You’ve decided to put your tyres to tarmac but you’re not sure what you need (and what’s legally required). You may already have some of the essential gear for cycling in the city but don’t worry if you don’t, getting set up to cycle in the city should be easy. Besides a bike, there are a few “must-haves” and several “nice-to-haves” that will make cycling in the city safe, enjoyable, and comfortable. Here’s what you need to cycle in the city.
To ride a bike in the city, you must have…
A street-ready bike
What’s a street-ready bike? This is a durable bike that can withstand big impacts like potholes and drops off curbs without giving in to the general abuse that comes with city cycling. It should also allow the rider to sit in a comfortable, upright position for better peripheral vision and to be seen by other road users.
If the bike is to be left outside, theft-proofing your bike is as easy as using bolts instead of quick releases to attach your wheels and seat. High-theft urban areas have brought out the creativity in cyclists and you may want to do like them and fortify your city rig with an additional cable (called a seat leash) to secure your saddle to the frame.
Most of us have a bike that can be street-ready in an instant just by pumping up the tyres and greasing the chain. If your bike hasn’t been out for a ride in a while, it’s a good idea to take it to your mechanic for a check-up to make sure everything is working the way it should.
Not only are bike lights one of the best pieces of gear for cycling in the city, but they are also a legal requirement in the UK. Between the hours of sunset and sunrise, cyclists must have a white front light and a red rear light. Flashing lights are allowed, provided they flash between 60 and 240 times per minute.
Thanks to a rise in urban cycling, you now have a huge variety of bike lights to choose from, and you can even customise your ride to your specific needs and style.
Same as with lights, reflectors are legally required between the hours of sunset and sunrise. What are reflectors and where should they go? Reflectors are inexpensive moulded plastic safety devices that effectively send light back in the direction it came from. Your bike should have one red rear reflector and four amber pedal reflectors, one each at the front and back of both pedals.
Front and rear brakes
While this may seem obvious, not all bikes on city roads are street-legal because they may only have rear brakes and not front ones. To comply with regulations, make sure your bike has independent braking systems for both the front and rear.
You’ll be glad you had a helmet on should the worst occur even though they aren’t mandatory. Your helmet should fit snugly without constricting your head. If it’s your first ride with a new helmet, take the time to adjust the straps so that the side adjusters are positioned just under the earlobes and the chin fastener is centred underneath the chin. You should only be able to fit two fingers vertically between your chin and the fastener, so take up any slack in the straps to get a proper fit. If your helmet has a retention system, like a dial or push tabs in the rear, adjust the system until your helmet is snug but not tight.
Non-essential extras for city cycling, but stuff that’s sure nice to have!
How do you signal your approach without being offensive? A bell is a polite way to call out “Excuse me” to nicely request that your fellow road users share the road.
Bike safety reflector
This clever device helps motorists maintain a safe distance between you and them. The bike safety reflector attaches to the seat stays and extends perpendicularly into traffic to let other road users know how much space to leave you when passing. When not in use, it can be folded in line with the bike.
Even though you may be able to safely store your bike at your destination, you never know when you’ll need to make a quick stop at the market or check out the new pastry shop that just opened downtown. Again, thanks to the surge in city cycling, you’ve got lots of bike lock options to choose from. Beefy U-locks and chain locks are the best for discouraging would-be thieves and they are worth their weight for the peace of mind they provide.
It’s not what’s coming down from the sky but rather what’s churning up from the ground that can turn your ride from satisfying to sloppy. Mudguards will block whatever your wheels try to send upward, and they come in a variety of designs from temporary clip-on ones that attach to your saddle rails and downtube, to bolt-on ones that stay on throughout the season.
Spare your trousers from getting caught in the chain by securing them with a trouser clip. This is often a thin, C-shaped strip of metal that wraps around the right trouser leg to keep it clear of moving chainset parts. They can also be made out of flexible, high-visibility fabric that attaches with Velcro, or they can be flexible steel strips housed in a reflective casing that wraps around the leg.
Commuter-specific clothing and accessories
Weather, darkness, and traffic sure can spoil the fun of cycling in the city but they don’t have to thanks to specially-designed helmets, outerwear, clothing, and accessories that allow you to be comfortable, to be seen, and to help keep you dry and safe while you’re cycling around the city. We’re talking about helmets with directional lights and the ability to store your medical information for easy access in case of an accident, and clothing that’s breathable and waterproof with reflective accents.
Bar-mounted mobile phone holder or GPS device
If you’re new to cycling in the city, or even new to the city, finding the best bike routes is
different from finding the most direct routes. A handlebar-mounted navigation device can be your best guide for discovering new routes that are safe and pleasant for city cycling.
You can slash your commute time and arrive at your destination as a cheerier version of yourself when you ride a bike in the city. It’s getting harder to find excuses why not to cycle in the city because of all the gear that’s available to make city biking easier. You don’t need much to get started and once you do, you’ll have to search hard for an excuse to stop!