24 top tips for inner-city bike buying + riding

Posted on July 29th, 2011

My philosophy is this: when more people ride bikes in cities, the safer that city is for cyclists. Actually, it’s not my philosophy. It’s a fact. And the raison d’etre of my Campaign To Ride a Bike.

via meetup.com

But I know many of you get stuck on how to start out riding – how and where to buy a bike. So let’s get back to basics. If you build bikes in your area, or if you know a great mob who sell bikes and look after green kids to the scene, please add to the list in the comments below…

1. Always test-ride. Bike shops will always let you do this. If you live in a hilly area and are planning to buy a single-speed, test-ride up a hill.

2. Try a three-speed. The retro look is rad. But if you’re new to riding, having no gears can be tough. Think about a hybrid – retro in look, geared in functionality. I’ve written about this here.

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(apologies for the blip at the end of the video…)

3.  Learn how to carry a bike up stairs. I’ve given some tips in this funny little video we did outside Bondi Bikes, above.

4. Switch to slick tyres if you have a mountain bike. It’ll make your bike faster, and cleaner if you’re keeping it indoors. Again, above.

5. Get a bike lock that you can sling over your shoulder. You can then stick the key in your pocket or down your bra (with an ATM card or $20) and the lock over your shoulder and off you go. No bag. No clutter.

6. Don’t be a complete cheapskate, says 7PM Project’s Charlie Pickering. “You don’t have to spend thousands on a space-age carbon fibre uberbike, but if you buy the cheapest thing you can find it will be heavier, less comfortable and harder to ride and this will in turn make you less likely to ride it. If you spent $50 bucks on a bike and rode it once, that’s a pretty expensive ride. But if you spent $750 on a bike that feels great and rode it a thousand times (something which is entirely possible) then that is a pretty cheap ride.

7. If your bike shop is intimidating, go to a different shop, says Charlie. Once you find a welcoming ship, they will be your friends for a very long time.

8. Keep your chain clean with a dry oil – I use ‘white lightning’ as it cleans the chain and keeps it lubricated at the same time. Use an old cloth or old t shirt to wipe the chain once a week

9. Look for clever storage options to keep your bike inside your apartment. I highlight some in this video below. And here.

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10. If your trip is less than 10kms, riding trumps driving according to this Huffington Post article.

11. Don’t worry about showering. In a survey of hundreds of bike commuters in North America, Dave Glowacz, author of Urban Bikers’ Tips and Tricks, found that 85 percent don’t bother to shower after reaching their destination. Change your clothes, and keep a stash of baby wipes in your desk drawer for quick clean-ups.

12. Ride like you drive, says The Big Book of Bicycling. Cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists, so follow all traffic laws, signal where you’re going and ride predictably. Rural commutes aren’t much different from recreational rides. In urban areas, traffic will be heavier, but also slower, so you may be able to take the whole lane.

13. Go slow. The need for sudden stops can hijack momentum. Commuting becomes almost a zen art, and a hell of a lot of fun, if you go with the flow of timed lights and traffic.

14. You don’t have to ride all the way. Bring a few changes of clothes to the office when you drive there on Monday morning. Commute back and forth by bike Monday evening through Friday morning. Drive home Friday after work. Or, drive partway, park your car and ride the remaining distance to work. You can also drive in and ride home one day, then ride in and drive home the next. Even commuting by bike just once a week helps keep the air – and you – healthier. Again, so says Huff Post.

15. Consider a fold-up, says New York-based blogger Gala Darling. “My Dahon fold-up came from Metro Cycles in Tribeca but honestly, if I had the space, I would have gone to Adeline Adeline & picked up the Kate Spade collaboration bicycle… It is absolutely sublime.  The people who work at Adeline Adeline are lovely, & they have the best accessories, from leather frame bags to bells painted like old rotary telephones.  Very fancy & very sassy.  Best for people who have a place to keep their bike… I think if you left any of their bikes (or accessories!) tethered to a lamp-post overnight, you’d be very sad in the morning… I love my Dahon though, it is simple & chic, & doesn’t have that boxy styling that so many fold-up bicycles do!  If you live in a walk-up building like me, definitely fold the bicycle & pick it up before you buy it.  Carry it across the shop!

16. Wear bloomers! says Gala. “Wear just about anything you like when riding. I’ve yet to wear pants on my bike, because I love dresses & skirts too much.  However, to avoid the dreaded knicker-flash (& to preserve some mystery), BLOOMERS are the ideal solution!  I buy mine from independent sellers on Etsy — my favourite pair are black with white stars.  Beautiful!”

17. Kit your transporter out. Joyce from CycleStyle in Melbourne uses hers as her primary source of transport and needs to be able to carry anything from groceries, parcels, clothes or a laptop. “My bike has a hybrid women’s step-through frame, 21 gears, a front basket and back rack on which I affix panniers.” Check out some of the transport accessories she sells here.

18. Stay light. Joyce also says that one of the things that makes a bike light is the material of the frame. “Carbon fibre is very light (used on road bikes), titanium is also light (used on road bikes) whereas urban bikes will tend to be made of a steel/aluminium alloy. The more steel in the frame, the heavier the bike will be. other components will also affect the weight of the bike – for instance, the number of gears, the size of the seat, the width of the tyres, the number of welded joints in the frame, the weight of the cranks, whether it has a back rack, panniers, basket attached to it. When going into a shop, the thing I’d focus on is telling the sales person what you’re intending to use the bike for and where you’re likely to ride it. Finding the right bike is about finding the right balance of comfort, sturdiness, weight, aesthetics. The single speed that my husband rides is a lot of lighter and more nimble than the sturdy, heavy tricycle that I use to carry my daughter and sundry groceries.”

19. Consider a fold-up if you live up stairs. Kathryn Franco from Nutcase - “Think about where you’ll store it and consider a compact or full-size folding bike that can easily go into an apartment, bus/train/ferry, under your desk. Montague make the only full-size folder which will suit people who want the comfort of a normal ride. Dahon and Brompton are the compact brands preferred by city riders who can handle 20″ wheels. Keep it under 10kg so keep stair climbing easy and do away with baskets in favour of a satchel or travel pack if you plan to fold it up a lot.”

20. Or try these ideas, says Saskia at Sydney Cycle Chic If you have to lug a bike up flights of stairs stick with a vintage bike or a lightweight pared down style like Tokyo Bike.  Make sure your baskets can detach and think about an over-the-shoulder bag.  Get your building to think about bike parking on a ground floor level. I know of a few buildings that are converting ground floor store rooms into bike parking spaces.

21. Wait, what about an e-bike?! Writer and author Emma Jane(previously Tom) is a huge fan. She got hers from Glowworm on Addison Road in Marrickville. “One of the best e-bike shops in the known megaverse. These guys and girls are ace. They’re nice, they’re knowledgeable and (in my experience) they never stoop to hard-selling. They’re also incredibly sympathetic if you have a stack. I had an ugly altercation with a speed bump the other day and they had me picked up, dusted off and back in the life-threatening asphalt jungle in no time. When I was a youthful thrillseeker, I used to ride very powerful motorbikes. Now that I am an ancient thrill-avoider, I prefer the sedate (35 kilometres-an-hour tops) speed of an e-bike. It’s like motorcycling for nanas. In all seriousness though, I do find the defensive riding I learned in motorbike school very useful for cycling. When I ride, I always expect the worst. I prepare to brake at every blind corner and I never, ever assume car drivers will respect my rights as an equal road user. Is it fair on two-wheelerites? Of course it isn’t. But what’s the point of saying “I had the right of way’ if you’re lying in hospital in traction? My daily commute is from Marrickville to Kensington. While I have done this on bikes without electric assistance, I’ve arrived a sweaty and dishevelled mess (or, even worse, wearing skin-tight fluoro lycra). E-bikes are great because you can adjust how much the motor kicks in. If you want a serious work out, you turn the motor down or off. If you want to cruise, you put it on full speed ahead. That said, the motor only kicks in if you’re pedaling so it’s worth knowing that e-biking always requires a bit of human grunt work.

photograph courtesy of Chris Peken, for The Hub

22. Buy the ‘Simply Car-Free’ ebook. For tips on how to live life from a bike. You can buy it here.

23. Check out reviews: Ride This Bike is a great place to check out styles.

24. To wrap things up, a list of the world’s best bike shops, as recommended by our contributors to this post:

  • Bobbins Bicycles in London bills themselves as ‘the most beautiful bicycle shop in Great Britain’. They stock vintage, elegant frames from Pashley, Globe and Glorie (plus their inhouse brand of bikes). They also have a mechanics workshop next door which specialises in servicing those sort of bikes.
  • PUBLIC bikes in San Francisco which sell their own frames in a myriad of colours and have very friendly and helpful staff.
  • Woolys Wheels, inSydney. One of the longest serving, most experienced Sydney stores with a quality range and full service workshop.
  • Clever Cycles, in Portland Oregon. The leading family and cargo bike store that practices what it preaches. This car free environment has all the right advice for the ins/outs of daily riding for non-car dependent peeps. It’s a stunning store.
  • Mellow Johnnys in Austin, Texas. A hub pf cycling life, commuting and social activity run by Lance Armstrong and friends. Awesome choice of quality products.
  • Bicycle Habitat is widely seen at New York’s favourite store with it’s vast range and generous service policy. For single speeds in NY, I’m told that Bike Works is the ticket.
  • Also in New York, Bowery Lane Bicycles.
  • Bondi Bikes in Bondi, Sydney. A new concept store catering for a demographic inspired by beauty and design together with sustainability and functionality. Their urban range of bicycles and accessories cater for all bike lovers, ranging from classic racers to cruisers, ladies’ step-through’s and fixies.
  • Tokyo Bike in Australia for their single-speeds.
  • Sable & Argent for the uber cool stock.

**Also, while we’re talking bikes and riding, don’t forget to register for Ride to Work day in October. Details here!

Phew…that was an ordeal…I’m almost too scared to ask, but do you have extra tips?

Update: the comment section is now fixed, apologies to everyone who tried to comment today


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  • Sarah Wilson

    Sorry everyone for the comments no-show all day!

    [Reply]

    kt Reply:

    sarah, you’ve done fabulous work as a bicycling advocate, love your enthusiasm! thank you for all the thorough info you provide it proves so helpful. if someone as glamorous as you is able to ride to work, it certainly encourages me to hop on my bike more often! keep up the good work!!!

    [Reply]

    Sophie Reply:

    hey Sarah,
    I’m based in Adelaide and am looking for a bike to not only ride to uni, but to use for fitness on the weekends and perhaps start riding in triathlons. I know there are heaps of shops around Adelaide but if anyone could recommend a shop that would be great :)
    thanks, Sophie :)

    [Reply]

  • http://www.gestationaldiabetesrecipes.com Lisa

    Thanks for your great bike wrap up Sarah! As I read it this morning, I was coming off a maiden-voyage high. Today my little son & I, bedecked in our new helmets, finally got to take our bike for a spin. I have been SO excited about riding with him (especially for those non-car worthy trips) but it kind of went awry. The bike was too back-heavy & we toppled backwards in a construction bike lane on Oxford St & somehow got the front of the bike tangled in a chain fence! We were basically on the ground for a few minutes until a women ran up and rescued us. I don’t think Otis is emotionally scarred & we’ll be back on the bike soon. But any tips for balancing the bike out?? (I love my bike – I actually won it from Frankie Mag – a brand new Tokyo Bike – but alas I am not sure it was made for 2 :( Lisa x

    [Reply]

    Mel Reply:

    I saw those gorgeous bikes in Frankie mag. Lucky you. I ride with my daughter who weighs 15kg I have a new XDS vintage style bike. The cheapest in that range about $400. I have loved riding with my girl and she often has her sleep on the bike. I have done the overbalance topple thing before, mainly when the hill is super steep and I am going slow and I turn at the same time. Also when getting I lift the front wheels up to get up a gutter for instance. I hope it works out cos it’s such a joy to ride. I also ride that same bike path. I love the ride to fox studios markets. Today was particularly perfect bike weather, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Hope everyone else enjoyed it.

    [Reply]

  • Charlie

    Although I find many of the points mentioned interesting and relevant I am sad that your article does not once mention the use of a helmet when it is estimated that wearing a bike helmet can reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent*. Although I think it is great that it is now very fashionable to cycle regularly I’m concerned that people do not see a helmet as fitting into the idyllic imagery they have for riding their vintage bike around town. Almost every article I have read on the topic includes pictures of people cycling without helmets. I just think it is crazy that people are prepared to take such risks with their safety.

    *http://www.bhsi.org/stats.htm

    [Reply]

    Rasmus Fiedler Reply:

    Unfortunately this 85% reduction in head injuries never occurred after the introduction of Mandatory Helmet Law. Here is why this might be*

    [Reply]

    Rasmus Fiedler Reply:

    forgot the link :)
    http://cyclehelmets.org/1131.html

    [Reply]

    Johannes Reply:

    “Perhaps cyclists forced to wear helmets ride more dangerously, and so increase their risk of HI”

    Laugh. Hmm, so the non helmet wearers (in Sydney) who run red lights and turn right across a red light @ a no right turn are actually wearing invisible helmets thereby making them dangerous riders?

    I love how that site also links the growing rate of obesity in Australia to helmet laws.

    I don’t think helmet wearing should be mandatory, people will do as they please anyway. If you’re on a cycle path, riding graciously and properly, then you probably don’t need the helmet. But not many cities in Australia have a very large ‘off road’ cycle network and unlike many cities in Europe, motorists are not as open to the idea of sharing the road with cyclists.
    I wear shoes to protect my feet from glass, gravel etc etc. I know a helmet will not always save my life, but I’d rather the bump on the helmet than stitches or grazes on my head (I’m bald) or leaving it to a ‘close call’ as the cyclehelmets.org site would suggest is safe to do.

    Mandy Reply:

    I agree with Charlie. It’s NOT cool to ride without a helmet. Out of 5 people in my family, 3 of us would be brain damaged or dead if we didn’t wear helmets. Two of us more than once! I ride to work daily, and it takes 20 seconds to deal with helmet hair. It also amuses me to see parents out cycling with the family – kids with helmets, parents without – what sort of message is this? Your heads are important but mine isn’t? I can be stupid but you can’t? Come on people – it’s no imposition – just wear it! Oh! And wear the best helmet you can afford!

    [Reply]

    henry sheil Reply:

    Sorry Mandy, you’ve been sucked in by the bike helmet industry propaganda.

    I am NOT stupid, and I can see that the net effect on public health of our society is seriously negative after the mandatory helmet laws were foisted upon us. But every time someone has a bike crash and isn’t hurt on the head it’s used as “proof” that bike helmets are great. It’s BS.

    I do not call people whose opinions differ from mine stupid either.

    BTW “helmet hair” is not even a consideration for me.

    [Reply]

    Paul Reply:

    By your reasoning it would be a great idea if all pedestrians wore helmets too. Helmets also reduce the incidence of head injuries with drivers as well – perhaps they should wear helmets also?

    Australia and New Zealand are the only countries in the world with mandatory helmet laws. If it was such a good idea, wouldn’t the rest of the world follow suit?

    [Reply]

    Joyce Reply:

    I agree! That’s the main reason I don’t ride- the helmet hair is soo embarrasing. Not to mention that riding a bike in Melbourne on regular roads makes it inconvienent to wear regular clothes. The idllyic image of European bikes and fashion is not really possible until we have bike lanes. I wouldn’t mind wearing a helmet if I was surrounded by a group of like-helmet-clad commuters :)

    [Reply]

  • Melissa

    I’d be interested in any tips from you (or other readers) on what equipment they use to carry their little ones around in. I have 2 & 4 year olds & i just can’t decide what to put them in ie. seat on the back & back trailer or front carriage for both. Any tips from people in the know would be much appreciated.

    [Reply]

    Joyce aka Miss CycleStyle Reply:

    Hi Melissa

    If your budget allows I’d highly recommend some form of cargo bike. You will be able to carry your kids, their bikes, the shopping etc all in one go! I know a mum who does the kindergarten run for her 2 kids plus the neighbour’s 2 kids on her Christiana cargo bike (also doubles as a great cubby house apparently). I have a Taga bike (http://www.tagabikes.com/au/) which has various different seating configurations on it – with a 2 and 4 year old you could go for the wooden carrier box.

    If you just want to buy an accessory for your existing bike I’ve been told by a former bike importer (and mum) that trailers are a good option. I personally would prefer to have something in the front so that I can see my kids but back trailers are apparently very safe even though they may not seem that way, being low to the ground and behind you.

    Good luck!
    Joyce

    [Reply]

    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks Joyce – only just getting a chance to read these comments. I’ll certainly look into the cargo & taga bikes, they sound like just what I’m after. Appreciate your tips!

    [Reply]

    perthcyclist Reply:

    you could always look up ‘xtracycle’ – it’s a lightweight option which you can use for two kids

  • Jane F

    I love Knog lights, they are very easy to put on/ take off so they don’t get nabbed and very light to carry around. I also use a lock that you sling across your body and you can tuck your scarf or other flappy clothes behind, or tie jumper to if you get hot. Also, a little clip to attach house/bike lock keys to your jeans belt stay, then tuck in pocket is great, no fear of losing them. Nod to $20 bucks in bra for a cuppa… great feeling to be sans handbag! :)

    [Reply]

  • http://cheekycharlie12wbt.wordpress.com Katie

    This post has me prodding myself to use my much-neglected bike more. Thank you

    [Reply]

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  • Sean

    Nice article Sarah, i have just purchased a mountain bike , its an avanti black thunder and i bought it from Cash Convertors for $180 (bargained down from 225!),

    Planning to put slicks on it and looking forward to getting into riding to work. Thanks for the tips

    Sean M

    [Reply]

  • http://perthcyclist.wordpress.com perthcyclist

    I love Charlie. :)

    Also, if you have a rear rack you can just lock your U-lock to it but having it on the side, kind of like a pannier.

    I wouldn’t recommend carrying a lock over the shoulder for very long – uncomfy! And also if you fall off pointy things like that hurt :/

    [Reply]

  • Anthony

    I would also add to your great bike blog Sarah, the benefits of planning your bike routes. Our great beautiful cities are becoming more and more bike savvy. You can cross Sydney , Perth, Melbourne in purpose built bike lanes, in fact in peek hours you can go from Bondi to Glebe, to Balmain and across the City faster than you can in a car. Check out the City web sites for your best bike route, and you won’t go back to the car again.
    Cheers to all bike riders.

    [Reply]

  • http://www.lifewithmy3boybarians.com Amber

    I’m using a Polygon Celine bike that I got from http://www.bicyclesonline.com.au/ for below $500. I laughed when I read about what Charlie said about being a cheapskate haha! I am pretty much happy with my bike but of course I’m saving to get a lighter and better one.

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  • http://www.reidcycles.com.au/ Best Ladies Bikes

    Yes. Three-speed bikes are best for ladies. These bikes are built with provision for large baskets on the front and saddle bags on the back. They are great to use when running to a nearby store to buy some groceries. More so, they are fit enough to cover long distances downtown or uphill.

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