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Choices that help cut carbon, calories and cost

Bicycle basics

New to bikes? Bicycle, safety and clothing guide

Buying a bicycle

As there are so many different types, sizes, colours and brands of bicycle to choose from, being a first time buyer can be a bit overwhelming. Your first decision comes in determining what type of bike you are after and the type of cycling you would like the bike for. There are three main categories of bike:

  1. Road bikes are designed for riding on paved streets and going fast. Featuring skinny tyres, a lightweight frame and a riding position that puts you bent over the handlebars, you might choose this type of bike if travelling longer distances at higher speeds is important to you.
  2. Mountain Bikes - These bikes have wide tires, usually with knobby treads and a stout frame, and are designed to handle the rugged trails without disintegrating. Mountain Bikes do not go as fast as road bikes and thicker tyres, although are a perfect choice for cycling off road, are a hindrance when cycling long distances on road.
  3. Hybrid Bikes - are a compromise between road and mountain bikes and offer the best features of both if most of your riding will be shorter trips on pavement. With skinnier, smooth tyres they are a good choice for most city riding, and offer speed, durability and comfort.

Bikes come in many different shapes and sizes and it is important you find a bike which fits you. Most good bike stores can offer you advice on the right bike for you and you will be able to try out various bikes to find one that best suits you and your riding needs. Below are listed some websites which provide detailed advice on buying a bicycle:

  • Cyclorama which has numerous excellent articles which provide advice for newbie cyclists.
  • British Cycling has lots of information on different types of cycling, how to join local club whether you are looking for leisurely fun cycling or entering a competitive sportive.

Clothing and safety

There is a wide range of clothing and safety equipment available to cyclists to make your cycling experience safer and more comfortable. This list below gives you a brief summary of some of the items available.


There is a widely held misconception that cycling is a dangerous activity but the simple fact is that the health benefits of cycling outweigh the dangers by a factor of twenty to one. In the UK there is no legal requirement to wear a helmet whilst riding a bike, it's a personal choice issue but it is advisable.


As everyday cyclists living at this latitude the day will come when our ride home (if not our ride to work) will be in the dark. It's common sense but there is also a legal requirement to carry approved lights on our bikes during the hours of darkness. Modern LED lights are an excellent choice; bright, eye-catching and easily removable when we lock our bike up.


Flashing lights have come to be associated with cyclists but they can make it difficult for other users to judge their position. Reflectors allow us to assemble a three dimensional moving image of ourselves. Reflective ankle bands, wheel reflectors and pedal reflectors are particularly good at increasing visibility. They're cheap to buy and free to run too.

Carrying loads

Unless it was designed for competition your bike's frame has threaded inserts or 'eyelets' which are there for a back pannier rack. Many bikes come with a rack already fitted. A good sized pair of pannier bags will carry many litres of shopping, recycling, or ring binder files. Additional carrying capacity might involve a front rack and panniers, a front basket and a rucksack. If you don't need capacity for a ton of stuff a messenger's shoulder bag will devour a laptop and a change of clothes quite happily.


High performance cycling equipment has a place in everyday cycling but you don't need to dress up like a Tour de France rider just to go to the shops. The main thing to remember is that cycling generates a lot of heat. You'll start off quite happily but after five or ten minutes of pedalling will probably need to cool down, here's where the garment layering and cycling specific garments come in to play:

  • A wicking base-layer followed by a thermal layer (or layers depending on the season) followed by an outer breathable/ waterproof shell is a good system to adopt. Each layer is designed to collect perspiration from its interior surface and transfer it outwards, delivering it to the inside surface of the next garment. The particular features of dedicated, cycle specific clothing will often do what other clothing does and then some.
  • Cycling jackets come in several variations. The proper jacket for you will depend on the type of riding you'll be doing. There is a trade-off between breathability, weight and packability, and water resistance. Fully waterproof jackets can be somewhat heavier and less breathable than their merely water-resistant cousins. For shorter rides where you might only get sprinkled on, a lighter-weight, more breathable jacket is often preferred. Try and go for brighter colours to increase your visibility.
  • If you're spending a lot of time on your bike you might also want to look at getting some padded cycling shorts. They can be worn under other looser clothing if you don't fancy heading out in just Lycra and can make a world of difference in comfort!

Active have some very informative articles with advice about clothing, as well as information on cyclorama.

All good bike shops should be able to advise you on clothing and safety equipment to suit your cycling needs and there is a vast range of options available on the Internet.

Further useful guidance for cyclists