Getting around on a bike

Cycling is booming in Australia — not just for recreation but for transport.
 
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  • Updated:29 Feb 2008
 

03.Gearing up

Transport essentials

Safety vestHere's our checklist of essentials for transport on your bike. You should have:

  • a recently serviced bike that fits you
  • a helmet
  • front and rear lights for visibility if you cycle after dark
  • a bell and possibly horn
  • bright clothing
  • a route plan
  • a bag that suits your needs
  • a rain plan or gear
  • a repairs plan or kit
  • a bike lock or secure parking at destination

Don’t feel like you have to get a Tour de France makeover with full Lycra body suit, toe clips and bike computer — these aren’t the domain of the everyday rider! That said, experts do recommend a few essentials — starting with the obvious!

Bike

Red bikeDust off your old bike, or buy a new or used one, and have it professionally serviced. Bikes need regular attention, and just like a car, the more you use it, the sooner it’ll need a tune up so it’s good to learn how to do the basics yourself – tyres brakes and chain. Above all, ensure that your bike fits you properly, has brakes that work in all weather conditions, and check the tyre pressure weekly.

If you decide to purchase a bike, beware of false economies — a shop that doesn’t specialise in bikes may sell you a bike that isn’t a good fit for you — and it probably won’t be as good quality as one from a specialist shop. If you intend to park in the street, theft can be an issue, so think twice about the type of bike you get and don’t overspend.

Local cycling organisations can give you advice about choosing a bike (see Useful links) — it’s also helpful to talk with friends who cycle, or fellow riders online (to get started, check out our cyclists' feedback forum).

There are many options to choose from, such as mountain bikes with road tyres, folding bikes, a bike with shock absorbers you can switch on and off as you ride, and various gearing. Most bikes are now sold with 24 gears, though you can find some with just one gear, or three gears. Internal (hub) gears might make maintenance easier – but your workout will be harder!

Some bikes are quite heavy and hard to attach luggage to — all the more reason to get your bike from a shop that appreciates how you’ll be using your bike and what customising adjustments you’ll want. It’s particularly important for women to get a seat that’s a good fit and to angle it comfortably, because women have a different leg length and a wider pelvis than men.

Helmet

Bike helmetNew helmets are light, comfortable and well ventilated. But you don't need to spend hundreds of dollars - just make sure it meets the Australian Standard — non-negotiable and downright sensible.

Light colours make you more visible. Make sure the helmet fits snugly, and remember they're not invincible! You should replace them every 3 to 5 years, and if you're not sure how old your current helmet is, or whether it's had any impacts in the past, buy a new one.

Visibility

Front and rear bike lightsIt’s vital that you’re visible on the road. This comes from a combination of how you ride, what you wear, how you’re lit up, and whether you can be heard. Wear bright or reflective clothing. Avoid drivers’ blind spots and ride predictably. Front and rear lights are crucial at night. Mostly, you’re aiming to be seen by others, not to light up the road in front of you. At a minimum, you’ll need a white front light and a flashing red light at the rear of your bike. These days LED lights are the most common: they’re bright yet easy on batteries.

Your bike should have a bell, which is great for politely warning pedestrians of your approach on shared cycleways. And on the roads, for getting the attention of drivers with their earphones in and windows up, small bicycle air horns are very effective.

Rider comfort

Bike rear-view mirrorDepending on the weather conditions and length of your ride, you might want to get a water bottle, warm gloves in winter, and cycle gloves — for protection on bumpy terrain and if you fall off.

You might also want a rear-view mirror that mounts to your right handlebar or helmet. Sunglasses or clear lens glasses will stop bugs, dirt and rain from flying into your eyes.

Grabbing your gear

Saddle bag for bikeIt’s really a myth that it's too difficult to carry stuff on a bike — even shopping for a family of four is possible with a bike trailer! Some people just throw their backpack on and go, though others find this causes a sweaty back.

Smaller bags at the front of a bike can be really useful for stowing things you want often and quickly, like your wallet, phone, keys and a snack. Both these and baskets attached to the front handlebars are gaining popularity, but remember to keep security in mind if you opt for a basket.

Panniers — saddle bags that attach to your bike — can range from briefcase-style bags to heavy-duty waterproof ones with large storage capacity. There are even suit bags that wrap over the back of your bike. Some of the modern bags can be clipped on and off easily and quickly so you can take them with you when you go. Make sure that your racks, baskets, and panniers aren’t loaded beyond their maximum load.

Carrying kids

Perhaps the most common way of carrying a toddler on a bike is in a child seat to fitted to the rear of the bike. Other models support the child between the rider and the handle bars. Kids can also travel in a trailer attached behind the bike.

A good cycling shop will check that the child can hold their head up (from around 12 months old) and fit into an approved helmet, and you should make sure your child’s weight doesn’t exceed the recommended capacity of the equipment. (See our report on Kids' bicycle helmets.)

There’s debate about which is the safer and better way to take your kids along on the bike, and it can depend on the type of bike you have. Cycling organisations can provide advice about riding with kids, for example the Bicycle Victoria website has a 'baby on board' guide and there are whole books dedicated to bicycling with children.

Be prepared

Plan your route. You might like it to track past regular errands: corner store, post office. Rather than the quickest route, you may opt for the most peaceful — the one that snakes along a river or through a park. Local cycling organisations will usually be able to provide maps of cycling routes that are totally unlike the car routes you’re used to. You might also plan to build up your fitness gradually by cycling into work one day and catching the bus home, then using public transport to get in the next day and cycling home.

You can get a flat tyre on a bike just as on a car — in fact it’s even more likely to occur – so don’t be left stranded. Make sure you’ve got a mobile phone, change for a train or taxi fare. Or carry a pump and spare tube or puncture repair kit and learn how to use them. They’re small and light, and your local bike organisation can give you a demo. You might even consider roadside assistance membership if it’s available in your area – yes, for cyclists! (see Useful links).

End of trip

Bike equipment storageWhat are you going to do with your bike and gear when you get to your destination? Ideally you’ll be able to lock the bike out of sight but you might have to leave it on the street. As a car driver you think about where to park securely and you keep your valuables with you — the same thought process is necessary when biking.

It’s worth buying a high quality, heavy-duty recent model D-lock (sometimes also called a U-lock) or hardened chain. When faced with a good lock of this type, bike thieves are likely to try elsewhere.

Some employers, councils and other government groups are investing in bike parking facilities. If you intend to park at work, ask your employer or building management what’s offered in the way of parking, lockers and showers (see Useful links for a list of organisations to ask for advice on this).

 

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