On Yer Bike! A Guide for Cycling Newbies

As we move into phase 3 many are considering cycling to work so we have some tips for the newbie cyclist writes Ruth O’Connor

I’m like an excited child, squealing with excitement as we pass each other. I try to communicate my delight and solidarity with an enthusiastic nod and smile, whilst also trying not to come across as a total oddball. But every single time, my gleeful grin is been mirrored by the women passing me.

See, us ‘women on bikes’ aren’t as common as we’d hope. CSO figures show that only 1 in 4 cyclists are female and fewer than 1 in 250 girls cycle to school. These are pretty stark statistics. As for a group of women out together – a total rarity in my locality.

So, this new sight in recent weeks took me by surprise. To see a group of women out for a jaunt on their bikes in their shorts or summer dresses – it was a revelation. But to pass a group of teenage girls cycling around town. This is a real sign of something changing.

The quieter roads and travel restrictions during the COVID-19 crisis resulted in something unprecedented – the 2020 Bike Boom. Shops continue to sell out of bikes and manufacturers can’t keep up with demand as people turned to cycling for fun, exercise and transport. For this to continue and for people to stick with cycling, we need big actions from the top. Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure.

But in the meantime, there are few things you can do for yourself to make your transition to cycling as enjoyable as possible. So, if you’re new to cycling, here are a few tips to keep you happy, comfortable and safe in the saddle:

  1. Bike fit

Getting a bike that fits correctly will ensure you’re comfortable and avoid injury. Ensuring your saddle is at the right height and that your handlebars are within comfortable reach are the two big things you need to look out for.

If you’re unsure, ask your local bike shop about getting your bike set up properly but here are a few links to get you started at home:

Cycling Weekly – Setting Saddle Height

GCN Basic Bike Fit

  1. Stay Local

Speaking of your local bike shop, try to shop local if you’re getting a new bike or kit. These past few months have been tough on everyone and we need to support our locality as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to talk to them about your budget and what you need. There are some really great shops and the staff generally have a wealth of knowledge that will save you hours of internet scrolling.

  1. Learn the basics

Learn some basic bike maintenance and it’ll give you the confidence to set off without fear of being stranded with a puncture or some botched brakes. The main things I’d recommend you learn are:

  • How to check the air pressure of your tyres and pump them up
  • How to repair a puncture
  • How to clean your bike
  • How to keep your bike lubricated
  • How to check your brakes and change brake pads
  • Know when to ask a professional!

The best way to learn is just to tinker away at your bike, watch some YouTube videos and learn what does what. It’s far less daunting once you have a go. And why not ask your bike shop about bike maintenance classes if you’re keen to learn more.

Some useful links:

London Bike Kitchen Maintenance Videos

GCN How to Repair a Puncture

Bike Shop Girl – Basic Bicycle Repair Tips

  1. Confidence is key

Take up space. Don’t cycle in the gutter. You have every right to be on the road so make sure you are in the primary focus area. Ideally, you should position yourself where the passenger side of a car would. There are, however, times when you will need to move out further into the lane.

Having the confidence to take primary position (the centre of the lane) is something that will become second nature to you in no time. Riding in primary position is important at junctions and pinch points. Feeling empowered to “take the lane” is crucial in keeping yourself safe on the road.

This video summarises the correct road positioning really well. It’s also worth having a read through Irish Cycling’s Guide to Cycling on The Road.

(Please note that if you’re cycling on the road you are required to have an understanding and knowledge of the Rules of The Road).

  1. Keep it simple

I’m not one for too much kit when it comes to cycling but there are a few basics that you are legally required to have. You must make sure your bike is fitted with a working bell, reflectors and lights. After that you can jazz it up as much or as little as you like.

Remember what it was like to ride your bicycle as a kid. No fancy gear, no gadgets, no fuss. You just grabbed your bike and off you went. Try to capture that simplicity again.

I for one love cycling in my “normal” clothes. I cycle in dresses, jeans, shorts, flip-flops, runners .. whatever I’m wearing that day is what I wear on the bike. Yes, I have cycling shorts and jerseys, but they’re for long rides and training, not for a spin to work or the shop.

  1. Pace Yourself

If you can ride a bike, you’re a cyclist. Let go of any ideas you have about what you should or shouldn’t be able to do, how far you should be able to go or how fast you should be going. If you use your bike to cycle 3km to the shops and go to work, that’s fantastic. If you use your bike to cycle 103km as part of a fitness routine, that’s fantastic. You do you.

  1. Community

If you can find a local group of like-minded bike folk near you, don’t be afraid to pick their brains about all things cycling. The camaraderie that comes with meeting others in the same boat is invaluable. Sharing skills, experiences and tips with others is a great way of becoming a more confident bike user.

There are some wonderful female-led groups around the country that are helping get newbie cyclists out together. Dublin Monthly Cycles, Galway Cycling Campaign and Bikes & Brunch Huns are just a few. If there’s nothing going on in your locality, why not start something up? You’ll be surprised how many people are looking for the same thing!

Ruth O’Connor

1st July 2020

Author: Ruth O'Connor

Ruth is a horticulturist turned baker who loves nothing more than heading out on two wheels when she can. It began with necessity - cycling to work. But this was a revelation as Ruth discovered the freedom and joy that can come from going for a spin. As well as actively getting out on her bike, Ruth is a member of WEXBUG, an advocacy group for everyday cycling in Wexford. Her particular area of interest is encouraging more women to hop on their bikes. She is also a co-founder of Stokers Bike Collective - a bike-packing adventure group based in Wexford. You can find Ruth on Twitter at @ruthoconnorwex 

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