How to start cycling in 2012

1. Why cycle? (Inspiration to keep you going)

  • Money in the pocket: In the UK our train fares are up to 10 times higher than many of our European counterparts such as Italy and Greece. Season tickets can cost up to £4000. A high end bike plus accessories will set you back around £1000. The rest you can spend on anything you want.
  • Stay healthy: Cycling is a good way of getting in your daily exercise.
  • Feeling great: Cycling wakes you up in the morning giving you better alertness throughout the day to perform better. It also connects you with the world around you making you feel alive.
  • Beating the crowds: Using overcrowded public transport systems doesn’t have to be your daily reality. The bike is one way to beat it.
  • Embracing the inner tree hugger: Less emissions make everyone happier.
  • More time in bed: You can often save time by going by bike. This means more time in bed!
  • Started, loved it: During the last London underground strikes many people who took to their bikes, loved it and kept going. The same thing has been reported to me repeatedly by my friends who are just taking up cycling. It is a quiet revolution that is happening and you are welcome to join!

2. Your new bike (how to save 50% or more)

I’m not sure if anyone has told you this but you are going to need a bike. There is no shortage of different types of bikes: road bikes, hybrid, cross bikes, Dutch style bikes, electric, single speed, recumbent bikes, folding, touring bikes… the list goes on.

Your local bike shop will be able to advise on which will be most suitable to you.

If you cycle commute is fairly long (8+ miles) and road based then you’ll probably want to use a road bike. They are quick, efficient and comfortable over medium to long distances.

If your route involves a lot of urban cycling then an upright bike such as a hybrid may be more suitable. It has a more relaxed riding position and gives you better visibility on the road.

The one bike type I would avoid for most commutes is a mountain bike. They tend to be heavier with thick tyres and suspension. They are meant for off-road riding and will cause you to exert yourself more than is necessary.

There are many ways to save money when buying a new bike. You may be eligible for a cycle to work scheme whereby you only pay 50% of the cost of a new bike. Ask around at work if such a scheme is available to employees.

Another option is to buy second hand. The discounts on second hand bikes are steep and it can be a good way to get a bike that would normally be out of your price range. You can also buy your bike online. Larger retailers such as Evans Cycles can price match any offers online so it is worth looking around.

Assembling a flat pack bike is actually a very simple process but the advantage of being able to take your bike back to the local bike shop may be worth the higher price.

I’d highly recommend having a test ride on your new bike before buying. This will help you judge the bike sizing.

Enjoying this guide? Please share it with others on Facebook, Twitter or via email. They’ll thank you for helping them with their new years resolution!

3. What accessories will I need? (The bare essentials)

Put these accessories on your “to buy” list:

  • Two bike locks: So that you can lock all of your components and beat the thieves.
  • Bike lights: If it is winter or you’ll be riding home late.
  • Repair kit: pump, spare inner tube, multi-tool, tyre levers.
  • Mudguards

Many cyclists also choose to wear a bike helmet.

A worthy upgrade I’d recommend are puncture proof tyres. They should mean less time spent off the bike, fixing punctures and getting your hands oily. The bike shop should be able to throw a pair of these in for you.

4. Planning your route into work (The importance of the test ride)

The first day I cycled into work I ended up on Oxford Circus and completely lost. It turned out I was around 2 miles away from where I should be. I now advise my friends to do a test ride into work before their first cycle.

To plan your route there are some excellent tools such as Cycle Streets and RideTheCity. They can help you plan a route that utilises local cycling facilities.

The route you choose will depend on personal preferences. At first you may wish to use quieter back roads. As your confidence increases you may be just as happy on busy main roads.

5. Riding safely (Avoid these common errors)

There are three quick things you can change about your cycling technique that can make a big difference to your safety.

The first is avoiding heavy goods vehicles at all costs. When you see one, alarm bells should be ringing in your mind and reminding you they have very large blind spots. Choose to either stay behind a HGV or overtake on the right (in the same way a motorbike would).

The second is road positioning. Many people try this, but then give up on it because one day a driver gets annoyed at them. The rule is: A car will give you as much room as you give yourself on the left. Therefore, don’t cling to the pavement if you want cars screaming past you with inches to spare. Instead, ride further out which gives you an opportunity to move in if there is a danger. This also makes you far more visible.

The final one I’ll mention in this post, is to establish eye contact with drivers behind you. It’s a  little hard for me to explain why this works so instead I suggest you try it and see what happens. When you establish eye contact they’ll realise it is a person on that bike not just another “bloody cyclist” and they’ll give you more room.

These tips are great if you manage to implement them. However, there’s no substitute for doing a cycle training course. These are 2 hour, one-on-one sessions that can cost as little as £2 as they are subsidised by the government. Just search Google for cycle training UK.

6. Keeping your bike safe (Out the hands of thieves)

Do you want to know how to get your bike stolen? Use one, cheap, £20 lock and only lock it around the front wheel. The thief will walk up to your bike, undo the quick release in 5 seconds and walk away with the rest of your bike.

You should always use two locks and follow the correct locking technique:

  • Never lock your bike to an object where the bike can be lifted over (this includes sign posts that could be unscrewed)
  • Never leave your bike unattended even for “just one minute”
  • Ideally lock the two wheels and the frame to the object
  • Use two different types of lock as the thief is likely to only be equipped to attack one type
  • Register your bike with Bike Shepherd (or equivalent service)

7. Looking after your bike (Losing your tyre puncture virginity..)

The are three things you need to know:

  1. How to remove your wheel and repair a puncture – by far the most likely repair you’ll have to do.
  2. How to clean your bike – this will save you a ton of money as dirt in your expensive components wears them out prematurely.
  3. How to adjust and replace your brake pads – these will eventually wear out and it’s good to not rely on the bike shop to repair them.

The Bike Doctor app can show you how to do all of the above wherever you are.

8. Keeping your resolution (Burn your travel card!)

As anyone who’s tried to lose weight, learn Spanish or stop letting their cat into the house whenever it wants to – we know new habits are hard to keep. The 30 day rule is a good start.

Make it your aim to cycle into work daily without a break for 30 days. Use the website iDoneThis which will email you and ask what you’ve done today. Try not to break the chain!

In combination with this tell one or more friends about what you are doing and ask them to check in with you daily to see how you are doing. The pressure to not fail should help keep you on the straight and narrow.

You can also make it harder for you to cheat. Burn your Oyster card or, more sensibly, give it to a friend and tell them to not give it back to you until after the 30 days are up.

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.


17 Responses to How to start cycling in 2012

  1. John 01/01/2012 at 9:21 am #

    “Make it your aim to cycle into work daily without a brake for 30 days.”

    This had me confused until I realised that you probably mean “without a break”! Cycling without a brake is not recommended.

    • Andreas 01/01/2012 at 9:38 am #

      Oooops – that missed my check! Thanks for pointing out – it has been corrected! I certainly don’t advocate cycling without a “brake”.

  2. Iain 01/01/2012 at 11:17 am #

    I’d add, “you get less colds” as you don’t spend time every day with sniffily commuters sharing their bugs! When you do get a bug, your increased general fitness means yo shake i off much quicker too! 🙂

    • Andreas 19/06/2012 at 3:03 pm #

      That’s quite a major plus! Thanks for throwing it in 🙂

  3. Ik_ 01/01/2012 at 5:00 pm #

    Excellent article! Happy new year people!

    Can anyone identify the bike in the second photo from the top? It’s really stylish!

    Thanks in advance

  4. Adam Edwards 01/01/2012 at 7:18 pm #

    Some things I’d add:

    Cycling home is a great stress buster after a bad day. Gets it out of your sistem rather than simmering in the train home.

    Folding bikes save you at least £1000 a year if you pay to London Terminals instead of Zone 1. (London terminals includes say St Albans to Blackfriars or Hatfield to both Kings Cross AND Moorgate.) You then have a pay as you go Oyster to cover the really drenching days when the bike stays folded and you get the tube.

    Join London Cycling Campaign for the free 3rd party insurance, as back up if you need help and as people to ask if you need advice.



  5. Alive with smashed helmet 02/01/2012 at 2:52 pm #

    Which is more essential – mudguards or helmet? A trendy hipster in coma is an ugly sight.

    • Steph 06/01/2012 at 10:21 am #

      That’s comparing apples and pears: mudguards are obviously not essential safety-wise, but will protect you from water and dirt even when it’s not actually raining but the roads are still wet, and it’s also much nicer towards your fellow cyclists riding behind you! A helmet, on the other hand, is essential safety-wise, but only for you, so here you don’t have to consider other people’s safety or convenience. So, i my view, you should have both!

  6. Peter Jordan 02/01/2012 at 9:12 pm #

    Good article, but comparing a £4000 season ticket with a £1000 bike is not really fair. If you’re paying £4k (as I do), you’re travelling much further than you can do on a bike!

    In fact I take the train AND cycle as part of my commute.

  7. Adam Edwards 03/01/2012 at 9:12 pm #

    Agree, hence my comment about folding bikes (or indeed bike kept at a London station) as a way to reduce the cost from £4000 to £3000.

    I just checked Hatfield (Herts) to London:

    To Kings Cross is £2332 per year
    To Zone 1 is £3392 per year

    So £1060 difference. That will buy you a Brompton M3L for £790 and then leave some loose change for a city lunch (sorry should have said Gore jacket).



  8. Steph 06/01/2012 at 10:28 am #

    re: 2. Your new bike:
    I have a hybrid with front suspension, because while my commute is road-only, I used to have real problems with tension and stiffness (and pain!) in my shoulders and neck when I had a hybrid without suspension. I also don’t think a road bike is a good choice for most people just starting out as the tyres are more prone to punctures, are slimmer and have less traction because of a shallower/non-existing profile than on a hybrid.

  9. Claire 08/01/2012 at 8:38 pm #

    “there’s no substitute for doing a cycle training course. These are 2 hour, one-on-one sessions that can cost as little as £2 as they are subsidised by the government. Just search Google for cycle training UK.”

    Actually you can usually get it free if you go to the council website of the borough you live in. And work places (even stingy ones that don’t do the ride to work scheme) sometimes pay. You can live OR work in a borough and I don’t think they really check, so if you know someone who knows someone….you can do it free. And the instructors still get paid so it’s really win win.

  10. Calin 16/01/2012 at 3:50 pm #

    Yes it’s wet, cold, scary and hard going. Persevere.
    You are not alone.

  11. Babble On 03/08/2012 at 5:56 pm #

    Another reason you won’t get sick as often is that riding improves your immune response. It also increases your serotonin, dopamine and endorphins so you are happy. Plus it makes you hot and so you have more sex, which gives you a cascade of oxytocin. Oxytocin makes you see people as more lovable and more trustworthy and it also makes you act in more loving and trustworthy ways.

    I call it the Bike Path to World Peace…

    spoke n scene

  12. Artur 17/08/2012 at 11:14 am #

    I just arrived to London one and a half month ago, and because I was an avid cyclist back home in Hungary, I decided to buy a bike here quickly.
    The traffic is crazy like in every big city so thats not a problem, but the smog/exhaust gas is! After a 30 minutes long ride I felt dizzy. I remember in Budapest I decided to avoid main roads, because there is a lot of straight, long parallel streets next to them, but in London I’m still struggle to find a proper alternative route.
    Also I could wear a mask, but I’m not Sub Zero, or Lord Vader.

  13. Artur 17/08/2012 at 12:18 pm # looks like a good partner in planning.. (:

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