The clunk of the crank and the spin of the wheels with sun in their spokes; the way your legs move like you’re running but your feet never touch the ground. Stopped traffic, the smooth swoop of a fast corner and with it the freedom of the city.
I cycled quite a lot when I was a teenager, but stopped when I came to London – my big, heavy mountain bike was a pain to haul around and it sat mouldering at the top of the stairs before I gave it away. Ten years since my cycling heyday and I decided to get back into it, buying myself a bike through the excellent Ride 2 Work scheme.
Here are some things I’ve learned from cycling to and from work. Obviously, YMMV.
1. Don’t bother with a hybrid. The problem with hybrids is that they seem so logical – particularly if you’ve been away from cycling for a few years. If you had a bike as a teenager, it was probably a big heavy lunk of a thing made by Raleigh, and designed to be knocked around. It probably looked like a mountain bike. Problem is, if you look at mountain bikes now, well, they’re pretty much like motorbikes without the engines. Disk brakes, chunky tyres, suspension front and back, strange shaped frames – exciting stuff, but not really what you want for riding through London.
So the natural next step is a hybrid; they look like the mountain bikes of old, only on a diet. They still have the flat handle bars and a little bulk, but they’re sensible. You can ride them on and off road. It’s the best of both worlds… right?
The problem I found when researching is hybrids are invariably compromised. Some come fitted with slick tyres – so you’re not going to be able to ride off road without changing those. Then there’s the fact they’re not really that light, and don’t always come fitted with larger wheel sizes. Light bikes with big wheels go further and faster with less work from the rider.
And really, are you ever going to ride off road? I wanted a light, fast bike that I was mostly going to spend riding to and from work, or around South East London. So I bought myself a real road bike. It’s brilliant; fast, nimble and something I really look forward to riding.
2. Light bikes are great. Faster, more fun to ride, better when it comes to manoeuvring around traffic and easier to get into the house at the end of the day. If you have a choice between features such as disc brakes and features that will save weight (like a carbon fibre front fork), go for the latter.
3. Components are complex. Talk to the staff and try and work out what your options are. One of the reasons I went for my bike, which is from Fuji, a less known brand, is that it has the mid-level components (i.e. gears, brakes) of a Specialized or Trek, but for a couple of hundred quid less.
4. Good locks are heavy, necessary and only as good as your locking technique. Once you’ve bought one, learn how to lock your bike properly – I have a D-lock and a cable for when it’s left in public, as both wheels are quick release. Ideally you want to have the lock going through the back wheel, the frame and a very well anchored object, and then you can use the cable to tie in the front wheel.
5. Cycling clothing is expensive, and often just because it says “for cycling” on the label. I’ve got a couple of these Berghaus tech t-shirts, which are great for the British summer – ludicrously quick drying (as in, they’re almost dry when they come out of the machine), good visibility and warmer than you’d think for a single layer. At £28 they’re cheap compared to “proper” cycling jerseys.
6. If it says Bianchi – especially on your pants – it probably means you’re trying too hard.