If you live in a big city (or are planning to move to one) you might have thought about putting an end to unreliable public transport and cycling to work. You’ve studied the cost savings, you know the health benefits, you’re excited by the freedom, but there could be many reasons why this thought has remained in your head. Maybe you’re intimidated by the thought of cars whizzing passed you, or perhaps just don’t know where to start. Urban cycling isn’t as difficult or dangerous as it seems. We hope that this post will help you to make the decision to start cycling in the city on the regular.
What’s the best bike for city commuting?
The ideal bike for your urban commute will depend on the distance you need to travel, the surfaces you’ll be travelling on, your budget, and your personal taste. Here at Mango Bikes we cater towards city cycling, it’s where we started and primarily where we ride. There are also literally thousands and thousands of Mango riders that use their bike for commuting every day in cities across the world, so we’re in a good position to explain the different options and their pros and cons.
A low maintenance option that’s great for relatively flat commutes.
Riding a true “fixed gear” bike requires some skill, especially in busy cities, as you have no option to pedal as you move. Of course this greater connection to the bike and the journey is what makes riding fixed so enjoyable. A more practical setup for most would be to use a freewheel that allows you to coast, taking the thought away from timing pedal rotations and braking manoeuvres.
Maintenance-wise, fixed gear / single speed bikes are certainly the easiest to keep on top of. This is due to the minimal moving parts when compared to geared bikes. In the UK a legal fixie can have just one brake caliper (the front) as fixed gearing counts for a brake on the back wheel. As well as the added reliability, the reduced weight can make fixies super fast when cutting through traffic, hence why they’ve always been the bike of choice for city cycle couriers.
For speed and agility with good road conditions.
By nature of the name, you’d assume a “road bike” would be the best choice for road commuting. This will certainly be the fastest type bike for covering distance, which skinny tyres with lighter wheels and frames ensure. However, due to the overall lighter and more fragile nature of parts of the bike, uneven tarmac, potholes and kerbs can be rather problematic. With a bit of vigilance you’ll be glad to have chosen a road bike when you’re first off the mark and cutting time out of your journey.
Most popular road bikes will have either a steel or aluminium frame. Steel can be more forgiving on the road, whereas aluminium is noticeably more rigid, resulting in a slightly harsher but more agile experience. If you’re thinking that you need a carbon bike because of the weight saving, it’s worth remembering where most of the weight on a ride comes from…yes it’s you. Want to shave a couple of kilograms off your ride? Swap the beers for vodka sodas and the burgers for kale & ricotta cakes.
For a care free, comfortable and unhurried riding.
Most people know these as “Dutch bikes” or “Dutchies” due to the ubiquitous presence of the style in the Netherlands. Also known as “sit up and beg” bikes (due to the sweeping bars and riding position) they make for a great low-effort and leisurely ride.
As the heavier of the bike options, they often include a hub gear, full length mudguards, chain guards, kickstand and panniers or a basket option on the front. The only time you’ll need to break a sweat with one of these is if you’re lifting it up multiple flights of stairs, but even then, you’ll quickly become accustomed to the process as the rewards of having such a prepared bike are constantly welcomed.
> Bike recommendation: Portland
The best all-rounder. Can handle varied terrain at a good pace.
This combination of road style but with huge clearance for off-road tyres is becoming ever more popular and fashionable for commuters. Gravel / All Road bikes tend to feature lots of eyelets for mudguards and pannier mounts, disc brakes for more efficient stopping, and a relaxed geometry that offers better handling through traffic.
With the available flexibility of switching tyre types throughout the seasons, these bikes are generally more rugged and adaptable to different environments. Gravel / All Road bikes are the most practical option for getting from A to E where the letters in between often vary.
> Bike recommendation: Point AR
What else do I need to prepare for cycling in the city?
You should carry out regular pre-ride checks to make sure that your ride is safe and roadworthy.
It’s essential to wear a helmet when regularly cycling in the city (or anywhere really for that matter), it’s simply not worth taking risks. You may also see seasoned commuters wearing facemasks to deal with the inevitable pollution of the city. For people who suffer asthma, heart conditions or respiratory issues, a good facemask may be necessary, but for the vast majority of us the health benefits of cycling to work actually far outweigh the pollution risks (this FT article has a good chunk on pollution). Visibility is the next key aspect of safety, it’s important that you’re seen by other road users and pedestrians, so reflective clothing is a good addition to lights and reflectors.
Practical and comfortable clothing
The threads you wear for your commute will largely depend on the distance you’re travelling, the type of bike you’re riding and even the uniform policy at your workplace. Of course this is going to vary by season, but as mentioned above you should introduce reflective gear where possible. For longer commutes you might go all out and wear lycra, but for inter-city cycling and a relaxed work policy, jeans and a fresh tshirt might be enough. We’re in love with the Commuter Range by Levis, they offer some of the best looking technical cycling clothing available.
For now at least, you’re going to have to assume there are lots of horrible people out there that want to take your nice things away from you. It helps to start by thinking about where your bike is going to rest during the working day—will it be inside, outside, in a dedicated bike shed, against a bike rack, or will you have to compete for what you can find? The first bike lock that you buy should be a good D Lock which will be harder to tamper with than a cable or chain. In combination with a D lock, a cable or chain cable can be used to secure the second wheel and/or the saddle. Check out our post on preventing bike theft for more guidance on security.
Additional required kit
There are a few key items that you should always carry with you whenever you’re on the bike. These are:
You’ll probably also want to get a bottle mount for a water bottle if you haven’t got space in a bag, or just want to access it easily. As to what to put all of this in, we really love these cool bags from M-24, a British brand that reuses Lorry tarpaulins to create hard-wearing unique bags and backpacks.
Make sure your bike is added to your home or contents insurance, and check out our theft prevention tips to prepare yourself as much as you can before heading out on the road.
What rules do I need to obey on a bike?
The Highway Code
When was the last time you had a look at the Highway Code? I’m betting it’s been a while. Start by taking a look through the rules for cyclists. There’s an overview section which will literally take you 5 minutes to read it. If you’re thinking about riding on the road, you need to learn the rules.
Don’t be afraid to use the roads as you should—the recommended positioning is about 1 metre away from the kerb. This should help you avoid all of the scuzz in the gutter while allowing cars to pass safely. If you’re approaching a place where it would be dangerous for car to try and overtake you then by all means take the “primary position” in the central section of the road. If a driver gets annoyed, let them deal with it, you’re saving them from potentially d ealing with much more grief if they hit a cyclist. We find it’s best to remember that everyone is human, and to treat each other with courtesy regardless of whether they’re in a car or on a bike. It’s best not to be a dick and ride 2-a-breast (yes, it’s allowed) on fast roads unless you’re looking to annoy drivers. Use cycle paths when available; if there’s a dedicated cycle path then it helps everyone to use it.
Look behind and communicate
Check behind frequently to ensure you’re aware of your surroundings and to alert drivers of the fact too. Always look behind before clearly communicating your intentions with hand signals, it may not be safe to change path so don’t communicate if you’re not going to follow it—check first!
Make eye contact
Make eye contact wherever you can so that drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists are actively aware of you. Keep an eye on the drivers actions inside their vehicle to be as prepared as you can for what they might do.
Can you see the vehicles’ mirrors?
If you can’t see the mirrors, they can’t see you. Don’t travel up the inside of large vehicles to try and save a few seconds, it’s much safer to wait behind, in view. Accidents occur when cyclists sit in blind spots.
Assume that others won’t look
If you can see movement in a car at the side of the road then assume that a door might open; check your surroundings and see if there is room to move if it were to happen. If you’re not sure if you have been spotted, slow down. The same goes with pedestrians, if someone is approaching the road while on the phone or with headphones on then assume they’re distracted and might step into the road without seeing you. Prepare for how you might react to avoid accident.
Turn down your music!
If I told you to stop wearing headphones you wouldn’t listen anyway, but you sure as hell shouldn’t be wearing noise cancelling headphones or deep in-ear buds. You need to be able to hear your surroundings louder than anything else.
Don’t play around at the lights
Serious accidents and fatalities often happen at junctions. Don’t gamble on amber, and definitely don’t run a red.
Approach junctions in the middle of your lane
The best way to handle a junction is to arrive in the middle of your lane, regardless of whether you are continuing straight or turning left or right. This prevents traffic from risking dangerous overtakes. If in doubt, wait it out.
Know how to effectively filter through traffic
British Cycling have a comprehensive guide on filtering traffic, but there are a few key takeaways.
- Never filter on the approach to a junction or where you might come into conflict with other road users, unless there is a designated stop line for cyclists and traffic is stationary
- It’s often more dangerous to filter on the inside of moving traffic. Be especially careful about sitting in a blind spot of a vehicle, and being on the inside of traffic at junctions
What happens if an accident occurs?
Get to immediate safety and treat injury
Take yourself off the road as quickly as you can. Call 999 if you are injured, you’re in shock, or the other party doesn’t stop or you suspect they aren’t telling the truth. Even with a minor injury, you should see your GP as soon as possible.
Document the evidence
Take pictures or notes of the scene as well as any injuries and damage to property. Check the area for CCTV cameras. If there are private cameras then tell the property owner as soon as you can so that the footage is kept. If there are public cameras then make the police aware as soon as possible.
If you had a collision with a vehicle then the first thing to do is document the registration number. After this, take the name and contact details of the driver if possible, as well as witnesses.
After an accident
If another party is at fault then it is important to involve the police. If it is a criminal offence then follow through with a proper report from the authorities.
If you’re looking at a civil law case, i.e your bike or possessions are damaged, or you’re dealing with an injury after an accident, then you may wish to involve a specialist cycling solicitor. They’ll be used to dealing with specific cycling cases, and the process of replacing bikes with insurers, as well as having experiencing in making sure you are adequately compensated.