HOW TO SURVIVE CITY CYCLING WITH LONDON VELO

February 25, 2016

We’ve emerged from the depths of winter like a triumphant phoenix rising from the ashes. Spring is on its way and now is the time to pull your dust-covered bike out from storage. You promised yourself last year (and probably the year before) that you’d give your cycle commute a go. Alas, the bike remained tucked away in a dark corner in favour of an oyster card.

Now that the mornings are lighter and the evenings are longer, there’s no excuses. We know that cycling around any major city isn’t a bucket of laughs and is definitely not for the faint hearted, but you’ll survive it. We promise. You’ll be exchanging smug grins with fellow cyclers, revelling in all your extra cash and parading those toned pins in no time. And there’s no better adrenaline boost than surviving rush hour on two wheels.

We spoke to London Velo, a South East London bike maintenance cafe, for their top tricks and tips to getting yourself saddle-ready. From repairing a puncture and replacing brake pads to bike security and the tools you should invest in to avoid being ripped off on repairs.




Punctures

Nothing can ruin a ride quite like getting a puncture, especially during commuting times when it’s not possible to get a bike on the tube or train. There is something strangely satisfying about repairing a puncture, but it’s not something you want to be doing on the Old Kent Road in mid-February. Replacing the inner tube is a cheap and foolproof way of ‘fixing’ your puncture: simply use a tyre leaver to remove the tyre, replace the damaged inner tube, replace the tyre and inflate. A small co2 canister contains the right amount of air for one tyre and will save you carrying a pump everywhere.



Mechanics tip: Putting a small bit of air into the inner tube gives it some shape and will help it fit into the wheel more easily. And never use your tyre leaver when putting the tyre back on!

Brakes

90% of brake maintenance can be covered by two jobs: tightening the brake and replacing the brake pads. Tightening in particular is very easy and not only is safer, but gives the bike a better feel when riding. There are a number of different types of brakes but the basic principle is that tightening the brake cable will make your brakes more responsive. YouTube is a great source for this sort of basic maintenance when dealing with your particular brakes, the most common types being v-brakes and calliper brakes. Disk brakes are increasingly popular but are more difficult to work on, so I’d advise against tinkering unless you know what you’re doing.



Mechanics tip: Make sure the brake pad is flush on the rim of the wheel, maximising the braking surface area. It’ll make your pads last longer and give you more efficient braking.

Cycle security

One of the best things about cycling is that it’s cheap, but if there is one thing that’s worth spending a few quid on it’s a decent lock. By and large you get what you pay for; I use an Abus mini which is small enough to fit in the pocket of my bag but performs well in various attack tests. Take it from someone who’s had multiple bikes stolen…don’t waste money on a cheap lock – it’s about as secure as a piece of string. Most places are happy with you wheeling a bike in for a few minutes.

Mechanics tip: Try to make sure your bike is never the nicest out of those locked in a particular area.

Gears

Ask any cyclist what the first thing they do on their road bike is after a service, and it’d be to move through the gears. This is for two reasons: 1) to see if the service has been any good or not, and 2) because it feels great smoothly moving up and down the cassette. Riding on most UK roads means bikes are getting bumped and knocked all of the time, which causes the gears to gradually get out of line. Learning how to index your gears is an initial faff, but once you’ve got the hang of it takes two minutes and means you can have perfect gears on tap. Start in the bottom gear and move up the cassette (into a lower gear), if the chain is not moving enough, adjust the cable tension by turning clockwise, and visa versa if it’s moving too far. Keep tweaking until your chain is moving smoothly up and down to whole cassette.

Mechanics tip: Try to replace your chain and cassettes at the same time, as they all wear together.

Tools

People love tools. I love tools! There are endless tools that can be used for all different jobs, but a small handful that can cover most basic and intermediate maintenance. I always carry with me:

- A ‘multi tool’ which has a range of allen keys and screw drivers on
- A tyre leaver
- A box spanner to take my wheel nuts off
- An inner tube
- A couple of co2 canisters

At home I have:

- A floor pump (it’s not possible to get the right amount of pressure using a hand pump)
- A mechanic stand
- A ‘home mechanic’ tool kit
- Various chain oil and lube
- Rags and a bike brush

Mechanics tip: Buy good quality tools: it will make you want to use them more and they’ll be so hard wearing it’ll last your cycling lifetime. Never lend them out, ever.

Overall

We see hundreds of bikes come in and out of the mechanics stand, and most have one thing in common…they would be running a lot better if they were given a basic clean! Paying a professional mechanic to basically clean your bike is so expensive, so every now and then – preferably on a nice sunny day – spend an hour outside giving it a good clean and oil. It’ll be well worth it.

Ride safe, ride well and ride on!