Whether you use a bike for fun or to get to school or work, cycling is a good means of getting around. It's fast, environmentally friendly, and can help you keep fit.
Getting started is easy - all you need is a roadworthy bike, a safety helmet and some means of making yourself visible. Your local cycle dealer can advise you on the most suitable bike for your needs.
Before you start, there are some basic things you need to do to ensure that you and your bike are ready for the road:
- take your bike for a check-up at your local cycle shop
- make sure your bike is the right height and weight for you
- make sure your bike is suitable for your purposes - a town bike, for example, will be no good for off-road riding
- make sure there is a place to carry bags if you need them
- cycling can be quite a vigorous activity, so it is important to be physically prepared -do some simple warm-up exercises before setting off
Cycle training (for children)
All cyclists, whether they are experienced or not, should invest in cycle training.
Many schools in Northern Ireland can provide formal training in how to ride a bicycle safely, through the Cycling Proficiency Scheme. Each year thousands of primary school children in Northern Ireland receive training and are tested.
The Road Safety Education Officer Service can provide teachers with everything to run the scheme with P6/7 pupils. In some circumstances P5s can undertake the training, but must be nine years old to be tested.
Each child who is trained and reaches the required standard on the day of the test, receives a certificate and badge in recognition of their achievement.
You can find more information on cycling safety for children on the Kidzone and Teenzone websites.
Some basic equipment is advisable to make cycling safe and enjoyable, including:
- a safety helmet
- a bell to let pedestrians and motorists know you are there
- front and rear lights, plus spare batteries, and a red rear reflector for cycling at night
- reflective clothing for cycling after dark
- puncture repair kit and tyre pump
- a small emergency toolkit containing spanners, tyre levers and allen keys
- a sturdy lock
- wet weather gear
- a rucksack for carrying small items
Cycle paths and routes
The National Cycle Network (NCN) is a national network of on-and-off-road cycle routes promoted by the transport charity Sustrans. You can access full details of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland cycling routes on the internet. You may find this information useful when planning your bike trip.
In Belfast, you can also plan your cycle journey using the 'Belfast by Bike' map. It shows cycle lanes, cycle tracks, cyclists toucan crossings, targets traffic calming zones and generally shows you how to cycle safely in the city.
Taking bikes on trains
Combining rail and bike journeys can be difficult at peak travel times. Conventional bikes are generally restricted, but you can take folding bikes for free and without restrictions, unless otherwise stated.
Northern Ireland Railways is the only rail operator in Northern Ireland.
Cycling to work
Cycling is a quick and easy way to travel to work. Cycle commuters argue that once you take to two wheels you’ll never want to drive the car to work again.
Cycling to work gives you a regular exercise routine, while getting you where you want to go.
It is estimated that cycling can take ten years off your ‘fitness age’ due to the development of a stronger heart and lungs, increased muscle mass, and a less stressed constitution.
Possible benefits to you:
- improve your fitness
- relieve stress
- help the environment
- save money
- save precious time
Cycle friendly employers
Many employers have realised the benefits of having a workforce that cycles. A number have led the way in providing facilities and measures that enable their staff to cycle to and from work as well as for business use.
Some examples of this include:
- internal or external secure cycle parking
- showers, changing rooms and lockers
- annual bike user allowances
- supply pool bikes and accessories for business trips
- bike mileage rates for business use
- promote the facilities to staff
- provide maps of local routes
- relaxing the dress code and introducing flexible working hours