Feature

I want to ride my bicycle...

Green Lifestyle magazine

Five simple tips for easier, safer cycling to give you confidence to ride in the city.

cycling

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Most urban travel is a trip of less than three kilometres, so in most cases it makes sense to jump on the bike rather than start up the car. “There are so many advantages of riding the bike that make it totally addictive,” says Bec Walter who regularly commutes to and from work and social events in Sydney on her trusty bike. “There’s the exercise, carbon and traffic reductions, saving money on car petrol and parking, learning with podcasts, feeling energised, being more focussed at work, getting a daily dose of vitamin D – the list goes on! It’s the best!” Many drivers can stop at least one less car from being on the road every once in a while, so let’s get pedalling…

1. Start with friends, then go it alone

Summoning up the confidence to place your feet on the pedals again if it’s been a while since your last ride can be daunting. So remind yourself how much fun riding a bike can be by first riding in a safe place with a few good friends. However, group riding isn’t always the best way for inexperienced riders to develop confidence on a bike.

Tanya Bosch from OnyaBike a cycle coaching service in Sydney says “if unsure about commuting on the road, do a free council course first”. This is because regular bike commuters should make their own well-informed judgements. For your own safety, don’t always follow a crowd.

Getting to your destination is not a race. Just like when driving a car, it depends on the situation, including location and weather conditions. If it’s wet, brakes might not work as well. And while you might be used to cycling around the suburbs near where you live, getting into and around the city can often require different skills. It’s OK to get off and walk, especially if – as is common in the centre of the city – it’s a high pedestrian traffic area, such as city squares or shared pathways at busy times.

2. Research your route

Working out where you’ll need to go before getting on the bike is one of the most important things you can do. Not because it means you don’t have to stop and look at a map, but because then you can work out how to avoid main roads, dangerous intersections or bad paths. Most Australian cities have great bike maps that already have routes marked out for you on quiet, cycle-friendly streets. Footpath riding is illegal except for those aged under 12 years, or those accompanying a rider under 12, but even bike experts say that it is necessary in some instances.

“Riding the footpath sometimes is the safer option but not all footpaths are suitable for this,” says Bosch from OnyaBike. “I find inexperienced recreational riders are best to stick to cycleways. If they want to start riding the road they have an option to do a course which will give them the skills to do this, plus to choose safe routes.”

Depending on your priorities, safe or easy routes for you might mean protecting your lungs by avoiding riding through high pollution areas, or avoiding big roads or hills. Remember that just because a route is good for a car it doesn’t mean it’s good for a bike. There will always be quad-burning hills to go up, but sometimes the burn can be lessened with a good route choice.

There’s a bunch of websites that can help with route planning, such as www.bikely.com or www.bikemap.net, and apps like RunKeeper or Bike Planner. However, often the best thing to do is ‘get lost’ and find new routes. The Go! Fix app for Smartphones makes bike mobility problems easier to report and hopefully helps them get fixed quicker. Omar Khalifa, from the Go! Alliance says the app helps people to report anything from “broken glass, a streetlight outage, fallen tree or broken paths”. Khalifa says the app is also useful for councils or local businesses to note “new ways to improve access and safety, such as a pedestrian crossing, new bus stop, lift or secure bike storage... You can even identify an abandoned bicycle, or propose a great site for a car-share service”. Also keep in mind that taking a bike on a train, bus or ferry is allowed in many cities, so it is possible to use your bike as a mode of transport even for long distances.

3. Get the right gear

Having the correct gear makes all the difference. Choosing the right kind of bike in the first place is important, so speak to a few different bike shops to see what’s available, try riding them, and work out what’s best for you. For example, if you want to ride to work but your office doesn’t have showers and there are no stairs to take the bike up or down, it might be worth going for an electric-assist bicycle such as those from Gazelle (www.gazellebicycles.com.au).

No matter what bike you choose or where you ride, a helmet is essential. It doesn’t matter how well you’ve styled your hair, you won’t look any good if you don’t make it to your destination in one piece! Foldable helmets that squash up to fit into a handbag or backpack are making an appearance on the global market, but you’ll have to buy online and have them shipped to you in Australia (try Carerra’s folding helmet from www.totalcycling.com).

A study done late last year by Queensland University of Technology, found that more than 60 per cent of respondents cited helmet restrictions as being the main reason stopping them from using public bike sharing systems, so a foldable helmet might be a good idea for convenience if you’re keen to get into bike sharing (only in Brisbane and Melbourne).

Bike lights visible from at least 200 m away are required by law Australia-wide at night or in low visibility such as fog or rain, including a white light at the front, red at the rear and a red rear reflector. Plus, experts recommend a flashing red back light is essential for all-day rides. USB-rechargeable batteries are the greenest option, as are LEDs, which are usually the brightest as well. Helmet mounted lights aren’t the best option if sharing a path with other riders or pedestrians as it can blind people, but they’re really handy if the route is quiet and dark. Carry more than one set of lights, and wear bright or reflective clothes such as a fluoro vest or something with at least a strip of reflective material.

4. Get clued-up on maintenance

The warmer weather might encourage you to pull the bike out of its winter hibernation in the garage, but be sure to check over it for safety and efficiency. A clean, well-greased bike has a longer and safer lifespan. Make sure your brakes aren’t ‘dragging’ which means the wheels can’t spin freely and you’ll be pedalling harder for no reason! Even more importantly, the rubber brake pads will wear over time, so they might need to be replaced. Find other important maintenance tips for chains, cables, tyres and more on our website,
see our article here.

5. Know your rights and your rules

With one hand on your heart and the other in the air, we here at Green Lifestyle ask you fellow riders to say the following out loud: I will not ride in the door zone. “One of the biggest risks is car dooring – that is, being hit by a driver or passenger opening their door in front of you,” says Peter Bourke from the Cycling Promotion Fund. “Some of the ways to make yourself safe include riding away from the door zone – that means riding out from the left hand edge of the bike lane beside parallel parked cars.” Being a part of the traffic means you’re allowed to take up a whole lane if you want to, despite what some car owners would say. “Ride with caution past parked cars, look for drivers or passengers in their seats to judge when they will get out, and be aware and anticipate the next moves of all road users.”

Not enough cyclists use clear hand signals. Body language is crucial to let drivers know where you’re going, and prevents road rage. “Sydney council has been doing a good job with with encouragement and the building of cycle lanes, but it will be a slow process to stop the cyclist hate out there,” says Tanya Bosch. “In the meantime I encourage cyclists to be considerate and not to hit back.”

Don’t be afraid of the traffic, be a part of it and communicate with drivers by making eye contact as a gracious, courteous rider – and give people a smile once in a while. No driver actually wants to physically hurt a cyclist, so make sure you’re doing everything you can to help them see you.

You might consider getting insurance for both you and your bike. “Personal cover with state or national cycling bodies such as Bicycle NSW or Cycling Australia are a great place to start,” says Bourke. “Personal protection insurance is included in their membership for around $90, but if you shop around, private insurers such as www.cyclecover.com.au may be able to provide what you are after as well without the need for membership... Personal cover or cycling group membership doesn’t cover your bikes, so have a look at your home insurance to cover the cost of your bike.”

City rider profile: Bec Walter

My favourite part of cycling around the city is… seeing real bike paths popping up that are not car door opening zones. My view of riding on the footpath is that... I’d rather not die, so it’s a good trade-off. But I also don’t want to hurt anyone else, so I’m very careful. I do ride with earphones... but only one side, and only for podcasts or audiobooks so that the sound is broken (not constant like music) and I can still hear the traffic clearly. My choice of bike lights is… as many as I can fit! But I think it is important not to blind people going the opposite direction so I always point them downwards. The helmet light is a must have for me, as I point it specifically where I need to see. My favourite piece of gear is... my new waterproof panniers (bags that hang off the rack on the bike) that protect my computer in the rain. For me, the best outfit for cycling is… pretty much a uniform for me – my long red boots (they’re waterproof and suit large puddles), black tights, both of which I wear all day in the office, a singlet which I change for a shirt or dress at work, and in winter a rain jacket that keeps the cold wind off me till I warm up. I am planning on buying a fluoro windbreaker for winter. In summer my singlets are normally bright colours, and I alternate between wearing those and my fluoro t-shirt when it’s not in the wash!

City rider profile: Ash Alluri

My favourite part of cycling around the city is… gliding past automobiles when they’re stuck in traffic, especially during peak hour. I am pleasantly surprised at… how accommodating motorists are towards cyclists in Sydney in comparison to the riding I’ve done in Melbourne. I look forward to being part of Sydney's change towards not having any cars within a 5km radius of the CBD! I don't ride with head or earphones because… I don't need extra sensory load than what I already get; honking, busking, yelling, pleasant hellos (sometimes), a bit of eaves dropping, and more! All this is way better than music. My favourite bike gadget is… my not too recognizable, but stylish, bamboo bell. The first time I changed a flat tyre... I thought I was a complete cyclist, or that's when I will consider myself a complete cyclist! I admit that in my six years or so of city cycling I cities from Phnom Penh and Vientiane to where I now live in Sydney, that I haven't yet changed a flat tyre myself. Insurance?… Hmmm, I don't think I have it – I didn't know I had to get it for being on a bike?! But I do have private health insurance. I'd better check if that covers me!