Feature

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!

STEP 3 - Pick your route

You'd be surprised how far and how quickly you can go on a bike. A 15 km commute will quickly become a breeze.

Don't bother riding your normal drive to work on traffic-choked roads or high-speed freeways. The back-street route is the way to go! Use a street directory, ready-made bike guide, or bike map to find the quiet streets, cycleways or short cuts. Look for back streets that cross main roads at traffic lights and/or have a street closure, plus off-road paths or laneways. Try checking out a new route early on a Sunday morning along with an experienced cyclist. You can also combine the trip with public transport to extend your distance or avoid bad weather.

The Internet has sites where you can see routes that others use and plot your own (www.bikely.com, www.mapmyride.com and www.guttermonkey.org). You can even link up with other riders.

Both the RTA in NSW and VicRoads in Victoria have downloadable or interactive bike maps. For Western Australia google Perth Bike Maps, for South Australia BikeDirect and for Tasmania Cycling Hobart. For the nation's capital look for the Canberra Cycleways Map and for sunny Queensland there is Brisbane City Council's Bikeway Maps.

STEP 4 - Freshen up

You don't need special clothes to cycle. If you have taken heed of the tip on taking it easy, you'll arrive at work fresh and relaxed - no sweat, so no shower needed!

If your office has the luxury of lockers and showers, then it's no drama to keep a towel and a stash of toiletries in your desk drawer. And unflattering 'helmet hair' is less of an issue if you let it dry before donning your noggin protector.

Many people look crisp by commuting by car or public transport once a week with a load of clean, ironed shirts. Another option is to keep your clothes neat by rolling them up in your daily broadsheet, then putting this Aussie bike commuters 'swag' snugly into your backpack or pannier. That way you have something to read at lunchtime too.

For lots, lots more pedalling goodies see www.cyclingpromotion.com.au

The rules

Cyclists in Australia do not require a licence and bikes do not need to be registered. You must wear a helmet, and you must have a working bell and brake, and lights at night-time.

In the eyes of the law, bicycles are legal vehicles and thus cyclists enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as other road users, for example, a cyclist has a right to a lane of traffic and must stop at red lights. In addition, bike riders are allowed to overtake a vehicle on the left, and ride two abreast (but no more than 1.5m apart). In most states, you can ride on the footpath if you are under 12 years of age or supervising someone who is, or on a footpath marked as a shared route.

For all the details, search for the web site of the road authority in your state.