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It has long been known that for urban trips up to five miles the bicycle is usually the cheapest, fastest and always the most convenient ‘door to door’ mode of transport.
Anyone cycling to work not only gets some good healthy exercise, but is also more energised and alert. Cycling bypasses gridlocked traffic and parking space nightmares and is part of the solution for decreasing congestion. Despite a tremendous increase in all traffic types, cycling is statistically safer than ever.
Choose your steed
More cycling is done in cities than anywhere else. Yet unsuitable bikes are still pouring out of bike shops and into the hands of unsuspecting customers who will try to use them for riding in the city. There is no single perfect bike for commuting. On the one hand, any bike you choose will go from A to B but there's the question of comfort, convenience, and speed to consider, so it's worth weighing up the options.
While MTBs are in many ways better suited to potholed urban roads than road racing bikes they're far from perfect. The commuter does not need knobbly tyres, more gears than you can shake a stick at and massive suspension. Best ride something specifically designed to be ridden around town.
If you're concerned mainly with getting to your destination on time in all weathers, you want a bike that's reliable, robust and simple to maintain, ideally complete with mudguards, racks, chainguard and lights. Fortunately, you now have that choice. Manufacturers have wised up! They've realised that urban riding presents its own set of demands, and some superb city bikes have begun to appear in the product ranges of bike manufacturers. It's obvious that a lot of thought has been put into them. Low-maintenance, weatherproof components, including the new generation of hub gears, have been matched with well designed, lightweight frames to provide machines ideally suited to urban use.
Some nippy machines are designed to zoom quickly from A to B. Others are more sensible for less speedy trips about town, ideal for people who use their cycle for grocery shopping trips. Different cycles suit different commuting needs.
A small-wheeled folding bike is unbeatable for anyone who needs intermodal transportation, and there are a lot of people who could do who could adopt a bike-rail or bike-tube approach to commuting. Forget the old image of the folder as a slow heavyweight, oily and difficult to fold. Today's folders are light, tight and just right! The best of them ride like conventional uprights and fold in seconds to a compact bundle considerably smaller than the average suitcase. The use of new materials and new frame designs means they are light and responsive. Kitted out with quality components, and often with suspension, you can ride them comfortably all day.
City cycling isn't all about moving swiftly through busy streets unfettered by baggage, a bike is capable of carrying a lot more baggage than most folk realise. A small rucksack or courier bag is okay for light loads and short trips but why let your back take the strain? The smart place to carry heavier loads is on the bike. There are many secure and durable systems for transporting your belongings with ease; front and rear racks and pannier systems, wicker or metal baskets and even cycle trailers for virtually any load. As a guideline, if you can lift it your bike will carry it. Do be aware though that when heavliy loaded a two wheeler handles very differently.
Your laptop computer will be safe and dry in a padded pannier but carrying it ion your body in a back-pack or courier bag will provide extra shock absorbtion for sensitive electronics.
The use of breathable technical fabrics in garments designed for cycling can keep every part of your body dry and comfortable. Experiment with different combinations in a variety of weather conditions and get yourself kitted out with clothes that suit your riding. Keep a spare set of clothing at work to change in to. You can wear your normal clothing to cycle to work, as long as nothing dangles dangerously into the chain or wheels. If you don't over exert yourself, you won't need a shower upon arrival. Be visible, avoid dark garments.
Urban Cycling Tips
Practise riding your bike until its second nature. Master starting, stopping, signalling, looking behind and gear changing. Many local authorities run on-the -road training courses.
Don't cower in the gutter, where you will be riding over an uneven surface and road debris. Keep a space free to your inside in case you need to move into it. A rule of thumb is that motorists will generally give you as much clearance when they overtake as there is between you and the kerb or parked car you are passing.
Make sure you are always a car door's width away from parked vehicles. In the UK at least, cyclists running into carelessly flung open car doors accounts for around 10% of all serious injuries to cyclists.
In general, position yourself so as to maximise your chances of being seen by other vehicle drivers.
Making eye contact with drivers because it helps ensure that they register your presence.
Anticipation is the most effective way to avoid the majority of accidents, so assume that pedestrians and motor vehicles will do something stupid, and prepare yourself accordingly.
You've better hearing than cocooned motorists; use your ears as an information source. Also your height above the road surface means you have fewer blind spots and better visibility than most motorists.
Whilst you are getting used to busy traffic, you might want to consider buying a flexible orange reflector which sticks out traffic-side on your bike to persuade motorists to give you more clearance.
• Your local authority probably produces a cycle map, showing quieter & safer routes.
• Look behind, then signal clearly before changing road position or making manoeuvres.
• As you gain experience, you should look back very often (even if you are not manoeuvring), so that all the time you have a picture of what is approaching from behind. Better still, fit a mirror.
• Trust your feelings – if it seems unsafe, then get off and walk until you're past the danger.
• Be considerate to pedestrians, what feels a perfectly safe manouvre to you can feel terribly dangerous to walking humans.
• Wear a helmet for protection against low-impact collisions, but don't expect it to do much more than that.
Few countries can match Holland and Denmark for cyclist facilities and safety, but good progress is being made in many places. Ride a bike to work, and be part of the solution!
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