Information for Beginners

whyamihere Posts: 7,702
edited September 2019 in Commuting general
So you've decided to start commuting by bike? Good for you! Most of the contributors to this forum have realised that it is truly the best way to get to work/school. However, the prospect can be daunting, especially as a novice bike rider. This thread will hopefully dish out some advice on how to get started, and ase you into the ways of the forum. Thanks to DonDaddyD for the bike/equipment advice, Attica for the glossary and various posters for the lights advice.

It is important to get this out there first:

It is advisable to read: Cycle Craft

The following three sections will attempt to:

- Explain the different types of bikes commonly used that commute to work on bicycle.

- Recommend good/popular commuting bikes in each category grouped by price points.

- List the bare essential bike equipment you are likely to need on your commute (as well as some sage advice)

Types of commuting bike

Below is an explanation of the main type of bikes most use to commute to work. (For the purpose of the examples I’ve used one bike manufacturer so that visual comparisons can be made).

The definition of a hybrid in the eyes of today’s traditionalist would be that of a Mountain bike frame with rigid forks (no suspension) and slick tyres. A hybrid is primarily designed for road and soft trail (gravel, mud and other off road surfaces) use. See image below for example of Hybrid and Mountain bike comparison:

giant-escape-m2-06.jpgHybrid (above)

prod_2840.jpg Mountain Bike (above)

As you can see, the hybrid, a Giant Escape M2, has the same XTC frame as the mountain bike of the same name. The only real difference (excluding components) are the tyres, suspension and crank.

Hybrid’s benefit from the agility of a mountain bike and a respectable speed of the road going tyres. Over longish distances 26inch wheels can become tiresome so many hybrids are fitted with the road bike standard 700c wheels – see below:
Giant Escape R2 (same bike as the hybrid pictured above only with 7000c wheels).

Hydraulic or cable operated disc brakes do come with some hybrids (and cyclocross bikes) for extra stopping power. However, what should and always be relied on first is the forward planning and anticipation of the rider.

Flatbar road bike
A flat bar road bike has a traditional road bike frame with a flat handle bar. The idea behind this was to give the rider a more upright but largely static riding position.

(see image below for comparison between flat bar and drop handle bar road bike)


Above is an image of the 2008 Giant FCR2 and SCR3. Like the hybrid and mountain bike comparison earlier both the FCR and SCR share the same frame with the main difference being the handle bars.

These are essentially road bikes with wider, knobbly and harder wearing tyres so that the bike can be ridden over soft trails. Additional tweaks to the frame usually add more comfort. Ideally if your commute includes a ‘soft-trail’ (gravel, mud etc) through a park and you want to use a road bike then cyclocross is the way forward.


Road bike
There are many myths about road bikes.

Firslty, road bikes are not purely for racing. There are road bikes such as tourers designed more for carrying large loads and riding long distances. There are also single speed road bikes that fall into the category of road bikes as well as cyclocross bikes and flat bar road bikes (mentioned above).

Secondly, drop handle bars are not as daunting as they seem. They offer a large number of different riding positions. The ability to shift your hands into different places on the handle bars means that you can also rotate your shoulders, upper and lower back reducing the potential for cramp and/or back/shoulder pain while riding the bike. Example below:


Some positions can reduce the effectiveness of the brakes or limit your ability to shift gears.

Frame and riding position: Some road bike frames have been designed to provide a very upright riding position, adding spacers under the handle bars or flipping the stem can increase this.

With the addition of carbon fibre (at the rear triangle, fork, seat post and/or the entire bike) as well as other often additional tweaks, at the commuting level, these are designed to absorb road vibration and add comfort.

Example of road bikes with relaxed geometry for commuting/sportive etc :

Example of a more race orientated road bike:

Example of a touring road bike

Example of a single speed road bike with bull horn bars (also available with flat and drop handle bars)

Pros and cons of bike typesThe following section (which I will update, recommendations welcome) will attempt to list the pros and cons for each type of bike (mentioned above) and list the common traits/characteristics found in the most common materials used to make bike frames.

- Lightweight compared to a mountain bike
- Wide range of gears,
- Equally at home on road or on well made tracks and canal footpaths etc.
- Doesn't have the "drag" on tarmac that you get with a mountain bike.

- Heavy compared to a road bike
- Not suited to severe off-road conditions, mountain tracks etc.
- Riding position can become uncomfortable after long rides
- Isn't as fast as a road bike

Single speed
Pros :
- minimal maintenance
- zen like pedalling efficiency (Fixed gear)
- looks cool

- can spin out on fast stretches
- struggle up hills depending on gearing
- Lack of gears can be unbearable during long rides

Flatbar roadbike:



Lastly Frame Material:

1) Carbon fibre:
- Natural tendency to fatigue failure (but I concede that modern resins and forming methods improve fatigue strength).
- Impact often causes internal damage (delamination). This is difficult to detect, and can be impossible to detect with the naked eye.
- By nature CF has zero ductility, so failure is catastrophic (it effectively shatters). OK for a race or weekend machine that is obsolete before it fails, less desirable on a commuter.
- Not repairable.

2) Aluminium:
- Also has a natural tendency to fatigue failure - and I will agree that modern composites are closing the gap on aluminium in this regard - but aluminium is still an order of magnitude more resilient. But back to my favourite test bed, it is telling how many pros switch to more reliable alu for stems, steerers and handlebars for Roubaix.
- Impact usually will cause bending (denting), but the structure will remain intact. So it may be bent, but you will very likely still be able to ride it home. You'll also know when it is broken and unsafe to ride because you can see the damage to the structure.
- Depending on the alloy, impact can cause cracking (although this is almost always visible). Don't quote me on this, but I think 7000 series alu alloys are more prone to cracking than 6000 series alloys. Scandium alloys have great resilience so this is much less of an issue in this case.
- Because alu frames are generally heat treated after welding, they are generally not repairable.

3) Steel:
- Steel is naturally springy so has a good resistance to fatigue failure. However, prone to corrosion, and it can be difficult to rust proof the inside of the frame. Can be prone to stress corrosion cracking (a form of corrosion induced fatigue failure) although this is very unusual.
- Impact will cause bending - can typically be cold worked, so can be bent straight again.
- Strength, fatigue resistance and repair-ability all depend on construction method and the particular alloy. A problem with steel is that although it has lots of strength, to make the frame very light requires very thin wall tubes which are then prone to denting. It can also be difficult to achieve good rigidity and keep weight down. But if you aren't racing, so what?
- Modern alloys are typically a lot less sensitive to temperature and consequently can be welded in construction without heat treatment. This makes steel frames very easily repairable - this is why steel is still the absolute favourite of expedition tourers as steel is the only material that can be repaired by any guy who knows his way around an oxy-acetylene kit.

4) Titanium:
- Just perfect :wink:. And if you do manage to really break it, so what - you can probably afford to buy a new one.

Commuter Starter kit and advice:

If you’re new to commuting by bike and are wondering about what equipment to carry/use then please read on…

3 sage rules:

Don't try to save money on a lock, if you are leaving your bike anywhere then secure it with a decent D-lock for the back wheel and a lock for the front wheel. Whatever you’re locking the bike against, make sure your locks secure not only the wheels but as much of the frame as possible. Thieves are opportunists do not give them the opportunity.

Carry an innertube, tyre levers and a pump. Learn how to change a tyre, there is nothing worse than getting a flat stranded half way along your commute and having to walk your bike into work (and then walk/train it home) because you can’t change the tyre.

Be visible, carry bike lights. Sure you may leave work and get home before it gets dark. However, one day you may work late, or stay behind for after work drinks, overtime etc. It may just be a very dark day. You may see other road users, they may not see you and it only takes one mistake either on your part or another persons. It’s just sensible to carry lights, even if you don’t plan to use them.

Starter kit:

The recommendations below can be bought after you buy a bike (regardless of what bike you plan to buy). Keep in mind they are just recommendations and almost everyone will have other suggestions as per their preference, we can all agree that these are the base essentials you’re likely to need...

Lots of myths and strong feelings about helmets (which can be discussed elsewhere). They won't save you from every collision but they can increase your safety in some accidents and in rare cases they can do more harm than good. (Until the law changes) Its your decision as to whether you wear one or not. I do.

When the time is right and you realise that you need to wear lycra with your road bike you want to purchase the following:

Jersey, Jacket, Padded shorts, Tights, 34 lengths, bibs, Gloves

(Adjust accordingly as the weather demands. So when cold wear a long sleeve top, gloves and trousers instead of shorts etc)

Shoes and pedals
(note* There are a large number of pedals and shoes out there. many commuters use SPD so that they can wear mountain bike shoes. A benefit of this is that they can walk around in the Mountain bike shoes without slipping)

D-lock for the back wheel
Cable lock for the front wheel

Mini pump for on the road punctures and quick roadside repair
Track Pump to properly pump your tyres up

You will eventually need a [/u]cycle computer[/u] to check out your miles:
Cateye Strada Computer

For short 5mile journeys a rucksack will do but if you are carrying larger amounts or want something more cycle specific then consider:
Courier/Messenger bag

Winter months and muddy trails

Also don't be afraid to buy accessories online, there are bargains to be had and loads of money to be saved and usually more choice.

Some good bike related websites:

Glossary of terms

FCN = Food chain number, your place in the scheme of things, to calculate look here

SCR = Silly Commuter Racing, see the thread

RLJ = Red Light Jumping, self explanatory

SMIDSY = "Sorry Mate, I Didn't See You", usually spoken by a motorist stood next to a broken bike

MTFU = Man The Fudge Up, stop being such a wuss and get on with it.

INR = Impercetible Nod of Recognition; mandatory whenever cyclists pass each other in opposite directions.

SS = Single Speed, a bike with only one gear

FG = Fixed gear, a bike with only one gear and no freewheel.

GI = Gear index, the distance travelled in inches after one full revolution of the pedals, usually in relation to FG/SS bikes

Left Hook = vehicle pulling back in before giving sufficient room, and (almost) knocking you off.

Bimbling/Pootling = riding at a slow speed, often taking in the view or simply enjoying the lack of need to get anywhere.

Spinning = turning the cranks very quickly but achieving little forward momentum.

Mashing = straining away at half a rev per minute in a ridiculously high gear.

Cadence = the rate at which you rotate your pedals (leading on from spinning and mashing)

Clipless = a type of pedal where the shoe is attached to it, with a cleat

Cleat = a small widget on the bottom of the shoe which 'clips' into the pedal.

Clipped = old fashioned pedals with toe clips and straps

Flats = Pedals with no attaching of the shoe

ASL - Advance stop line at traffic lights

LBS = Local Bike Shop

BSO = Bike Shaped Object a cheap thing probably bought from a supermarket or online, not worthy of the term bike thanks to it's low quality parts and manufacture

Chapeau = I raise my hat to you, sir/madam, in admiration for your strength/imagination/courtesy

PoB = pedestrian on a bike. A "cyclist" who rides as though s/he is walking, along pavements and across pedestrian crossings.

MoB = motorist on a bike. A "cyclist" who is a perfectly adequate, or even good, driver but who thinks none of the stuff that earned him/her a driving licence applies when s/he's on a bike. Runs red lights, rides the wrong way up one-way streets and shouts at pedestrians daring to use pedestrian crossing when s/he is trying to pass. Lacks any sense of lane discipline or road sense when cycling.

and some more generic forum abbreviations

IM(H)O = in my (humble) opinion
IME = In my experience
AFAIK = as far as I know
IIRC = if i remember correctly
LOL = Laughing out loud
WTF = What the fudge?
ROFLMAO = I am a geek and I know way too many acronyms/Rolling on the floor laughing my ar$e off
FFS = For Fudge's Sake
Meh = expression of ennui


Lights can be grouped into two broad categories - Lights to see by and lights to be seen by. If your commute is only along streets with large amounts of street lighting, then you'll only need lights to be seen by. If your commute takes in unlit roads, you'll need at least one light to see by as well.

Lights to be seen by
In order to be technically legal, you need to have front and rear lights approved to the appropriate British Standard. In reality, these are nearly impossible to find; Often lights will conform to the standards, but because getting approval costs a lot, they won't bother getting the lights approved. Additionally, you are required to have a red rear reflector and orange pedal reflectors.

It's a good idea to run more than one light both front and rear. This allows you to have one flashing (attracts attention) and one constant (easier to judge distances to a steady light). It also gives some redundancy in case one light breaks or the batteries fail. LEDs are the best technology for lights now. Unless it's a stunning deal, LEDs should be chosen above Halogen or HID lights.

With lights to be seen by, the lights need to be bright and visible through a wide angle. These are just a few examples, there are loads to choose from.

Rear Lights
Smart Superflash
Cateye LD1100
Blackburn Mars 4.0

Front lights
Cateye Uno
Smart 5 LED
BLT Fantom X10
Smart 1 Watt

Lights to see by

With lights to see by, what you pay for is generally what you get. This will be separated into sections for under £50, under £100 and over £100.

Under £50
Fenix L2D with Twofish Lockblock

Under £100
Hope Vision 1
Cateye Singleshot Plus
[url=[/url]Light and Motion Vega 200[/url]

Over £100
Exposure Joystick MaXx
Hope Vision 2
Exposure Enduro MaXx
NiteRider Pro 1200


  • Wow, that's amazing :)
    Kona Africabike 3 - 20kgs of love and steel
  • or like , you know, buy a dutch bike and just go ride ...... :)

    Good post though! :)
  • snooks
    snooks Posts: 1,521
    Also worth watching this RoSPA video
    FCN:5, 8 & 9
    If I'm not riding I'm shooting
    THE Game
    Watch out for HGVs
  • Try a single speed as you have little to go wrong or do as do replace all the techy bits with simple workable stuff & easy to fix. Convert all bolts to Allen Key [floor sweepings from SJS Cycles a good source] and fit Nylocs plus treat any threads with plumbing tape. Raleigh do excellent tubes their puncture resistant ones. Fit slicks/road tyres at the front and a knobbly rear for winter traction. On 559 rims have found 590 Commuter & City tyres from plus can be got in bright yellow, the ultimate maintenance free tyres. Reckon the Vittoria Randonnuer tyre family[] are ideal for daily commutes though find good tyre hygeine works as well on normal tyres & tubes with no punctures resulting, one standard tyre has lasted three years with only one thorn puncture-not bad! A rear mudgaurd is a must. As for lights the Knog range from allterraincycles, is hard to beat. PET HATE :x -do not use one pannier and a rucksack. Carrradice do an excellent Camper Longflap Saddlebag at 50 Litres plus SJS Cycles do excellent metal bracket panniers for over £15, so no excuse. Also please buy a rack with a light plate and fit a proper rack light, uk do a nifty Cat Eye bracket for this which excepts nearly the whole range of clip on lights from Cat Eye. Busch & Muller do an excellent Senso unit and the Brompton light is handy as it clears round mudguards. An old shoe lace wrapped arond the leg twice works a traet and find Craghoppers trousers great for cycling as I do not fancy being shrink wrapped in Lycra! Dueter do a range of rucksacks[] and come with a yellow rain cover as standard. Breathable,windproof & waterproof leggings are handy. Look for the ones with adjustable velcro straps. Will finish before you dose off!
  • My best piece of advice...commute in the worst weather you've ever seen, rain/snow/driving wind.

    Then everyday after that will be so much's really bad out there today, but not as bad as that Monday last October etc etc.
  • :D
    This is a smiley face.
    Its what cycling is about.
    Don't be put off by bad driving, pedestrian antics, poor state of the roads, wind, water or any other negativity.
    Singlespeeds in town rule.
  • Useful info - I am just starting out in London so thanks!
  • ndru
    ndru Posts: 382
    How about adding a cruiser to the list, letting people know about internal gears, which offer maintenance free use, encased chaincase and upright position which allows for riding in your everyday clothes, dynamo lighting which saves you money on batteries and is always there when you need it? The bikes you've mentioned are sport bikes, not really commute bikes.
  • Ditto ndru's post. I've had a quality Dutch bike for a year now (a WorkCycles Double Tube Transport) and have been blown away by just how much it's clearly been designed with one thing in mind: for day-in, day-out reliability and low-maintenance in all weathers. Its chain-case keeps the chain clean and my trousers clear of the chain (meaning I can wear everyday clothes); its drum brakes happily stop the 135 kg weight of me, the bike and my luggage in all weathers; the 8 Shimano nexus gears have a good range and allow me to change gears instantly and move away in first gear when some motorist cuts me off in London; the Shimano hub dynamo, B&M IQ Cyo and LED rear light provide costless, powerful and reliable lighting when I need it; the sprung Brooks saddle, steel frame, 28" wheels and 47mm Schwalbe Marathons soak up bumps with ease; its racks fore and aft allow me to carry plenty of stuff with room for more; its incredibly sturdy bi-pod stand is hugely convenient and stable enough to keep the bike upright on a fast-moving train; the bell and built-in lock are very useful to have to hand for London's shared cycle/foot paths and quickly popping into shops.

    It's also built like a tank. The frame has an extra top tube for strength, is coated with a special primer and powdercoat to resist rust and is guaranteed for 10 yrs. The wheels are made from none other than MTB downhill rims and are extraordinarily tough - after 3,000 km of being ridden aggressively off curbs and over London's terrible roads, they're still flawlessly true. The mudguards are similarly robust, built of zinc-coated steel and lashed securely to the wheels with hooped struts. Sure, it's heavy: at 25 kg without the front rack or luggage, it's up to 3 times heavier than a particularly light road bike. But it's certainly not 3 times slower than such a road bike over the flats of London or any other typical city: after having ridden on it for a year now, I cruise at 25-30 km/h and can hit 40 km/h in bursts. In short, more than fast enough to pull away from traffic lights and put some speed down should the situation require it.

    And lastly it's low-maintenance. For most of the year it's lived outside in all weathers, yet the only real work I've done to it is to patch the rear tube a few times, adjust the gear cable a couple of times and tighten one of the brake cables once. A welcome contrast to the full-sus recumbent I previously commuted on and whose wheels I constantly seemed to be truing, brake pads and chain links replacing and gears tuning.

    In sum: as cyclists we're lucky to have a range of bikes available to us that are each designed with a certain purpose in mind. I hope thus the above text demonstrates the case for including a section in this guide on bikes specifically designed for the rigours of cycle-commuting such as 'internal-everything' Dutch-style bikes/cruisers.
  • ndru
    ndru Posts: 382
    For everyone who would like to know more about practical bicycles please read
  • blacknosugar
    blacknosugar Posts: 36
    edited November 2012
    Please check out my city cycling guide for some helpful mini articles:
    "Always carry a firearm East of Aldgate, Watson."
  • great write up! i've been considering commuting to work (8 miles) but the lack of a decent road bike and my current bike being a BSO mountain bike, i think i may hold out until i find a road/hybrid of some sort that i like and can afford :D
  • Have to agree with Dutch Biker, you list types of bikes suitable for commuting and then miss out the most suitable, most obvious one, a town bike/Dutch bike.

    As for kit requirements, town bike, sturdy lock, pannier bag and you are good to go. Wear whatever clothing you intend to wear that day.

    The glossary, are you trying to put people off cycling? You are over complicating the very simple activity of getting on a bicycle and riding to work making it appear that it requires a lot of paraphernalia and knowledge.

    PS you've not mentioned folders either.
  • Hi All, I thought that I'd get this out to beginners reading this. I'll be posting this in many places and writing to magazines and papers in memory of my friend:

    I am a keen cyclist and have been since I was old enough to stay up on 2 wheels. Now my 3 teenage sons enjoy all aspects of the sport too. I look forward to the expected explosion in the sport after Sky and Team GB’s amazing success.
    However, based on my years of enjoyment and after a tragic loss last year, I send out a plea to cyclist new and experienced:
    Where there is a cycleway available, use it.
    Last year my best friend (and brother-in-law) was killed when he was hit by a van whilst he cycled on a dual-carriage way only 2 metres from a traffic-free cycleway. He was a committed cyclist, new to the sport and perhaps trying to shave a few seconds off of his PB on that route on his time-trials bike.
    Despite everything that has and will be written about cyclist rights to use the road, when there is a well lit cycleway in view to motorist just by the road, a driver will not expect to see a bike on a major road, no matter how visible he may be. In the battle for road use, metal on flesh at 50 mph only has one outcome.
    The more people using and campaigning for cycle ways and lanes the better. I know that using a cycleway means stopping and starting as you give way at junctions, but trying to attain a cycling goal on a busy road is not worth the devastation that is left behind.
    Shaun Wildey
  • Hi, am seriously contemplating using a bike to commute the 25 mile distance to work.
    I am 56 years old, haven't cycled for some time now, of average fitness, don't smoke (never have).

    I guess I could take it in stages after trying out at weekend, like every other day to start with, or even once a week for a month, then twice a month, four times a month etc...

    the route is reasonably flat and on lanes and A roads. Eventually I might be able to identify some short cuts through industrial estate s etc.
    Is this madness?

    Advice is truly requested.

  • stu-bim
    stu-bim Posts: 384
    Members progress.

    Certainly worth a read of their experiences.
    Raleigh RX 2.0
    Diamondback Outlook
    Planet X Pro Carbon
  • Sansa85
    Sansa85 Posts: 7
    This is all really useful. I'm thinking about cycling to work, I'm a little bit put off by the thought of getting there all sweaty but this is really good advice, thanks.
  • ywang
    ywang Posts: 8
    Thanks so much for the awesome guide! If you don't mind me asking, what exactly does fatigue failure look like and when does it set it? I have a carbon road bike I use for campus commuting and collegiate races and now I'm worried about my bike breaking at an inopportune moment (breaking on the way to class, eh, but on a race... :( )
  • BR_Gregor
    BR_Gregor Posts: 222
    Modern carbon fibre bikes aren't too likely to be affected by fatigue IMHO, Ywang, unless the bike experiences a sudden impact. Then it'd be worth checking it over for cracks and to see that the coat is intact. Even then, it's probably unlikely. Plenty of cyclists with carbon fibre bikes up to 15 years old will tell you that they're still riding fine.
    Communities and On Your Bike Editor, BikeRadar
  • AndyEd
    AndyEd Posts: 171
    This is a bit dated so un-stickying
    BikeRadar Community
  • Hey. This is a pretty good guide! I've been looking for something like this for some younger people I know who want to get into cycling, but don't know where to start other than just grabbing a bike, and going out.

    I mean that's usually a pretty easy thing to do. Its how I got started. And really that's all I do now.

    But for learning a bit more about it and taking it a bit more seriously though you can't beat a guide like this.
  • whyamihere wrote:
    So you've decided to start commuting by bike? Good for you! Most of the contributors to this forum have realised that it is truly the best way to get to work/school. However, the prospect can be daunting, especially as a novice bike rider. This thread will hopefully dish out some advice on how to get started, and ase you into the ways of the forum. Thanks to DonDaddyD for the bike/equipment advice, Attica for the glossary and various posters for the lights advice.

    It is important to get this out there first:

    It is advisable to read: Cycle Craft

    How do you actually view it online tho? That just seems to be a page selling hard copies.
  • wow, impressive write up!
  • Thanks for sharing this info.