Cycling toolkit - things to get you started

1. Buying a bike

Shop local

Online deals may look appealing but your local bike shop will be able to offer tailored advice on bike size and fitting and should offer to perform the bike's first service for free, which makes them great value. When your bike eventually needs servicing, you will be going to the local shop in any case so it's worth getting to know them from the start.

Right tool for the job

There are many types of bikes to accommodate the wide variety of uses they can be put to. Be clear about what you want to do with your bike and the local bike shop will be able to help you choose. Most bikes are versatile enough to be used in a variety of situations but a little thought about what you want to do will help narrow down the choice.


'You get what you pay for' is very true when it comes to bicycles. A reliable new bike that will last and be comfortable to use can be bought for about £200 and up. You can spend more money to get lighter, better engineered or more specialist components.

Second hand bikes are available from bike shops and online. A bike shop will know where the bike has come from and hopefully have serviced it as well. If buying online be aware that you are buying the bike 'as seen' and always check the frame number at and to make sure seller actually owns the bike.


There are a great many products out there aimed at cyclists, not all of which are essential. Here is a brief list of the most useful ones.

  • lights - it is a legal requirement at night to use white lights in front and red lights to the rear
  • trouser clips to keep your trousers clean and prevent them from getting caught in the chain or pedals, which can cause a fall
  • mud guards to keep your clothes clean
  • chain guard to cover the chain so you don’t need trouser clips (a standard part on traditional city bikes but available as an add on too)
  • rack and panniers to carry your stuff on the back of the bike instead of on your shoulders - it’s much more comfortable and you can carry more

2. Clothing

No special clothing is required to ride a bike, particularly if your journeys are shorter. Comfortable clothes that you can move around in will be just fine.

Anything you wear that could get caught in the chain or wheels needs to be tucked in or tied away.

If you think you might get caught in the rain, you should invest in a set of inexpensive waterproof/breathable over trousers and top. There are also rain capes that are popular with many people. In reality, you very rarely need rain gear as it tends to rain for only a few minutes and you can just stop for a coffee and cake until it passes.

If you choose to wear a helmet it is essential that it fits correctly and that the straps and buckles are adjusted. This means it must cover your forehead and not move about. The chin strap should snugly accommodate two fingers between the buckle and your chin. A badly fitted helmet will offer almost no benefit and may introduce its own risks. Your bike shop should be able to help with this. Helmets should conform to British Standards BS EN 1078:1997

3. Route and guides

You can cover a lot of ground on a bike. There is a wealth of mapping tools available online. Here are some favourites:

  • TfL Cycle Journey planner – lets you specify easy, moderate or fast routes as well as the information you need to integrate public transport into your journey
  • CycleStreets – route information provided by cyclists, for cyclists (also shows all the local bike shops as well as photos and masses of other information)
  • TfL paper maps – order or download 14 printed route guides, recommended by experienced cyclists and will help you navigate the streets of London

Cycle parking - find bike stands in your area (scroll down through the right hand menu)

4. Safety tips

Remember - vehicles have blind spots

Large vehicles like HGVs have blind spots along either side and just in front of them. Be very wary when passing them and never do so if there is a chance the vehicle could turn across your path. Listen for their turning warning sounds and look for indicators at the side of the HGVs. Should you find yourself next to a large vehicle just before a junction, do not proceed until you are absolutely sure it is going straight on and not simply taking the turn wide. Be very careful around guard rails at corners - they can trap you.

If you have been riding for a while, you may have started using some of the busier and more direct routes. Whatever your level of experience, as a self taught individual there may be gaps in your knowledge. Experienced riders benefit from a one-on-one city cycling course in that it fills in those gaps, builds confidence in tackling busier junctions and confirms good practice.

When you first begin riding in London, stick to the parks and quiet streets as your confidence builds. Once you're able to signal and look around without wobbling, you can start to expand your journeys. You are the best judge of the conditions and it is important to learn to trust your instincts. A free city cycling course will help refine your bike control, grow your confidence and offer a really useful introduction to the road.

Make sure your bike is working

Have it serviced or do a bike maintenance class. It is very simple to keep a bike in order with a small amount of knowledge and a few tools. Are the tyres pumped up hard? Do both the breaks work well? Is the chain running smoothly and lightly oiled?

Get good at looking around, particularly behind you

Anything you do on the road should begin with a really good look all around. Make eye contact with other people.

Look back and signal clearly and in good time before changing lanes or turning

Remember to have a second look in the direction you are turning before you do it there may be something near to you... like another bike.

Ride with your fingers resting on your brakes at all times

This small measure improves your reaction time and reduces your stopping distance.

Look at the road ahead and get set up for any change in your position in good time

Include the time needed to signal and the time needed for others to respond in your planning. Have a 'plan B' if they do not respond.

Take as much space as you need

This means riding away from the gutter and well clear of parked cars in case someone opens a door. Imagine all the parked car doors are hanging wide open. Riding in this position makes you more visible to all other users including pedestrians who may step out between parked vehicles.

Discourage close overtaking

Where the lane becomes too narrow for people to pass you safely, look behind and move to the centre of the lane in good time.

When using junctions, ride in the middle of your lane

This will deter close overtaking. Whether turning or going straight ahead, it is best not to overtake just before a junction.

Make eye contact with drivers at side roads

This will ensure that you have been seen.

Ride in a predictable and positive fashion

It really helps those around you to help you.

Guard against the tendency to rush

It can lead to problems. Sometimes it is best to get to the front, at other times it is better to hang back amongst the other traffic. You are already using one of the fastest modes of transport in London. Take your time and enjoy the ride.

Obey traffic law and respect pedestrian crossings

And remember we also have foreign visitors more used to traffic on the other side of the road

Pavements are for pedestrians

You can only use pavements where you see this sign:

Signs showing that cyclists can use the pavement

Use lights at night and in poor visibility

High visibility clothing may make you more visible, particularly where it incorporates reflective strips, which are very effective at night.

Make sure your helmet fits

If you wear a helmet it is essential that it fits correctly and that the straps and buckles are adjusted. This means it must cover your forehead and not move about. The chin strap should snugly accommodate two fingers between the buckle and your chin. A badly fitted helmet will offer almost no benefit and may introduce its own risks. Your bike shop should be able to help with this. Helmets should conform to British Standards BS EN 1078:1997.

5. Secure your bike

A bike thief will go for the easiest bike to take. So make sure yours is the best secured bike in the rack.

  • lock your bike in a public space where there are people, not out of sight.
  • vary the location you use (find your nearest cycle stand - scroll down through the menu on the right of the page)
  • use the best lock you can afford, preferably one that has the 'Sold Secure' gold, silver or bronze rating (for maximum security use 2 locks of different types eg. D locks and cable locks)
  • lock both the wheel and the frame to the bike stand - an additional cable through the other wheel is good too
  • lock your bike snugly to the stand - it should not move about or be possible for it to fall over
  • remove small items like lights or any parts that are 'quick release'
  • your lock should not rest on the floor - it makes it easier to smash with a hammer
  • never lock the top tube to a stand with a “D” lock - this makes it easy to break by twisting
  • if you lock to a street sign be sure it can’t simply be lifted over the top - is the sign securely attached to the top of the pole?Cyclehoop
  • look out for cyclehoops, which provide a secure and stable way of locking to upright street signs

Remember to be considerate to pedestrians - ensure that your bike isn’t blocking the footway and can’t fall over or act as a trip hazard.

For more information on bike security, visit TfL.

Bike marking

Bike marking through the Bike Register scheme is available free of charge at events we run in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police Cycle Task force.

Find a bike marking event near you or use the Bike Register online service.

Last updated: 30 January 2020