Looking around me on the roads of London, I see an awful lot of cyclists who are doing themselves no favours at all. So here, in no particular order of priority, are five tips that could improve the cycling experience of 25% of cyclists by 25%.
Get your saddle and handlebars set to the correct height – which is probably higher than they are now. Sit on the saddle and put your heel on a pedal. Is your leg straight? If not, raise your saddle by loosening the bolt that holds the stem and wiggling the saddle left and right while pulling upwards to draw more tube out of the frame. Then tighten the bolt and try again. Still not straight? Do it again. Keep doing it till, heel on pedal, your leg is straight. Which will mean you’ve just overshot, so loosen the bolt and lower it a cm or two, so your leg is just bent when your bum is on the saddle and your heel is on a pedal. If you’ve made a significant change, you’ll probably need to adjust your handlebars too: if you don’t know how, visit sheldonbrown.com or parktool.com. Your next ride will probably feel a bit weird. But you’ll get used to it in no time, and you’ll be amazed what a difference it makes.
Pump up your tyres. Many, perhaps most, people ride with their tyres far too soft, which makes riding much more like hard work. Also, the pu*ct*re fairy loves soft tyres. Ideally, use something called a track pump to take them up to the recommended maximum, as imprinted on the tyre wall. If you only have a hand pump, a good rule of thumb is to pump ‘em up as hard as you can. You’ll be amazed what a difference that makes.
Lubricate your chain properly. Riding past people with squeaky chains makes me wince. So please, get some decent lubricant (ask at your local bike shop, or Google for ProGold Prolink) and use it. Don’t use WD-40, and don’t use 3-in-1 like your grandad used to. WD-40 has its uses, but chain lubrication is not one of them, and 3-in-1 is a magnet for dirt and grit that will wear your chain out and get on your tuxedo pants.
Gear lower, pedal faster. A lot of the cyclists I see are pedalling about 30% slower than they should be. You’d think there was some kind of moral purity in suffering. It’s not about working hard, it’s about getting around. Try shifting down a gear. See how it goes. Chances are, you’ll find your legs are going around a fair bit quicker than you’re used to, but you’re actually moving a lot faster and with less effort! How cool is that?
(A bit more long term, this one) Trade your current mountain bike in on a proper road bike. You cycle on the road, right? Many mountains round your way? Thought not.
Of these, the last is probably the most significant, in terms of the change it could make to your riding experience. Road bikes are designed for the road, so if that’s where you do your cycling, riding something whose design has been dictated by the challenges of boulders and tree roots on steep muddy inclines makes little sense. Road bikes give you more speed for your effort, and are available for a song on ebay (because everyone wants mountain bikes).
But the others are free – or as near as dammit – and can transform your experience, literally overnight. You’ll be amazed how much more quickly and easily you can travel, once your bike is properly set up for you, with a few crucial factors like tyre pressure and chain lubrication working the way they should.