Get on your bike and ride social

Riding a bike is a great way to get around, it will improve your fitness, and can help your wallet too. It can also do wonders for your social life. Here are some great mass participation events with something for all types of cyclist.

Charity Rides

There are lots of charity bike rides to choose from, with varying degrees of challenge to suit all abilities. Many are pitched at everyday cyclists, including the likes of the iconic London to Brighton ride organised by the British Heart Foundation. More demanding routes can take several days, including London to Paris, or further afield, cycling (part of) the Great Wall of China.


There is an enormous number of sportive events to choose from in the UK, Europe and beyond. The biggest UK event with ambitions to become the London Marathon of cycling is RideLondon. Just like the marathon, demand far outstrips supply, so participants are either lucky in the ballot or take a charity place having pledged to raise a minimum amount.

Sky Ride

Alongside sponsoring the team that propelled Wiggo and Froomey to Tour de France glory, Sky also supports grassroots cycling and mass participation events. They have a calendar of regular guided rides happening all over the country, alongside bigger traffic free events for all ages, and a network of informal social rides. Check them out.

Something a little different

Existing happily alongside the bigger events there are a number of brilliantly quirky ways to enjoy your cycling.

The “semi-organised” Dunwich Dynamo sees riders setting off from London Fields as evening draws in and riding 120 miles to the Suffolk Coast. Many have a quick snooze on the beach before taking the coach back to London.

The Tweed Run is a “metropolitan bicycle ride with a bit of style”. Well dressed cyclists take to the streets and cycle past some of London’s iconic landmarks stopping for a tea break and a picnic stop along the way, and ending with a bit of a jolly knees-up.

The London Nocturne event includes elite level races, but also more unusual (if just as keenly contested) events for folding bikes, and penny farthings.

Prefer to pedal like crazy without actually going anywhere? Rollapaluza events see cyclists going head to head over short sprints on stationary bikes in a party atmosphere with great music and cheering crowds.


So whatever your ability, stamina, experience or nerve, get socialising on your bike and meet a whole world of like-minded folk.


The best options for carrying stuff on your bike

When it comes to transporting gear on your bike, your first choice is whether to attach the stuff to you, or to your bicycle.



Attaching stuff to yourself

Backpacks are ideal for carrying the typical commuter load (laptop, tools, waterproof, lunch). If it is for use on a regular commute you should look for good waterproofing and also good ventilation to reduce the sweaty back effect.

Messenger type bags sling over the shoulder and have a second waist strap to stabilise their position – this is important so avoid courier style bags that lack this feature. They tend to have larger capacities and are easier to access quickly. They also position the load lower down, which can be more comfortable and make bike handling easier due to a lower centre of gravity.

Here’s a more detailed head-to-head comparison of the pros and cons of these two options.

Attaching stuff to your bike

A basket can provide a quick and simple solution to carrying small to medium loads, with the advantage that everything stays where you can see it. They don’t offer any protection from the elements (although covers are available to stretch across the top of the basket) and there can be a risk of things bouncing out as you negotiate a speed bump or hit a pothole.

Saddlebags mount behind the saddle, which will need to have appropriate loops to fix the bag to. Sizes vary, but generally they will accommodate a tool kit plus rain mac, but not a laptop or similar. They offer a more traditional and elegant solution, particularly high quality versions from the likes of Brooks.

Panniers offer a great way of carrying larger loads on your bicycle. You’ll need an appropriate rack fitted over the back wheel, to which the panniers attach ordinarily with a quick-release mechanism. Not all bikes will have the fittings to accommodate this, so check first. Waterproofing varies between models but in general they offer a great way to securely transport loads whilst letting your bike take the strain.

Larger loads

For really large loads a specialist cargo bike might be needed. These come in various shapes and configurations, with a good selection now available at specialist stores like London Green Cycles. Some London councils are offering free trials of cargo bikes to local businesses as a way of making their deliveries.

If you have cargo that wriggles around and keeps asking “Are we there yet?” have a look at our guide to cycling with small children.


For really large loads, (or a really large family) you might need something like this world record holder.


Or perhaps you’re cycling to a picnic and the invitation asks you to bring a bottle? There’s a nifty solution to that to.

Summer cycling – taking the heat

Blink and you might miss it. The British summer doesn’t exactly overstay it’s welcome most years, so make the most of it while you can and enjoy whatever sun-soaked cycling is to be had.

It’s easy to think that summer should be the simplest time of the year to cycle around the city – just jump on your bike and go. However, it’s definitely worth some preparation to make the most of your warm weather riding.

Keep hydrated

This might seem obvious, but many utility cyclists neglect their bodies’ basic needs. When commuting in hot weather it’s important to keep well hydrated before you set off, and then drink little and often during the journey. Don’t forget to keep drinking after you get off your bike too, as this is often when dehydration catches up with you.

Dress appropriately

One of the great things about the warmer weather is that you can just jump on your bike in shorts and t-shirt. This is fine for nipping to the shops, but longer journeys may need a little more thought.

Layering up in hot weather may seem counterintuitive but a good summer base layer will wick away sweat and allow your skin to breathe, preventing overheating. Another good idea is to have a lightweight waterproof mac stashed away in case of sudden downpours.

Cyclists create their own breeze when moving so it’s often when you step off the bike that the heat most affects you. Consider keeping a change of clothing in the office, or at least a can of deodorant.

Take it easy on yourself

Imagining you are in a great unspoken race with your fellow commuters isn’t perhaps the smartest of ideas at the best of times, and even less so in the heat of summer. When the mercury’s rising ride well within yourself, unless you want to arrive at journey’s end as a big ball of sweat on two wheels.

It might even make sense to look at alternative routes that avoid hills, or offer greater shade.

By making sure that your bike is running as smoothly as possible you can minimise the amount of effort you need to put in, helping you to arrive more fresh faced than beetroot faced. Here are a few simple tips to getting the most out of your bike.

Depending on how much you love your job, or how much you need to impress the boss, you could even think about going into the office early, or leaving late, to benefit from cooler parts of the day.

Lighten the load

Use the summer to audit the amount of stuff that is being carted backwards and forwards with you every day on your commute. Go through your bag and take everything out. Assess, organise, and discard. Not only will this lighten the load but it will make finding your keys easier too. If you have to commute regularly with a bulky item such as a laptop it’s worth looking at a pannier.

Even if you do turn up to work feeling a little hot and sweaty, spare a thought for your poor colleagues, trapped underground on an airless tube, or pressed armpit to armpit with their fellow bus passengers. At least as a cyclist, no matter how hot it gets, it’s only your own perspiration you have to contend with.

Five cracking bike-themed reads

The bicycle, and the possibilities it creates, have inspired lots of great writing. We don’t claim these to be the best ever books about cycling (we’ll leave that debate to the comments), but they are a great way to start filling a shelf of your own that’s dedicated to all things two-wheeled.

coverCyclogeography by Jon Day

Ever wondered what goes on in the head of a London cycle courier? Jon Day, now a lecturer in English Literature, spent years as a bike messenger, and this essay published by Notting Hill Editions collects his reflections on the bicycle, on the city, and on the relationship between them. His prose has the precision and relentless forward motion of a fixed gear slicing through traffic, painting a vivid portrait of the city. Also highly recommended is Emily Chappell’s What Goes Around, a female courier’s memoir and another saddle-bound love letter to London and to an industry in terminal decline.

eat sleep cycleEat, Sleep, Cycle: A Bike Ride Around the Coast of Britain by Anna Hughes

Upping the ante significantly on the well established challenge of riding from Lands End to John O’Groats, Anna Hughes rode out of London along the Thames and then followed the coast until it became the bank of the Thames again, some 4,000 miles later. Like all good travel writing, Hughes’ account provides insight into the landscape, the people who populate it, and into how the journey changes the participant. Mike Carter’s One Man and his Bike is an entertaining take on the same route.

Thethe-rider-krabbe_medium Rider by Tim Krabbé

Originally published in 1978, and appearing in translation in 2002, The Rider is generally recognised as the best work of fiction ever written about the sport. The book allows the reader to experience a one day classic, the fictional Tour du Mont Aigoual, from inside the peleton as we ride along with Krabbe, himself a former racer. He lays bare the psychology and tactics of road racing, along with digressions covering its history and folklore. But who is the mysterious rider in the Cycles Goff jersey?

41VtTDvrU+L._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy

Full Tilt is the best known work of Dervla Murphy who has been touring the world by bicycle and writing about it for more than 40 years.  Her writing is warm, witty and beguilingly matter-of-fact. The subject matter itself is quite extraordinary. Having determined on her tenth birthday to ride to India, twenty years later in 1963 she did just that, across Afghanistan, on a three speed bike, loaded down with a large stash of cigarettes and unable even to mend a puncture.

51tOaP4QqUL._SX390_BO1,204,203,200_Bicycle: Love Your Bike: The Complete Guide To Everyday Cycling

The majority of books on the cycling shelves of an average bookstore will tend towards the elite end of the sport. For most cyclists though their bicycle is not a high performance machine, but a trusty friend and chosen mode of day to day transport. Such utility cyclists are well served by Guardian journalist Helen Pidd’s invaluable guide to getting the most from your bike. Written for ordinary, non Lycra-wearing people who happen to cycle or want to start, it contains plenty of no-nonsense advice on topics such as choosing a bike, clothing and other equipment, proper use of locks, and how to stay safe on the road.

A guide to buying kids’ bikes

With so many kids’ bikes now on the market, it can be tough for parents to make the right choice. It’s an important decision because an unsuitable bike will make riding frustrating, uncomfortable and just not fun, and that risks putting them off altogether. Here are a few pointers to make sure they get the right bike that will open up a lifetime of enjoyable cycling.

Get the right size

IMG_0143The single most important consideration is to get the right sized frame. Just like buying clothes for them it can be tempting to go one size up because they grow out of things so quickly. Don’t do it. A bike that is too large will be heavier, more unwieldy and more difficult to ride, particularly for those starting out.

Bikes for small people are measured by the wheel size. Here’s a guide to sizing based on age and/or height, but more important is to test ride the bike and make sure it’s comfortable.



Probably the next most important factor is weight. Go for the lightest bike you can, as this will make the bike simpler to get started, easier to control, and more fun to ride. Putting a child on a bike that weighs as much as your adult bike just ain’t fair and risks putting them off for life. Avoid suspension and other unnecessary extras.

Small brakes for small hands

The best kids’ bikes have scaled down components to suit the rider. Most importantly, look for brakes with a shallow reach that can be easily operated by small hands. Cranks (the arms connecting each pedal to the chainring) should be also be an appropriate length. BMX style bikes with low saddles and long cranks create a riding position which is inefficient and soon becomes uncomfortable.

Ditch the stabilisers

Stabilisers give kids a false sense of being able to ride a bike whilst preventing them from learning the most important skill – balance.  The best way for pre-schoolers to learn is to start them off on a balance bike. For older children learning to ride for the first time, a regular bike can be converted to a balance bike by removing the pedals, and refitting them once they are confident in balancing and steering. If you want a little help getting them going from a professional instructor, take a look at what training’s available.

Show a little love

Having invested in a decent bike, show it some love by keeping it well maintained. These tips for getting the most from your (grown up) bike apply just as well to smaller ones. A smooth, fast ride is an enjoyable one.

Try before you buy

If at all possible get your child to test a number of bikes. This can be the best way of steering them away from the one with the Batman logo, or the one with stunt pegs, or the one with the basket. Put them on a well-fitting light bike and they’ll work out for themselves that it’ll be a pleasure to ride, and they’ll be more likely to ride it if they feel that it was their choice.
Don’t believe it? Here’s how real kids rated bikes from a number of popular brands.

Tune up your ride

Want to recapture the beautifully smooth, effortless ride of a brand new bike? Here are a few simple tweaks you can make to your existing ride to get that fresh-out-of-the shop feeling back again.

Keep it clean

Little and often is the easiest way to keep your bike in good condition, so try to get into the habit of washing it regularly. Pay particular attention to the drive train – the chainrings, sprockets, and the chain itself – as clearing the gunk away from your transmission is the most effective way to improve the efficiency of your machine. Add this to the psychological boost of having a beautiful clean bike and you’ll be flying along like never before.

Keep it lubricated

Just as important as keeping the chain clean is keeping it lubricated. A well oiled chain will run more efficiently and will also pick up less dirt when riding in the wet. Debate rages as to whether WD40 should ever be allowed near your bike, but most agree that a specific bike lube will keep things running smoothly for longer. Apply a drop to each link and be sure to wipe off any excess.

Check your saddle height

Probably the quickest and most effective way for a majority of cyclists to improve their efficiency is to set the saddle to the correct height. Having a saddle too high, or more commonly too low, makes it impossible to transfer your full power through the pedals, meaning you go more slowly for the same effort. An incorrect position on your bike can also be uncomfortable, and even cause injuries in the long term. Despite being such a fundamental part of getting the right bike fit there is no universally accepted method of determining saddle height. Some of the competing theories are detailed here.

Pump it up

Underinflated tyres have greater rolling resistance, meaning you’ll need to work harder to maintain your speed. Pumping them up properly takes just a minute or two and will reap immediate benefits, shaving time of your journey, or at least allowing you to achieve the same speed for less effort. Different tyres will run at different pressures, so check the sidewall of your particular tyres where you should find the recommended pressure range. Here’s a handy guide to correct inflation.

Learn to love your gears

When considering a relatively flat city like London, there’s a good argument to be made that most bikes you’ll see (notwithstanding the recent popularity of fixed gears and single speeds) have many more gears than are necessary. And whilst it’s true that you’ll probably never need all of the 27 gears which are quite common, a large number of riders underuse their gears and could benefit from expanding their range. Pedalling rates (cadences) vary from one rider to another, so let your legs tell you when a change is needed. Churning too big a gear, or spinning too low a gear are both inefficient, and can also lead to injuries, so don’t be afraid to shift up and down regularly to keep a steady rhythm.

By following these few simple steps, for almost zero cost, you can put a new lease of life into your existing bike, and enjoy that new bike feeling all over again.

Cycling with small children

Kids. Change. Everything.

Once those adorable, exasperating bundles of energy have entered your life nothing will ever be quite the same again. The good news for bike loving parents is that the arrival of little people doesn’t have to mean an end to riding. Just strap the kids in and take them with you.

Why cycle with children?

Cycling is simply a great way to get around, and even with kids in tow it can still be the cheapest, healthiest and most convenient

way to do the nursery run, get to the shops, or just go exploring. Cycling with kids from an early age is also a good way to introduce them to the joys of riding a bike: the fresh air, the sensation of being self-propelled, the feeling of freedom and independence.

So what are the options?

There are a bewildering number of different options for transporting children by bicycle, each with their own pros and cons. For simplicity let’s boil them down to 3 main categories: seats, trailers, and cargo bikes.

Bike seats

The most commonly seen bike seat in the UK is the rear mounted type where the child is seated behind the saddle. The seat may be attached to a rack, or else cantilevered from a bracket on the frame.  They will have high backs to support a child’s head (particularly important if little one dozes off) and a harness to strap them in. More common elsewhere in Europe and in the US is the front mounted seat which attaches to the top tube, positioning the child between adult and handlebars.

Ordinarily bike seats would only be used to carry one child at a time, but as this Dutch “supermum” demonstrates, carrying three children plus shopping is possible.

•    Pros: Child is close to you so simple to talk to, and is high up so easy to see and be seen. Quick and easy to attach and detach, and relatively simple to store away when not in use. Inexpensive.
•    Cons: Top heavy so it can take a while to adjust to the way the bike handles. Risk of bike toppling over if left unattended.


Bike trailers are like little buggies for either one or two kids which attach to the frame of your bike via a towbar. They will commonly have a cover to keep out the elements when necessary and pockets to store snacks and drinks within easy reach. Most will double up as strollers when detached from the bike.
•    Pros: Lots of room for extra luggage, great for spending the whole day out and about. Trailer is very stable and will remain upright even if the bike falls over.
•    Cons: Two children are within easy squabbling distance of each other. On busy roads some parents may feel uneasy about pulling their offspring behind them and low down to the road. Detaching and storing away can be a little long winded.

Cargo bikes

A popular option in cities such as Amsterdam but still relatively rare in the UK, Cargo bikes are purpose built for transporting two or more kids (or other precious cargo). The most famous is the Christiania bike, named for the Copenhagen hippie enclave where they were first made, but there are lots of different configurations out there, including this ingenious design which converts to a stroller. Availability in London is improving, with specialist shops like London Green Cycles offering a wide range, and some councils (Waltham Forest for example) offering free trials.

•    Pros: Sturdy, stable and durable. Positions the kids in front of you where you can see them. Loads of room and flexible seating options for two or more kids.
•    Cons: Not cheap. Needs a lot of room to store. Doesn’t provide the flexibility of converting back to a regular bike once you’ve dropped the kids off.

Give them the cycling bug

Some of these options involve a considerable investment, but the good news is that quality bike trailers and cargo bikes hold their resale value extremely well. Of course the real benefit to all of this is that before too long they’ll want their own set of wheels, so you can get them off your bike and onto theirs, opening up a lifetime’s enjoyment of cycling as a family.

Is cycle training for me?

Who is cycle training for? The simple answer is that it’s for everyone. By which I mean that pretty much anybody who rides a bike, or would like to ride a bike, will gain something from a lesson with a qualified cycling instructor.

It’s for the kids though isn’t it?

Many people’s standard conception of cycle training will be what used to be known as the cycling proficiency test, and the training of school-age children remains a big part of our work today. Thankfully the rather ad hoc approach to cycling proficiency was replaced with the launch of the National Standard for cycle training in 2003, and it is this structure which guides training in schools under the banner of Bikeability.

IMG_5997Training is also available to adults, and whilst all training will be underpinned by the same National Standard, there is a large amount of flexibility that allows for training to be tailored to the individual needs of each trainee.


What if I never learned to ride a bike?

If you never learned to cycle as a child, don’t worry, it’s never too late.  Also, you’re not alone.  You might be surprised to find out that, according to some estimates, around one in ten adults don’t know how to ride a bike. The good news is that one or two sessions with a qualified instructor are usually enough to get a complete beginner pedalling along.

I already ride on the roads so I guess training’s not for me?

Cycling safely and confidently, particularly on the roads of a major city like London, involves much more than mastering the control of your bicycle and learning the rules of the highway code.  Although those two things do clearly make for a good starting point!

Unlike driving a car there’s no test to be taken before you start cycling on the roads (and I’m not proposing that there should be) which means that often even experienced cyclists have never actually stopped to think about the finer details of how they cycle. Like most activities, habits (good and bad) are quickly and easily established. As an example, a very common habit of urban cyclists is to only ever ride in a narrow strip of road within 50cm or so of the kerb. A little time with a cycling instructor spent thinking about how to increase your safety and visibility can modify this behaviour for the better.

Bespoke adviceIMG_6040

The great thing about 1-2-1 cycle training is that each session can be designed bespoke for the individual trainee. If you want to tackle a certain journey your instructor can sit down with you to plan a route before riding it together to provide advice on specific roads and junctions. Perhaps you are unsure of a certain turn or manoeuvre? If so then these can be looked at in detail. You can also spend time considering the existing cycling infrastructure in your area and discuss when’s best (and best not) to use it.

So whether you’re a complete beginner, someone returning to cycling wanting the confidence to use the roads, or an experienced cyclist wanting to make sure that you’re riding as well as you possibly can, take a look at what training’s available near you.

London mayoral election-where does cycling fit in?

On May 5th Londoners will vote to decide their next mayor. Polls suggest that the most important issue for voters is housing, but the issue that is arguably of most direct relevance to Londoner’s day to day lives is transport.

Whilst the candidates will be in broad agreement that London needs more affordable housing, even if they differ on how to achieve it, how to ease the strain on the capital’s creaking transport infrastructure is a much more divisive topic. No more so than when it comes to the role played by cycling. When asked which is the more fractious debate, the EU or cycling, current mayor Boris Johnson replied:  “Oh God, cycling. Unquestionably.”

Before considering the views of the various candidates to succeed Boris, it’s worth reflecting that the polarisation of the debate around cycling tends to work against those campaigning for better provision. We need to shift the debate away from cyclists v non-cyclists and make the case that investment in cycling benefits London as a whole by easing pressure on other modes of transport and freeing up space on the roads. It will also play a part in improving the air pollution that claims the lives of nearly 10,000 Londoners each year.

Get informed

London Cycling Campaign has an excellent summary of where the main candidates stand on the issue.

All are in agreement that some good work has been done over the past mayoral term, and that more can be done to build upon this, in particular with the creation of more segregated bike lanes. Although the Conservatives’ Zac Goldsmith has also suggested he could remove cycle lanes if they weren’t proven to be effective.

All back the expansion of 20mph zones, with the Green Party’s Sian Berry going furthest by proposing a 20mph limit “across London”.

A rush hour ban on HGV’s in central London is proposed by the Greens, and also by Goldsmith as long as it doesn’t create “additional risks” at other times. Caroline Pidgeon for the Liberal Democrats promises to trial this same idea.

Labour’s Sadiq Khan has pledged to increase investment in cycling, as have Pidgeon and Berry, whilst Goldsmith has committed only to protecting current budgets.

Leading by example

Judging on past performance, Caroline Pidgeon has the most impressive pro-cycling credentials having been an outspoken advocate for cycling as a London Assembly Member, and the 2015 winner of LCC’s cycling champion of the year.

Sian Berry has in her own words “worked on green transport for over a decade and backed many LCC campaigns”.

Ask an Olympic champion

In his capacity as policy advisor to British cycling, Chris Boardman has been taking a keen interest in the mayoral contest. He provides a summary of his views in this interview with the Londonist, and you can view his interviews with Pidgeon and Khan on the British Cycling YouTube channel.

For more information on the election you can go to the London Elects website.

Full list of candidates

•    BERRY, Sian Rebecca – Green Party
•    FURNESS, David – British National Party
•    GALLOWAY, George – Respect (George Galloway)
•    GOLDING, Paul – Britain First – Putting British people first
•    GOLDSMITH, Zac – The Conservative Party Candidate
•    HARRIS, Lee Eli – Cannabis is Safer Than Alcohol
•    KHAN, Sadiq Aman – Labour Party
•    LOVE, Ankit – One Love Party
•    PIDGEON, Caroline Valerie – London Liberal Democrats
•    WALKER, Sophie – Women’s Equality Party
•    WHITTLE, Peter Robin – UK Independence Party (UKIP)
•    ZYLINSKI, Prince – Independent

See you at the polling station.

Transforming cities through cycling

Radical changes to the way we move around big cities can be brought about quickly and inexpensively.

New York’s not-so-mean streets

This is the somewhat startling message of a new book, Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution, by Janette Sadik-Khan who served as New York’s transport commissioner from 2007-2013. During that time she oversaw historic changes to the City’s streets, closing Broadway to cars in Times Square, building nearly 400 miles of bike lanes, introducing a bike hire scheme and creating more than 60 plazas citywide.


New York – the most cycle friendly large city in the US

This will come as quite a surprise to anyone who last visited NYC before this revolution took place. When I last cycled there in 2006 it was intimidating to say the least, unsurprisingly given that for most of the previous century the city had been built around the car. The lesson seems to be that if these changes can be achieved in New York, they can be achieved just about anywhere.

So how did Sadik-Khan make it happen? The key lies in rethinking how streets are designed, and, crucially, who they are designed for. Urban transport is, she argues, amid a “Copernican revolution” in which streets are remodelled around human beings, whether walking, cycling or on buses, rather than sitting alone inside a metal box.

New Yorkers took time to come round

The changes made in New York were not universally popular. In fact they faced vociferous opposition from myriad local groups, but polls conducted at the end of Michael Bloomberg’s term as mayor in 2013 show a strong majority of New Yorker’s approved of the transport measures. What’s more, Department of Transport statistics show that there has been an 82% decrease in the risk of serious injury to cyclists over the past decade.

Rethinking the streets helped residents to rediscover that New York City had been ideally suited to walking and cycling all along. The city’s dense design means many trips are short. 10% of car journeys are under half a mile, and 56% are under three miles – distances that can easily be covered on foot or on a bike.

Sadik-Khan also emphasises that transport policy should be measured by more than just how fast traffic is going.  “Our streets have been in this kind of suspended animation. They’re seen as there for all time. The result is that you’ve got dangerous, congested, economically under-performing streets. That strikes at the heart of the liveability and competitiveness of a city.”

And it didn’t cost the earth…

The really revolutionary idea contained in Streetfight is that these improvements don’t require massive budgets, nor decades to implement, nor even a visionary leader. You can make streets safer, more livable, more economically productive by simply adapting the existing space. She urges city planners to be bold, and to try things by making changes which can be quickly put in place and easily reversed if they don’t work out.

For lots more information on this inspiring work see Janette Sadik-Khan’s website, or watch the TED talk below.