You've decided to ride a bike to work - great choice! Whether you're a seasoned summertime cyclist, or getting out there for the first time, commuting by bike doesn't have to be complicated.
We all have good days and bad days, and by giving yourself the best start, you’ll have more of the former, and less of the latter. So here are a few things to get you started...
Get the right tool for the job
Not all bikes are created equal, and neither are all commutes!
Long or short, flat or hilly, tarmac or towpath; make sure your bike’s up for the job, and if it's not, invest in one that is. Make friends with your local bike shop, as they can help you pick the right bike for your commute.
All commuter bikes should have good quality components that will stand the test of time, and while sometimes the initial cost can be a little daunting, it's a necessary investment. Generally, a bike that costs under £300 will be fitted with cheaper parts, and it's designed for the occasional ride or pootle. However, if you're riding it more than 6 miles a day, all year round in all weathers, you need something that's designed to do just that.
Learn some basic bike maintenance
You don't need to know how to index gears or re-cable your brakes, but a little preventative maintenance goes a long way. Here are a few starting points to keep your bike happy on the road:
- Keep your chain lubricated. A dry chain will wear away your cassette, which is expensive to replace. Get into the habit of regularly cleaning and oiling your chain, and maximise the lifespan of your bike's 'consumable' parts.
- Keep your tyres pumped up. Without enough air, your ride will feel sluggish, and you'll be more prone to punctures. Tyres have a recommended range of PSI numbers printed on the sidewall. Use a track pump with a pressure gauge for this and if you don't have one, your local bike shop will have one you can use.
- Learn to fix a puncture. Inevitably you’ll hear that hissing, but don't let it force you to walk your bike to work. With a little know-how and a couple of tools in your bag, you can be back on the road in no time. There are plenty of resources online to help you learn this, or ask at a local bike shop.
Learn some road etiquette
Help other road users to understand your intentions, which will keep you safe in the long run. Master looking over your shoulder and riding one-handed, so you can safely indicate when you're about to make a turn.
If you catch up to a slower cyclist, don't undertake on the left. Wait until it's safe, and overtake on the right. Perhaps even say hello as you pass!
Finally, don't run red lights. In best-case scenarios it can frustrate motorists, and worst-case, you could collide with a pedestrian. There's usually a space for cyclists at traffic lights, so practise filtering to the front for that head-start.
See, and be seen
You don't have to be a 'high-viz hero' if you don't want to be, but put a decent set of lights on your bike. Use them on flash mode at dusk, then switch to a constant beam when it's fully dark. If you're riding on unlit bike paths or country roads, grab a decent voltage (at least 200V) so you can light up the path ahead of you. You never know when a pothole is looming.
Take the lane
Riding on Britain's roads can be intimidating, but you have a right to be there. Many cyclists ride on the edge of the road with the drain covers, gravel and glass, and the danger of being struck by an opening car door.
The road surface isn’t safe, and leaving all that space to your right invites motorists to squeeze past you. Place yourself firmly in the middle of the lane if there's no room for them to overtake, and when the oncoming lane is empty, they can safely pass. Until then, they have to wait. Your safety always comes first.
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