When I was searching for a bicycle to buy last year, I thought it would just be a simple matter of choosing the right bike for the right purpose. A road bike is obviously one designed for paved streets. A mountain bike, one that you can take to off-road trails.
But as I watched video after video on YouTube, I realized that cycling has evolved into a complicated industry where marketing is just as heavily invested in pushing products to a growing number of consumers. And with more choices, comes more confusion.
The expanding choices – between road or mountain bikes, single speed or 21, carbon or aluminum, even the kind of cycling shoes and jerseys to wear are just mind-boggling. Just goes to show how little I knew about riding, maintaining and basically owning a bicycle. And it probably goes the same for many who have bought one and are now riding to work because of the pandemic.
As we commemorate World Bicycle Day this June 3rd, we also think about the many people who have taken to two wheels to be able to get back to work. Those who were forced to ride in order to survive. Suddenly, we have a growing population of cyclists renewing an old form of mobility almost completely relegated to leisure and recreation.
But like many motorists who just use their cars and fail to keep up with its maintenance schedule, riding a bike without looking after it can get you stranded in the middle of nowhere. I had to learn how to change an inner tube to fix a flat tire. How many new riders even know how to, or are equipped to do so?
Moreover, like many motorists who ignore road rules, riding also involves knowing how to cruise through the thoroughfares while sharing the road with other users. Whether we are driving cars, trucks, buses, jeepneys, or even motorcycles or e-scooters, all of us are equal on the road. Thus respect has to be afforded to each other, no matter how big or small one’s ride is.
Respect is earned, though. And that means making sure you are worthy of it by arming yourself with the basics and knowledge of bicycle riding. So here are some tips to remember whenever you hop on your saddle. Whether to get to work or for fitness and relaxation, practicing these can make your ride fun and enjoyable as it should be.
Grab a bite before each ride
Some new riders think that by skipping a meal before riding, they can lose a bit more weight faster. But the rigors of cycling requires a lot of energy and can easily deplete your stores if you go for a long ride. Eating a meal before riding lets you have the energy you need to pedal longer. And bringing bits of nutrition and a drink bottle along the way can keep you from bonking out as well.
Wear a bike helmet
The extra safety cycling helmet one can afford can literally mean life or death in an accident. Just because it is not a regulation does not mean you should not invest in a proper cycling helmet. Do yourself a favor, avoid getting the “bagok” and put a helmet on every time you ride.
Use reflective clothing
Let’s face it, riding in the city is still not as safe as it should be even with more bicycle lanes sprouting. Being seen is half the battle when it comes to avoiding accidents. So wear bright clothing, or use reflective vests, especially at night.
Check your bike before riding
A bicycle is still a machine. And like all machines, they require maintenance in order to operate at their optimum condition. Check your bike’s brakes, tire pressure and general upkeep before each ride. Especially if you use your bike as a daily ride.
Bring a spare interior tube, wheel levers, a pump, and tools to fix your bike
Responsible bike ownership also means you are ready, and knowledgeable, to fix it when the situation arises. Brush up on YouTube how-to videos and learn how to fix a bicycle flat. Being ready for the situation spares others the inconvenience of attending to your needs.
Bring a change of clothes
It follows that when you ride, you sweat. Or worse, get wet when it rains. So be prepared for the varying weather and have a spare set of clothes and toiletries to freshen up with once you get to your destination. Bring rain gear too. It does not take a lot to be prepared for any scenario.
Expect other cars not to see you coming
The profile of a cyclist is as streamlined as possible. This makes you cut the wind easier when riding. But it also makes you difficult to see by other motorists. Make an effort to be seen, or at the very least be ready to maneuver out of harm’s way when navigating through tight roads and alleys. That is why it is also important to equip your bike with white lights in front, and red ones at the back. Using their blinking modes also makes your bike more noticeable from a distance. Moreover, never assume others have seen you at first glance.
Know and use hand signals
Nobody really teaches this to first time bicycle buyers in this country. But the gestures are so simple it does not take more than a couple of minutes to master. And in order to get used to it, one has to practice the hand signals as well. Showing others where you are heading helps lessen confusion on the road. The more information you share to others, the safer your ride will be.
Be aware of the movement of traffic around you
Defensive driving also applies to cycling. Given that you are less protected than other motorists, it makes sense to take extra precaution when it comes to positioning your bike on the road. You can also afford yourself extra protection when you keep enough space between you and other vehicles.
Look before you turn
This should be practiced with the thought that you should never assume you have been seen. In addition, it is easy to misjudge the approach speed of a motor vehicle. They are inherently faster than bicycles and your judgement about how quick they get to you will most likely be off by a huge margin. That is why it is always important to look and look again before initiating a turn.
Being a responsible road user also means being an informed one
As I have found out after intensively riding for a year, pedalling and steering your bike is not enough to ensure a safe ride. Like driving, it takes presence of mind and most importantly, common sense to negotiate city streets. Something already in short supply on our roads.
With more forms of transportation now available, it also means more people who may not be up to date with the latest road rules, safety trends and practices. Just don’t be one of them.
Motoring and motorsports are two of Mikko’s greatest passions. Combining more than twenty years of professional automotive photography and videography experience with years of touring car racing competition, and a deep understanding of the car industry, from both the manufacturers’ and consumers’ points of view, have given him a unique and insightful perspective in the motoring beat.