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Life as an Urban Warrior

01 May 2014

Feel the envy of all those frustrated drivers as you scythe through traffic jams en route to work. Cycling around town is hugely practical - it's often quicker than a car and there's no risk of being wheel clamped while enjoying a brewski or a movie. Cycling helps you stay fit, allows you to indulge in soft anarchy as you leap off curbs and sneak the odd illicit left hand turn... and earns you environmental good karma points. It's not all freewheeling though and there are some basics to optimise a cycle-orientated lifestyle.

The Right Mount

Any random arrangement of wheels and tubes does the trick. eBikes tick all the boxes but are a significant investment for many of us. You can't beat a black, retro, cruiser or trendy single-speed for cool but in the real world of hills and credit card limits your existing mountain bike is often a more practical solution. A few mods will convert your old hard-tail into a tarmac friendly workhorse:

  • Score a pair of slicks. They cost around $20 each and let you go faster. 
  • Clip on a pair of lightweight, plastic mudguards. Water and crap flies off your tyres in the rain - mudguards keep the bulk of it off your body and bike. 
  • Purchase a decent set of modern lights - a flashing red number for the back and a grunty LED up front. Check out 'Seeing the Light' for more.

Cool Threads

Depending on the dress code at work and how much perspiration it takes to get there, you may survive the day in your cycling garb - or need to do the 'Superman in the phone box' routine to slip into your suit or twin-set and pearls. Either way, the essential cycling wardrobe comprises:

  • A high-visibility, wind and shower or waterproof jacket is essential insurance against flash floods or a cold head wind at the day's end.
  • Mudguards let you survive a light shower, but more than that you'll need a pair of lightweight over-trou like the Splashdowns or Helter Skelters 3/4 length rain pants. If torrential downpours are a local hazard then consider adding waterproof socks or neoprene over-shoes to the ensemble.
  • A pair of baggies are the go for summer commuting. They deliver comfort on the bike and chic on the street.
  • Invariably your shirt gets saturated, or at least damp in the line of duty. A Lightwave™ Merino or HyperActive™ summer top dries fast so you don't have to face a soggy shirt after a hard day at the coalface. In the winter you'll need to rug up with layers of Lightwave™ Merino and fleece to match the severity of the frost.
  • Bright colours like orange and yellow help you stick out like the dog's proverbials - especially useful in the half-light at the start and end of the day. Reflective bits and lights are vital at night.

Put a Lid on it

Obviously you'll don a helmet to protect your noggin in case of an unplanned spontaneous dismount. Choose a bright one. Orange is our favourite colour. Given its prominent high position, it provides a lot of daytime visibility.

Off the Saddle

Having your bike nicked takes the gloss off the day. The best defence is to own a bike so unattractive that no-one gives it a second glance. A decent lock will deter opportunists but is a mere speed-hump to the seasoned thief. A bike lock-up is increasingly common in many workplaces. If you don't have one then lobby your employer and/or contact the council to track one down nearby. A shower and room to air your cycle gear during the day is convenient - again hit up your employer if they don't provide this already.

Traffic Skills

Poorly designed roads and impatient motorists are a cyclist's major health hazards. So devise an interesting route to and from work using cycle routes, short cuts and quasi-legal paths that minimise contact with other traffic. Depending on where you live, timing your commute to join or avoid the rush hour jam may offer advantages... 'Clearways' or bus lanes providing relatively unfettered travel. Cyclists are not without blame by doing some scary things in front of cars, so be predictable and watch out for the obvious nasties:

  • Ride about a metre into the traffic to avoid having a car door opened on you. Somewhat counter-intuitively it is generally safer to be part of the traffic flow - cars have to think about passing you rather than squeezing past regardless.
  • Anticipate the 'overtake-then-turn-left' manoeuvre, leaving you gasping in the gutter.
  • Read more tips on traffic skills here.
  • Cycle advocacy groups lobby to improve the lot for velo warriors. CAN in NZ and Bicycles Network Australia over the Tasman, are very effective and have lots of good information on their web sites.

And some salutary wisdom from the Cycle Messengers' Guidebook to San Francisco. Some years old now but still worryingly pertinent:

  1. At night, you're much safer on a bike than on foot or on public transport.
  2. If you're in a neighbourhood that seems dangerous, it probably is.
  3. Don't buy any drugs on the street, you'll get ripped off.
  4. Obey all traffic laws when in the presence of a motorcycle cop.
  5. Keep one eye out for car doors, one eye out for potholes, one eye out for pedestrians and one eye out for vehicular traffic (better get some more eyes).
  6. Cars blow through red lights all the time. Don't trust traffic lights.
  7. If you're gonna take on a car driver, be prepared to fight. The automobile reigns supreme in the eyes of the feeble minded and hand guns are abundant.