The ultimate beginner’s guide to cycling


When one of my best friends was in the middle of a nasty breakup, I stored a few of her things in my garage while she looked for a new place to live. One of those items was a gorgeous cruiser bike she said I could use anytime. I’d never been a serious cyclist (apart from a two-year spell in Japan, where everybody rides everywhere) but that summer I enjoyed weekend trips through city parks alongside waterways I’d never explored before. When my friend got on her feet again, the cruiser left, too, taking all those wonderful journeys with it. That was nine years ago, and I have looked at cyclists longingly ever since.

My ears perked up when I came across an article about commuters and happiness levels. In general, long work commutes make people miserable, it can erode workplace productivity and even relationship quality. But a Statistics Canada survey found that the proportion of respondents who liked commuting (38%) was larger than that of those who didn’t like it (30%). 16% even said they really enjoyed commuting, and there was a small group (3%) who claimed that commuting was the highlight of their day. Guess what that group was? Yup, cyclists.

If that isn’t inspiring enough to get back on a bike, here are 13 tips (buy a helmet not included) from three cycling experts to get you started.

1. “Leave your bike expert friend at home and walk down to your local bike shop. Ask lots of questions,” says John Paul Raymond of Browns Sports & Cycle. “If you are buying from a proper bike shop, they will fit the bike to you.”

2. “I cringe when I see people on wrong size bikes or bikes not fit correctly,” adds Raymond. “Find out who is the fitter at the shop. The right size bike and proper fit can make the difference between getting to work with a smile or starting the day with unwanted pain in the knees and back.”

3. “Use a bell to warn pedestrians, drivers about to open their doors, etc., that you’re approaching and other cyclists if you’re about to pass them,” says veteran rider Mary Dickie, Managing Editor at Glow Magazine. It’s also the law in Toronto to have a bell.

4. “I usually have an extra layer of clothing on me or in my bag since I warm up when I ride and cool down when I stop. I like to have a decent sized bag, that fits in my bike basket, so I can carry my helmet when I’m walking around and fill it up with things I might buy while I’m out,” says Amrita Takhar of Luvelo, a bike accessories line.

5. “Check your tire pressure weekly. On the side of your tire is the recommended max PSI, usually around 80 PSI for commuter bikes. We recommended keeping your commuter bikes 10 PSI below max,” says Raymond.

6. “If you lock your bike outside, take the recommendation of the sales staff; $100-$150 for a lock may sound like a lot but it will greatly reduce any chance of the bike being stolen,” says Raymond. Takhar agrees: “Use the best lock you can buy.”

7. “Never ride in the dark without front and back lights. You are pretty much invisible to drivers without them. You can get ones with rechargeable batteries which are great. Don’t leave them on your bike because some jerk will steal them,” says Dickie.

8. “Learn to use your gears. I would say most people out there do not know how to use the gears on there bike correctly,” says Raymond. Gears are there to help you pedal easily regardless of the type of ground or elevation you’re at.

9. “Use the bike lanes whenever possible, they make a real difference for safety,” says Dickie.

10. It helps to know something about your city’s terrain. “The best advice I got when I moved to Toronto was watch the streetcar tracks and cross them at an angle,” says Takhar.

11. “Make sure you have a fender on your back wheel so you don’t end up with mud all down your back when it rains,” says Dickie.

12. “Keep your bike clean. Clean and lubricate. Moving parts work much better when clean, also if gunk and rust build up this will shorten the life of your bike’s drivetrain and can lead to unnecessary repair cost,” says Raymond.

13. “My biking mantra is, ‘The car will always win,'” says Takhar. “Take it easy.'”

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