I have read a number of guides containing tips for new cyclists over the years. Most of the guides are the same as this, and contain advice which centres around buying a sports bicycle and modifying it and your attire to make up for the shortcomings of using this type of bike for everyday transportation purposes.
Myth: You have three choices of bike; road, mountain or hybrid.
The bicycle retail industry in the UK is focussed mainly around the sporting end of the market. Cycling for sport is fine, but it does mean that many bike shops advise their customers to get sports bikes which are inappropriate for their needs.
The bike needs of most people boil down to a desire to get from A to B, in relative comfort on a reliable bike. This type of bike is a roadster, or “Dutch bike.” Some examples of useful, everyday transportation bicycles include:
There are many more bikes which are fit for everyday transportation. All of these bikes contain all or most of the characteristics described in a previous post, mudguards, chain-guard/case, upright riding position, low-maintenance and reliable mechanical parts (internal hub gears, drum brakes, hub dynamo), durable tyres, lights and a frame-fitting lock. With a bike like these, you can simply hop on the bike in whatever clothes you are wearing and go.
Most bicycles for sale used to fall into this category, but as they were replaced by cars in the 1950s and 60s, the bicycle industry in the UK (and most of the English-speaking world) responded by marketing cycling as sport instead, in the hope that people would spend money on cars and bikes. This approach worked to a degree, most people own a bike, they simply don’t really use it. The reason for this is the reason for the typical guide written for new cyclists focuses on how to endure using a sports bike for everyday transportation, with bicycles marketed as sporting goods, the average person buys a sporting bicycle.
Myth: You need a toolkit/pump etc.
If you use a sporting bicycle for general transportation, the limitations of doing so will make themselves known, either through frequent punctures or components such as brakes and gears needing frequent adjustments. Roadsters also suffer from punctures, but much less frequently. This is because they come with much more durable tyres (sports bikes come with lightweight, puncture-prone tyres). Gears and brakes on a roadster will need much less attention and maintenance because their gears and brakes are internal and more durable.
Chain cleaning and maintenance are mentioned in a lot of articles, but riding a bike with a full chain-case means that chain cleaning and lubricating needs to be done much, much less frequently.
Being prepared for these situations isn’t a bad idea, but it will not feel as important if you have the right kind of bike.
Myth: You need cycle-specific clothes, and a shower when you get to work.
A sport bicycle will come without mudguards, or a chain-guard/case. This leads to filthy water from the road being sprayed up your back during and after rainfall, and oily filth from the chain ending up on your trousers.
The sporty feel of the bike encourages you to travel at a greater speed, which will make you hot and sweaty. A marginal drop in speed reduces aerodynamic drag by a more-than-proportional amount, so that whilst travelling more slowly will get you to your destination a few minutes later, you will not be sweaty and in need of a shower and/or change of clothes.
Myth: You need a helmet,and a high-visibility tabard.
Helmets and high-visibility gear are heavily promoted by various levels of government and the cycle industry as necessities for cyclists. The dubious benefits of helmets have been discussed here previously. High visibility gear is not a legal requirement before or after dark (unlike lights), but it can have benefits for those concerned about not being seen by negligent motorists. The promotion of both of these types of gear by government makes cycling look more dangerous than it actually is, and contributes to the stagnation and decline of cycling as a mode of transport.
Both helmets and high-visibility are a reaction to the poor conditions and lack of provisions for cyclists on the roads. I would not judge an individual negatively for choosing to use either of them, but it is the job of government to tackle the root cause of the problem rather than promoting things like helmets and high-visibility, designed to treat the symptoms of a problem.
Hopefully the work of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain will help to reverse this sad trend
Myth: Weight is important
If you want to race your bike, or ride up mountains, weight becomes more important, but for everyday transportation it is largely irrelevant. Even an extra few kilograms is very little in comparison to the weight of a rider, and once the bike is moving even a large amount of extra weight simple melts away.
Many of the drawbacks of sport bicycles come from an obsession with weight; lightweight tyres puncture more easily, lighter derailleur gears are less durable than internal hub gears and essential items such as racks, lights and locks are omitted from sport bicycles to save weight and create an accessories market containing essential items which should really be included with, or built into a practical transportation bike.
Now, that isn’t to say that some things won’t make riding a bike more pleasant. If you want to carry things, a backpack will be less pleasant than panniers. Panniers which convert into backpacks are available (although considering how obviously good this idea is, there are very few of them around). Alternatively, permanently-attached Dutch-style panniers are also a good option, just throw your backpack or bag-for-life full of stuff in there whilst you ride the bike.
A frame-fitting lock is useful, but a D-lock is a worthwhile investment (If you want even more peace-of-mind, try this lock). I will write about good locking technique in a future post. The wind-chill effect you get whilst riding means that you may feel the need for gloves whilst cycling for more of the the year than you do when walking. For transportation purposes, cycle-specific gloves are a bit of a con, just find something comfortable which keeps the wind out too.
A bit of adjustment to basic bike fit, understanding why bikes have gears and keeping your tyres at the right pressure will also help make the experience easier and nicer in the long run.