Covid-19 has shaken the world – and it shows no signs of going anywhere just yet. But through the darkness, a beacon of light shines in the form of the humble bicycle. With public transport a potential vehicle for infection, one of history’s greatest inventions has seen a resurgence. London’s purveyor of folding bikes, Brompton, has seen a five-fold online increase since April, Halfords has enjoyed a 23% rise in share price, and demand for one Haynes Publishing’s best-selling manuals – The Bike Book – increased by 566% during lockdown. This is great news for the population’s physical and mental health. So it’s all good… almost. You see, while your shiny new steed’s a thing of joy, its allure’s dampened somewhat by the winter elements. Thankfully, with a few simple tips, you can ride your way through the next six months.
1 CLEAN AND CLASSY
Whether you ride a hybrid, Dutch-style bike, mountain bike or e-bike, you must keep your pride-and-joy clean. This isn’t just for aesthetics – though everyone’s delighted with a sparkling steed – but to keep you and your bike running smoothly. Briefly, start by washing your frame down with a sponge and bucket of water. Then spray your whole bike with a bike-cleaning product from the likes of Muc-Off or Fenwick. Leave for a minute or two before rubbing off with a soft brush. (Don’t use a kitchen sponge as the rough green layer can scratch the paintwork.) Rinse your bike with clean water, dry with an old rag and finish off by applying chain lube to the chain and cassette (the sprockets on the back wheel).
2 GUARD AGAINST THE ELEMENTS
Wet roads + rotating wheels = muddy water firing up onto you and your attire. The result? You’re a soggy mess. Mudguards are the surest way to prevent this uncool and uncomfortable look and, especially for commutes, they’re a no-brainer. There are two main types of mudguard: those for frames that feature mudguard eyelets called ‘fixed mudguards’ and those for frames without, called ‘clip-on mudguards’. They’re suitable for all types of bikes, even the folding variety.
3 LIGHT THE WAY
Bike lights are essential (both for safety and by law) to keep you riding through the dark winter months; in fact, they should be at the top of your accessory shopping list. Broadly, bike lights are split into two camps: those that provide enough illumination to ensure you see what’s ahead of you and those that are designed simply to be seen by others. In other words, to see or be seen! The former’s more for riding dark country lanes; the latter are great for busier urban riding where vision’s already helped by streetlamps. You can buy a perfectly adequate pair from the likes of Halfords for a tenner. Lights that you can recharge via USB are also a winner in our books. A fluorescent jacket completes the visible look.
4 YOUR CYCLING WARDROBE
There’s an adage that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing. It was ascribed to famous walker Alfred Wainwright but is equally relevant to cyclists. There are many quality clothing brands designing good-looking, practical gear. As a guide, layering’s preferable to one heavy garment to avoid becoming a sweaty mess. The ideal is a base layer to clear out sweat while providing insulation. A polyester top comes next before finishing off with a waterproof or windproof jacket. Depending on your genre of cycling, wear bib longs or commuting trousers down below. And a quality pair of gloves are a non-negotiable.
5 BEAT DEFLATION
Crisp blue skies and golden hues make autumn a beautiful time to ride your bike. Sadly, it’s also the season of fallen leaves, broken twigs and increased road detritus, which raises the sinking spectre of a puncture. That’s why you should learn to change the tyre’s inner tube. You can find out the step-by-step process in a book like the Haynes Bike Book Manual. It’s easier than you think – but not if you’re lacking the essentials of tyre levers, spare inner tubes and a mini-pump. (A small puncture-repair kit helps, too, albeit inner tubes are more practical.) Prevention’s always better than cure and there are things you can do to avoid a puncture. Keep your tyres inflated to the right pressure, which will be printed on the side of the tyre, and regularly cast an eye over your tyres to see if sharp stones or shards of glass have become embedded.
These top tips have been provided by sports journalist and author, James Witts. For more invaluable guidance on all aspects of bike care, The Bike Book (7th edition) can be purchased from Haynes.com at a cost of £18.99.