A guide to city cycling in Scotland

City traffic can often intimidate prospective cyclists from commuting on two wheels. Picture: Ian Georgeson
City traffic can often intimidate prospective cyclists from commuting on two wheels. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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CYCLING is more popular than ever. Retailer Halfords reported a profit of more than £1 billion for the first time earlier this year, with the number of bikes being sold in the same period averaging out at 3,500 per day.

Most take up cycling as a way to get fit, to lessen their impact on the environment, or simply for convenience. But others who are more reluctant to take to the road on their pedals usually trot out a long list of excuses: being too unfit; not wanting to cycle in heavy traffic; the perspiration that inevitable comes with getting on a bike. But even for the willing, the task of investing in a bike, and everything that comes with it, can seem daunting. So, what should you do to get yourself started?

BIKE

Bikes don’t always come cheap, but there are alternatives to buying a new one. Sites like Freecycle allow users to advertise items that they are giving away for free. You can also post to inform people you’re looking for a bike, which they can pass on for free. Paying for a second hand bike comes with its own set of checks. Superficial wear and tear can be overlooked. Avoid a frame that looks rusty, cracked or dented. This could result in the wheels not being aligned, so the brakes may not work correctly. 
Check the bikes components work properly. While most may be minor fixes, some can end up costing more than you paid for the bike - test the gears and brakes and inspect the chain and tyres. For a good second-hand bike, you should expect to pay around £100, occasionally with well known, brand name bikes exceeding that. Many second-hand dealers offer a warranty on bikes, so check if yours does.

Buying a new bike will always be preferable to most people, but you’ll inevitable pay more. The average cost of a new bike in 2014 was £233. A hybrid bike is good for commuting because it’s fairly quick and versatile. But this does leave it almost as fragile as a racing bike. The road bike also comes with a light frame, making it fast. However, its lightweight materials mean the tyres can puncture easily, and it doesn’t do too well in wet and icy conditions.

Whatever bike you go for, make sure it has gears. Scotland’s beautiful rolling hills do well for sightseeing, but without gears, you and your bike may struggle to climb them, so best to avoid touring bikes.

EQUIPMENT

Buying a bike is not the end of the process. A helmet, while not a legal requirement, is highly recommended. It offers protection for any unforeseen road accidents, and makes common sense.

A bike lock is a must for entirely different reasons. Bike theft is not uncommon, so a sturdy lock is a highly advisable purchase.

Not having the right outfit for cycling also puts some people off taking to the road on a bike. But Gregory Chauvet at The Bike Station feels this may just be an excuse.

“During WWII businessmen were cycling to work all the time in suits, just because of the lack of transportation. I don’t see why that should be any different now. I’d say invest in a good pair of waterproofs - which you can get for around £30 - just because of the weather in Scotland.”

Cycling at night comes with its own risks, and for that reason we recommend that you wear some sort of high visibility clothing or straps. This allows traffic to see you on dark nights.

CYCLING ETIQUETTE

If you want to be treated like a road user, act like a road user. When the lights turn red, don’t rush through them, as you’ll probably cause an accident. Similarly, don’t suddenly start cycling on the pavement until you can rejoin the traffic further up the road. And never cycle the wrong way up a one way street. If it applies to the road, it will apply to you.

If the thought of cycling on a busy main road fills you with dread, then try the quieter back roads.

Mr Chauvet encourages these quieter routes, saying: “Taking a back road is usually a nicer journey, and since most people cycling to work aren’t using it as a form of high endurance exercise, the more scenic route is normally much less stress. The reality of it is, it’s only likely to add five or six minutes to your journey time.”

If there’s a group of you riding, stick to two side-by-side at the most. This should reduce the amount of frustration drivers will feel. Also if you’re on a narrow or winding road, single out, or even pull over to the side if you’re causing a backlog of cars.

BUSINESS OR PLEASURE

Of course it’s not all about commuting. Whether a resident or a visitor, taking your bike around the city can be a great new way to discover it from a different view. Scotland has a great network of cycle routes both in and around cities, which offer a sense of freedom which cars and buses just can’t. In and around Edinburgh there is the Union Canal towpath, which is relatively straight and level, giving a peaceful cycle alongside the canal, and is entirely free of traffic. Slightly further out, there the Water of Leith Walkway, a 12 mile route, almost entirely traffic free bar a couple of sections. In Glasgow, you can cycle along the side of the Clyde, taking in the views of the Riverside Museum, the BBC Scotland building and the SECC. Not to mention a cycle route from Clydebank right up to Loch Lomand, coming in around two hours, taking in 22 miles of road.

Sites like MyMapRide have routes uploaded from users, and also let you see estimated completion time and difficulty.

DANGERS

Cycling in the city comes with its own set of dangers - mostly trying not to get hit by a car. While many cities are upgrading their main roads to have cycle lanes, the smaller streets won’t. Another common type of bike crash is colliding with an open car door. If you’re driving on the road, always be sure to drive with the traffic - remember to act like a car if you cycle on the roads - which includes obeying the traffic light system.

And while it may annoy drivers, it’s often safer to not hug the kerb while cycling. Cars at intersections ahead tend to see you better, leading to fewer accidents and cars tend to give you more space while passing.

KEEPING YOUR BIKE IN GOOD CONDITION

As a general rule, your bike should be serviced at least once a year. If you’re a frequent rider, brake pads will have worn down, cables stretch and bearings can loosen. If you’re just an occasional or seasonal rider, your bike should still be taken for the yearly service, but it will probably just need minor tune-ups, but tires can rot depending on the storage conditions, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.