Ride To Work
Home Up Tyre Liners


On Yer Bike...

When you drive to work in your car or wait on the crowded platform for your train do you ever wish there was a better way? On that sunny morning do you think you would be enjoying it more if you were going to work under your own power?

Many people worry about the way we are polluting the air we breath, worry about their health or lack of exercise so why don’t more people cycle to work? I suppose there are many reasons including lack of showers, parking/storage facilities and increased travel time which dissuade people from cycling to work.

Most of these obstacles can be overcome and cycling to work can be fun and the best way to start your day. Certainly for me one of the best decisions I made was to try cycling to work. This page shows you how to get started.

Think GloballyTopics covered are:

Riding Safely

I think there are two things that any cyclist needs to remember, to be "assertive" (not aggressive) and to share the road. The cyclist should aim to be part of the traffic flow, obey all the traffic rules - this means stopping at stop signs and traffic lights - and be predictable.

Positioning on the road: The key to safe riding, the cyclist needs to assert their right to space on the road but at the same time keeping themself safe. The RTA recommends riding at least 1 metre from the kerb and in my experience this is about right, if you ride in the gutter then cars will try to squeeze past, not to mention this is where all the rubbish from the road accumulates.  When coming up to intersections look for the best position to safely carry out your intentions, when turning right indicate and when safe to do so move out to the right. When stopping at traffic lights I have found it is safer to move into the centre of the lane so that cars are not tempted to try and push past while you are still getting your balance, then move over to your normal position about a metre out from the kerb.

Generally speaking I try to keep at least a metre from any obstacle including parked cars. When passing rows of parked cars avoid pulling in and out when there are longer spaces between them, I think this is more dangerous than taking up the road space. The only exception is if the street is narrow and cars are banking up behind you, you might earn browny points for pulling in and letting the cars past (but don't hold your breath waiting for praise).

Look Ahead: Watch out for obstructions, potholes, debris on the road. Keep an eye on parked cars if they are occupied the doors might open or they could move out. You don’t want to be forced to swerve so position yourself to avoid such obstacles in plenty of time.

Practice: learn how to brake hard safely on dry and wet surfaces, how to ride straight while glancing behind, how to get your foot out of the clips (if you use them) quickly. No matter how careful you are the day will come when you have to brake hard, you don’t want to throw yourself over the handlebars, apart from anything else it is embarrassing. Try your brakes out on a quiet street or car park, get the feel of how hard you can apply the front brake to slow down quickly, remember that the rear brake is effectively useless for an emergency stop.

Be Seen: Don’t wear dark clothing, those high visibility vests are great and make sure you have lights when riding at night - get the brightest lights you can afford. Position yourself to be seen, if you ride in the gutter you are less likely to be noticed than if you are further out in the lane. Indicate your intentions clearly.

Share the Road: Don’t obstruct cars unnecessarily, on shared bike paths sound your bell to warn pedestrians of your approach, slow down, remember a pedestrian can move in any direction at any time! Above all don’t over react, there will be occasions when cars come too close for comfort but kicking the car won’t make that motorist any safer and he might take it out on the next cyclist he comes across.

Planning your Route

This can be half the fun. Exploring new routes, checking out short cuts, adding detours can add to the pleasure of cycling to work. The aim is to find a route which give you the most pleasure be it on council cycleways, suburban streets, main roads or combinations of them all. Factors to look out for are terrain, road surface and width, distance, amount of traffic plus the time of day you will be travelling.

Look up possible routes in your street directory then check them out, not necessarily by bike at first, explore alternatives, the shortest route may not be the fastest or the safest. Alternate routes can also add variety to your trip.

Don’t overlook the possibility of combining cycling with other forms of transport, there are cycle lockers at many railway stations, even car pooling for part of the journey is a possibility.

You will probably be pleasantly surprised when it comes to timing your commuting route. My own experience was that cycling 14 km to work took only 35 to 40 minutes compared with 15 to 20 minutes it took me to drive the same journey - hardly a big difference. City travelling would probably offer even better comparisons.

If your route has problems complain long and loud to the local council(s) on the basis that the squeaky wheel etc.

Facilities at work.

When you arrive at work you need somewhere to keep your bike safe, somewhere to change and perhaps shower. You may be lucky and these facilities are already available but if not have a word with your boss. (S)he may be quite willing to provide facilities especially if there are other people interested in cycling as well - providing bike parking can be a lot cheaper than providing car spaces. Have a look around yourself there may be a suitable shed or room where your bike can be secured, investigate the cost of a suitable bike rack or locker system.

If necessary invest in a good U-Lock (much cheaper than a new bike). Canvas other employees about forming a workplace Bicycle User Group (BUG).

Find out if there is a shower or change room you can use. Do you actually need a shower? there are some who cycle leisurely to work in their work clothes and don’t raise a sweat.

Clothing

When I first started cycling to work regularly I just wore any old gear and resisted buying any special clothing but eventually time and experience taught me that the right clothing while not essential does make any ride far more comfortable.  Clothing must fulfil three essential requirements, comfort, visibility and protection.

The one essential item is your helmet, modern helmets are light, come in many styles and are required by law in all states - wear it, if you do fall off it may save your head. The worst it will do is save you from a fine (and the cost of a helmet can be a lot cheaper than the fine).

Apart from a helmet the first item of cycling clothing I bought was a pair of gloves. I had a tumble where my only injury were scraped and bloodied hands so I decided that padded cycling gloves were a cheap and worthwhile investment.

Cycling 12km to work seemed to be fine in an old pair of shorts but as soon as I tried travelling a bit further their inadequacy was soon revealed by a very chaffed thigh! With some misgivings I bought a pair of cycling knicks and was amazed by the difference they made; because of their design they don’t rub, the seams don’t dig in to tender parts and the chamois liner certainly makes the seat more comfortable. The longer your journey the more you appreciate them. These days I use a pair of cycling shorts with an inner liner rather than the form hugging knicks but the advantage is the same.

There are many suitable tops but a bright T shirt will do. Good quality cycling tops are designed to wick the sweat away from your body but a T shirt is much cheaper, it's up to you. For the last few years I cycled to work I wore a high visibility vest complete with reflective stripes.

The Cold

In the winter the secret is to think ‘layers’ as you cycle you warm up and it is nice to be able to remove or open clothing as you go so you keep warm but don’t over heat.  Whatever you wear don't start off 'warm' because it won't be too long before you are much too hot.

The Wet

I don't carry wet weather gear as I operate on the theory that you can only get so wet after that the water just runs off anyway. The cheap rain jackets make you sweat so much that you are probably no drier in them anyway.

If you are looking for quality cycling clothes you would be hard pressed to find better than Ground Effect. Ok, it's a free plug but I like their clothing. As I have indicated I wish I had bought proper cycling shorts/knicks and gloves from the beginning but all the other gear is nice but not essential.

Equipment

Lets face it, if you already have a bike that is what you are going to use at least to start off with, once you have ridden for while you will get to know things you would like to change or improve. There are bikes and there are bikes but basically there are three types you can consider.

Road bikes - ‘drop’ handle bars and narrow high pressure tyres. Fast and light, sacrifice a bit of comfort for speed, not designed for kerb jumping or off road though they are surprisingly strong. There are also touring versions which take a slightly larger tyre and have fittings for racks.

Mountain bikes - straight handlebars and fat tyres, with or without suspension, heavier than a road bike but able to cope with a wide range of surfaces. Gearing is much lower than a road bike so hills are a breeze however on the flat or downhill, for some people, top gear may not be 'tall' enough. Most bike shops stock a big range of these as well as a selection of smooth, narrow(er) tyres for 'on road' use.

Hybrids - a compromise between the road and mountain bike, better gearing for road use, usually with a straight handle bar and fatter tyres than the road bike for a more comfortable ride.

If you need to change into smart working clothes perhaps you need to consider panniers to carry your change of clothing. If you work in the central business district then keeping your clothes at work and using the local dry cleaner might be a solution.

Tools

Unless you don't venture far from home the absolute minimum you need to carry on your bike is:

  • A suitable pump.
  • A puncture repair kit.
  • A set of tyre levers.
  • Spare inner tube (if you have quick release wheels).

To improve your security add to this very basic equipment a few other tools:

  • A 100 or 150 mm adjustable spanner.
  • 4, 5 and 6 mm hex Allen keys (if used on your bike).
  • Small screwdriver.
  • Spoke spanner.
  • Electrical tape.
  • a few cable ties.

To carry these tools on your bike you can buy a purpose built bag from your local bike shop or you can make an excellent lightweight waterproof toolbox for next to nothing in a matter of minutes.

It is worthwhile practising repairing a puncture because as sure as eggs is eggs the day will come when you have to repair one (or several) and there is nothing worse than learning how on a dark, wet night. Unless you are a racer then fitting tyre liners might be something to consider, I fitted them to my bike and punctures became a thing of the past. Remember also that a 'pinch' puncture is one of the most common punctures; it is caused by the inner tube being trapped between the rim and an obstacle such as a stone, piece of wood, kerb etc. These punctures do not occur if the tyres are pumped up to the correct pressure - this is something worth checking regularly

Some tools to consider if you intend to do your own maintenance are:

  • Cone spanners.
  • Chain breaker.
  • Crank remover.
  • Gear cluster remover.
  • Bottom Bracket remover.

None of these tools are expensive but together can add up to a reasonable sum. It is probably best to buy them as you as you need them, in fact the last two are only used once a year or less so consider whether it is better to get the bike shop to help with this.

Other tools such as open ended spanners (8 mm to 17 mm), screwdrivers and cutter/pliers are found in most home tool boxes.

Generally speaking there is little on a bike that the average, sensible person cannot adjust or maintain successfully (I exclude STI brake levers <g>). There are plenty of good books on repairs and maintenance while magazines like Australian Cyclist regularly have articles on maintenance subjects. Even wheels can be straightened with a little practice and patience. Have a look at Bike Maintenance to see some of the tasks you can perform.

A Pump

If you have some spare cash one item well worth buying is a workshop pump. If your tyres have Schroeder valves (same as car tyres) then for less than $20 you can buy a foot pump with a pressure gauge from Kmart's motor department - great for tyres up to about 80 psi but struggles at higher pressures. If you have Presta valves then a workshop pump with a gauge will cost at least $50 but believe me it is worth every cent - there is no pleasure in pumping a tyre to over 110 psi using a small hand pump, with a workshop pump it takes seconds. Keep the hand pump for roadside emergencies!

The Last Word

My mobile phone has saved me from a couple of very long walks, once when I ripped out the sidewall of a tyre and later when I stacked my bike and bent the frame!

The most important thing is to enjoy your cycling.

Copyright © Bruce Lloyd 2008


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