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I want to ride my bicycle [Sep. 26th, 2009|09:30 pm]
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In an attempt to get fit, save money, cut her travel times, increase her mobility and reduce her carbon footprint all at the same time, wormwood_pearl has started cycling again after over ten years out of the saddle. The old adage about not forgetting how turned out to be true, but there's a snag: even with the rear mudguard removed and the saddle lowered as far as it will go, Tobermory is still a bit too big for her (Orinoco would be much too big, even if the seat weren't rusted into place). When I started writing this post about a week ago I wrote that, at 16kg, Tobermory was too heavy for her to carry up and down three flights of stairs to our flat, but she's learned to cope with that remarkably quickly.

Anyway, we're contemplating getting her another bike that's more suited to her needs, and since I know that a lot of you are bike experts, I thought I'd ask here. She just wants to ride around town, not enter races: the bike would have to be able to cope with hills and cobbles and Leith's bumpy and potholed roads, but not scree slopes. I think she's fairly taken with the idea of an old-school ladies' bike, preferably with a basket. Handlebars that don't force your hands into radial deviation would be good, too. Cheap is much preferred: we don't have a lot of money to throw around, and it is in the nature of bikes to get nicked or kicked in. Does anyone have any suggestions for where we might best obtain a bike, what kind of bike to get, and how to fit it? We looked in at our Local Bike Shop, but everything there was at least 350 notes, which is a lot more than we were thinking of spending.

Also, does anyone have any good advice for cycling in traffic? All her previous cycling was done in the small town where she grew up, and Edinburgh traffic's a bit more aggressive (not to mention all the roadworks messing things up). The advice I've given her boils down to (a) assert your space and make your intentions obvious, (b) if it gets scary, don't hesitate to dismount and walk past the nasty bit. I also pointed her at jwz's somewhat controversial advice, and the informative comment thread that resulted.

Edit: just so we're clear, I'm not saying that I agree with everything in that JWZ post. In particular, I disagree with points 7, 10 and 11 (lights, doing your own basic maintenance, and cycling on the pavements - unless he's talking about getting off and walking, it's not 100% clear to me). And I'd modify point 1 to "by all means listen to your friends with clip shoes and fixies, but bear in mind that their needs and abilities are different to yours." But a lot of the rest makes sense, and the comment thread was good.

[User Picture]From: johnckirk
2009-09-26 09:55 pm (UTC)
I'm hardly an expert, but this is the internet, so why let that get in the way of offering my opinion? :)

Price-wise, what kind of budget are you looking at? I've come across the term "BSO" (Bicycle Shaped Object):
The basic gist is that you shouldn't pay less than £100 for a new bike (e.g. at a supermarket), because it will be such poor quality, and they often make mistakes like putting the forks on backwards. So, second hand may be a better bet. Also, I'm not sure about wormwood_pearl's employment situation, but would she be able to use the Cycle to Work scheme to reduce the cost?

Looking at jwz's advice, I strongly disagree with him about lights: if you're going to cycle after dark, you need them. Leaving aside the legal issues, they've helped me to avoid potholes and they make me more visible to other traffic (some pedestrians recently commented that they thought I was a car as I approached). I use a hub-dynamo, which has the fringe benefit that the lights are "permanently" attached to the bike, so I don't have to faff around with quick release stuff every time I lock it up.

I don't know much about ladies bikes, but I've never liked dropped handlebars. I used to ride mountain bikes because they seemed like the logical next step from my old BMX, but nowadays I think that you need to choose the right bike for the environment. It's like motor vehicles: a tractor is best for a muddy field (where a normal car would get stuck), but a normal car will easily outdistance a tractor on tarmac. I used to be quite surprised when other people overtook me on road bikes, and this was when I was 18 (about the fittest I've ever been in my life); I now think that was mainly down to the tyres. So, a hybrid sounds like a good choice - straight handlebars and thin/smooth tyres. However, I do like Kevlar (I use Schwalbe Marathon on my Brompton): I went ten months without a single puncture, although I then had three in a week.

For sizing, the advice I used to get was that you should be able to straddle the stem (horizontal bar) with feet flat on the ground, and touch the ground with your toes when sitting on the saddle. That doesn't quite work for the Brompton (very low stem), and presumably the same would apply to a ladies bike, so now I try to position my saddle so that I can get a straight leg when I'm sitting on the saddle and the relevant pedal is at the bottom of its loop. This still allows me to put one foot (toes) on the ground when I stop at lights, although I have to lean over a bit.

When it comes to cycling in traffic, I like cycle lanes, although I know that's a bit of a controversial subject. It can also be useful to plan your route to avoid busier roads, even if it means you cycle a bit further. I agree with you about being assertive: I noticed this recently when I was near Victoria, and I had to move across three lanes of traffic in order to turn right. In a situation like that, I do think it's best to be bold rather than tentative, and the other drivers seemed to appreciate it when they knew what I was going to do rather than being surprised, i.e. do signal before you move! However, it also helps to have the speed to back that up, and I've found that I get fitter/faster the more I cycle, so it might be best to practice for a while first.
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[User Picture]From: totherme
2009-09-27 09:14 am (UTC)
This still allows me to put one foot (toes) on the ground when I stop at lights, although I have to lean over a bit.

FWIW, a friend of mine recently found that she was slowly damaging her hip by trying to stretch her left leg down from the saddle to the road every time she stopped at lights. This was easily fixed by not staying on the saddle at lights.

Sheldon Brown believed that if your bike is properly adjusted, you probably shouldn't be able to reach the ground from the saddle when stopped. Maybe give his suggestion a try and see how that feels?
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[User Picture]From: firefliesinjune
2009-09-26 11:51 pm (UTC)
No advice from me. I have a lovely bicycle, but won't ride it here in the city. I occasionally walk it to the park and ride around there. I think I'd feel more confident about it if I was out in the countryside or in a much smaller town.
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[User Picture]From: pozorvlak
2009-09-27 03:00 pm (UTC)
If you can get over the fear, it's a great way of getting around. Much faster than walking, and more reliable and cheaper (and often faster) than getting the bus.
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[User Picture]From: _navi_
2009-09-27 12:30 am (UTC)

The priorities for buying a bike should be (in decreasing priority order): comfortableness, reliability (it's not unusual to buy a cheap bike and find out that the bolts are getting unscrewed after every 5 miles), easiness of maintenance (being able to find parts/tubes/etc., repair shops availability).

Hybrid is a good idea, however you probably shouldn't get one cheaper than $150-200.

Cycling in traffic:

  • it will be scary sometimes, regardless how long you've been doing that. So keep the head cool and don't lose control over the situation when it get's scary. And don't take chances.
  • drivers often don't see you, especially at dawn/night. Wear the most bright-colored things, make sure the backpack is not black or dark
  • right turns (you're in UK, right?) are always a problem, one of the ways is to ride straight across the intersection without turning, stop, turn, then ride straight again when the green lights up.
  • Know every nook and cranny of the roads you're riding on, try to ride the same roads. There are a lot of things to look out for: bad asphalt, potholes, manholes, road work, opening doors of the parked cars, cars turning into you when you're going straight, broken traffic lights, people (esp. kids) unexpectedly getting in your way, cyclists going the wrong way (hate those! remember: you always ride on the same side where people drive, that would be left side in the UK; never go in the opposite direction to the traffic), dogs (these may be annoying, don't hesitate to bark at them to scare them off; if there's a risk of being bitten, try to kick the nose), etc. Learn where the higher risk areas for all of these possible events are, and be prepared to act before somethings happens.
  • Try never to go on the roads where you have never been before when it's dark, or at the time when there's a lot of traffic
  • Learn the traffic rules and obey them; however, usually there are cases when you must disobey the rules to increase your safety (e.g. by moving into the lane to make yourself visible, or prevent the drivers from turning into you). Unfortunately I can't say anything about the UK traffic rules.
  • Always wear a helmet. It's really hard to get the head fixed.

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[User Picture]From: pozorvlak
2009-09-27 03:02 pm (UTC)
Good advice, thanks! And yes, we've got her a helmet :-)
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[User Picture]From: susannahf
2009-09-27 05:15 am (UTC)
I agree with JWZ on everything except lights (you do need them if riding after dark or you will die, or at least get fined) and maintainance - it's easy and dead cheap to do yourself for 90% of stuff.
Definitely don't be scared to get off and walk
You're in a uni town, right.
Second hand is your friend I think. I'd go for a hybrid, mountain or "shopper" style, given the environment you've described.
Get a good fitting helmet.
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From: ex_robhu
2009-09-27 08:24 am (UTC)
Look on Gumtree.

The Giant Expression is an adequate entry level hybrid. Look at something like the Giant CRS for something a bit faster / lighter.
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[User Picture]From: pozorvlak
2009-09-27 07:45 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: r_e_mercia
2009-09-27 08:45 am (UTC)
Been cycling for pretty much ever and agree with the previous comments thoroughly. Couple of things to add though:

1) If your back is in any way dodgy, it's worth thinking about whether you'd be more comfy on a mountain bike, leaning forward, or a city bike, sitting upright. This will make a big difference to your comfort levels.

2) If you're cycling on shit roads, cobbles etc, don't go for city-bike thin tires, you will end up falling off, which is very disconcerting.

3) Visi-vests are awesome! When I'm cycling in the dusk or dark I always sling on a visi-vest and reflective legbands to hold in the ends of my trousers. When it's foggy (which it is in Lx) I tuck in my trousers and put the legbands round my wrists so people can see me signalling more clearly.

4) I think that chap is talking a pile of claptrap when he says "don't bother to invest in baskets, have a rucksack". Rucksack is a suboptimal way of carrying stuff as you take the strain rather than your bike. Puts pressure on your back and decreases your efficiency. Get a pannier! That way you only leave the pannier rack on the bike, it's not very expensive or noticeable and your stuff is carried on the back of the bike, so doesn't affect steering in the way that cheapo baskets can. I love my panniers.

5) Traffic tips: agree that drivers seem to prefer cyclists who are confident, specially those who don't wobble around when they pass them, or do things suddenly. Remember your actions reflect on all cyclists, so always stick to the rules of the road, even if they are stupid. I find that occasionally making eye contact/thanking drivers after a tricky manoeuvre is also useful and gives me the sense I've helped improved their view of cyclists. On the other hand, I'd definitely second planning to stick to quietish roads to start off with, get your confidence up (even sign up for a refresher course on road cycling if there's one near you). Helmet is also important. Oh and to prevent cold ears, I often wear a headscarf under mine in the winter, so if you suffer cold ears it's good to get a helmet with a tiny bit of give in the sizing (eg foam pads inside). My final traffic tip is probably a bit controversial but I'll give it anyway; have an mp3 player on at a low level when cycling. This has two functions. First, it deadens the general rumble of traffic, which makes you feel less vulnerable - which leads to you being more confident, holding your line etc. Also it prevents one's thoughts wandering. I find my thoughts are much louder than my music, and when doing a routine cycle ride my mind can wander otherwise. Probably doesn't work for everyone but it does work for me so I thought I'd suggest it.
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[User Picture]From: susannahf
2009-09-27 09:43 am (UTC)
Definitely second the reflectives - legbands are a thing of great joy.
If you own a buff, or buff-type thing, this is perfect for under-helmet ear-warming, as it's thin enough to not affect the fit, but does give you significant warming I find.
Rucksacks are good up to a point (especially for small amounts and for carrying valuables - no one can nick stuff when you're stopped at lights, and it's quick to get going at either end), but yes, for heavy stuff, a pannier is the more efficient option.
Do you drive? I tend to cycle as if I'm a driver (up to a point) - i.e. signalling, changing lanes etc. Drivers are used to what drivers do; they don't always expect what cyclists do, so if you act like a thin car, they will treat you like a thin car. Yes, sometimes it's slower, but sometimes it's safer too. You do have to stake out your "car space" though - if you're going to wait in a queue of traffic like a car rather than squeezing down the side, position yourself at least as far across as the passenger seat of the car in front.
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[User Picture]From: totherme
2009-09-27 09:07 am (UTC)
disclaimer: I own bike shorts (of two different different sorts), clip shoes and a fixie.

One nice thing about jwz's advice is that it's aggressively commuter-centric. Another guy offering bike advice on the net was Sheldon Brown (who passed away earlier this year). He felt quite differently to JWZ about drop handlebars and fixies, but did give a lot very anti-racing, commuter-centric advice. You can get advice as nerdy as you like from his site (about all sorts of obscure bits of kit, and how to put it together in ways the original designers never intended), but it's definitely worth taking a quick gander as his beginners page. Stuff like "how to start and stop", "how to adjust your saddle", "what if my ankles hurt?", etc.

Several people have already said don't pay less than $N for a new bike. The $N I heard most recently was three to five hundred quid. Whatever the $N, I reckon you just don't want to buy a new bike. A friend of mine in London recently got a bike for 10 quid from gumtree. After spending a further 30 odd quid on parts (new tyres, tubes and pads), it's now a good old fashioned ladies bike. The bike I'm currently riding fixie (which also saw me through uni) was given to me free, by a guy who didn't have space for it any more. Check out your local freecycle, second hand forums, ebay, etc. Look at the bike before buying. If you're willing to ignore a little of jwz's advice and learn how to fix some things, you can live a lot cheaper (in money at least). Bike parts are usually cheapest at wiggle or chainreaction.

I've (touch wood) never had a bike nicked. I always lock it properly, and usually in a good place.

It might be worth going to a bike shop to test ride a bunch of different configurations. Try out a bunch of different handlebar and saddle shapes for example - see what feels best for you.

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[User Picture]From: totherme
2009-09-27 09:07 am (UTC)
For cycling in traffic, I reckon the key thing is to Chill. And remember that everyone else on the road actively wants you dead. But mostly, Chill.

(of course, it goes without saying that you should be wearing a helmet, and lots of loud reflective clothes)

More specifically, yes assert your space - and as a side effect of that, always have a place to go if things go wrong. Ride a good three feet away from the kerb (or the row of parked cars) at all times. If someone swerves left for no good reason, you've got three feet of leeway in which to not-get-killed (this can mean preparing to bail safely onto the pavement, knocking on the offending car's passenger side window, turning left into a convenient side-street or driveway, etc). Sometimes this will mean that people can't overtake you. Tough. There wasn't enough room for them to do it safely, so they shouldn't do it at all.

If it gets scary, or if you get lost, like the man said: get on the pavement and dismount. If you're used to driving a car, you might be used to navigating like a car (or worse, like a pedestrian). Don't. Your first priority is always the flow of traffic. If you take a wrong turn because you didn't maneuver early enough, or because you don't know where you are, or because someone did something stupid - that's absolutely fine. You can always dismount and walk back. This means you can (and should) always make every turn with complete confidence. If you start to "um" and "ah" about where you're going next, other road users will sense that weakness, get frustrated, and do dangerous things. Pick a direction and take it. If it's the wrong direction, you can fix that later.

I'm going to bite my tongue on the subject of cycling in traffic now, because riding safely and fast is a different thing to riding safely and slow - and I don't know how fast you ride. I believe the safest speed for any bike on any road is exactly the same speed as the surrounding cars. If you're not strong enough to keep up, that changes the game (and makes it a bit harder), and if the cars are packed in tight enough that you're faster than them, that changes the game again (and makes it harder). I suspect that many differences of opinion on - for example, cycle lanes - eventually boil down to different riding speeds.

Keep your eyes and ears open, and have fun :)

And Chill.
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[User Picture]From: totherme
2009-09-27 09:19 am (UTC)
Oh yeah - recently heard about these tyres. I haven't tried them yet, but I might have a go next time I need tyres. YMMV (literally).
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[User Picture]From: susannahf
2009-09-27 06:54 pm (UTC)
please post about them if/when you do - I'm curious and would definitely consider them
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[User Picture]From: half_of_monty
2009-09-27 10:27 am (UTC)
Am sure she wants either a hybrid or an "upright ladies city bike" type thing. Drops are madness if you feel at all insecure; mountain bikes in cities are like wading through soup unnecessarily.

(Hybrids are much more upright than either of the things they're meant to be a "hybrid" of. I've never understood this.)

Have a look at bottom-of-the-range ladies' hybrid treks, dawes and raleighs. Am surprised there was nothing under £350 in your LBS. I had trouble finding anything that expensive when I wanted same style but higher spec - try next-nearest bike shop?

To save more money, I would have thought looking for ladies hybrids one whatever your local forsale freebie jobby is would make sense. And I would have thought you would be able to tell whether it's a pile of junk before she buys it. Though on that, my tip for less obvious checking: make sure there is absolutely no lateral wobble in anything that's meant to go round and round. Esp bottom bracket.

One thing I do think worth investing in are kevlar tyres. No punctures. Joy.

I am a lover of baskets and have actually convinced Duncan. However, to avoid wobbliness, if she goes for one it should be geniunely attached properly: bracket *under* the basket going down to the axle of the front wheel, and tight leather straps to the handlebars. Do not get a nasty cheap wobbly wire one just attached to the handlebars. That will indeed probably unbalance her.

I have never heard of anyone nicking a basket attached as I recommend and refuse to believe it happens. Putting half-eaten kebabs in, yes. People are disgusting.

(Paniers good too, but a bit more expensive, and the basket is always there.)

What else? I get very angry with people who cycle at night without lights. I thoroughly agree with r_e_mercia about "Remember your actions reflect on all cyclists, so always stick to the rules of the road, even if they are stupid." Aside from respect issues: recent NY experience: people start jumping one or two lights because the roads are empty and there is a light every 20 yards, and seem to end up in the habit of jumping all lights without looking. Just don't start the bad habits.

There was a wonderful post on cycling in London on 's lj but I can't find it. I've asked her where it was.
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[User Picture]From: susannahf
2009-09-27 11:24 am (UTC)
sorry if I wasn't clear - I didn't mean nicking the basket, I meant nicking things *out* of the basket (particularly handbags!). There are of course ways round this (e.g. tying or locking the bag to the basket), but I still prefer a small rucksack.
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[User Picture]From: half_of_monty
2009-09-27 06:12 pm (UTC)

My friend's cycling tips

Excellent set of tips for cycling in London.

She also say: "NB: the non-London equivalent of the LCC is the CTC (join them & get free 3rd party insurance, among other useful things). Two locks *may* be overkill in Edinburgh; I'm not sure what the bike theft rate is like there. If one lock is sufficient it should be a good lock!

If there's anyone in their area who offers Bikeability training (this is what my prospective employers, CTUK, do), then that's IMO well worth it. The interwebs suggests these people: http://www.thebikestation.org.uk/adult-cycle-training/

Tell them good luck!"
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[User Picture]From: pozorvlak
2009-09-27 07:24 pm (UTC)

Re: My friend's cycling tips

You see that handsome chap who's listed as the contact for adult cycle training? That's wormwood_pearl's brother :-)
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From: ext_5743
2009-09-28 09:02 am (UTC)
I live in the World Capital of old fashioned bicycles. Within several minutes' walk of my home are various purveyors of the said machines. You could come to Cambridge for the weekend and take the bike back with you on the train - it's only a single change. We also have a profusion of second-hand bike emporia, including the very worthwhile Owl Project, who collect abandoned bikes, employ various disadvantaged youths to do them up and then sell them on for £50-£100 each.
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[User Picture]From: aftnn.org
2009-09-28 01:02 pm (UTC)

A couple of last minute thoughts

Bike frames are generally measured by the length from the centre of the bottom bracket axle (where the cranks fit on) to the top of the seat tube, where the seat post inserts into the top of the frame. Raleigh have a useful guide for working out size from inside leg measurement: http://www.raleigh.co.uk/htmldocs/sizeGuide.htm. Realistically, you just need to get an approximate size. You can then adjust saddle and bars to fine tune.

I'm helping my younger sister buy a bike at the moment. What looks like a good bet on eBay are the old steel ladies town bikes from brands like Raleigh, Dawes and Peugeot. These are solid bikes and not too expensive because they're a bit less desirable. £50-£100 should get you a decent bike. That would get you a bike that would last a while. Baskets are not too hard to find, they increase the bike's value quite a bit and can sometimes be a bit beaten up. A lot of mountain bikes are very poor quality. Hybrids are OK, but are newer and thus more expensive.

This one is frankly awesome: http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/Classic-Raleigh-Wayfarer-Ladies-Bicycle_W0QQitemZ190336885834QQcmdZViewItemQQptZUK_Bikes_GL?hash=item2c50f6644a&_trksid=p3286.c0.m14#ht_500wt_977

Buying a 2nd hand bike you're liable to inherit some issues, so budget for a tune up and a few replacement bits, basics like brake pads, tyres and maybe a new chain if the old one is a bit rusty. Ideally you'd spend not more than £50 on repairs and replacements. That should set you in good stead for 1,000 miles or so. If you can go up to £150 for the whole bike, you should be in great shape.

Stuff like tyres, saddles, handlebars, brakes and baskets can be fitted or changed yourself with standard household tools. So if the saddle is uncomfortable or the riding position not right, you can tweak if the basic frame is good. Optimise for frame quality first, parts condition and quality second.

I'd give 2 tips for riding in traffic. 1, be confident and clear in your cycling, move into position for turns early, don't let yourself get boxed in behind parked cars etc, be part of the flow of traffic rather than hiding from it. 2, be really careful around lorries and buses, especially if they could be turning left. A majority of the cyclists killed are women involved in accidents with lorries. Hang back if you encounter one at traffic lights, or make sure the driver can see you, i.e. you can see their eyes. Lights only stay red for a short time (20 seconds in London), so don't approach a lorry on the left if it's been stopped for a bit. This video gives an excellent introduction to the difficulty of spotting cyclists for lorry drivers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPkbNFt5NuY
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[User Picture]From: pozorvlak
2009-09-28 09:43 pm (UTC)

Re: A couple of last minute thoughts

Buyer must collect from Peterborough... drat it. But I'll keep an eye out. Lights stay red for a while here, but it's almost certainly not worth taking the risk undertaking buses etc.
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