Cycling Unpacked


An expert’s guide to hitting the road

When was the last time you hopped on a bike – a week ago? Last year? Over a decade ago? Whether commuting or cruising, cycling regularly can reduce the risk of illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. But if it’s been a while between rides, you may need some help getting back into gear. Just ask Barbara Lloyd, daughter of Gordon and Violet Lawrence who opened Lawrencia Cycles in 1938 in Melbourne. She and her brother Gordon Jnr, both in their 60s, have followed in their parents’ bike shoes by working in the Hawthorn store their entire lives. We picked Barbara’s brain about how to hit the road again safely.

For those unfamiliar with cycling, what do you need to get started?

To start, all you need is a bike and a helmet. I recommend choosing a bike based on the type of cycling you want to do. For someone wanting to stay on the roads and use the bike for fitness or racing, a road bike would be the way to go as they’re designed to be quick, lightweight and aerodynamic. Someone who wants to do rail trails without cancelling out road cycling would be better off with a hybrid. These bikes are designed like an SUV car – they handle the roads just fine and although they’re not as quick as a road bike, they’re more comfortable and just as at home in light, off-road conditions.

Can you walk us through the different types of bikes?

Road bikes are suited to the fitness and racing enthusiast. Mountain bikes are the 4WD of the cycling world, there is no place these won’t go. Hybrid bikes are lighter than a mountain bike but a bit more robust than a road bike. Then there are vintage bikes, older retro looking bikes for someone looking to enjoy the comfort of the ride. Comfort bikes are another option here, built with pure comfort in mind so that you sit upright without any strain on your back.

Would you recommend buying a second-hand bike?

Cycling can be as cheap or as expensive as you want, but second-hand bikes can be a lottery. If you know someone who knows something about bikes, let them have a look before you buy anything. Make sure it’s the correct size and the right type of bike.

How should a beginner set up their bike?

I would recommend going to your local bike store. Let them know if you have any back or posture problems, your background in cycling and what you want the bike set up for. They’ll do the rest.

What’s the most common misconception about cycling?

That cyclists are Lycra-clad, middle-aged people on a fitness kick. While it’s true that some fall into that category, there are a lot who don’t. Cyclists can also be retired and looking for a hobby, a family looking to do something together or anyone who simply enjoys fresh air.

Speaking of Lycra, where do you stand?

Horses for courses. Bike clothes are made for a reason. Bike pants with padded inserts are made from antibacterial material, designed to draw moisture away from the body and prevent chafing. Likewise, bike rain jackets are designed to breath while keeping you dry.

Is there a ‘right’ way to pedal?

It really depends on what type of riding you want to do. The biggest problem we see is beginners riding on too big a gear. Someone riding for fitness should aim for a minimum of 75 to 80 revolutions per minute, but on a leisurely ride this isn’t as important.

Are there any other technique tips you can provide?

Apart from maintaining a reasonable cadence, try and maintain a slight bend in your elbows and a relaxed grip of the handlebars. This will allow your upper body to act as a shock absorber when you ride over a bump. Also, when you are sitting on the seat and your leg is down the bottom of the pedal stroke, there should be a slight bend in your knee.

How do you go about staying motivated to ride?

My personal way to stay motivated is to have a goal to train for, like a charity ride. Other people stay motivated by cycling with a group and using it as a social ride as well as fitness ride. It’s a great way to network and it makes the ride easier, plus you get to explore new trails and pick up tips on training and bike maintenance.

Are there any big ‘do nots’ in the cycling world?

Headphones are a pet hate of mine as I had a friend killed in an accident a few years ago. He was wearing headphones and couldn’t hear the car approaching behind him. There was something on the road and he swerved to miss it and was collected by a car from behind. Not only was this sad for my friend and those close to him, it was also sad for the driver of that car who hadn’t done anything wrong.

How can cyclists stay safe on the road?

Think before you act, try and make eye contact with motorists so they know you’re there, ride across train lines and tram tracks but never parallel with them, ride in groups but of no more than 10 cyclists and most importantly, obey all road rules!

Say a born-again cyclist pulls their dusty bike out of the shed. What should they do before riding?

They should first check the tyre pressure (the recommended pressure should be written on the wall of the tyre) and then make sure the brakes are in working order. These are the two most important things to note. But if it hasn’t been used for a while, you should also thoroughly clean the bike, degrease it and reapply lube. By keeping a bike clean, there’s less chance of something going wrong.

Do both new and old bikes need to be serviced?

All bikes should be serviced regularly as prevention is better than cure. It stops minor issues becoming major ones. And since the bike will flow more smoothly, it’ll make it easier to ride. If a six-cylinder car were running on three cylinders, it would be harder for the car engine and would likely be doing it more damage. You are the engine on a bike, so get it serviced for safety and peace of mind.

Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.