The bicycle is the vehicle of this weird 2020. Either as a way of keeping it sane during the quarantine days or a shift to avoid public transport, we have seen a surge in cycling. Now, depending on how many people stick to their pedal machines after the virus is gone and what actions we will see from the authorities laying the tarmac in our streets, this can be also the year zero of a new era for cycling.
Tambora.cc would like to welcome all new riders and help them to stick to their bikes by offering roadcraft, mechanical training and some free advice from the point of view of someone who has been earning a living on the saddle for the last few years.
Getting started is the most difficult part. The questions are many. What kind of bicycle to buy? What accessories are needed? How to deal with traffic? These and other questions will arise even before the moment you begin.
Although there is a cohesive and welcoming community around the bicycle, many people do not have the chance to meet other riders before starting to practice urban cycling and end up having to learn by trial and error. Below is our list of ten things you need to know before you get on the saddle and turn the bike into your vehicle for the city.
1. SPEND IT NOW TO SAVE IT LATER — Buying a cheap bike can be tempting, especially when it comes to a new product, with a shiny paint job and immaculate tires. But there is much more to worry about it apart from aesthetics.
“But I don’t know about bicycles”, you say. Perhaps. And that is exactly why you want to avoid the risk of buying cheap because the chances is you will end up with a BSO – that’s it. It is so common that there is an acronym for it, a bicycle shaped object.
BSOs sell cheap because their components are made of cheap plastic/metal/rubber that can be invisible to your untrained eyes but will make a uncomfortable/unsafe ride. Brakes, wheels, bearings are fundamental parts and their quality depends on the safety, efficiency and durability of your bicycle.
So, call that friend of yours who is into bicycles and go to a store where they understand bicycles and make sure you are spending your money right so you don’t regret it later.
2. BUY WHAT YOU WILL USE — It is relatively common for people without knowledge to buy anything with two wheels presented to them, with the certainty that ‘bicycles are all the same’. To avoid this, you need to think about your needs. To do this, you need to answer some fundamental questions in relation to your goals.
Are there any climbs on your route? You need gears. Is your path formed by a smooth tarmac surface or is it full of potholes, mud and gravel? This answer depends on the width and type of tires on your bicycle and the presence or absence of some sort of suspension. Do you plan to ride fast or do you want to take it slow and make the journey without sweating a lot? Your frame, handlebars and saddle will be different depending on the answer.
Again, that knowledgeable friend is crucial.
3. HELPING THE BIKE HELPING YOU — The bicycle is the most efficient individual transport machine available to humans. You use only the energy of your own legs and can move three times faster than if you were walking using only half the energy. But for your machine to be fully efficient, you need to know how to use it correctly.
A common sight on the streets are cyclists who ride with the saddle too low. Whether for fear of falling or lack of information, what these people are doing is wasting energy when pedaling with their legs bent. Imagine someone climbing a ladder without extending the leg completely: it is the equivalent of pedaling with a low saddle.
Another way of wasting energy is to neglect tyre pressure. The more rubber the tyre is in contact with the ground, the greater the friction and the greater pedaling force required to overcome this friction. On the tyre sidewall, the manufacturer always etches the ideal pressure value to be observed.
“But I did inflate my ttyres a few months ago”, I hear you say. It turns out that there is a natural loss of pressure over time. Top up your tyres at least twice a week. And whenever you get on the saddle, do a quick manual check, pressing the tyre with your fingers to see if there was a sudden drop in pressure.
4. USE A PROPER LOCK – Thieves will always look for the least effort and highest reward option. If you lock an expensive bicycle with a cheap lock, it will be targeted. As a rule, it is recommended to reserve at least 10% of the budget for the purchase of the bicycle for the lock.
Even if you are one of those lucky ones who have a place to store the bike at home and at work, there will be times when there is no option and your machine will have to stay on the street.
Chains are good if accompanied by a sturdy padlock. Remember that your lock will be only as strong as its weakest point. U-locks are generally the safest option. Steel cable locks should only be used as secondary locks.
5. DON’T LET PUNCTURES STOP YOU – Tyre punctures are part of the game. Ideally, they should be minimized by using tyres that offer a high level of puncture protection. They cost more but are worth every penny.
If you prefer, you can invest in just one cheaper option, the puncture tape, which although not as efficient still does the job.
Puncture usually happens on the rear tire, which bears most of the rider’s weight. If you only want to change a tire, make it the rear.
But even the best anti-puncture tyre will one day fail. And in that case there is no other option than to fix it.
Yes, the task may seem daunting at first, but there’s nothing complicated about it. Learn it.
6. PLAN YOUR ROUTE – Using the route you used to take by car or bus for your two-wheeled journey may seem natural, but it is not always the most suitable.
Look for alternative routes that escape the intense traffic, with trees to escape the heat and don’t forget to go around very steep hills where possible at the beginning while your legs get used to the new routine.
But all this is not always possible, so the best is to test several alternatives until you reach an ideal middle ground. Use maps, ask for advice, test new routes at the weekend to avoid surprises.
7. TAKE IT EASY – No matter how excited you are about your new bike, take it slow. If your legs can’t hold out all week, choose to ride on alternate days. If you have the option of leaving your bike at work overnight, alternate days when you go with the bike and come back by bus and the next day do the opposite. As your physical condition improves, increase the pace. Soon you will be ready to abandon motorized transportation altogether.
8. USE THE ROAD LIKE A CAR – Follow all the rules of the road. Stop at lights, give way to traffic where you have to, do not ride the wrong way of the road or on the pavement, signal your intentions with your arms. The more you follow the rules, the easier it will be for others to predict your intentions. Avoid riding too near the curb or too close to parked cars and always monitor what is behind by looking over your shoulder.
9. PERFORM PERIODIC AND PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE OF YOUR MACHINE – It’s frightening how many bicycles are on the streets in a terrible state. I get that it takes little maintenance for a bicycle to keep going, but you can’t abuse it, under the risk that it fail on you one day.
Even if your journey is only 15 minutes, imagine if you would trust your bike if it was two hours and there was no one around to help. Take your bike to a check-up with your trusted mechanic whenever you hear/feel something strange. Or at least once every six months.
10. BE CALM – Every time you get on the bike, turn on the zen mode. Remember, people will make mistakes around you, they will get too close sometimes and it would be much better if the infraestructure was enough to deal with those problems. Sadly most of us don’t live in Happy Holland, so we just need to face some, let’s say, challenging drivers.
Now, you will NEVER be able to educate drivers by exchanging tough words with them at the traffic lights. What’s worse, you most likely will keep that horrible person in your mind for longer. Let it go. It is better fight bad drivers via activism. If this is not your cup of tea, whatever, there will be loads of riders willing to do it for you.