Tips For New Cyclists

I have read a number of guides containing tips for new cyclists over the years. Most of the guides are the same as this, and contain advice which centres around buying a sports bicycle and modifying it and your attire to make up for the shortcomings of using this type of bike for everyday transportation purposes.

Myth: You have three choices of bike; road, mountain or hybrid.

The bicycle retail industry in the UK is focussed mainly around the sporting end of the market. Cycling for sport is fine, but it does mean that many bike shops advise their customers to get sports bikes which are inappropriate for their needs.

The bike needs of most people boil down to a desire to get from A to B, in relative comfort on a reliable bike. This type of bike is a roadster, or “Dutch bike.” Some examples of useful, everyday transportation bicycles include:

Pashley Roadster/Princess Sovereign

 
 
 

There are many more bikes which are fit for everyday transportation. All of these bikes contain all or most of the characteristics described in a previous post, mudguards, chain-guard/case, upright riding position, low-maintenance and reliable mechanical parts (internal hub gears, drum brakes, hub dynamo), durable tyres, lights and a frame-fitting lock. With a bike like these, you can simply hop on the bike in whatever clothes you are wearing and go.

Most bicycles for sale used to fall into this category, but as they were replaced by cars in the 1950s and 60s, the bicycle industry in the UK (and most of the English-speaking world) responded by marketing cycling as sport instead, in the hope that people would spend money on cars and bikes. This approach worked to a degree, most people own a bike, they simply don’t really use it. The reason for this is the reason for the typical guide written for new cyclists focuses on how to endure using  a sports bike for everyday transportation, with bicycles marketed as sporting goods, the average person buys a sporting bicycle.

Myth: You need a toolkit/pump etc.

If you use a sporting bicycle for general transportation, the limitations of doing so will make themselves known, either through frequent punctures or components such as brakes and gears needing frequent adjustments. Roadsters also  suffer from punctures, but much less frequently. This is because they come with much more durable tyres (sports bikes come with lightweight, puncture-prone tyres). Gears and brakes on a roadster will need much less attention and maintenance because their gears and brakes are internal and more durable.

Chain cleaning and maintenance are mentioned in a lot of articles, but riding a bike with a full chain-case means that chain cleaning and lubricating needs to be done much, much less frequently.

Being prepared for these situations isn’t a bad idea, but it will not feel as important if you have the right kind of bike.

Myth: You need cycle-specific clothes, and a shower when you get to work.

A sport bicycle will come without mudguards, or a chain-guard/case. This leads to filthy water from the road being sprayed up your back during and after rainfall, and oily filth from the chain ending up on your trousers.

The sporty feel of the bike encourages you to travel at a greater speed, which will make you hot and sweaty. A marginal drop in speed reduces aerodynamic drag by a more-than-proportional amount, so that whilst travelling more slowly will get you to your destination a few minutes later, you will not be sweaty and in need of a shower and/or change of clothes.

Myth: You need a helmet,and a high-visibility tabard.

Helmets and high-visibility gear are heavily promoted by various levels of government and the cycle industry as necessities for cyclists. The dubious benefits of helmets have been discussed here previously. High visibility gear is not a legal requirement before or after dark (unlike lights), but it can have benefits for those concerned about not being seen by negligent motorists. The promotion of both of these types of gear by government makes cycling look more dangerous than it actually is, and contributes to the stagnation and decline of cycling as a mode of transport.

Both helmets and high-visibility are a reaction to the poor conditions and lack of provisions for cyclists on the roads. I would not judge an individual negatively for choosing to use either of them, but it is the job of government to tackle the root cause of the problem rather than promoting things like helmets and high-visibility, designed to treat the symptoms of a problem.

Hopefully the work of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain will help to reverse this sad trend

Myth: Weight is important

If you want to race your bike, or ride up mountains, weight becomes more important, but for everyday transportation it is largely irrelevant. Even an extra few kilograms is very little in comparison to the weight of a rider, and once the bike is moving even a large amount of extra weight simple melts away.

Many of the drawbacks of sport bicycles come from an obsession with weight; lightweight tyres puncture more easily, lighter derailleur gears are less durable than internal hub gears and essential items such as racks, lights and locks are omitted from sport bicycles to save weight and create an accessories market containing essential items which should really be included with, or built into a practical transportation bike.

Now, that isn’t to say that some things won’t make riding a bike more pleasant. If you want to carry things, a backpack will be less pleasant than panniers. Panniers which convert into backpacks are available (although considering how obviously good this idea is, there are very few of them around). Alternatively, permanently-attached Dutch-style panniers are also a good option, just throw your backpack or bag-for-life full of stuff in there whilst you ride the bike.

A frame-fitting lock is useful, but a D-lock is a worthwhile investment (If you want even more peace-of-mind, try this lock). I will write about good locking technique in a future post. The wind-chill effect you get whilst riding means that you may feel the need for gloves whilst cycling for more of the the year than you do when walking. For transportation purposes, cycle-specific gloves are a bit of a con, just find something comfortable which keeps the wind out too.

A bit of adjustment to basic bike fit, understanding why bikes have gears and keeping your tyres at the right pressure will also help make the experience easier and nicer in the long run.

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6 thoughts on “Tips For New Cyclists

  1. Just a couple of points to add:Getting the right bike will also mean you use it more, because you don't need to think beyond what you would normally require if you were just popping out in the car or for a quick walk to the shops. I've even forgot my keys a few times, but I can still lock my bike with the frame lock, as the key is permanently in it (apart from when locked). You may be travelling slightly slower – but as my other half commented, you feel like you are going faster if you are sat up straight – especially going down hill!

  2. What a fantastic post. I think we need more of these so people who think about starting using bikes for transport can find them more easily. At the moment all you get is exactly what you mentioned – road, MTB or hybrid, which means that people are just dissatisfied with their purchase as it's lacking the functionality they need. I've read numerous posts on bike forums relating to costs and maintenance of the sport bikes, which might simply put people off cycling – I mean do you really want to true your wheels, clean the drivetrain or change breaking pads every two – four weeks? No, I thought not. While it's understandable that bike shops wanted to survive the carnage the car has brought to them I think it's time they start seeing an opening market. There's obviously a lot of inertia, but already there are shops opening which cater for the need of a practical, every-day bike. The myths you mentioned also attribute to the fact that cycling is becoming a niche for young and brave males who like to wear their lycra warrior suit. This in turn makes cycling unpopular with the general public who see it as aggressive and not appealing or practical. I personally bought into this craze at first when I knew nothing about cycling – I didn't even now roadsters existed. My first bike was a road bike, quickly replaced by a pashley princess. My journey time was only 10 minutes longer (40 instead of 30) but was much more comfortable and I didn't loose time changing clothes (nor did I loose money on "kit"). Now I often ride a bakfiets and my journey takes roughly the same time – so weight doesn't matter that much. Plus these bikes have effectively replaced the car, which a sporty bike could never do. Again – thanks for this post.

  3. @sheffield cycle chicMy frame lock doesn't insist on keeping the key when it is unlocked, but I can see the advantages of that design. Luckily I can't forget my lock because my bikes are locked at home (communal bike parking area in my building).As for the speed difference, it is more than offset by the ease of getting on and going, the lack of need to change clothes, perform as much maintenance, fix as many flats or shower when you arrive at work.@nrduIt is a shame that many bike shops are happy to sell people bikes which will go unused through their innate unsuitability. Sport bikes are high performance and high maintenance, not ideal for everyday use at all. I also bought into the idea of cycling as sport, when I got my Yuba Mundo it really brought home how impractical my other bike at the time (a mountain bike) was. I started to ride the huge Yuba Mundo as my everyday bike, just because despite its size and heft, it was more practical. In the end I swapped the mountain bike for something a bit more practical and dependable. I'm surprised I stuck with cycling with such impractical machines, but I'm glad I did and that I found good everyday bikes eventually. I definitely use my bikes for more of my journeys now I can do so in comfort and without worrying about mechanical problems.

  4. Kudos for posting the link on the Bikeradar forum. Having lurked there for a few weeks it appears to provide many answers to the question 'How do I cycle to work with maximum street cred?'As you rightly point out, cycling should be about getting from A to B at low cost with maximum convenience.I'm not sure the Dutchie should be included in your list of recommendations. Triangulating opinion elsewhere, it's not in the same class as the leading Dutch manufacturers like Gazelle, Batavus, Azor and BSP.

  5. @fairweathercyclist,You are right, the Dutchie isn't in the same league as the others. When I was making the list I wanted to put a cheaper but still fully featured bike on there, the expense of all the others would be a hard sell to someone with little experience of bikes. It would still provide a better experience for the A to B needs of the average person than the same amount spent on a racer, hybrid or a mountain bike though.It must have been someone else who posted the link on Bikeradar.

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