Essential information for new bicycle riders
This information was created to be given to participants of bicycle information workshops that I have been running at work and with friends at home. The take-home message here is that it is important to keep your bike in a clean, well-maintained state in order to have safe and enjoyable use of your bike. If in doubt it is recommended to perform an internet search for further information and clarification of your issue, or visit your local professional bicycle mechanic.
General use of your bicycle:
Tyres: Ensure that the tyres are correctly pumped up to the recommended pressure (min/max pressure printed on the sidewall of the tyre e.g. 70-90 PSI). You should check and top-up your tyres at least once a fortnight as they slowly lose pressure over time. It is suggested to use a good quality bike floor pump with a pressure gauge to make this job quicker and easier. Never underestimate the value of high quality tyres and tubes. Many punctures could be avoided if you have good quality tyres with an integrated puncture resistant lining. Brands such as Schwalbe (my personal favourite), Continental and Vittoria make excellent quality tyres and tubes which are available online at stores such as Wiggle Cycle Store, Evans Cycles, ProBikeKit and Chain Reaction Cycles. Hint: Inflate your front tyre 10% less than the rear to improve comfort.
Brakes: Ensure that both your brakes are working correctly. The brakes should be firm and responsive but not suddenly grab or lockup, as this may cause you to skid or flip the bike. The front brake is the most effective at stopping and should be used primarily with the rear brake applied afterwards for additional stopping power. The brake pads (assuming you are not using disc brakes) should not rub on the wheel rim when not being used. If the brakes do rub your wheel might be out of true (bent) and require a service.
Security: It is recommended to use a strong, high quality lock (chain or D-lock is preferred) in order to protect your bike from theft – even if you are storing your bike in a bike storage area or in your home. Kryptonite and ABUS locks are both brands well known for being strong and easy to use. A combination of two locks is even more effective especially in high risk areas to secure both your frame and front wheel to a fixed object. Do not assume that people will know who the owner of the bike is and intervene if someone is trying to steal the bike. A good idea is to personalise your bike or make your bike look as unattractive and difficult to steal to thieves as possible. An example of this would be to cover it in stickers, wax, paint or fake flowers. Always ensure that you lock your bike to a secured, sturdy object that cannot be moved (e.g. a sign post or bike rail). Hint: Locate your bike’s serial number on the underside of the bike and note this down in the owner’s manual in case it is stolen. Also take a photo of your bike for evidence of ownership and to assist with locating it if it is stolen. Many online bike forums have a ‘stolen’ section where you can post a photo and details of the bike that was stolen. See this previous article for more information on how to keep you bike secured.
Gears: Ensure you use the correct gear ratios to avoid damaging your chain and gears, and reducing efficiency. If you use a bike with multiple gears, you should use a combination of gears to avoid ‘cross-chaining’ which caused by having your chain on too much of an angle. Hint: Use an easier gear when going up hills to avoid injury to your knees.
Lights: Both front and rear lights are legally required and strongly encouraged on your bike during the hours of darkness, dusk and dawn. It is also advisable to use lights when cycling on busy roads during the day or in poor visibility (e.g. rain or fog). Don’t skimp on quality when it comes to a good set of bike lights! Modern LED lights are cheap, effective, energy efficient and reliable. New model lights often have an integrated battery and are USB rechargeable for maximum convenience. One example which a friend recently purchased is the Moon ‘Mask’ which is a bright, light-weight, 5 LED rechargeable light for around $50 AUD (often less when on sale). Make sure that your lights are angled up towards the path in a way that they are visible to other road users but not blinding. Also make sure that the lights are charged and not blocked by anything (e.g. a mudguard or backpack).
Visibility: Bright colours and ‘hi-viz’ clothing is highly effective at increasing visibility during daylight hours but not at night. Use reflective materials and high powered lights to increase visibility at night time. Reflective straps on your legs and arms are highly effective at increasing your visibility in the dark.
Technique: Practice ‘defensive riding’ techniques and learn how to ‘claim the lane’ when necessary (e.g. before entering a roundabout or busy intersection). Always assume you are invisible and that another person has not seen you, expect the unexpected, watch for pedestrians and other path users when using a shared path, use your bell and your voice where necessary and ride in a predictable manner. Consider a bicycle riding skills workshop for further training. Also see videos on YouTube for a demonstration.
Mirrors: Although not legally required, a mirror is highly useful in order to be aware of your surroundings, especially when riding on high speed roads with trucks. There are many different styles of mirrors for different bikes and fittings, including helmet mounted, handle-bar and frame mounted mirrors. I use a ‘Mirricle’ mirror on my touring/commuting bike with STI levers which is pretty excellent and looks the part too. Click here to read a review I wrote up previously.
Insurance: Insurance is not mandatory, however it is strongly recommended to have at least 3rd party insurance to cover any liability in the event of an at-fault accident. Insurance is usually included as part of a bike organisation membership such as AUDAX Australia Cycling Club, Bicycling Western Australia and Bicycle Transport Alliance for those in Australia.
Inspect: Give your bike a check once a month, ensure that all the bolts are tight and secure, the chain and other moving parts are lubricated and there is no damage to the frame.
Clean and lubricate: Having a dry, dirty chain and gears will result in increased wear and reduced efficiency. The chain and gears should be cleaned and lubricated at 150km intervals (every two weeks for most daily commuters). To do this, first clean your chain with a degreaser/solvent using a rag, then allow it to evaporate for 30 minutes before applying a small amount of oil to the inside links of the chain. Run the chain through all the gears to distribute the oil and then wipe off the excess oil with a separate clean rag. I use Green Oil ‘Ecological Chain Lube’ which is non-toxic, environmentally friendly and very effective too. Click here for a previous article I wrote on this excellent product.
Home tool kit: A basic bike-specific toolkit can be purchased online for around $70-80 and will be suitable for the majority of repair jobs for most bicycles. Look online for instructional videos showing how to perform common jobs and how to use the tool. It is also recommended to buy a bike repair stand in order to make repairs and maintenance easier and more comfortable. Hint: At a bare minimum, you should have the following essential items in your home tool kit at all times: Philips and flat head screw driver, multiple sizes of hex keys, multiple sizes of spanners (or an adjustable spanner), chain oil, rags, zip-ties, duct tape and/or electrical tape, various pliers, heavy duty scissors, tyre repair and patch kit (inc tyre levers), and a suitable sized spoke key.
Portable tool kit: I strongly recommend that you have a saddlebag, pannier bag or old water bottle attached on your bike at all times containing an essential ‘get me home’ kit. This kit should include the following items: a small compact bike pump, tyre and tube repair kit (including glue, patches, a small square of sandpaper and a couple of tyre levers), a spare tube with correct valve type for your bike, a multitool or at least an allen key that fits all the bolts on your bike, a small spanner (only if you have a bike with bolted on wheels instead of quick release), and a $20 note to use as an emergency tyre boot or for a taxi home (Australian banknotes are printed on polymer which is waterproof and durable, therefore perfect as an emergency tyre boot if you slash your tyre while out riding).
Famous last words..
I want to make a point that this information is only the essentials. I could easily write a full length article on any of these topics (and probably will in the future if I haven’t already!). However it is important to have something that is to the point and digestible for people as they start out and often feel overwhelmed by ‘information overload’. I encourage you to share this article with your friends, family or colleagues if you think that it will help them. Also remember to check out and like the Velophile Australia Facebook page for website announcements and cycling information.
There’s also this infographic guide to cycling for newbies over at Greatist that I suggest you have a look at too. Just keep in mind it is aimed at an American audience, so some of the suggestions regarding what side of the road to ride on or how to indicate are not the same as Australia and other countries.
Until next time, happy and safe cycling!