velox. The plastic eventually splits or moves, and can then allow the spokes to puncture the inner tube.


If you're gonna be using the bike all year round, then by far the best thing is a hub dynamo and fixed lights. I'll cover this in a separate blog post.

Having a set of lights on the bike (or in the bag) is handy as for most of the year, evening riding in the UK will be either dark or getting dark. LED battery lights come in all shapes and sizes and costs.
If you are relying on battery lights, always have at least a couple of front and rears, in case one fails.

Carry a spare set of batteries in the bag if you are going any distance, and practice changing the batteries in comfort so it will be easy in the dark when the rain is pouring (cos that's the only time batteries go flat!).

Lock it, don't lose it.

Never leave your bike unlocked. Buy and use a good branded U-lock, and buy a second lock or a cable extension as well. Wheel locks such as this one which are bolted to the frame are popular in Europe, and are a good thing to have fitted as an extra deterrent or for that 30 second nip in the shop whilst you can see the bike.

Always lock the bike to something immovable, and that the bike and lock cannot just be lifted over. Try to fill the space in a U-lock so things like jacks cannot be used to pry it apart. Wrap the cable or second lock around to lock as much of the rest of the bike as you can.

Be prepared

Unless you are only on a short hop where walking back would be quicker than repairing, then carry a basic toolkit.
A multitool - These vary enormously. I carry the now sadly defunct CoolTool. Whatever you buy, make sure it has the tools to fit your bike, and doesn't have a lot of stuff you won't need.
Tyre levers - Carry 3 or 4 of the plastic tyre levers. They weigh nowt, and occasionally break.
A spare inner tube - Easier to replace the tube and repair any puncture at home then on the roadside. Make sure you remove whatever caused the puncture from the tyre though!
A pump - Again, these vary in size and performance, but generally the smaller and cheaper they are the harder they are to use. Make sure the one you have fits the valves on your bike. Topeak are well regarded. I happily use a cyclair, but others have had mixed results
A puncture repair kit - It's not unknown to get more than one puncture. Kits are light and small, so carry one. Rema Tip Top kits are about the best I have ever used

Purchase and keep a full sized bicycle pump at home, and keep the tyres inflated. That will minimise the drag from the tyres, making riding easier, and reduce the likelihood of punctures, or tyre/wheel damage due to the tyre bottoming out over potholes or kerbs.

Regularly use a proper chain lube to lube and clean the chain. Most of the time in the UK a lube for wet conditions is best as the weather can be changeable.

Regularly check the brakes to make sure they are working properly, and that the blocks (assuming rim brakes) are lined up correctly against the rim. If you are unsure, then get them checked at a cycle shop.

Regularly check things like cranks, pedals, the headset for any signs of looseness or play. Checking regularly means that if and when something does loosen you will be able to detect the change.

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