Cycling to work, even once or twice a week, may be a great alternative to driving a car. It benefits you, the community and the environment.

man parking bike at workWhy cycle?

In a recent survey, only 41% of drivers reported being happy with their commute but 86% of cyclists were happy with their journeys

We know that people who are new to cycling are often uncertain about things like safety, maintenance, clothing and helmet hair. We’ve put together some information to help you work out how to be confident and comfortable on your bike and when you get to your destination.

We hope that if you try cycling, you’ll be surprised by how well it works for you.

Benefits of cycling

lady riding bike in central cityReduce stress  Cycling releases endorphins that lift your mood and help counter stress. 

Be more productive – People who bike report higher motivation levels and improved workload management.

Save money – A basic bike in good working order, a helmet, and high visibility gear are all you need.  Once that is sorted, cycling is free! That means no more paying for parking…or no more parking a long way from the office to avoid parking charges.

Get active – Regular cycling strengthens the cardiovascular and immune systems, improves brain function, and helps prevent chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. Cycling is also great for strengthening your back muscles, which can help office workers prevent back pain from too much sitting down.

Reduce your footprint  By parking the car and biking instead you help to reduce both local pollution and emissions that harm the global environment.

Help our city – Before the earthquakes, eighty-five percent of all trips in Greater Christchurch were made in private cars and 19 out of 20 cars travelling to work had only a single occupant. This led to congestion, pollution, and busy city streets. As we reinvigorate the central city, we have a great opportunity to make it a cleaner, safer, more efficient, and more pleasant place to be.

Find out more about some of the great benefits of cycling:

Your bike

girl posing with bike in central cityFirst of all you’re going to need a bike. You don’t need an expensive state of the art bike to have a go, but the bike you use will need to be safe and it will need to be the right size for you.

If you have a bike that you haven’t used for a while, consider taking it to a bike shop for a quick check that it is still roadworthy.

If you’d like to check your bike over yourself, use this checklist to help you make sure that your bike is in good working order:

  • Tyres – pump your tyres up regularly they should be pumped up so that you can’t squish them with your hand (if you have a pump with a pressure gauge, use it to check the pressure; the correct pressure will be embossed on the side of the tyre). Also check that the tread on the tyre does not look worn and that the sidewalls of the tyres are not cracked or damaged. Correct tyre pressure will reduce the amount of effort you need to put in to pedalling and help prevent damage to your tyres and wheels, resulting in fewer punctures.
  • Brakes – spin each wheel in turn and make sure that it stops spinning when you pull the brake lever. Check your wheels spin freely without the brake on. Also check that the brake pads don’t look worn.
  • Chain – if you lift the back wheel and turn the pedals the chain should run smoothly through the gears. If the chain is grimy, you can clean it with an old toothbrush and some water and dishwashing liquid. If it looks dry or makes a nasty noise make sure you put some chain lube on it (and wipe off any excess once you’ve finished). Lubricate your chain. This will keep your gears running smoothly and will extend the life of your chain and gears. A worn it can damage other parts of your gear mechanism. A chain is quick, simple, and cheap to replace, some other parts are not.
  • General – hold the bike in your hands and bounce it gentle on the ground. If there are any suspicious noises try to work out where they are coming from and if anything is loose or damaged. It is also worth having a quick look at (and tug on) the pedals, handlebars, and seat to make sure that they are secured properly.
  • Keep your bike clean - hosing your bike down or washing it with a cloth and dishwashing liquid will help to extend its life and prevent rust. It’s especially important to wash your bike in winter when it gets covered with salt, grit, and grime from the roads.

If you’ll be riding in low light or rainy conditions, you will also need to make sure your bike has:

  • Reflectors - a red or yellow rear reflector visible from 100 metres
  • Lights - steady or flashing rear-facing red lights that can be seen from 100 metres and a white or yellow headlight that can be seen from 100 metres. If you have more than one headlight, only one of them may flash.  Remember to check batteries and add some spares to your repair kit.
  • Pedal retroreflectors - on the forward and rear-ward facing surfaces of each pedal. If the cycle does not have these the cyclist must be wearing 
  • High-visibility reflective cycling gear - such as a reflective jacket, bag cover and ankle bands

Tips for buying a bike

Equipment

lady with bike and helmetAlongside the actual bike, you’re going to need a few other bits and pieces.

Essential items

  • Helmet – these come in different shapes and sizes. Choose one that is comfy, your head is worth it.
  • Lights – essential if you’ll be riding after dark. Also useful to have with you just in case the weather takes a turn for the worse. Choose lights that you will find easy to keep working, you can get lights with batteries, cables for charging, or built in USB plugs, we recommend rechargeable for low operating costs.
  • Jacket – having a windproof and water resistant jacket makes commuting enjoyable even in grotty weather. Remember, even if it’s sunny in the morning, it might not be by evening. Either take your jacket with you, keep a spare in the office, or have a backup plan for how to get home (bus maybe, or a lift with a colleague).
  • Gloves – hands on handlebars can get cold even on relatively warm days, a light pair of fleece or wool gloves is usually enough if you’re not planning on riding in bad weather.
  • Puncture repair kit – if you know how to fix a puncture (see next section) make sure you have the tools you’ll need; if you don’t know how to fix a puncture make sure you have a backup plan for getting to work or home.

Optional items

  • Lock –if there’s secure bike storage where you work you might not need a lock, but having one makes it much easier to stop off at the coffee shop, supermarket, or dentist on the way to or from work.
  • Mudguards – some bikes come with mudguards already fitted, some don’t. If you’re not intending to have a shower and get changed at work mudguards are an important investment.
  • Puncture resistant tyres – if you find you’re getting a lot of punctures, invest in some puncture resistant tyres.
  • Backpack or panniers – both have advantages, backpacks can be used for a range of different purposes, panniers are only useful on a bike but help you avoid getting a sweaty back.
  • Baby wipes – if you can’t have a shower at work baby wipes can help you stay fresh and fragrant.
  • Chain lube – keeping your chain nicely lubricated in between rides will make your ride smoother and quieter and make your bike last longer.
  • Waterproof pants – love them or hate them, they do keep your underwear dry.
  • Padded shorts – great for keeping sensitive parts comfortable especially on longer rides. These come in lots of different styles so if you’re not feeling comfy during your ride, try padding.
  • Overshoes – these are worn over your shoes to keep your feet and shoes warm and dry. A cheaper alternative is to wear two thin pairs of socks and add a bread bag between the layers.  These little beauties are cheap and replaceable and will ensure your toes stay toasty and dry for your journey.

Maintenance and repairs

If you start with a well maintained bike then problems should be few and far between. Remember though, all vehicles have the potential to break. 

Here are our top tips for ways to keep your bike running smoothly. 

  1. Pump your tyres up regularly (the correct pressure is embossed on the side of the tyre wall). This will help prevent damage to your tyres and wheels, will result in fewer punctures, and will reduce the amount of effort you need to put in to pedalling.
  2. Check tyres for wear. Replacing worn tyres will help keep you safe, especially on wet roads, and will help guard against punctures.
  3. Recharge your lights regularly. Bike lights with low batteries can be very difficult to see. Some lights come on brightly initially even when the battery is low and then they fade quickly. Always check your lights at the end of a ride to see if they are fading, if they are, don’t ride again until they’re charged. Checking your lights will also help you notice when they’re dirty and need a quick wipe.
  4. Lubricate your chain. This will keep your gears running smoothly, will stop your bike making horrible noises, and will extend the life of your chain and gears.
  5. Be aware of chain wear. The most obvious sign of chain wear is usually the chain skipping as you pedal. If this starts to happen be sure to take action. Sometimes a simple gear adjustment will suffice but if the chain isn’t replaced when it gets worn it can damage other parts of your gear mechanism. A chain is quick, simple, and cheap to replace, some other parts are not.
  6. Keep your bike clean. Hosing your bike down or washing it with a cloth and dishwashing liquid will help to extend its life and prevent rust. It’s especially important to wash your bike in winter when it gets covered with salt, grit, and grime from the roads.

Dealing with punctures

If you ride regularly, at some point you will get a puncture. The most important thing is to have a plan for what you will do when that happens. You might be able to hop on a nearby bus to complete your journey, there might be someone you can call to pick you up, or you might choose to learn to fix punctures and carry on riding.

Learn how to change a tyre and inner tube:

Spare inner tubes are small, light, easy to carry with you and relatively quick to change. Puncture repair kits are also small, light and easy to carry but fixing a puncture can be trickier than changing the tube. Some people carry a spare tube while they’re riding and keep a puncture repair kit at home so that they can fix tubes  in warmth and comfort.

For anything more complicated than a puncture, a lot of people head straight for the nearest bike shop, but if you’re up for dealing with more advanced mechanical issues this video is a good place to start.

Getting ready for the road

Christchurch Map(external link)Before you set out on your first ride to work you’ll need to do a little bit of homework.

  • Your route - start planning your route using a cycling map(external link).
  • Work out how long it will take - you can use Google Maps(external link) to give you an estimate of how long your ride will take. Over time you will get to know whether you are faster or slower than Google’s estimates but it’s wise to give yourself some extra time in the early days.
  • Cycling basics - it’s a good idea to be familiar with how to use the road as a cyclist. The New Zealand Transport Agency has a complete road code for cyclists(external link) which is well worth a flick through before you start out. The NZ Transport Association also have useful tips for starting out.

 

Be prepared for when it goes wrong

Man about to ride bikeAs you get more used to your journey you’ll get more confident and more able to deal with unexpected events, but to start with, it’s useful to have a contingency plan just in case.

  • Making sure your phone is charged before you go.
  • Considering who you can call if you need help (family, colleagues, friends).
  • Biking near a bus route  that you can use to get home or to work if you have a problem.
  • Taking some money and a taxi company phone number (if you need a taxi occasionally it’ll probably still be cheaper than taking your car every day).
  • If you have children in school, consider how you will collect them if they become sick or the school closes for some reason. Again, the occasional taxi trip will probably still be cheaper than taking a car every day.

When you have a contingency plan you probably won’t need it, but it can give you peace of mind, and can be a real help if something does go wrong.

Some days you may need to drop off children or run errands.  Plan ahead, you may only need to make those trips on certain days of the week, drive some days, bike others.

You do not have to leave your car at home every day to make a difference. Walking once or twice a week will improve your general wellbeing, help ease congestion and make our city a nicer place to be.

 

Building confidence

The first step to biking is to get out and have a go. If you’re out of practice, find somewhere quiet to start out on a day off when you don’t have to be somewhere in a hurry.

Once you’ve started riding a bike it can help to connect with other people who also ride. They can share tips on routes, gear, and mechanical issues, and talking with other cyclists can help you to keep up your enthusiasm for getting out on the bike.

Some ways to connect with other people who ride bikes include:

It can be helpful to have a strategy for building your cycling confidence, we suggest:

  1. Know your limits and stick to them – don’t try to ride 100km on day one if you haven’t ridden a bike in 20 years.
  2. Build up gradually – tackle longer rides, busier roads, and more complicated junctions only when you feel ready for them.
  3. Practice your skills – for example, practice stopping suddenly (having made sure it’s safe to do so). This will mean you’re ready if you ever need to do an emergency stop for real.
  4. Believe in yourself – with practice you can be a confident and competent bike commuter, it may not happen overnight, but if you keep at it you will get there, and when you do, we’re confident you’re going to love it. 

Safety

people practicing road safetyNew cyclists are often concerned about safety, but cycling is often safer than it feels. You can help keep yourself safe with a few simple actions.

  • Start off with small steps - ride on your street for a start, work up to the block or down the shops and then move up to biking part way to work.
  • Be alert when you ride - watching out for potential problems is the best way to keep yourself safe. 
  • Learn to ride your bike well - if you don’t already have good skills (like doing emergency stops and avoiding obstacles) investigate how to get them. Go Cycle Christchurch(external link) might be a good place to start and Bike Wise(external link) has some good advice.
  • Light up - get good lights, especially if you’re intending to ride at night or at dawn or dusk. Make sure your lights are always well charged and clean.
  • Go for glow - consider getting a Hi-Viz vest or jacket. Hi-Viz is especially good in poor light conditions like fog and rain when lights may not be easy to see.
  • Know the weather - if high winds, ice, snow, or torrential rain are forecast, consider using a different mode of transport unless you are completely confident your skills are sufficient. You can find the current forecast on the MetService(external link) website.
  • Be prepared to back off - if you get out of your comfort zone, stop. If weather conditions deteriorate call someone (even a taxi) for a lift. If a junction is daunting, get off your bike and cross as a pedestrian. If traffic is too heavy for your comfort, find a quieter street, or stop and have a coffee until the roads clear.

Cycling can be fun and safe, and the good news is that the more you do it, the safer it gets.

Getting to work

people biking across roadCommuting by bike is not just about the ride itself, it’s also about what happens when you get to work. To smooth your first day biking consider these tips we’ve put together:

  • Dress in layers for your biking, this means that if it gets hotter or colder during the day you can still be comfortable for your bike home.
  • If you intend to change at work, have you packed a change of clothes? (If you alternate driving and biking, consider taking spare clothes when you drive so you don’t have to carry them on the bike).
  • Do you know where you’re going to park your bike when you arrive?
  • Are there showers? Do you know where they are? Do you have somewhere to keep a towel? 
  • We know that the prospect of helmet hair can be an uninspiring prospect for potential cyclists, but don’t fret, whatever length and style your hair is, chances are someone has been there before you and worked out how to ensure it looks good when it emerges from under your helmet. Top favourites are plaiting, tousling and smoothing products, and scarves and hats under your helmet to keep every strand under control until you reach your destination. 
  • If you don’t mind riding in the rain, have you got dry clothes to change into? Consider keeping some at work if you have space, or invest in dry bag to keep your stuff dry during your ride.
  • Have you got dry shoes?

Answering these questions before you give biking a go will help to make your first few days of cycle commuting easier. Once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll know what works for you and keeping going will be easy.

 

Stick with it

Lady with bikeOnce you’ve started biking we hope you’ll want to keep doing it and keep getting all those excellent benefits for yourself, your environment, and your community.

Here are some things to check out to help you keep on cycling; things to motivate you, things to challenge you, and things to remind you of all the good work you’ve already started!

If you’ve followed the rest of our advice, you’re ready. Put your helmet on, grab your bike, go for it!