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The chances are you live and work in a city. It's also likely that your flat/house/mansion and your office/school/pub aren't neatly connected by public transport. This is only one reason why you should cycle around town, and there are infinitely many others. Like free drugs! About half an hour after you get into work you get a lovely warm endorphin glow from your body's own opiates to make your morning go so much smoother. And unlike “exercise,” cycling is fun.

So there's no question you should do it if you can. It might all seem a bit scary though. More than once I've heard “yeah but the traffic, I couldn't do that.” Yes you can do that, you can get around town quickly, safely and happily, and I'm going to tell you how in my 3 step programme to make your life better.

1 – Know Your Enemy

This is easy to remember and the only absolute rule in this article:

Two Wheels Good, Four Wheels Bad.

You might know people who drive, they might be nice people. You might even drive yourself. Doesn't matter. Anyone behind the wheel of a car cannot hear, has narrowed vision and is convinced that their pestilent mode of transport makes them worthy of respect. Billions are spent telling them they're the only important thing on the road. This 4x4 says that although I look like a boring middle class housewife, I'm “still a bit rebellious”. This luxury car is so far ahead of everyone else in the world, it's like they're trapped in slow motion. This little car is FUN, all my other pleasures are secondary to making futile journeys in it. This sports car makes me young and active, my buttocks firm and my skin tones as I sit here flexing my ankles. My car takes me to exotic places along beautifully empty roads. Drivers might not consciously believe this crap but you wouldn't believe it from the way they act. Don't play the game. Fear them and their ability to inflict instant death, but don't ever respect them. They're trapped in a metal coffin breathing their own fumes getting fat in delusions of freedom and virility.

Almost all of the problems you'll encounter cycling around town will be either caused by or exacerbated by CARS. They'll gas you, block your lanes, ignore you, expect you to give way, knock you over and then bill you for damaging their back windscreen with your knee. They'll complain when you're too slow at a junction and call you a bawbag when you skip through the lights. Don't let them get you down. Like the man said, they hate us because we're free.

You can't expect drivers to look after you so the single most important thing you can do on a bike is never to trust them. Ride like they haven't seen you and would try to kill you if they had: expect doors to open onto you, buses to pull out in front of you, taxis to ignore your hand signals and sports cars to think they can overtake in front of you on corners. You won't get unpleasant surprises that way.

It's worth knowing that the majority of “accidents” involving regular cyclists happen in their first few weeks of riding. After that you have the experience to avoid most of the problems thrown at you. In my first eight weeks of cycle commuting I was doored and had two or three falls but since then I've had no problems. Once you know what sort of idiocy to expect from motor vehicles (reluctantly) sharing the road, cycling is safer. That isn't an argument to not start cycling, it's a reason to be actively paranoid at first until looking ahead and anticipating the conditions becomes automatic.

2 – Know Your Bike

If that all sounds a bit daunting, take heart. You're in control. You're no longer relying on a bus to arrive on time, traffic to be mild, parking to be found. You get yourself to your destination at your own pace under your own strength, relying on your new best friend your bike. Of course, you need a bike to be in control of...

What do you need? You can get one good for going round town for less than £100. Take care of it and it'll last longer than a car would. Make sure it fits you: stand over the frame with feet flat on the floor and make sure that the seat's at a height such that your leg is fully extended at the bottom of the pedals' circuit. This gets you the full power of your legs without damaging your knees. Check that the brakes work and the levers don't touch the handlebars before the blocks touch the wheels. Gears are vital if you're just starting to cycle and aren't as fit as you will be later. (Single speed bikes are for cultists and Luddites.) Mudguards are good, I remember this every time I wipe mud off my glasses. Suspension you don't need in town, no matter how bad the roads are. Learning to avoid the potholes and shift your weight to deal with them makes you a better cyclist, plus it'll reduce the stress on the frame and make it last longer. Another reason not to have suspension is that you lose energy to the springs, making you look like a tired clown escaping the circus.

That's pretty much it, simple and beautiful, but remember that the most important part of the bike is you. You are engine, petrol tank and driver all in one. You can keep yourself running smoothly by remembering to eat before you go on a long ride and keeping yourself lubricated (with water not beer). Finding that there's nothing in your legs to get you home after a long day at work is no fun and if you're not enjoying riding your bike then you're missing the point.

You also should really wear a helmet. It's true that they “may not protect against all conceivable impacts” (and look crap) but you only get one head and it's not usually worth risking breaking it. But who am I, your mother? I can give you more practical advice than that.

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