Must have’s for home mechanics

Allen keysRegular checks and maintenance of
your bike are highly recommended. And the good news is you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do it yourself. Pick up the necessary skills at our maintenance classes and then all you will need is a set of tools. Here are some must have tools for basic maintenance jobs to keep your bike healthy.

Allen key set

All the other tools will be jealous of a set of allen keys
because they will be the clear favourite. Most components and accessories on your bike are held by bolts. Although the most used sizes are 4 and 5 mm, getting a set instead of buying one allen key at a time will be worth it for that one time when you need the 2 mm one.

Screw drivers (JIS)

You probably refer to your cross head screwdriver as a Phillips screwdriver but it’s not necessarily the one you need. If you’ve cursed at the apparent incompatibility between your Phillips screwdriver and the limiting screws on your Shimano derailleurs, then brace yourself for a mind blowing revelation.

Shimano uses Japanese Industry Standard (JIS) screws on their derailleurs and Phillips screwdrivers don’t engage with these screws properly and “cam” out. Get yourself a JIS screwdriver and you will thank me for it.

track pump gauge

Tyre levers

Changing tyres should be one of the first maintenance skills you acquire and punctures strike when you are least prepared so have these at the ready.

Track pump

If you are committed to changing tyres yourself at home then treat yourself to a track pump. Get one with a pressure gauge too while you’re at it.

Cable cutter

I’ve tried to cut brake and gear cables with a pair of cutting pliers before; we learn from experience. Use a good quality cable cutter for a clean cut in milliseconds and minimise the fraying on a new cable.

Chain breaker

Changing the chain can breathe new life into your bike and you will need a chain breaker. Here’s a little tip: get an unused, round spoke and cut it to about 6 cm in length. Use a couple of pliers to bend hooks on both ends and you’ve got yourself a device to hold the loose ends of the chain together whilst you connect it back up.

Chain oil and lubricants

Clean your bike often and reapply chain oil and lubricants where appropriate and your bike will love you for it (you’ll know by the lack of squeaking, crunching noise from the drivetrain).


Sometimes even the charity shops don’t want your old t-shirts. Worry not because your bike does. Use them to clean your bike, wipe off excess chain oil / lubricants, wipe clean the drivetrain or rims. I normally give up washing the rags after a couple of attempts; I’ve got a stack of old t-shirts queueing up to be sacrificed.


A workstand can be a bit of a luxury but it you are like me and want to avoid back pain at all cost then it becomes essential. You’ll need to find a balance between cost, sturdiness and portability when shopping for a workstand but it’ll change your whole experience of home mechanics.


Do you have a tool at home that you rely on that is not on this list? Let us know in the comment section!


How to breathe new life into your bike

We all grow attached to our bikes, sharing some great cycling memories with our trusty steeds, but they can become the worse for wear. Some say the frame is the heart of the bike so without changing the frame, here are some suggestions of how to breathe new life into your bike.

Handlebar tape

This is in front of you all the time and can make a bold style statement. Get yourself some new handlebar tape for a refreshing grip. This is your chance to experiment with a new colour or pattern. Maybe you want to try a different level of cushioning or material too?


This is another contact point between you and the bike. If you ride your bike a lot and wear padded shorts, you are probably on a fairly firm saddle which will soften over time so it will need replacing. If you are very much on the side of sitting on plushy saddles then you probably don’t need to replace it for a while.


Often overlooked but they can transform your ride quality. Get some new tyres and this is your chance to choose if you want to go for wider tyres for more comfort, more puncture resistant tyres or different tread if you go off road sometimes. This is another place you can add some bling to your bike with different coloured tyres now widely available.

Cablescable stop

Ok, we now have hydraulics to contend with but that generally has longer maintenance intervals. If you are still using cable actuated brakes and gears then replacing them should give you more responsive braking and more accurately indexed gears.


Old, worn chains present many problems which get worse the longer you ignore them. A new chain will help indexing your gears and reduce wear on the rest of the drivetrain. It should also mean you’ll enjoy a much quieter drivetrain.


You might have noticed that the suggestions so far involve buying something new. Cleaning your bike will surprise you with how different your ride feels afterwards. Shifting cfire hosean become more effortless, the drivetrain should be quieter and braking is more responsive. More regular cleaning intervals will make the job easier and also give you the chance to spot faults on your bike components before they catastrophically fail. Think about using bike specific degreasers to dislodge the more stubborn grime that soapy water is too weak to tackle.


This should go hand in hand with cleaning your bike. If you waited too long before cleaning it then the brakes and derailleurs will probably need adjusting. Replacing the parts mentioned in this blog also requires skill and tools which are essential if you are thinking of going on long rides or touring. If you are not sure about what to do, we run council subsidised maintenance classes regularly that can help you get started; check out our upcoming classes.

Watch out for next week’s blog about the Must have’s for home mechanics; you will need some of these tools to help you with the maintenance jobs we’ve mentioned in this blog. What do you do with your bike to give it a new lease of life? Let us know in the comments section.


Tell tale signs of cyclists off their bikes

Cyclists walk among us and here’s how to spot them hiding in plain sight. You may find out one of your friends, family or colleagues next to you right now is a secret cyclist!

The helmet hair

This one is no secret. The dreaded helmetmessy hair
hair is particularly noticeable if the helmet goes on wet hair. Not everyone can actually fit a helmet on their head but if they do, there’s a high chance they’ve just molded their hair style for the day. There are some exceptions here: slightly curly, short hair may allow you to go undetected and really messy hair is immune to helmet hair syndrome.

Helmet strap line

This is a seasonal feature and it’s hard to notice if you don’t know what you are looking for. It’s a tan line from the helmet straps running down from in front of the ears to the jaw.

Thigh tan lines

These appears on lycra clad cyclists. When they are in their casual shorts, you should find definitive tan lines somewhere above the knees. These are also a seasonal feature but they can outlast the winter ready to be reinforced again in the next summer. (If you are one of the lycra-clad then you will and know what to do with the gripper placement, and if you don’t, you will be introduced to The Rules in due time.)

Funny walking

No I am not talking about the result of long hours in the saddle. Some cyclists wear shoes that clip into their pedals that makes walking a little difficult and usually noisier (though some manage to be less noticeable). But there’s no mistaking it if you see someone walking like a penguin and sounding like they are tap dancing as they go.

The splash

Your colleagues probably didn’t have a toilet accident on their way into work. The chances are that they cycled into work on a rainy day on a bike without mudguards. They know full well it will happen and generally bear the splash marks on their lower back with a kind of biker’s bravado.

Road Sign

Local geographical knowledge

They will know the names of obscure local villages, shortcuts or only know the names of the hills rather than the road names. If they start making reference to Strava segments then they are just showing off or they have a partner in crime who’s equally Strava obsessed.

Their waterproof jackets

I will leave you with the rarest sign but it’s a sure sign. Most cycling tops (jerseys, gilets, jackets) have pockets on the lower back for easy storage and access to food and other accessories during a ride. While not many cyclists wear these tops with casual clothes, you do occasionally spot them. And if you do, give them a high five because cyclists are awesome!

If you don’t cycle and these don’t put you off then you should probably join us. We will welcome you with open arms one arm because we always keep the other one firmly on the handlebar.


Cycle Confident provides Cycle Skills and Family Cycle Skills sessions and are FREE for people who live, work or study in selected boroughs. If you want to go on leisure Led Rides, they are FREE or subsidised.

5 essential cycling documentaries

A Sunday in Hell (1976)

Arguably the best film ever made about professional bike racing, A Sunday in Hell chronicles the 1976 Paris-Roubaix one day classic. The visual equivalent of Tim Krabbe’s The Rider (see our list of great cycling reads) this is about as close as most of us will ever get to riding with the pro-peloton. Riders including Eddy Merckx and Francesco Moser suffer heat, dust, cobbles, punctures, crashes and even the disruption of protesters before the final sprint for victory.

Slaying the Badger (2014)

This ESPN documentary tells the story of the 1986 Tour de France, and in particular the rivalry between Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault, aka, the Badger. Hinault had been helped to  victory by teammate LeMond in the previous year’s Tour and was meant to be returning the favour in order to help LeMond become the first American to reach Paris in yellow. Repeated attacks by Hinault in the high mountains betrayed a different motivation and led to one of the most dramatic Tours of all.

(Available on Netflix)

Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist (2014)

The extraordinary talents and tragic death of Marco Pantani (Il Pirata, or The Pirate) are laid bare in this feature length documentary which includes thrilling footage of his early years, as well as his victories in the 1998 Tour de France and Giro d’Italia. Pantani was extravagantly gifted as a climber, and battled back from serious injury, only to face allegations of doping which would lead to depression, and his death from cocaine poisoning. Some have accused the filmmakers of being too sympathetic to Pantani in relation to the question of doping, but the doc does reveal the pressures that were felt by the peloton at the time.

Pedaling to Freedom (2007)

This short film provides a startling case study of how bicycles can change lives. A 1993 project in Tamil Nadu, India, helped 230,000 people to read and write, and also provided mobility by teaching over 100,000 women to ride bicycles. Wages increased 1000% over just one year for an investment of less than two dollars per person.

With My Own Two Wheels (2011)

An uplifting look at how individual lives from different parts of the world can be transformed one pedal stroke at time. In Zambia a caregiver rides from village to village visiting AIDS patients; In Guatemala pedal power replaces diesel engines; In California working in the neighborhood bike shop provides an alternative to gangs; In India bicycles open up education by making the journey to school possible. Inspiring stuff.


Fun, fantastic and forward-thinking cycling infrastructure

Cycling infrastructure: the first things that will probably come up in your mind are painted cycle lanes and curb segregations. There are always some cycling infrastructure projects in the works but here are some existing cycling infrastructures with the wow-factor that take cyclists over, under and through obstacles.

Hovenring (Eindhoven, Netherlands)

This suspended cycle path roundabout isaerial Hovenring
somewhat like the skeleton of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek. Not content with segregated cycle lanes and traffic lights, the Dutch have taken it to another level with Hovenring. That was not a pun because the road was constructed below surface level so that cyclists don’t have to struggle up steep ramps.

The Cycle Snake (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Copenhagen never fails to impress and gave birth to Cykelslangen, or Cycle Snake. They have raised the bar with this elevated cycle path, pun intended. It’s a two-way cycle path that snakes between buildings and along the harbour. It works with neighbouring bridges to help cyclists use the most convenient route to navigate across the harbour in with a light sea breeze in their hair.

San Sebastian tunnel (San Sebastian, Spain)

We head underground for this next one. I believe this is currently the world’s longest cycling tunnel. It ‘s an old railway converted tunnel at nearly half a mile in length and is brightly lit. Rejoice for the flat cycle ride!

Two Tunnels Greenway (Bath, UK)

This shared path is another old railway converted tunnel. The path takes in two tunnels with the Combe Down tunnel being the longest cycling tunnel in Britain. Bath is very hilly so this is like music to hill-haters’ ears, literally (there is music in the tunnel!) The dimly lit tunnel and spooky music might be more of a challenge for anyone who needs to sleep with a night light.

SolaRoad (Krommenie, Netherlands)

This experimental cycle path is short at the moment but the engineers have set their sights far beyond this SolaRoad in Krommenie. The path is equipped with solar panels and the idea is to generate electricity to be used for street lighting, traffic systems, houses and electric vehicles (maybe this is the first step to Tron-like cities?). The future is bright indeed.

‘Starry Night’ Cycle Path (Eindhoven, Netherlands)

Van Gogh Roosegaarde bike path by Studio Roosegaarde
Photo courtesy of Studio Roosegaarde

Inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night and beautifully crafted by artist and designer Daan Roosegaarde. This kilometer-long cycle path comes to life in the dark. The swirling pattern of embedded glow in the dark stones is a truly beautiful tribute to Van Gogh. It is a part of the Van Goth cycle route through the province where he was born and raised.


ECO Cycle underground bicycle parking (Tokyo, Japan)

The sky is the limit and digging into the ground is not an easy task especially in Japan. The frequent volcanic and tectonic plate activities means that civil engineers in Japan have a lot to contend with. It didn’t stop Giken Ltd. from bringing their anti-seismic underground bicycle parking to Tokyo. You get safe bike parking and automated robotic arm awesomeness.


CycloCable (Trondheim, Norway)

Steep hills really get in the way so Jarle Wanvik built a bike escalator, or Trampe lift, back in 1993 when he didn’t want to get into work all sweaty. I don’t blame him, the slope hits 18% gradient. It has been upgraded and rebranded as the CycloCable and continues to deliver stroller, scooters and cyclists 150m up to the top.


Did we miss any existing fun, fantastic or forward-thinking cycling infrastructure? Let us know in the comments section.


Don’t just ride to work, ride for work

If the two favourite parts of your day are the cycle ride to the office, and the cycle ride home, perhaps it’s time to consider an alternative career. Here are a few different ways to make a living on two wheels.

Professional racer

OK, so this won’t be a viable option for most of us, but for those who are sufficiently young and dedicated British Cycling has information on how to go about becoming a member of team GB, with pathways available through their Go-Ride scheme.

Emergency Services

Both the Police and Ambulance Service deploy officers on bicycles who will undergo additional specialist cycle training. The opportunity to spend your day cycling will (hopefully) not be the primary reason for choosing either of these careers, but if you have a calling to this sort of work and can combine it with a love of cycling, all the better.


Bike messengers, or couriers, are perhaps the most visible form of bike based employment, certainly in major cities. A good level of fitness, knowledge of the city, and, most importantly, a willingness to report for work whatever the weather are all needed to make a go of this job. For more insight into the life of a cycle courier, read this extract from Jon Day’s account.

Companies like Uber and Deliveroo are recruiting increasing numbers of cyclists to make food deliveries, although both companies have come under fire for the terms and conditions they offer to workers in the so called gig economy.

Cycle barista

If you love your coffee as much as your bike then you could set up as a roving barista. Velopresso have won multiple awards for their innovative three wheeled, pedal driven espresso machine. Luxury cycling brand Rapha are also recruiting baristas for their Cycling Club, as long as you have “a passion for delivering a world-class customer experience”.

Cycling instructor

For anyone with a passion for getting more people onto bikes, working as a qualified cycling instructor can be incredibly rewarding. The job involves teaching both children and adults how to ride a bicycle for the first time, or training existing riders in the skills they need to ride confidently in all situations. For more information, see our blog post on the topic.


Cycle to work day: how to get involved

Every single day of the year is now National or International Day of something or other.  3 March is If Pets Had Thumbs Day. And 30 April is, I swear on my life, not a word of a lie, National Honesty Day. Squeezing into this busy schedule on 14 September 2016 is National Cycle to Work Day. So why should you give this particular one your time of, er, day?

What’s it all about?

Cycle to Work Day encourages everyone to take to two wheels and ride to work for at least one day, although of course the long term aim is to see a sustained growth in numbers of people cycling, both for commuting and for leisure.

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 16.46.48Census data indicates that 741,000 people in the UK cycled to work regularly in 2011, and the stated aim of the organisers is to see this exceed 1 million by the time of the next census in 2021.

Isn’t cycling booming already?

It’s certainly true that some parts of the country have seen encouraging increases in numbers of cyclists, most notably in London. But the Department for Transport’s most recent ‘Local Area Walking and Cycling Statistics’ report revealed “no statistically significant change in reported cycling prevalence in England overall.”

The same report reveals wide disparities between numbers cycling in various parts of the country, from the cycle-stuffed streets of Cambridge and Oxford, where respectively 58 and 43 per cent of people cycle at least once a month, to Burnley, where the figure drops to just 5 per cent.

How will one day change anything?

By generating a higher profile for cycle commuting and focusing attention around a single day it is hoped that Cycle to Work Day will encourage people to try switching from other modes of transport, and that a percentage will make that switch permanent.

A particular focus is on the role of employers in making cycle commuting a more attractive option. Employer advocacy is crucial in creating a culture of cycling in the UK. There are great benefits to businesses of having a higher percentage of cyclists in their ranks, including freeing up parking spaces, better rates of staff retention, reduced absenteeism, and a happier, healthier workforce.

The campaign is also closely tied to the Cycle to Work Scheme, which delivers financial benefits to both employer and employee when purchasing a new bike.

How can I get involved?

Visit the Cycle to Work Day website to pledge your support, which helps the organisers to keep track of the total miles pledged, and the associated money saved, calories burnt, and C02 emissions avoided.

You can also challenge your employer, and access resources to help you to become a cycling champion within your workplace. So even if you are already convinced of the benefits, Cycle to Work Day provides a good excuse to spread the message further.

Back to school: but how?

September sees about 8 million pupils returning to school, or going for the first time. Around 35% will be driven to and from primary school, a journey with an average distance of 3 miles (significantly less in London where catchment areas are much smaller). Just 2% of primary school pupils and 3% of secondary school pupils will cycle to school, even though active travel options offer a range of benefits. So is it time to think about changing the school run, for the school ride?

The benefits

According to a 2010 study by Sustrans, nearly half of children wanted to cycle to school, with parents citing safety as the most important reason for not allowing them to do so.

In fact, cycling to school can be a great way to instill road safety skills in young children, and to allow them to develop the ability to manage risk effectively. It also promotes independence, training them to make good decisions for themselves.

According to teachers, children who cycle or walk to school arrive more relaxed and ready to learn than those who are driven. Undertaking a regular journey by foot or by bike will also help children to meet the recommended levels of physical activity.

Encouraging more people to ditch their cars has associated benefits for the entire school community and beyond. Potentially dangerous congestion at the school gates is reduced, as are levels of pollution.

Things to considerschools_level_1

Younger children will be accompanied on their journey until the parents feel confident that they are able to make the trip independently.

Spend time planning a route, choosing quieter roads where possible. Ride the route together during the holidays when you have plenty of time. You don’t want to be doing it for the first time on a school morning when, chances are, everyone’s running late and emotions are running high.

Pay particular attention to busy junctions, pinch points, passing parked cars and other situations where road positioning is extra important.

If possible, find other parents and children to buddy up with so that they can share the journey with friends.

When sharing the roads with others, visibility is key so think about donning bright clothing or a day-glo tabard over the school uniform. Reflectors and lights are a must when the days grow shorter. Being visible to other road users is also about how and where you position your bicycle on the road, and this is where cycle training can come in…

Get training

Cycle training equips both adults and young people with the skills and the confidence they need to ride on the road. Lessons are available to individuals as well as to families. You can even use the session to test ride the school run alongside a qualified instructor who will have local knowledge. They will be able to give expert advice on particular roads and junctions, and also help with route planning.

See what training is available in your area.

Will Olympic success have a trickle down effect?

British cycling enjoyed another golden fortnight as Team GB topped the cycling medal table at the Rio Olympics with 12 medals, six of them gold. The Brits have now exerted a period of sustained dominance, coming out on top in London 2012, and also four years earlier in Beijing. How does this high profile success at the elite level impact on cycling as a whole?

Path to success  

The success of British Cycling over the past decade is the result, first and foremost, of the hard work and dedication of a small number of elite athletes. It has been made possible by considerable investment as UK Sport poured money into those events with good medal prospects. A third key factor has been the ruthless pursuit of the aggregation of marginal gains, a concept popularised by Sir Dave Brailsford, formerly performance director of British Cycling and now general manager of Team Sky.

The idea that making multiple tiny improvements in diverse processes can add up to a large gain is now applied in all sorts of different spheres (including the classroom), and has been re-hashed by shelf-fulls of self-help authors. It’s not all that easy, however, to see its application to the everyday cyclist.

Does Olympic success benefit everyday cycling?

The number of people cycling in the UK has grown rapidly over the period of Olympic success, but proving a link between the two is not straightforward.

British Cycling and its principal supporter, Sky, are keen to demonstrate a link between elite performance and participation. This report, published post London 2012, shows strong evidence for increased participation by existing cyclists, significant uptake by newly inspired cyclists, increased consumer spending, and support for better cycling facilities across the country. This last point is an important one, as public support for better cycling infrastructure will be key to sustained growth.

The ambition to benefit recreational cyclists, as well as those who race competitively, can be seen in British Cycling’s campaigning work. The recently launched #ChooseCycling Charter calls upon local authorities to sign up to a three-point pledge “which will help transform Britain into a true cycling nation”.

There are some who see this widening of their remit by British Cycling as treading on the toes of other organisations who have long been campaigning on similar issues. It is to be hoped that all those who share the goal of increased participation in cycling of all types can work together to good effect.

Feeling inspired?

If you’ve been inspired by Froome, Wiggins, Clancy and Trott then check out some of our other blogs for help and advice on all sorts of topics, including buying a second hand bike, group and social rides, and whether cycle training is for you.


Changing lives with bicycles

We love cycling as it adds to our sense of freedom, independent mobility and sustainability. For people living in precarious circumstances, these same qualities can make bicycles a life-changing asset, by improving access to basic essentials.

Critical Mass to Calais

Last year Critical Mass organised an event which saw eighty cyclists ride seventy miles through London and Kent and on to Calais. On arrival at the “Jungle” camps they left their bicycles and tents for the use of the migrants who live there. Julian Sayarer, one time record holder for fastest circumnavigation by bicycle, was one of the participants. In his account of the ride, he explains, “Bicycles, judging by the constant stream being pedalled from the Jungle to Calais, are an invaluable aid in lives that have already been made unbearably difficult”.

The camp sits just beyond a motorway bridge a five-mile round trip from the distribution centres. Bicycles make daily movements manageable to access aid, services and asylum offices turning an exhausting and dehumanising five-mile walk into a swift ride.

The Bike Project

London based The Bike Project receive donations of second-hand bikes, fix them up in their workshop, and then donate them to asylum seeking refugees in the capital. Beneficiaries are encouraged to attend the workshop to get actively involved in the process and learn basic bike maintenance to improve self sufficiency. The Project also provides cycle training to women refugees in an all female environment to open up the benefits of cycling to as many refugees as possible.

London is a city that is rich in opportunities. A bike can help people reach the many resources that London has to offer: charities that can feed them, lawyers that can aid their application process, home office appointments, healthcare, education and much more. If they are lucky enough to receive status, a bike can help them find employment.

Anyone wishing to help can find out more here. You can donate a bicycle, money, or your time.

Elephant Bike

Another UK based charity transforming lives with bicycles is the Krizevac Project, through its Elephant Bike initiative.

The charity employs youth offenders to strip down and refurbish unused Royal Mail delivery bikes, building skills and gaining qualifications in the process. The bikes are then put up for sale at Each bike purchase funds the shipment of a second bike to Malawi, where they provide sustainable transport and create employment opportunities.


These type of initiatives may seem far removed from elite-level cycling, but the two worlds come together in the form of Team Dimension Data, who ride in support of the Qhubeka project, funding bicycles to change lives in Africa. Qhubeka is an Nguni word that means “to move forward”. The charity believes that mobilising people with bicycles can create access to education, healthcare and economic opportunity. Find out more here.