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.