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Your bike

Thursday 3 May 2012

Your bike: Guidance on getting a bike, types of bikes, finding the right size. Seats and the right riding position, bike knowledge and repairs. Safe bikes and biking safely.

 

Getting a bike

If you aren’t sure about cycling, see if you can borrow a bike until you know if riding’s for you (see ‘Safe Bikes’ below). If you want to buy one, check the detailed information and the links below, but here’s a few essential tips to start with;

  • As a general rule, you get what you pay for. Several bikes can look the same but vary hugely in price - you don’t need the best but buying the cheapest has hidden costs. Really cheap bikes are usually heavy, don’t last that long, and don’t work as well as bikes which don’t cost all that much more. Talk to others who have bikes and get advice from local bike shops. Second-hand bikes can be a good buy - or they can be someone else’s worn-out cast-off! Again, get advice before you take the plunge.
  • Buying from a shop at the end of the season can be a good move - towards the end of the summer season, and the end of the bike model season, from about August. At these times shops are looking to clear stock for the next year’s models, so it’s a good time for deals. Just remember that getting the model of bike or size you want at this stage might be a matter of luck.

 

Types of bikes. 

There are basically three bike types; racing bikes (think Sarah Ulmer or Lance Armstrong), mountain bikes, and bikes that people call comfort, hybrid bikes or city bikes. This last group (comfort/hybrid bikes/city bikes) are bikes made for ordinary people to just ride around on - the design focus is comfort, ease of use and a minimum of flash (expensive) parts. Mountain bikes can be fine if you’re starting out cycling, but they need to have a beginner-friendly saddle and some road-friendly tyres (ones that don’t look like they’ve come off a tractor). 

 

Size. 

Yes that $2 bike might be a killer deal, but if it’s XL and you’re size S - really, it isn’t. Bike size means frame size (bike wheels are around 26” or just a bit bigger for adult bikes), and bikes are generally sized as ‘small’, ‘medium’, ‘large’ or ‘extra large’. Bike size is about your height, not body mass, so relax. 

The bike/frame size is what puts your feet/pedals, bottom/saddle, and your hands/handlebars in the right relationship with each other. 

  • One way to check frame size is to stand ‘over’ the bike, with a leg on each side and the saddle behind you. If the frame has a tube that runs from the saddle up to the area of the forks/handlebars this tube shouldn’t be trying to cut you in half - if it is, that frame is too big. 
  • On the other hand, if you can’t adjust the saddle up high enough the frame is too small. 
  • Saddle height is critical. To get your correct saddle-to-pedal adjustment, pop your bike close to a wall or a post you can hold to keep stable, then park yourself on the saddle as if you were going riding. Set one pedal at it’s lowest point; with your foot on the pedal that leg should be very slightly bent. If you need to stand when you stop riding, just move forward off the saddle.  

When you’re just beginning to get your balance on a bike you may want to set your saddle low enough that you can get your feet on the ground when you’re sitting on the bike. But don’t let the ‘I need to touch the ground while sitting on my seat’ approach become a habit; having your leg too bent while you’re pedaling really strains your knees. Do this repeatedly and you’ll get pain and risk a very nasty injury. Work at getting balance and bike confidence before you focus on riding longer distances.

Since getting this ‘bike fit’ thing sorted is important the best idea is get advice from someone who (really) knows the story about setting up the right pedal-to-saddle-to-handlebar adjustment. Get this right and you ride in comfort, get it wrong and you could strain things - knees especially. A trip to a good bike shop can be worth a small cost to get this sorted, first off. They can also fluff around with adjustments to the handlebars to get the reach distance and the bar angle right, if that’s an issue. Brake levers can be adjusted to be closer to the bars for small hands too.

Links to information on buying a bike;

http://www.avantiplus.co.nz/pluszone/title/guide/content/buying-a-new-bike.html

http://www.ridestrong.org.nz/RS/wikis/getting_started/buying-a-bike.aspx

http://www.goskyride.com/GetIntoCycling/ShowArticle/Beginners-guide-to-buying-a-bike?retURL=/GetIntoCycling/CategoryList/30/1

The Road Code for Cyclists also has some good information on buying a bike, choosing and fitting helmets, and things to check on your bike to keep it in good, safe working order. See page 62 onwards in the Code, which you can download for free here;

http://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/roadcode/

 

Seats, and riding position

Rule No 1 with saddles; different shapes/designs work for different people, so if you have one that’s giving you grief see if you can find and try a different type. Saddle angle (does the front end point up, down or is it level?) and saddle front-to-back adjustment is also important - see ‘bike fit’ above. There are now saddles made specifically for women and these tend to be a bit shorter (front to back) and a bit wider.

When you’re just beginning to get your balance on a bike you may want to set your saddle low enough that you can get your feet on the ground when you’re sitting on the bike. But don’t let the ‘I need to touch the ground while sitting on my seat’ approach become a habit; having your leg too bent while you’re pedaling really strains your knees. Do this repeatedly and you’ll get pain and risk a very nasty injury. Work at getting balance and bike confidence before you focus on riding longer distances.

Riding position is important if you’re going to be comfortable and enjoy the trip. That’s one reason why getting a bike that’s too big or small is a bad move. Riding position is also important to avoid or worsen back and neck injuries, which is why comfort/hybrid bikes/city bikes that have you sitting upright more than leaning forward will be the right choice for some people. 

Be careful of settling into a ‘leading with your head’ position, where your head is pushed out ahead of you. If you do this the muscles up the back of your neck have to work hard all the time and tend to ‘lock up’, and you’ll probably also be tensing your shoulders too. Similarly, try not to ride with your arms locked straight at the elbow, you want your arms and torso to be nice and relaxed so you can respond easily to changes in your bike’s position and road or track surfaces.

Your handle bars are critical for your bike control, so they’re worth holding onto. That means holding them with your thumbs under the grips and your fingers wrapped around it, not thumbs over the top or fingers draped over the brake levers. 

Most modern bike brakes will either send you over the handle bars (ouch) or lock the front wheel (ouch again) if you grab the brake levers hard, so get used to only using one or two fingers (index and next finger) to pull the brake lever - this leaves the other fingers free to keep the bars securely held. 

 

Bike knowledge and repairs

Bike knowledge isn’t essential, especially if you’re riding with at least one other experienced rider who can change a tyre or do similar get-me-home stuff. It’s useful to know a few things like changing your tyre though in case you get a puncture, and it can be a good idea to have a spare tyre, tyre levers and a pump with you (or with your group). Get someone to show you how to get a wheel off and on, and how to fix a flat tyre with a patch or a spare tube. 

Bikes are reasonably tolerant of some degree of neglect, but there can be a price to pay - they’ll wear out quicker and may become unsafe, which you could discover in a painful way.  Get a local shop to do a service once a year - more if you ride regularly - or do a bike maintenance course (insert links here)

Basic stuff: How to lube your chain;

http://www.avantiplus.co.nz/pluszone/title/Guide/content/lubing_chain.html

A bit more technical:

http://www.avantiplus.co.nz/pluszone/title/guide/content/mechanics-tips.html

A great resource if you are wanting to do lots of your own bike maintenance;

http://www.parktool.com/blog/repair-help

 

Safe bikes. 

Having your handlebars work loose as you ride down hill, or your pedal fall off just as a logging truck passes you, are only hilarious on YouTube. Bikes don’t need to be new but they do need to be in good condition, otherwise you might be walking home - or you might never get home. 

Check before you ride. Make it a routine, just like the stuff you do before you leave the house (wallet, keys, cellphone, is the cat out, back door locked?) When this becomes a habit you’ll hardly notice you’re doing it.

The obvious things; 

  •  Give your tyres a squeeze, do a quick check for any obvious sign of splits in the rubber;
  •  Squeeze the brakes - do they grip the wheels firmly? 
  •  Grab the saddle, handle bars and wheels (not all at once!) and see if they feel tight or flop about.

If there was a problem with your bike the last time you rode don’t ride again unless it’s been looked at. The novelty of riding with someone who’s moaning about something that hasn’t been working properly over the last six months, or having to wait while - yet again - someone tries to fix their seat/pedal/etc, wears off real fast.

 

Biking safely. 

Helmet. Yes they’re compulsory around town, even on off-road council cycle paths. (Helmets are not compulsory but highly recommended for trail or mountain bike riding.)

Lights/reflectors. Required if you’re out in the dark - lights (white front/red rear) should be on the bike itself. Same with reflectors - Front (White), Rear (Red) and Side (Amber) reflector. Bike shops often have lots of spares of these.

For more ideas about keeping safe have a look here:

http://www.avantiplus.co.nz/pluszone/title/Guide/content/staying_safe.html

http://www.goskyride.com/GetIntoCycling/ShowArticle/Top-tips-on-riding-safely?retURL=/GetIntoCycling/CategoryList/30/1