So you’re thinking of becoming a bike commuter? Well, having a set of wheels is fine, but here’s a little info to help you progress past “pedals make my bike move real good.”
A bike, like the Tin Man, needs love and lubrication. Ideally, your ride should only need a little chain lube and air in the tires, but something always finds a way to mess up.
Chances are you’ll get a flat eventually. Glueless patches are easy to apply but don’t last forever. A couple of tire levers are crucial. I changed a flat with a spoon once, and it wasn’t fun. Obviously, you’ll need a pump nearby, too. Keep in mind that Kevlar-lined tires and proper inflation – tires lose air over time – can help you avoid flats.
Fact of friction
A good eco-friendly lube prolongs the life of your drivetrain and prevents annoying squeaks. Don’t overdo it or you’ll just collect crud. A little drop along points of contact is enough; then use a rag to wipe off excess. Look to wax lube if you want to avoid greasy stains on your chinos.
Have a brake
Keep your cables tight and free of rust. You don’t want a snapped brake cable while trying to avoid hitting a big manure truck. The barrel rollers next to the lever help you tweak the tension without leaving your saddle.
The right friend
Some people just suck at fixing things. That’s why finding a quality shop where you can build rapport with a mechanic can save lots of stress in the long run.
Having a bike stolen is incredibly traumatic. Some forethought can help mitigate your chances of loss.
Don’t cheap out on a lock. A New York Lock can run you over $120, but how much is a new bike?
Location, location, location
A good lock won’t help you if you hook your quick-release front wheel to a chain-link fence in an unlit back alley for a week, doofus.
Nuts and bolts
Just because your frame is secured doesn’t mean someone armed with opposable thumbs can’t steal everything not welded to the frame. At least deal with the wheels and saddle by trading the quick release for a nut. I like to put in odd imperial sizes to mess with the metric thieves. Others fill Allen keyholes with epoxy.
Getting taken out on a date is nicer than getting taken out by a car.
I don’t put my life in the hands of the cabbie behind me talking on his cellphone, drinking a coffee and making an illegal turn all at the same time. If he hits me, I’ll be wearing a helmet. You should, too. Be sure to fit it properly. If you drop a helmet a lot, it stops being useful, so replace it regularly.
See the light
Being invisible would be really cool, but invisibility while biking is stupid. Alert others to your presence. You don’t need the kind of heavy-duty system trail riders use, just something powerful enough to alert drivers. LEDs last forever and run on little power; basic red rear ones cost less than $5. Reflective frame tape is also great for when your lights are stolen.
It’s tough not going through a red light when nobody is around, but Officer Hardass will eventually nab you. Bikes are subject to road rules, so if you’re out breaking them, don’t be surprised to get a ticket for going the wrong way on a one-way street or not having a bell.
Back to routes
Choosing the easiest and safest commuting avenues is vital. Look for streets with blue route markers or bike lanes. These are picked by the city as most appropriate for cyclists. Avoiding streetcar routes is good, too. Use common sense, e.g., the Allen is a bad choice.
Maximize the joy of riding with a common sense approach.
Get the right bike. That might mean a hybrid or a classic cruiser that gives you the upright position you need to feel safe. If you don’t know how to fit yourself, visit a pro. The wheels are even more important. Bigger wheels mean a better ride. And unless you commute through a muddy ravine, trade muck-shucking treads for fenders.
Cycle-specific attire can save a crummy rainy-day commute. A breathable waterproof layer puts you in control of moisture, and good footwear is critical. Keep a change of (preferably clean) socks at work. The Bay Street crowd doesn’t have the option of sitting around in head-to-toe spandex, so sometimes it’s the bike that adapts. Some Euro bikes protect pant legs by covering the chain. You could also use clips on those dress pants.
The handlebar cup-holder is easily the coolest ride mod you can get. Others better their experience with nicer grips, baskets or racks. Nice panniers keep your centre of gravity low, too. Don’t forget some nice fake flowers or other choice pieces of flair.
Feel warm and fuzzy by joining Toronto’s cycling family.
Bring your BFF
Try getting more people at work to bike with you. Like why not meet for a morning coffee in your ’hood before heading to the office? Make it a nice social wake-up. Plus, the more people you get on bikes, the safer it is for all cyclists.
Lane into the city
Dedicated cyclists are fighting to get City Hall to improve our pathetic biking infrastructure. We won’t look like Stockholm or Copenhagen any time soon, but stronger voices will eventually be heard. So join up with www.takethetooker.ca, CBN, ARC or hit www.bikeunion.to to see what others are doing to help Toronto catch up with cycle-friendly European municipalities.
There’s also the direct approach. Call your local councillor about the deadly potholes on your street. Example: “Hello, Councillor Giambrone. Have you seen Dovercourt lately?”