Cycling to work: commuter guide

G Magazine

Want to save money on petrol, get fit and help the planet? G shows you how to do all three with this easy guide to cycling to work.

Bicycle commuter

Commuting by bicycle feels great, makes you fit and is good for the planet.

Credit: Ildar Sagdejev

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There's always one in the office, a bike-nut who raves about how riding to work is so much fun and how fit they are and how they're saving the world by not driving a car to work.

As overwhelming as their puppy-like enthusiasm is, they have a point. Here's how to join 'em.

STEP 1 - Find bike

You don't need much to get on the road. A cool $600 should be ample for a brand spanking new ride and a helmet. An extra $400 will buy you the other bits such as rear rack, tyre pump, lights, lock and rain jacket.

Choose a bike that is the correct fit: with the saddle at middle position, one foot should just be able to touch the ground.

The bike should also be correct for the job at hand; a lightweight 'hybrid' or 'comfort' bike (halfway between a road bike and a mountain bike) with 35-mm wide, semi-slick tyres is perfect for an urban commute on mainly sealed roads (knobbly mountain bike tyres slow you down and wear you out).

If you're like many Australians, you've probably already got a bike gathering dust in the back shed. There's every chance that a neglected bike will be freed from its rusty encrustations after a few minutes of TLC and a drop of oil.

First, make sure wheels are true and spin freely. You can lift the bike up at one end to test this, and at the same time test the brakes. Do the tyres need pumping up? Tyres should have the consistency of a pencil eraser (about 500kpa).

For tyres not holding air, you may find the solution on Sheldon Brown's site on flats (and everything else to do with bikes): www.sheldonbrown.com/flats

STEP 2 - Ride bike

If you are a first time rider, or it's been a long time between rides, you'll want to practise riding somewhere safe (like a deserted car park) before you hit the roads. Work up to the commute by taking leisurely rides around a park on the weekend.

In a move that will be great for first-time and experienced riders alike, a new AustCycle training and proficiency scheme will be launched later this year.

It will mean accredited trainers are able to give you the confidence and skills to ride in traffic. Keep yourself informed with updates from the Bicycle Federation of Australia www.bfa.asn.au.

Here's some ol' fashioned ride tips:

  • Adjust your seat so that your leg is almost straight when the pedal is at its lowest point.
  • Don't be rushed or hurried, take it real easy at intersections.
  • Hearing is your "eyes in the back of your head" - so no iPod whilst riding. For the same reason keep extra alert when it's windy, or when passing traffic masks the sound of cars following.
  • Stay wide of parked cars (at least a metre) to avoid opening car doors - assume EVERY parked car contains an occupant just about to open a door on you.
  • Wear bright clothing. A fluoro construction worker's vest slips easily over your normal clothes.
  • Be visible at all times (and not just the clothing). Ride out from the kerb and definitely don't coast alongside cars in their blind spot.
  • Remember how many times you have driven along in a daydream? Assume every motorist is similarly distracted.
  • Drivers will mostly give you a wider berth if you ride with a deliberate wobble (like a novice rider) rather than dead straight like a pro-cyclist - true!

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