People all around the world are getting back into commuter cycling in a big way. It makes so much sense – it’s cheaper, greener and way more fun than driving or catching public transport. However, riding a bike can become a drag very quickly if you haven’t got some simple things right. This list is hardly exhaustive, there are so many things to learn about bikes, but it is a good place to start.
1. Adjust your bike correctly
I see lots and lots of people cruising about town with a seat that is either too high or too low for them – the problem is that a high seat will make you unbalanced and put you at risk for damaging your achilles tendons, while a seat that is too low will make pedalling very difficult. Adjust your seat so that when the pedal is at its lowest point your legs are almost-but-not-quite straight. If your toes are pointed then your seat is too high, if your knee is very bent then your seat is too low.
Not only do you have to check if your seat is too high, you should also check that the angle of your saddle is correct. Start with the entire seat oriented exactly parallel with the ground and ride it for a while. If you are sliding forward, backwards, or are just plain uncomfortable then experiment with adjusting the seat slightly forwards or backwards. If you still can’t get comfortable then it is probably time to try a new saddle.
2. Keep your tyres inflated
Before you go into your bike shop to complain that there is something wrong with your bike because it is too slow, you should check if the tyres are properly inflated. It is normal for tubes to go down over time because they are made from a semi-permeable material, this means that you will need to re-inflate your them to the recommended psi every two weeks or so. The tyre will have the recommended psi range printed on the side, for riding on sealed roads you can generally inflate them to the maximum pressure. If they keep deflating very quickly then you probably have a slow puncture and should replace the inner tube, your mechanic can do this for you very cheaply, but it is also very easy to do yourself if you want to give it a go.
3. Lube your chain
Lubing a chain properly will give you a quiet ride with minimal friction,while helping keep your chain cleaner and extending its lifespan. A rusty chain will creak, crunch and just be all-around awful. Lubing chains is also very easy, so you really don’t need to leave it up to your bicycle mechanic. Buy the lube from your local bike shop and apply it to the inside of the chain the entire way round, the best place to do this is at the point just before your chain meets the front chainring (just be careful of your fingers). Wipe off the excess lube, as too much will attract dirt and gunk. Enjoy your smooth ride and simply re-apply when you clean your bike or when you notice that the chain looks a bit dry.
4. You don’t always need special gear
For 90% of the riding that you do your regular clothes will be fine and you won’t need to carry a whole swag of tools and parts. If you are in the city and have a mechanical issue then chances are there will be a bike shop within walking distance. Most people that I know who ride regularly don’t carry any tools except (maybe) a multi-tool and occasionally a spare tube or patch kit. These things are small and will fit easily into your normal bag. Cycling specific clothing is really only necessary on very long rides where you are going to be very sweaty. I own one pair of knicks (special padded pants for cycling) and have worn them twice. Just remember to tuck your trousers into your socks to prevent them getting caught in your front chain ring. Skirts can be more difficult, but don’t despair – Johanna Holtan’s simple Penny In Yo Pants trick will make life easier.
5. Go your own way
It is unlikely that you will want to ride the same route that you would drive in your car. Riding on the smaller, quieter roads is infinitely nicer, and you will often discover gems in your neighbourhood that you never knew existed. Take your time to explore different routes and don’t be afraid to get lost, turning around and retracing your path never hurt anyone. While riding a bike is often a faster way to get places, most of the joy is in actually riding and experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of the world around you – so going a different or unusual way to your destination will make your commute more interesting and fun, like it should be.