Cycling to work, even once or twice a week, may be a great alternative to driving a car. It benefits you, the community and the environment.

man parking bike at workWhy cycle?

In a recent survey, only 41% of drivers reported being happy with their commute but 86% of cyclists were happy with their journeys

We know that people who are new to cycling are often uncertain about things like safety, maintenance, clothing and helmet hair. We’ve put together some information to help you work out how to be confident and comfortable on your bike and when you get to your destination.

We hope that if you try cycling, you’ll be surprised by how well it works for you.

Benefits of cycling

lady riding bike in central cityReduce stress  Cycling releases endorphins that lift your mood and help counter stress. 

Be more productive – People who bike report higher motivation levels and improved workload management.

Have fun – Once you’ve experienced the sense of freedom, connection with your surroundings and camaraderie with other people on bikes, you might be hooked!

Never get stuck in traffic When you bike, the journey time is pretty much the same, no matter what time of day you ride. You can ride straight past the traffic queues, and there’s no time wasted circling around looking for a car park.

Save money – A basic bike in good working order, a helmet, and high visibility gear are all you need.  Once that is sorted, cycling is free! That means no more paying for parking… or no more parking a long way from the office to avoid parking charges.

Get active – Regular cycling strengthens the cardiovascular and immune systems, improves brain function, and helps prevent illnesses including diabetes, heart disease and many types of cancer. Cycling also strengthens your back muscles, which can help office workers prevent back pain from too much sitting down.

Reduce your footprint  By parking the car and biking instead you help to reduce both local pollution and emissions that harm the global environment.

Help our city – Before the earthquakes, 85 percent of all trips in Greater Christchurch were made in private cars, and 19 out of 20 cars travelling to work had only a single occupant. This led to congestion, pollution, and busy city streets. As we reinvigorate the central city, we are seeing cycling rates grow by an amazing 20% a year, creating a cleaner, safer, more efficient, and more pleasant place to be. 

Find out more about some of the great benefits of cycling:

Your bike

girl posing with bike in central cityFirst of all you’re going to need a bike. You don’t need an expensive state-of-the-art bike to have a go, but the bike you use will need to be safe and be the right size for you.

Carefully consider what you want to use your bike for. If you want it primarily as a commuting bike wearing your normal work clothes, you may want to buy a comfy and practical upright city bike like the Dutch are fond of, whereas if you want to use it for mountain biking or to do some speedy road biking, you’ll want to keep that in mind.

If you have a bike that you haven’t used for a while, consider taking it to a bike shop for a quick check that it is still roadworthy. Alternatively, you could check your bike over yourself using the checklist in the next section. 

If you’ll be riding in low light or rainy conditions, you will also need to make sure your bike has:

  • Reflectors - a red or yellow rear reflector visible from 100 metres
  • Lights - steady or flashing rear-facing red lights that can be seen from 100 metres and a white or yellow headlight that can be seen from 100 metres. If you have more than one headlight, only one of them may flash.  Remember to check batteries and add some spares to your repair kit.
  • Pedal retroreflectors - on the forward and rear-ward facing surfaces of each pedal. If the cycle does not have these the cyclist must be wearing 
  • High-visibility reflective cycling gear - such as a reflective jacket, bag cover and ankle bands.

Tips for buying a bike

Bike safety check, maintenance and repairs

The most basic safety check is the ABC check – Air, Brakes, Chain

  • Air – check your tyre pressure, and pump your tyres up regularly. They should be pumped up so that you can’t squish them with your hand. If your pump has a pressure gauge, use it to check the pressure; the correct pressure will be embossed on the side of the tyre. Correct pressure will reduce the amount of effort you need to put in to pedaling and help prevent damage to your tyres and wheels, resulting in fewer punctures.
  • Brakes – spin each wheel in turn and make sure that it stops spinning when you pull the brake lever. Check your wheels spin freely without the brake on. Also check that the brake pads don’t look worn.
  • Chain – if you lift the back wheel and turn the pedals the chain should run smoothly through the gears. If the chain is grimy, you can clean it with a rag, an old toothbrush and some water and dishwashing liquid or CRC. Make sure you relube with proper chain lubricant after cleaning it.
    If the chain looks dry or makes a nasty noise, make sure you put some chain lube on it (and wipe off any excess once you’ve finished). Lubricating your chain will keep your gears running smoothly, will extend the life of your chain and gears, and generally make riding a lot easier and more pleasant. A worn chain can damage other parts of your gear mechanism. A chain is quick, simple, and cheap to replace, some other parts are not.

More checks, maintenance and repairs

  • Tyres – check that the tread on the tyre does not look worn and that the sidewalls of the tyres are not cracked or damaged. Replacing worn tyres will help keep you safe, especially on wet roads, and will help guard against punctures.
  • General – hold the bike in your hands and bounce it gently on the ground. If there are any suspicious noises try to work out where they are coming from and whether anything is loose or damaged. It is also worth having a quick look at (and tug on) the pedals, handlebars, and seat to make sure that they are secured properly.
  • Keep your bike clean – hosing your bike down or washing it with a cloth and dishwashing liquid will help to extend its life and prevent rust. It’s especially important to wash your bike in winter when it gets covered with grit and grime from the roads.
  • Recharge your lights regularly – bike lights with low batteries can be very difficult to see. Some lights come on brightly initially even when the battery is low and then they fade quickly. Always check your lights at the end of a ride to see if they are fading. If they are, don’t ride again until they’re charged. Checking your lights will also help you notice when they’re dirty and need a quick wipe.
  • Be aware of chain wear – the most obvious sign of chain wear is usually the chain skipping as you pedal. If this starts to happen be sure to take action. Sometimes a simple gear adjustment will suffice but if the chain isn’t replaced when it gets worn it can damage other parts of your gear mechanism. A chain is quick, simple, and cheap to replace, some other parts are not.
  • If in doubt, get your bike serviced – if your bike doesn’t seem quite right and you can’t fix it yourself, a basic service can do wonders for how pleasant and safe it is to ride. Think of all the money you’re saving in petrol, and a professional service will seem like a good deal.

If you start with a well maintained bike then problems should be few and far between. Remember though, all vehicles have the potential to break (and while a broken down car is a major hassle, a bike can easily be pushed short distances or loaded into a car or onto a bus(external link), and you may be able to fix it yourself). 

Thumbnail of Basic bike safety checklist

Click to enlarge

Download the basic bike safety checklist [PDF, 627 KB]

RAD Bikes community bike workshop

Cyclist and volunteer mechanics work together at RAD Bikes community workshopChristchurch has an excellent community-run bike workshop called RAD (Recycle a Dunger) at The Commons, corner Kilmore and Durham Streets.

RAD have twice-weekly drop-in sessions where you can go along, use their tools and get help from the friendly volunteers to learn how to fix your bike, all for a small koha.

Learning how to maintain and repair your bike is an empowering experience, and means getting the odd puncture is not a big deal!

Check out RAD's Facebook page(external link) for the latest opening hours and more information.

Dealing with punctures

If you ride regularly, at some point you will get a puncture. The most important thing is to have a plan for what you will do when that happens. You might be able to hop on a nearby bus(external link) to complete your journey, there might be someone you can call to pick you up, or you might choose to learn to fix punctures and carry on riding.

Spare inner tubes are small, light, easy to carry with you and relatively quick to change. Puncture repair kits are also small, light and easy to carry but fixing a puncture can be trickier than changing the tube. Some people carry a spare tube while they’re riding and keep a puncture repair kit at home so that they can fix tubes  in warmth and comfort.

For anything more complicated than a puncture, a lot of people head straight for the nearest bike shop, but if you’re up for dealing with more advanced mechanical issues this video is a good place to start.

Learn how to change a tyre and inner tube:

Equipment

lady with bike and helmetAlongside the actual bike, you’re going to need a few other bits and pieces. Read below, or print out our gear list [PDF, 763 KB].

Essential items

  • Helmet – these come in different shapes and sizes. Choose one that is comfy and doesn’t slid around – the adjustable ones with the dial in the back are a good investment. Your head is worth it!
  • Lights – essential if you’ll be riding after dark. Also useful to have with you just in case the weather takes a turn for the worse. Choose lights that you will find easy to keep working. You can get lights with batteries, cables for charging, or built in USB plugs. We recommend getting rechargeable lights or batteries for convenience and low operating costs.
  • Jacket – having a windproof and water resistant jacket makes commuting enjoyable even in grotty weather. Remember, even if it’s sunny in the morning, it might not be by evening. Either take your jacket with you, keep a spare in the office, or have a backup plan for how to get home (bus maybe, or a lift with a colleague).
  • Hi-vis gear – this doesn’t need to be top-to-toe, and there are lots of options including hi-vis ankle bands, reflective tape for your bike and helmet, backpack covers, vests and lots more.
  • Gloves – a light pair of fleece or wool gloves is usually enough if you’re not planning on riding in bad weather.
  • Puncture repair kit – if you know how to fix a puncture (see above) make sure you have the tools you’ll need; if you don’t know how to fix a puncture make sure you have a backup plan for getting to work or home.

Optional items

  • Lock – if there’s secure bike storage where you work you might not need a lock, but having one makes it much easier to stop off at the coffee shop, supermarket, or dentist on the way to or from work.
  • Mudguards – some bikes come with mudguards already fitted, some don’t. If you want to ride in your everyday clothes, mudguards are an important investment to keep you clean and dry, making riding in any weather a lot more practical.
  • Puncture resistant tyres – if you find you’re getting a lot of punctures, invest in some puncture resistant tyres.
  • Backpack, basket or panniers – all have different advantages. Backpacks can be used for a range of different purposes, sturdy bike baskets are great for easily popping smaller bags and gear into, and panniers are useful to transport bulkier gear. Some panniers can be easily removed and used as a shoulder or carry bag, while others are designed to stay on your bike.
  • Baby wipes – if you can’t have a shower at work baby wipes can help you stay fresh.
  • Chain lube – keeping your chain nicely lubricated in between rides will make your ride smoother and quieter, and make your bike last longer.
  • Waterproof pants – love them or hate them, they do keep your underwear dry.
  • Padded shorts – great for keeping comfortable especially on longer rides. These come in lots of different styles (they often look just like normal shorts) so if you’re not feeling comfy during your ride, try padding. Alternatively, a comfortable bike seat with padding or springs can be a worthwhile investment!

If you’re thinking of cycling in winter, it's worth investing in some quality weather-proof gear. In Europe, where cycling is often the main form of transport, there is a saying “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!”

Getting ready for the road

(external link)Before you set out on your first ride to work it's a good idea to do a little bit of homework.

Cover of the Official NZ Road Code for Cyclists(external link)

Take a bit of time to get familiar with how to use the road as a cyclist. The New Zealand Transport Agency has a complete Road Code for cyclists(external link) which is well worth a flick through before you start out. For a list of basic skills of cycling to practice, see the NZ Transport Association's beginners' guide.(external link)

Be prepared for when it goes wrong

As you get more used to your journey you’ll get more confident and more able to deal with the odd unexpected event, but to start with, it’s useful to have a contingency plan just in case.

  • Make sure your phone is charged before you go.
  • Consider who you can call if you need help (family, colleagues, friends).
  • Bike near a bus route  that you can use to get home or to work if you have a problem.
  • Call a taxi if necessary (the occasional taxi will still be cheaper than taking your car every day).
  • If you have children in school, consider how you will collect them if they become sick or the school closes for some reason. Again, the occasional taxi trip will generally still be cheaper than taking a car every day.

When you have a contingency plan you probably won’t need it, but it can give you peace of mind, and can be a real help if something does go wrong.

Some days you may need to drop off children or run errands.  Plan ahead - you may only need to make those trips on certain days of the week, so you can drive some days, bike others. You don't have to leave your car at home every day to make a difference. Walking once or twice a week will improve your general wellbeing, help ease congestion and make our city a nicer place to be.

If biking both to and from work seems hard, you could bike one way and get a bus or catch a lift the other way. Maybe even consider teaming up with a colleague to take it in turns to ride and catch a lift. You’ll probably soon find that you’re both fit and experienced enough to bike both ways. If using the bike racks on the front of buses seems daunting, have a practice first at the test rack at the Bus Interchange.(external link) All buses in Christchurch have bike racks, and they’re free to use.

  

 

Planning your route

Before you set out, take some time to plan your route. If you’re not sure about your best route to work, try test-riding it when you have plenty of time, like in the weekend – maybe take a friend and stop at a café to treat yourself on the way!

Christchurch cycle infrastructure map - on NZTA Journeys website(external link)

You are legally allowed to cycle on most roads (except motorways) in New Zealand, so you might well be able to cycle the same route that you would drive to work. However, there’s likely to be a nicer route to bike, using quieter residential streets, separated cycleways, alleyways and taking take advantage of short cuts through neighbourhood parks. You may also want to take a route that would be slow and frustrating in a car, but that is short and pleasant on a bike because you don’t get stuck in traffic.

Ask other cyclists around you which routes they cycle, as they might have tips on which routes are shortest, fastest, or nicest.

  • Your route. Take a look at this Christchurch cycling map(external link), and use the directions function on Google Maps(external link), clicking on the bike icon. You can mix and match the route suggestions depending on your personal preferences and confidence levels.
  • How long it will take. This will depend on a range of things including the kind of bike you are riding, how much effort you want to put in, and on the really windy days, the wind direction. Google Maps(external link) will give you an estimate of how long your ride will take, and over time you will get to know whether you are faster or slower than Google’s estimates but it’s wise to give yourself some extra time in the early days.

Building confidence

The first step to biking is to get out and have a go. If you’re out of practice, find somewhere quiet to start out on a day off when you don’t have to be somewhere in a hurry. Once you’ve started riding a bike it's great to connect with other people who also ride, sharing experiences and tips on events, routes, gear, and mechanical issues.

 

It can be helpful to have a strategy for building your cycling confidence, we suggest:

  1. Know your limits and stick to them – don’t try to ride 100km on day one if you haven’t ridden a bike in 20 years.
  2. Build up gradually – tackle longer rides, busier roads, and more complicated junctions only when you feel ready for them.
  3. Practice your skills – for example, practice stopping suddenly (having made sure it’s safe to do so). This will mean you’re ready if you ever need to do an emergency stop for real.
  4. Believe in yourself – with practice you can be a confident and competent bike commuter, it may not happen overnight, but if you keep at it you will get there, and when you do, we’re confident you’re going to love it. 

Safety skills

people practicing road safetyCycling is a convenient, healthy and fun way to get around. While many people find biking in traffic intimidating at first, there is a lot you can do to ride defensively and keep yourself safe.

  • The key thing is be alert and aware of your surroundings. Similar to checking your rear-view mirror regularly when driving, do a shoulder check every 10 seconds or so to stay aware of traffic around and behind you. Scan the environment around you and ahead of you, including down side streets.
  • Shoulder checks have the crucial benefit of catching the attention of drivers – there’s nothing like seeing a human face looking around to make people drive more carefully.
  • Ride a safe distance out from parked cars in case someone opens their car door unexpectedly - if you can touch the car with your outstretched hand, you’re too close.
  • Ride in a straight line, rather than dipping in and out around parked cars. This makes you more predictable and visible to drivers coming up behind you. Riding about a metre out from the kerb also helps you avoid hazards like storm water grates, broken glass, rubbish and loose gravel.
  • Wear bright colours or reflective gear, and make sure you have lights and reflectors especially when riding at night or in low-visibility conditions.
  • When riding past bumper-to-bumper traffic, watch for unexpected gaps in the traffic to your right – this could be a driver who has stopped to let in a car turning right, who won’t be able to see you coming.
  • Be predictable. Use hand signals to let other road users know your intentions. Making eye contact with other road users helps you both be sure that you’ve seen each other. 
  • Wear your helmet, securely fitted under your chin. It should sit level on your head, about two finger-widths above your eyebrows.
  • Don’t wear headphones while cycling – hearing cars around you helps you to be aware of your surroundings.
  • Don’t use your cell phone while cycling. It’s illegal, and takes your focus away from what’s happening around you. Pull over to send that text or make that quick call!
  • Pedestrians often can't hear cyclists approaching. Ring your bell when approaching pedestrians or cyclists you plan to pass, or call a friendly ‘G’day’ or ‘Hi, passing on your right’.
  • If it's raining, increase your following distance and brake earlier as braking distance increases in wet conditions.
  • Obey all road rules, signs and traffic signals including pedestrian crossings – bicycles are considered vehicles when travelling on the road.
  • Try not to hold up the flow of traffic. Cyclists can legally ride up to two abreast, but be considerate of other traffic and if necessary, pull over to allow vehicles to pass.
  • Thank other road users when you can. For example, let them know you appreciate that they waited for you by waving, smiling or giving a ‘thumbs up’. Positive interactions with drivers help to build a considerate and safe road culture to make travelling on our roads more pleasant for everyone.

Cycling can be fun and safe

The more you do it and the more others do it, the safer it gets. Our friends at Wellington City Council have produced some cute videos with great tips on how to stay safe cycling (narrated by Stephen Fry!)

Check out The Friendly Cyclist(external link) for tips on Intersections, Communication, Sharing the road and paths, Taking the lane, Courtesy, Rights and responsibilities around buses, and Passing stopped traffic. 

Getting to work

people biking across roadCommuting by bike is not just about the ride itself, it’s also about what happens when you get to work. To smooth your first day biking consider these tips we’ve put together:

  • Dress in layers, so that if it gets hotter or colder during the day you can still be comfortable for your bike home.
  • If you intend to change at work, have you packed a change of clothes? (If you alternate driving and biking, consider taking spare clothes when you drive so you don’t have to carry them on the bike).
  • Do you know where you’re going to park your bike when you arrive?
  • Are there showers? Do you know where they are?
  • Do you have somewhere to keep a towel?
  • If you can’t (or don’t want to) have a shower, consider wet wipes and deodorant in your desk drawer—compact and effective!
  • We know that the prospect of helmet hair can be an uninspiring prospect for potential cyclists, but don’t fret, whatever length and style your hair is, chances are someone has been there before you and worked out how to ensure it looks good. Keep a few key products and a hairbrush in your bag, desk or locker if necessary. Many workplaces provide a hair dryer in their shower rooms. 

Answering these questions before you give biking a go will help to m