What Do I Need To Know To Ride? - Hello, Bicycle: An Inspired Guide to the Two-Wheeled Life (2016)

Hello, Bicycle: An Inspired Guide to the Two-Wheeled Life (2016)

What Do I Need To Know To Ride?

Now that you’ve decided that you want to make cycling a part of your life, what do you need to know? Should you buy a new bike or a used one? How should you store your bike? What if you get in a bike accident? There are a lot of questions when it comes to jumping into the world of cycling, but there’s no need to feel intimidated. This chapter looks at some of the most basic questions related to the essentials you need to make riding a seamless part of your life.


When you’ve decided that you want to make biking a part of your everyday lifestyle, the next important question is this: what kind of bicycle is best for you?

There are, of course, many types of bicycles out there, and it all depends on what you’re planning to do with your two-wheeled steed. A bicycle used for long weekend rides could be very different from one used for occasional grocery runs. Certainly, this is not an argument for buying a bicycle for every distinctive use (although if you get bitten by the biking bug and want to use it like that, feel free), but simply a reminder that you need to determine what you’re looking for. Give some thought to what you are going to use your bicycle for the most. There’s no point in buying a bicycle that doesn’t fit your needs and then ends up sitting in the garage.

Let’s start with the basics: you do not need a fancy bicycle.

While bicycles are undeniably beautiful, you don’t get one for its looks; you get it for riding. And though an expensive, beautifully painted, well-tuned bicycle is certainly alluring, there’s something to be said for the old beater ten-speed that has been sitting in someone’s garage for fifteen years. It just may take a little extra work to get it back up and running.

To assess which bike is right for you, start with these two essential questions:

What do I want the bicycle for?

To determine what type of bicycle you want to buy, you have to assess your main use of the bicycle. Are you wanting to go explore dirt trails on the weekend, or are you looking for a bike that you can pedal to work every day? What the bicycle will be used for will change what you look for when you are bicycle shopping.

Sport → You want to get out and ride on the weekends, preferably fast and hard.

Fun → You want to take part in local community rides and hop on the bicycle when the mood strikes you, not necessarily with a destination in mind, but just to get out and feel the air on your face for a bit.

Commuting → You’re looking to drive your car a little less and are hoping to ride to work a few days a week.

Transport and cargo → You want the two-wheeled minivan—the cargo bike that holds the entire family and the dog. You’re planning on grocery shopping by bike and potentially giving up the car entirely.

All of the above → You just want to ride, be it for work or to grocery shop. Oh, and if you could get in a long weekend ride on the same bike, that would be great, too.

If you’re getting your first bicycle, you will probably want to consider one that can serve a variety of purposes. This means that if you think you may want to go on some longer weekend rides, you probably don’t want a beach cruiser. And if you’re planning on using your bicycle mostly for commuting to work, you probably don’t need a mountain bike with shock suspension—unless, of course, your office can be reached via a long single track trail (and if it is, I commend your choice of office). Most likely, you’ll want a bicycle that has a few gears, is comfortable to ride, and isn’t too expensive.

What is my budget?

Setting a budget is an essential part of buying a bicycle, because it will guide your buying decisions. The good part is that there are always options no matter what the budget. Factor in that if you don’t already own essential bike accessories like lights, lock, and a helmet; those must be a part of your budget as well. You may choose to buy a very simple used model and get some work done to it. Or you may choose to buy a new bicycle that is entirely kitted out from the get-go. If you are planning to use your bike every day, then your bicycle isn’t just an accessory, it’s your main mode of transportation and therefore a necessity. This can easily justify a bigger budget. A bicycle that’s just going to be for a ride here and there, however, might necessitate a smaller percentage of your overall household budget. Here you can put it in the same category as your budget for other fun things, like sports equipment and entertainment.


Once you’ve established what you want the bike for and how much you can spend, the shopping fun begins. Even if you’re set on a certain type of bicycle, it’s always good to test a variety of models to see how they all feel and handle. You may think you’re in the market for a cargo bike, but maybe a simple single speed with a big basket in front will work. Regardless of whether you buy new or used, once you’ve identified what you need the bicycle for, buying it is about trying to get to know as much as you can about your options before you buy.

Going to the bike shop to do a test ride is like going on a first date: you’ll need to pedal a bike around the block a few times before you commit. Don’t be afraid to go back for a second, third, and fourth date before making a full commitment. There’s no point in jumping into a relationship with a bicycle that you don’t really like!

Buying a used bicycle

Go ahead, drool over all those shiny new bikes in the bike store, even if you don’t have the budget for them. But while new bikes are glorious and finely tuned, used ones can be just as good and sometimes are even better. They come with a story, after all. Here’s another consideration: while a beautiful, sleek, new bicycle with all of the bells and whistles may be tempting, once you buy it, you’re going to feel a certain obligation to keep it clean and in tip-top shape. This can mean that sometimes with a new bicycle you’ll be afraid to get it dirty or to knock it up a bit. You’ll dodge puddles so as not to get the fenders muddy. You won’t lock it up on the street, for fear of scuffing it (and then—oh no!—good-bye, Gorgeous). While a bicycle is meant to be taken care of, an everyday bicycle is meant to be used, and often. You want a workhorse, and spending less on a used bicycle may help you to feel less afraid of getting it a little roughed up. That’s a good thing.


Your city may have stores that specialize in used bike sales; if not, the Internet abounds with people looking to make a little cash off of the two wheels that they aren’t using anymore. Garage sales can also be the place for great bike finds, and if you live in a city with an active bike community, there may be special bike sale events; local bike organizations are a great resource for finding these. Sometimes bike shops will also do sales specializing in used bicycles. As with buying any secondhand item, if you’re in the market for a used bicycle, remember that it may take some time to find the right one. Keep your eyes and ears open, explore your options, and eventually you’ll end up with the bicycle love of your life.


The one caveat with buying used is that you need to be able to give the bike a thorough inspection to determine what mechanical shape it is in. Above all, if you’re buying a used bike you want to ask questions about its former life. You want to ask a lot of questions up front to see whether the bike is going to stick around or whether you should move on immediately. How much did the previous user ride it? Where did they ride it? Did they do regular maintenance on the bicycle? Did they replace any parts? A used bike with a lot of love put into it can be just as good as a new bicycle—and way friendlier on the wallet, leaving you extra money for accessories. Fortunately, a bicycle isn’t as complicated and inscrutable as a car, and even the beginner cyclist can assess whether or not a bicycle is in good working order. Tires and seats can be changed, but you want to ensure that the essential parts, like the frame, are solid and functional. Not sure if you are up to the task yourself? Ask around; someone in your circle of friends and friends of friends is probably a budding bike geek and may be better versed than you are in the technicalities of the bicycle. Take them along and have them help with a once-over of the bike to determine exactly what shape it’s in, or refer to the following tips.

David Brumsickle, owner of Silverdale Cyclery in Silverdale, Washington, has seen a lot of bicycles in his career. He started his bike shop in 1985, and he’s been helping people fall in love with cycling ever since. Here are his tips for what to look for in a potential used bike.

Make certain that the bike is a reasonably good fit. A bike that fits well usually allows you to stand over the frame with just a bit of clearance. It will allow you to raise or lower the saddle enough that your knee is nearly straightened out when you press a pedal all the way down. You should also be able to reach a spot on the handlebars where you can comfortably operate the brakes and shifters without locking your elbows. If a bike is too big, it will be awkward to get on and off. It will also feel too long between seat and bars, forcing you to lean too far forward. If it’s too small, you may not be able to raise the seat enough for your height and you will be uncomfortable pedaling.

Make sure that the wheels aren’t damaged. This can be really expensive to fix and can easily be a deal breaker. Spin them and watch them rotate. Look at the gap between the brake pads and the rim of the wheel. The wheel should rotate in a straight path without obvious wobbling. Also look for dents in the rim. These are almost impossible to fix and can affect your ability to stop. Look and feel for a smooth braking surface without spots the brakes can catch on. Also note that chromed steel rims often appear on older bikes. These wheels are much heavier than aluminum ones and are rarely found on modern bicycles. These rims offer inferior stopping power and dent easily, so they are best avoided, or replaced if your bike comes with them. Tires can easily be replaced, but replacing an entire wheel is much more expensive, so make sure that the wheels are in good condition.

Make sure that the frame is not bent or cracked. This also can be a deal breaker. Look closely at the frame junction just behind the front brake. It shouldn’t look wrinkled. Look carefully at the fork for signs of being bent backward. Give the frame a careful inspection for cracks, excessive rust, or major dents.

Look at the condition of the drivetrain. The drivetrain—that is, the chain, gears, and so on—is usually on the right side of the bicycle. When the bike is pedaled or rolled forward, the crank should rotate without an obvious wobble. If your potential bike has derailleurs (the system that allows you to change gears), you should be able to operate the shifters from the handlebars and at least see the derailleurs move a little.

Check the brakes. You should be able to squeeze the brake levers and feel the brakes stop the bike as you roll it forward.

Rust isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. Many rusty or broken parts can be replaced inexpensively by someone with a mechanical bent. A fine example is a rusty chain. Sometimes nice bikes get abandoned because they’ve been left outside and the chain is rusty. A new chain and some oil can bring these back to life in a few minutes.

Buying a new bicycle

There are a few undeniable advantages to buying a new bicycle rather than a used one. The first, of course, is that there is no wear or damage. Second, whereas a used bicycle may need a little work to bring it back to life, a new bicycle can be ridden straight out of the shop, and when you do, it is going to get a lot of compliments. (Don’t be surprised when your new bicycle gets hit on.)

Investing in a new bicycle is similar to investing in a new car or computer; you’ll have a warranty on parts and the frame, and there may even be some type of free service agreement. You’re not only buying a new bicycle; you’re also ensuring that it’s going to get taken care of if something goes wrong.

You don’t always have to pay the full list price for a new bicycle. Ask your local bike shop about sales. Since new models come out every year, if you’re willing to buy at a certain time of year, there are always deals to be had. Of course, you can always walk right into a bike shop when the mood strikes you and buy a new bicycle. If you want to make a good investment, however, and not just a spur-of-the-moment purchase, buying a bicycle is about identifying all the things that you want from your ride (as we have already discussed), and then keeping an eye out so that when your ideal steed is offered at a good price, you can snap it up.

Whether you’re buying new or used, remember this: you want a bicycle that isn’t just an accessory; you want it to be a part of your everyday life. You want to feel great on it. Your bicycle is your new partner in crime; choose one that’s going to have your back.


Both brand-new and used bicycles can be a great starting point for customization. If you get a good deal on a basic model, you can deck it out yourself. Fancy fenders, a wine crate on the back for transporting groceries, and a new paint job can all make your bicycle your very own.

Should I get a custom-built bicycle?

The best bike out there for you is the one that you are going to be happy to ride. This means that when you’re just starting out, it’s perfectly fine to start with an inexpensive used bicycle. Two wheels is really all you need.

But eventually, as you do more and more bicycling, you may want to move into something a little nicer, something that is more customized to the kind of riding you are doing, or simply one that fits your size and personality a little better than what you can find on the regular bike market. This is where the custom-built bicycle comes in.

There are a variety of reasons to get a custom-built bicycle. Some people go custom because they want something that fits them perfectly, or because they want a bicycle that’s finely tuned to the type of riding that they are doing. Others like the craftsmanship that goes into a custom bicycle, and the fact that they can ensure that the bicycle is produced more locally than other options, and by someone they can talk to, face to face. This makes the bike-purchasing process much more personal.


Not everyone goes custom, of course, because these bicycles do come at a cost. The important thing to consider when going custom is that you need to be very clear about what you want. A bike builder is running a business, and while they are there to help you figure out what you need and to build the bicycle that is right for you, it’s a much easier process if you know what you want going in. You don’t want to be sending them an email every week with yet another thing that you thought of that you might need.


If you’re going to go custom, the two most important things to keep in mind are price and time. You need to budget for the bicycle you want; if you are already committed to getting a custom ride, this is not the time to be cutting corners. Investing in a custom bicycle is investing in a bicycle for life, so make sure you are getting what you want. Given all the work that goes into custom bike building, make sure that you are also being realistic about how long it’s going to take to get your bicycle built. Don’t expect to turn in your order and have your bicycle in a week. Some bike builders have very long wait times. But good things do come to those who wait, and that’s certainly the case for a custom bicycle.


Getting a custom bicycle is a much different process from just going to the bike shop and picking out a bicycle. Natalie Ramsland, who founded Sweetpea Bicycles in 2005, knows all about this process. At Sweetpea, Ramsland builds bikes that “will love you back,” working with her clients to figure out the bicycle that will work best for them, and she knows all about what you should expect if you decide to get a custom-built bicycle.

You are worthy of a custom bike. No matter your riding ability, age, or self-proclaimed level of coolness, the only requirement for getting a custom bike should be your love of riding. Too many people delay or discount a custom bike because they don’t feel [fill in the blank] enough. You, dear cyclist, are enough.

Prioritize bike fit. If your bike builder is taking only a few basic measurements from your body, you are getting a custom bike with an approximate size, not a truly custom fit. The fact that this is a common practice makes it no less of a tragedy! Find a bike fitter who can identify the proper riding position for your body, given all of its quirks and strengths. Your bike builder can then build you a bike that positively resonates with the energy you put into it.

Go ahead and get the fender mounts. At the outset, you may think that your current bike will become your rain bike and that your custom bike is destined to see only sunshine and tailwinds. But once you have a bike that fits you beautifully, you’ll want to ride it all the time, even when it rains. And nothing can brighten up a dreary day like a ride on your beloved bike.

Keep ’em quiet in the cheap seats! Ramsland jokingly warns her customers that she assesses a Boyfriend Charge of $500 on any bike order for which there is a bike expert in the customer’s life who is telling her what she wants—or ought to want. The best bike that she or any other builder can build is for the person who will be riding the bike. Tell those “bike experts” to go get their own awesome bike.

Touch-up paint is better than perfection. Don’t let your bike become too precious in your mind. You should ride your bike with wild abandon, love every minute of it, and expect it to gather the patina of good, hard living. The touch-up paint is mostly to make you feel better—not to fix anything on the bicycle. You don’t need to feel obligated to keep your bike looking like it just rolled off of the showroom floor.

Basic Bike Vocabulary

Jump into the cycling world, and you’ll quickly encounter an entire language that at first just might sound a little foreign. There are many words and phrases specific to the bike world; here are a few to get you started.

CADENCE → This is the rhythm of your pedaling—in other words, the cycling pedaling rate, measured in revolutions per minute.

CENTURY → A hundred-mile ride.

CHAINRING TATTOO → When your calf rubs up against the bike chain and you get a nice (temporary) bike tattoo imprinted on your skin thanks to the grease.

CHAMOIS → The padding in cycling shorts (once made of leather chamois), which are not supposed to be worn with underwear.

CLIPLESS PEDALS → Ironically, these are actually the pedals that you clip cycling shoes into, and you need special shoes to do so.

CLUNKER → Also called a “beater bike,” this is your bike that’s well used and well loved, and maybe a little rough around the edges from all the use, but that you’re happy to take out when you don’t want to worry about its taking a beating.

CRIT → Abbreviation for “criterium,” a short bike race held on city streets.

DOWNSHIFT → When you shift to a lower gear, which you do to make riding a bit easier, such as when you’re going up a hill.

DRAFTING → When you ride behind another cyclist and, thanks to aerodynamics, get “pulled” along, saving some of your energy.

GRANNY GEAR → Slang for the lowest gear ratio possible.

KIT → Basically a bike outfit: matching jersey, shorts, jacket, sometimes even socks.

LSD → No, not that kind of LSD. This stands for long slow distance training—in other words, putting in your miles.

METRIC CENTURY → A ride that’s one hundred kilometers (sixty-two miles) long.

PANNIERS → Those fancy bags, often used by bike tourers or commuters, that hang on the sides of the wheel, supported by a frame placed on either the front or back wheel, sometimes even both.

SADDLE → A bike seat.

TOE CLIPS → Metal or plastic baskets that are attached to your pedals, with a strap attachment that goes around your foot. Keeps your foot in place on the pedal and doesn’t require special shoes.

UPSHIFT → When you shift to a higher gear because you are pedaling too fast and don’t have any resistance.


Whether it’s going to be inside or outside, how you store your bicycle is an important thing to consider, not only for the physical state of your bicycle but also for ensuring that it doesn’t get stolen.

How to store your bicycle outside

No matter how well we lock up our bicycles, sometimes terrible things do happen. Knowing that there are bike thieves out there, here are some tips for some good habits to get into when locking up your bike, to ensure that you’ve done everything in your power to keep that bicycle safe.


Some areas are safer to park in than others: for example, a busy street with lots of people as opposed to a dark alleyway. Whenever you have a choice, always opt for the safer location. But remember this: those nasty bike thieves can be lurking anywhere. Don’t make assumptions about what looks like a safe neighborhood. Always lock that bicycle up!


If there’s not a designated bike parking structure, then find the next best thing. Look for a solid, fixed object that can’t be moved or unbolted. It might seem obvious, but the point is to lock to something that isn’t going to move. Street sign poles work great, as well as railings, as long as they are sturdy and well-bolted. Sometimes you just have to get creative.


Bike thieves will take what they can get. If your bicycle has quick-release wheels, then pay particular attention to those. For shorter stops, simply locking through the frame and front wheel may be enough For longer-term parking, you may want to consider using the cable and U-lock method to ensure that both wheels are secured.

The essentials of locking your bicycle

Some cyclists spend most of their time on road rides where they don’t do much stopping between point A and point B. This type of riding may not necessitate a super vigilant approach to locking the bicycle, as you won’t be stopping for long periods of time. But if you stop for a post-ride coffee at a café, be sure to sit outside with your bicycle. If, however, you’re planning on using your bicycle for commuting or just getting around town, there’s no denying that you need a lock. Unless you live in small-town bicycle utopia where people are kind enough to not steal bikes and you can leave it outside a shop unlocked and expect to find it when you return (these places do exist), a good lock is an absolute must.


Here’s the thing about buying a lock: this is not the time to save money. While you can save a few bucks by buying a used bicycle or a bicycle that needs some work, when it comes to a lock, you want the best of the best. A lock isn’t essential to keeping your bicycle functioning, but it’s essential to keeping your bicycle—full stop.

Cable and chain locks come in many forms and lengths. Some have loops at the end, intended to be used with a padlock or U-lock (discussed next), and some come with their own locking system, like a combination lock. The benefit of a cable or chain lock is that, because they are flexible, you can lock your bike in a variety of situations. The drawback is that not all cables and chains are created equal, and if you buy one of lower quality, there’s a chance that it could be cut and your bike stolen. Your local bike shop can recommend a good one.

A U-lock gets its name from its shape. A U-shaped section slips into a straight bar with a locking mechanism inside that you open and close with a key. U-locks provide greater security because they tend to be much harder to cut than chains or cables. The drawbacks of a U-lock are that they are heavy (that means they’re not the ideal lock when you’re on a long ride and just need to lock up to quickly run into a store to buy another granola bar) and, because they are rigid, they don’t allow you to get creative with your locking method. This can prove problematic when you’re in a place where there isn’t a lot of bike parking and you’re stuck locking your bike to a telephone pole or something of the like; a U-lock won’t fit around it. But U-locks are, hands down, your best option for not getting your bike stolen—the Kryptonite brand’s models even come with antitheft protection, in the event your lock doesn’t do its job—and you can solve the rigidity problem by also carrying a cable (read on).


There are a few options for locking your bike, and what you do will depend on the surroundings (such as the safety level of neighborhood), how long you are locking the bike for, and your personal preference and risk/comfort level. Regardless of what you choose to do, always be sure to lock a fixed part of your bicycle (that is, the frame) to a fixed object. If you lock to just the wheel, without going through the frame, it’s easy for someone to steal the frame. You may not want a bicycle without a front wheel, but bicycle thieves don’t care one bit. They will take what they can get.

The best way to keep your bike safe is to double up, especially if you own a bike that makes other people drool. A U-lock and cable lock can be used together to make your locking system extra secure. The cable or chain can be run through the wheels and around the bike, then attached to the U-lock, which is locked to a fixed object, like the pole of a street sign or a designated bike parking structure.

· Detach the front wheel, place it next to the back wheel, and lock both wheels and the frame to a fixed structure. This is by far the safest option, particularly if your bicycle has quick-release wheels, but it’s also the most time consuming. A good option if you need to leave your bicycle for an extended period of time.

· Lock the back wheel and frame to a fixed structure, and run a cable through the front wheel. This ensures that you have the frame and both wheels securely locked.

· Lock the back wheel and frame to a fixed structure. This will leave your front wheel unlocked, so this is a better option for bicycles with a fixed front wheel and not a quick release.

· Lock both the back wheel and the front wheel to a fixed structure with two different U-locks. If you carry two separate U-locks, then you can individually lock the front and back wheels.

· Lock the front wheel and the frame to a fixed structure. You will notice that a lot of people lock their bicycles this way, as it’s simple and easy, particularly if they don’t have quick-release wheels, as they are harder to remove.


Since you never know when you’re going to want to stop, always keep your bike lock with you. This, of course, presents the question of storage. Some U-locks come with a mount that can be attached to your bike to hold your U-lock while riding. You’ll often see cable locks looped around handlebars or around the bicycle seat stem. There is also the backpack/purse method; this means carrying the extra weight on you as opposed to putting it on the bicycle, but it’s always practical. If your bicycle is equipped with panniers, you can easily carry the lock(s) there. You can also wear a cable and U-lock around your body, like a messenger bag, for easy carrying.

Storing your bicycle inside

Locking up your bike temporarily when going into a grocery store or hanging out at a friend’s house is one thing; more permanent bike storage is quite another. Where do you put your bicycle overnight?

We don’t all have the luxury of living in a place with good bike parking. If that’s the case for you, it’s time to think seriously about your own setup. When an apartment building or workspace doesn’t provide adequate outdoor bike parking, some people prefer to take their bicycle indoors. This keeps it more protected not only from bike theft but also from the elements; you don’t want a nice bicycle sitting out in the rain day after day.

Bicycles get cranky when they’re left outside and unattended; you want to be giving that bicycle some love. That means a nice dry space where the bicycle feels at home. Keep it out of the rain (and snow) if at all possible. There are different storage options for different living spaces. You may go to someone’s house and see a bicycle parked in the entryway. Or even the kitchen. Besides simply propping the bicycle up against a wall, you can also install a bike storage system. An easy and budget-friendly option, if you have the space, is to screw a heavy-duty hook into a wall. On a wall with dry wall or plaster, be sure that you are drilling into a beam, easy to do by using a stud finder. You then lift the bike, hang the front wheel off of the hook, and let the back wheel rest on the wall, so that it looks like the bicycle is driving up the wall. For the more design savvy, you may want to consider a wall-hanging setup, which lets your bike double as an interior accent.


This is a situation that no cyclist would wish upon another, but unfortunately, it does happen. And often a stolen bicycle is a lost bicycle, which is why many cyclists choose to have a more inexpensive, older model for their everyday bicycle that they use around town. The loss of one of these is much less traumatic than the theft of a fancy road bike that you took out a small loan to buy.

Be prepared

Dealing with bike theft starts with prevention, and that means noting the serial number of your bicycle and keeping it in a safe spot that you can remember; you’ll need it when you report your bike theft to the authorities. Keep photos of your bicycle as well; these will be much more helpful to the authorities than a description like “Um, well, it’s red, with wheels.” You can even add your information to one of several online bike databases like the National Bike Registry. These are maintained and used in conjunction with the authorities to ensure that bicycles are returned to their rightful owners.

Getting your bicycle back

Even if and when your bicycle is recovered by the authorities, the number of bicycles actually returned to their owners is unfortunately miniscule. The best thing that you can do is to file a police report right away. Better to report and not find your bicycle than to not report and wonder what might have happened if you had taken the time to go down to the station.

Besides reporting your stolen bicycle to the authorities, there are some other actions you can take. Check out online classified websites, like Craigslist, in your area for bicycles whose description matches your own. If you do happen to find your bike, alert the authorities. There are plenty of stories of people stealing their own bikes back, but don’t put yourself in a dodgy situation; better to let the authorities handle it. Safety first!

Tell your friends, and share photos of your bicycle online; the more people in the bike community who know that your bike is missing and what it looks like, the greater the chance that someone might spot it. However, keep in mind that bike theft usually isn’t the top priority for police departments, so you may just have to say your mental good-byes to your bicycle and go back to square one and get a new one.


A bicycle isn’t all that you need. Any everyday rider will know that there are a few essentials you can’t live, or ride, without. Let’s cover the basics.

Be seen

One bicycle accessory that you must not skimp on is a good light setup. A safe rider is a rider who is seen by others. This means a front light and a back light, and maybe even some spoke lights and reflective straps. Some states—California and Oregon, for example—even have light laws in place, requiring cyclists to have a white light in the front and a red reflector or light in the back.

Many lights come with a mount that attaches to your bike and stays on there permanently; then the light gets slipped on and off. When you go out for a night on the town, you can easily pull your light off where you park the bike, pop it in your bag, and ensure that it doesn’t get stolen while you’re off having a good time. No one wants to spend good money on a light only to have it disappear.

There are also clip-on lights, which are great if you’re borrowing a bicycle and not sure about the light setup. These can be clipped to your clothes or bag or even a part of the bicycle. Even if you ride the same bicycle every day and have a good light setup, it’s great to have one of these with you as a backup light in the event that one of your own lights fails.

Lights aren’t just for the dark of night. A foggy morning or rainy afternoon can definitely necessitate some extra visibility, and a light can provide just that. Flashing LED lights are also helpful, as they draw a motorist’s attention to you, increasing the likelihood of being seen.

In addition to lights, reflective straps not only make a cyclist more visible, but they can also double to protect your pants from that dirty chain ring. Think of them as a current and bike-friendly version of the slap bracelet of the 1980s and 1990s.

Some regular commuters also believe in a high-visibility reflective vest, sort of like the ones you see construction workers wearing. A bright Day-Glo orange cyclist is hard to miss.

Be heard

Depending on where you live and do most of your riding, you may find that a bell or even a horn can be quite useful. That pedestrian who is unknowingly crossing the street without looking to see if a bike is barreling down on them? Much easier to ring a bell a few times than yell. Just like with a car, however, remember to be a cyclist who rings that bell respectfully and only when necessary.

Protect your brain

While there are people who will argue for and against helmets, look at it this way: in a really bad accident, a helmet might not save you, but wouldn’t you be happier wearing one in the event that it does? Let’s put it another way: no one has ever said, “I wish I hadn’t been wearing a helmet.”

It’s important to find a helmet that is comfortable and fits well, and while we all know that safety isn’t about looks, if you buy one whose looks you don’t really like, you won’t want to wear it.

The other thing to consider is what kind of cycling you will be doing. Buy a helmet that suits your needs—if you are unsure of what you need, talk to a bike shop employee who can ensure that you buy a helmet that is the right size and fits you properly.

Sportier cycling helmets are great if you are planning on doing a lot of long rides or regular commuting, as they are ventilated, and there are some very lightweight versions. Some urban commuters prefer a helmet that looks a little less sporty, however; for them, there are the helmets that look a little more like a motorcycle helmet.

Carrying stuff on your bicycle

One of the bicycle accessories you may want to consider if you’re using your bicycle for everyday use is some type of carrying device. Backpacks and messenger bags work great for carrying smaller, less heavy, and less bulky loads while cycling, but for heavier or bulkier items, you want the bicycle to carry it, not you. If you want to shift that weight and bulk off your body and onto the bicycle—and also keep the sweat off your back—you may be in the market for a basket.

Let’s be honest: a basket on a bicycle looks damn good. It gets our inner European to light up. It also allows you to transport a variety of items—groceries, a six-pack of beer, a pile of books from the library—without having to worry about remembering to take a bag with you when you leave the house. Baskets come in all shapes, sizes, and materials. A wooden basket can be beautiful, but if you’re riding in the rain 90 percent of the year, you may want something made from aluminum or stainless steel.

Beyond baskets, you can also outfit your bicycle to accommodate a box or a crate. You don’t have to buy one built specifically for your bike; many cyclists are happy to retrofit an old milk crate or produce box to be their carrying device. These can be used for both the front and the back of the bicycle, but regardless of where you are placing the basket, you will need a pannier rack to hold it.


You will need: a wooden crate, a pannier rack (mounted on front or back of bicycle), 2 mending plates, a drill and drill bit the same diameter as the holes in your mending plates, 4 bolts, 4 nuts, 4 washers, a screwdriver, a wrench (adjustable or same size as nut), and 4 corner braces for the crate (optional). Note that the sizes of the mending plates, bolts, and corner braces will depend on the size and thickness of your crate. Be sure to measure before you buy.

To get your hands on a wooden wine or produce crate, check out vintage stores, yard sales, or ask a wine shop if they have any extras you can get your hands on. Before you start, make sure your crate is clean. Want to give your crate an extra kick? Go wild and paint. Remember that if you live in an area where rain is an issue, treating it so that it’s waterproof will ensure that the crate has a long and healthy life. If you want a stronger crate, you can also reinforce the corners with corner braces.

Where you drill your holes will depend on the size of the crate and the dimensions of the pannier rack. Regardless of the size, you want to ensure that your mending plates will be evenly placed, and as far away from each other as possible, without going off the pannier rack, to ensure that the weight of the crate is evenly distributed. The middle of the crate should sit on top of the pannier rack.

1.Flip your crate over and position the mending plates on the bottom of the crate where you will want them positioned when you bolt the crate down.

2.Using the mending plate as a guide, drill through the outer hole on the right of the mending plate all the way through the bottom of the box. Before drilling the outer hole on the left, put a bolt through the first hole to keep the plate in place while drilling the second hole. Once you have drilled the second hole, remove the bolt and nut from the first hole.

3.Repeat the process with the second mending plate.

4.If your crate has a solid base (as opposed to slats), drill a few additional holes evenly distributed around the crate. This will allow water to drain out when it rains.

5.Flip your crate back over and place it on your rack. Position the mending plates underneath the bike rack, so that the rack is between the mending plate and the crate.

6.Using a screwdriver or drill fitted with a screwdriver bit, screw in the bolts, slide on the washers, and then screw the nuts underneath the mending plate. Use the wrench to gently tighten the nuts so that the crate is securely in place.


If there’s one thing to remember about riding a bicycle, it’s this: safety first and, after that, respect. Be sure to set a good example. See that cyclist with her headphones on, blowing through the stop sign without looking left or right? No, thank you. Inconsiderate cyclists give all the other cyclists a bad name, and in a world where we want to see more people on bicycles, we need cyclists to have a good name. That means we need more well-behaved cyclists.

This doesn’t mean that you won’t find yourself breaking the rules sometimes—the safest route isn’t always the legal one—but it does mean that you want to respect not only the rules of the road—the letter of the law—but also the other cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians around you. Remember that, ultimately, safety is subjective; there’s no guidebook to tell you which situations are safer than others. A good rider is one who learns to read the road and respond accordingly. And one who makes himself or herself visible. Never assume that cars, or other cyclists, or pedestrians know your next move. Always be clear about signaling where you want to go, and try your best not to make quick, sudden movements. Unless, of course, you’re avoiding a car that wasn’t paying attention and is about to run you over.

A good rule of thumb is to think of yourself as a car, and follow the rules of the road just as the other drivers should. That means signaling, with plenty of lead time, when you want to turn, and stopping at stop signs. There are situations in which cyclists will argue that yielding rather than stopping is their best bet safety-wise; whatever you decide, remember that it’s just as easy to get a ticket on a bicycle as in a car. Police officers aren’t usually open to the “it felt safer to break the law” reasoning. If you want to know exactly which laws apply to you as a cyclist, visit bikeleague.org/StateBikeLaws, where the League of American Cyclists maintains an extensive state-by-state list.

When it comes to riding on sidewalks, this depends on where you live. In some cities, cycling on the sidewalk is illegal; others allow you to pedal as long as you are going the same speed as a pedestrian. For the record, it’s actually quite hard to do this and stay upright. As always, think about your own safety and those of pedestrians. Are you really safer up on the sidewalk, or are you creating a nuisance? Sometimes street traffic is so hectic that you have to get off and walk your bike along a sidewalk; if this keeps you alive and out of danger, then it’s a good choice, but be respectful of who you are sharing the sidewalk with, and don’t just create more danger.

In general, riding with traffic is a good move, though there are cities where bike lanes are set up on one-way streets in the opposite direction of the movement of traffic. Remember that you are not as visible as an automobile. Just as you always use bike lights to be seen at night, make sure that, any time you ride, you do everything you can to make yourself visible. This means being aware of blind spots, particularly with larger vehicles like trucks. These can be deadly to cyclists, so it’s important to avoid them. Always be careful when you are just behind a vehicle, or passing it, and when you are stopped at a sign or light, be sure to put yourself in front of the vehicle to be sure that you are in sight.

A smart cyclist pays attention to traffic and also to parked cars. If you ride too close to parked cars, you can easily get “doored”—the term for what happens when a driver opens the door just as you pass, either hitting you with the door, or forcing you to ride straight into the door. Sometimes, particularly if a bike lane is right next to a section of parked cars, you don’t have the option of putting more distance in between you and them. In this case, slow down and try to be extra alert.

Using and understanding bike lanes

A bike lane is a godsend. But not all bike lanes are created equal.

The main difference between bike lanes is whether they are protected or not. A protected bike lane has a physical barrier separating cyclists and moving traffic. Conventional bike lanes in North America, however, are often not much more than a painted strip on the ground.

Here are a few of the distinctions for the various types of bike lanes:


These are the bike lanes you’ll really love to ride in. The ones that are completely separated from the street, with some kind of physical barrier. They’re usually what people are talking about when they say “If only I lived in [insert European bike capital here] I would ride all the time; the bike lanes are amazing.” Why are they amazing? Because they’re like bike highways, made for bicycles and bicycles only. Certainly, you still have to be a smart and safe rider, but getting in a fender bender with a fellow cyclist is entirely different from having a truck run into you.


These are two distinct kinds of protected bike lanes. In a one-way protected bike lane, everyone is riding in the same direction. In a two-lane protected bike lane, riders are riding in both directions, kind of like a two-way mini “bicycle street.” Because two-way bike lanes take up more space, they are more common on wider streets.


This is what most people think of when they think of a bike lane in North America: a narrow section of the road designated for cyclists and identified by paint. In other words, a bike lane painted on the pavement. What separates you from the motor vehicles is a strip of paint—which, while a step in the right direction, isn’t the preferred type of bike lane for most cyclists, for the obvious safety reasons, as there is nothing physically stopping a driver from entering the bike lane.


The idea of buffered bike lanes—putting a barrier between vehicles and cyclists—is the same as protected bike lanes, but the practice is a little different. Here, the barrier isn’t physical, it’s painted, like a conventional bike lane, except with additional space allotted for the buffer to give cyclists just a little more room between themselves and the vehicles in traffic.


Some cities will identify certain streets as part of a bike route. There may not be an actual lane painted, but they are identified as streets with less traffic, and hence safer for cyclists. They may be marked by a bicycle painted on the ground. Often you can find city-specific maps that will show these routes.


Regardless of whether you’re in a protected bike lane or just on a normal street, reading the road will make you a good cyclist. Obstacles that might have little effect on you in a car can have a huge effect on you when you are on your bike. We’re talking potholes, branches, trash, and so on. While you are riding, you must keep an eye on what’s ahead of you so you can avoid rough patches in the road and loose objects.

The etiquette of cycling

While a fellow cyclist isn’t going to pull you over for breaking a bike law, there are some general unwritten rules that considerate cyclists follow; knowing them will help you to be a better part of the flow of both bike and general automobile traffic.


Just as when you’re driving a car, when you’re cycling you should signal well in advance when you intend to make a turn. Be aware of the traffic around you, and don’t make any abrupt movements without first looking to see if there’s a risk of getting hit. Keep an eye on who is in front of you, behind you, and to your sides, and remember that cars are usually going much faster than you are.

For a left turn, extend your left arm straight out and perpendicular to your body. For a right turn, extend your left arm out, bend your elbow 90-degrees, and point your hand vertically to the sky. This is done because your left side is most often where the cars are. That being said, there is debate within the cycling community as to whether this turn signal is counterintuitive to drivers; you can also extend your right arm out so that it’s perpendicular to your body, as you would with your left arm to signal a left-hand turn. To indicate slowing down or stopping, extend your left arm out and bend your elbow 90-degrees, pointing your hand to the ground.


On a long and lonely country road, passing isn’t really an issue, but when you’re navigating urban streets, it’s an entirely different matter. Inevitably, you will come to a point where you want—sometimes even need—to pass another cyclist. Pass only if you have enough room to do so safely. That means having enough room on either the left or ride side of the cyclist in front of you so that you can pass safely. And, of course, consider what’s happening on the road up ahead. In general, try to pass on the left, just as you would in a car.

The beauty of cycling as opposed to driving a car is that you can have actual exchanges with your fellow riders on the road. So when you plan to pass, a friendly “on your left” or “on your right” will alert the person you are overtaking that they have someone passing by them. Be aware, though, that when a person turns their head to look behind them, their bike goes in that direction. If a cyclist hears “on your left” and chooses to look back to see what exactly is coming up on their left, they may swerve into your path, so you want to be sure to allow ample passing room. Consider yourself warned.


Some people find bell ringing by cyclists obnoxious. Others find it necessary to alert people that there’s a bicycle coming. Ringing a bell is a way of alerting other cyclists and pedestrians of your presence. How cyclists alert others to their presence can differ. I’ve even seen cyclists ride with a whistle in their mouth, ready to blow as hard as they can whenever anything gets in the way. Again, this is a question of both safety and respect. You want to warn people that there is a cyclist in the vicinity, but there is a difference between a Hi! There’s a cyclist behind you! ting-ting of the bell and a Get the hell out of my way or I’m gonna run you over jangling. Try to be respectful and polite when you have time and space.


A good cyclist is a proactive cyclist, one who pays attention to traffic, respects his or her fellow cyclists, pedestrians, and, yes, drivers, and takes care of his or her bicycle to make sure it performs at its very best. But even the best of cyclists get into accidents.

When you ride a bicycle, you should be doing everything in your power to not get into an accident. Why do you constantly watch out for cars? You don’t want to get run over. That’s also why you choose a quiet street over a busy one. Every decision in the mind of a cyclist is made to minimize risk.

But accidents do happen, and it’s best to accept that someday you may be in one. Knowing what could potentially happen will help you be prepared for such an incident.

What to do if you are in an accident

The severity of accidents varies, of course. You can fall on a set of railroad tracks because you didn’t cross them at the right angle. (Trust me, I’ve been there.) You can run over a twig that then gets caught in your wheel, spilling you onto the pavement. You can have something come loose on your bicycle while riding. You can get “doored,” that awful encounter that happens when you are calmly cycling along and someone in a parked car opens their door without looking to see if someone is coming.

An accident can happen at any time, and while many are preventable, others are not. I hope you will never be in the kind of accident where you are not physically able to respond to the situation, but if you are, hope that you’ve earned enough bike karma that someone will come to your assistance.

To better handle a bike-car accident in which you aren’t too injured to react to the situation, here are some key things to remember.


Accidents are, by definition, unplanned, but just as you can better deal with bike theft (also unplanned) by being prepared for the possibility, you can do the same for accidents. When you’re riding, always carry a form of identification, as well as an insurance card or policy number and emergency contact information so first responders know who to call if necessary.


If you’re able to move, make sure that you can get to a safe place; don’t stay in the middle of the road. However, make a mental note of where you were and where your bike was at the time of the accident. If you can, take a picture of the bike before moving it. You want to get as much evidence from the scene as possible to be able to document what happened.

Just as you would after a car accident, if medical assistance arrives, don’t refuse it. Allow yourself to be checked out by a medical professional on the scene.


Though you may be shaken up after an accident, you want to be sure to get as much information as possible. Here are the essentials:

Make, model, color, and license number of the vehicle. Do this first; if the driver ends up driving away, this will be your only evidence. This is where a cell phone becomes essential; use it to take photos of the vehicle.

The driver’s license number and insurance information. If you are injured, ask someone to help you do this.

The names and information of any witnesses. If you are injured, ask someone to help you do this.


If you are physically unharmed and still able to ride, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should just continue on your way. First make sure that your bicycle is safe to ride. Inspect the frame to see if you can identify anything that’s broken, bent, or cracked. Give each wheel a spin and check that the brakes work. You don’t want to leave the scene of one accident only to get in another one. And remember that after an accident, while you may not be physically harmed, you may be quite emotionally shaken up, and this can affect how you ride. Do not feel bad about finding another way to get home, perhaps by calling a friend or a cab to come and get you.


After you get home, while the accident is still fresh in your mind, write down everything you can remember. This way you will have your best recollection of the accident on hand in the event that you need it later. Put this together with all the driver and witness contact information.

If you have to get medical attention, keep a record of all of the information, as well as any receipts for treatment.


Bike and car accidents are complex. Don’t try to take on the insurance companies by yourself. It’s always best to get the help of a professional.

What Would a Lawyer Do?

Daniel Flanzig is a personal injury lawyer in New York City who specializes in bike-related cases. He and his counterparts at New York Bike Lawyer also developed a bike crash app for smartphones, which, in the event of an accident, helps you to collect all of the critical data that a lawyer will need to help you. Here are his tips for what to do when you get in an accident.

1. Call the police and insist that a report is made. This will ensure that you have the proper identity of the driver and vehicle owner. If you don’t call the police, make sure you have the license plate number of the vehicle.

2. Use a GoPro or other recording device, like your smartphone. A video to record the scene before and after it happens—if you are willing to record every time you ride—is the best evidence you can ask for.

3. Don’t repair or discard your bike or other key evidence. It may be needed if you file a claim.

4. Have you checked your own auto policy? Verify whether you have sufficient uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, also known as SUM coverage. This will help you if the driver involved in the accident is not properly insured.

5. Don’t give a statement to an insurance company until you speak to an attorney. Most attorneys give free consultations, so there is no cost for calling and getting some free advice.