For short journeys by bike, one that you can hop on and ride whatever you’re wearing, whenever you need to, is a wise investment. It will save you time before and after every trip. You won’t be changing into or out of lycra or clickety-clackety shoes. You won’t be hunting that lost front light. You can just get on the bike and go – and look normal when you get there.
With every trip easy to begin, there are fewer and fewer reasons not to ride, so cycling can fit seamlessly into everyday life – like it does for the Dutch. There are a couple of ways to get to this point: you can buy a new, utilitarian bike; or you can adapt what you’ve got.
A new bike
There are some key features to look for, which most bikes don’t come with. They are:
- Full-length, frame-fitting mudguards to keep your normal clothes clean.
- A chain guard or a belt drive so oil can’t smear your right leg.
- Integral lighting, powered by a hub dynamo in the front wheel.
- A sturdy rack or basket for luggage.
- A frame lock for the rear wheel, so you’ve always got some security.
- Flat pedals suitable for normal footwear.
- A riding position and saddle that are comfortable in normal-clothes.
- You might also want a kickstand for convenient parking, and dress- or coat-guards over the wheel wheel to keep flappy clothing safe.
Other types of bikes can be adapted, some more easily than others. Note that while bike components can’t form part of a Cyclescheme package, accessories can.
Mudguards keep you and the bike clean. Fit full-length ones that bolt permanently to the bike, such as SKS Chromoplastics. Many front mudguards aren’t long enough to keep your feet dry. If so, buy and fit a mudflap like the SKS Long Mudflap pictured - or make one from an old plastic container.
Covering the chain means you don’t have to carry cycle clips or tuck your trousers into your socks. If the bike has hub gears or is a singlespeed, you can completely enclose the chain. Rare in the UK, chain cases are available online from the likes of Hesling (Excelle model pictured), Gazelle, Axa, and Hebie. Fitting is fiddly; probably a job for your bike shop. If your bike has derailleur gears, you’ll need a partial chain guard that covers only the top run of chain and the chainring(s); these are fairly common. You can’t ordinarily retro-fit a belt drive as a separable frame is required.
Hub dynamo lighting can be fitted to any bike but isn’t cheap as it requires a new front wheel incorporating the generator hub as well as the lights themselves. Expect to spend £150 or more. Shimano and Shutter Precision (SP) make good hub dynamos that aren’t too expensive. If you primarily need ‘be seen’ lights, Reelight offer fit-and-forget alternatives that work by magnetic induction; the SL100 set is pictured. For less regular nighttime use, battery lights that bolt permanently in place are okay. Battery lights that fit a rear rack are widely sold. Permanent-fixing front lights are rare but available, e.g. the Axa Classic Front LED Battery Light.
Carrying luggage on the bike is more comfortable and less sweaty than carrying it on your back. A rack with panniers is one option. Quick-release pannier hooks add convenience. There is an even simpler option that you seldom see these days: a basket or crate fixed to the bike. The traditional front wicker basket is one example, but you can get baskets that fit to rear racks and special crates designed for front (‘porteur’) racks – see basil.com for examples. Just dump in anything you need to carry - handbag, office bag, groceries - and away you go. Essentially, you’re turning your bike into a small-capacity cargo bike.
Frame locks or wheel locks, like the Abus Pro Shield 5850 pictured, fit permanently to your bike so can’t be forgotten. They fix to eyelets that some bikes have on the underside of the seat stays, and a circular bar goes through the rear wheel’s spokes. It’s enough to prevent casual theft while you pop into a shop. For longer term parking, you’ll still want your main lock. Save time employing that by attaching it to the bike frame with the bracket that’s provided. You’re less likely to forget it there than if it’s (sometimes!) buried at the bottom of a bag.
Conventional flat pedals are suitable for any footwear. If you want to secure your feet, add toe-clips or straps. Clipless pedals demand special shoes unless you fit dual-purpose ones such as Shimano’s T420, which have a platform on one side. For utility use, recessed ‘mountain bike’ cleats like Shimano’s SPD enable you to walk properly. Casual cycling shoes are a better bet in town than shiny racing slippers.
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Whether you want to commute by bike or simply cycle around London for pleasure, this expert guide from Cyclescheme can help you get started.