I’m not a gearhead, but when I dragged my dusty old mountain bike out of storage last year even I could see that it was a pretty basic model. When I was a fair weather only cyclist that was enough. Now that King (my bicycle’s name) is my only form of transportation, I’ve discovered a few upgrades that make cycling more enjoyable.
Cycling is Easier with New Tires
When I bought the bike way back in my twenties I had delusions that I would be riding on trails, but I’m using it to get around downtown Vancouver. I traded in the knobby mountain biking tires for a slicker, more street-friendly tread. The change in the cycling experience was immediate, like I’d grown superpowers while the guys at the bike shop fit new rubber to my rims. It was so much easier to ride! If you’re finding cycling on the street a bit of a slog, I highly recommend taking a look at your tires and replacing them if you can.
The truth is bicycles, and bicycle parts, are an easy target for thieves, and Vancouver has its share of people who take things that don’t belong to them. Whether you buy a U-lock or a cable lock depends on your bike and where you secure it. I have quick release wheels, so I use a cable lock long enough to include the bike’s frame, as well as both wheels. When I park with the trailer attached, I secure the trailer to the bike frame with a second cable lock.
While a mucky wet stripe up your back may give you ultimate green street cred, it’s not going to do you any favours at a job interview. And please, learn from my casual disregard of the reality of wet weather cycling – there aren’t many things less pleasant than the taste of road grime as it flings itself off the back of your front wheel and directly into your mouth.
To avoid all this, get fenders. These run the gamut from fancy painted-to-match-your-snazzy-cruiser-bike to basic black plastic attached with zap straps (my choice), but they are one of the best values for money out there in terms of bicycle gear. Don’t believe me? Go out cycling on a rainy Vancouver day without them. Yuck.
As we head into the wet season in Vancouver, my cycling goals are (1) to get where I’m going, and (2) to be visible while I’m on my way. Living downtown I’m surrounded by ambient light so I don’t need a headlight to light my way – I need flashing, blinking, don’t hit me I’m right here! lights. Fortunately, LED lights are plentiful and inexpensive. I’ve seen them attached to helmets, seat posts, rear panniers, handlebars, and backpacks – not all at once, but I’m not saying it’s not a good idea. I have two lights, a white one that faces forward and a red one that faces backwards. This time of year, I turn them on whenever I’m riding. With wet windshields and reduced visibility surrounding me on downtown streets, I’ll do whatever it takes to be seen. Which leads to my next item.
I long ago got over being worried about looking silly in front of other people, hence my Hideous Jacket of High Visibility. It is obnoxiously, irrepressibly, and unapologetically neon green. Even the most distracted driver can’t help but see me coming, and that’s just the way I like it – especially when I’ve got my three year old son in tow behind me in the bike trailer.
I rode all last year with a messenger bag to carry my necessities – adequate, but inconvenient when it swung around to the front of my body and got in my way. This summer I installed a pannier rack and bought a couple of saddlebags – best decision ever, right after fenders. Now I can cycle unencumbered and carry more stuff. They’re great for quick trips to the grocery store. Look for basic weatherproof bags – if I ever have to replace mine I’ll opt for ones with a shoulder strap, although that’s not essential.
Where to Get the Gear – Bike Shops Downtown
Denman Bike Shop | denmanbikeshop.com | 710 Denman Street
Simon’s Bike Shop | simonsbikeshop.com | 608 Robson Street
Bicycle Sports Pacific | bspbikes.com | 999 Pacific Street
Reckless | reckless.ca | 110 Davie Street
So what have I missed? Any gear you’d recommend for cycling the streets of downtown? Any bike shops I should be checking out?