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We debunk 11 common cycling myths

Cycling Myth #1. You have to be fit to ride.

Despite the stereotypes, cycling isn’t just about Lycra-clad athletes out for a road race or muddy adrenaline junkies grinding up and careening down steep mountain trails. It’s also about normal, everyday people who want to get outside a little bit and have a few pounds to lose.

The movie Fixing Dad was written about someone with chronic Type2 Diabetes who could no longer walk, so he biked himself back to health.

Fixing Dad poster

If you drive your bike to a nearby trail so you can ride slowly and safely on flat ground with no cars, you’re a bike rider. If you pedal slowly around your neighborhood after dinner because it’s easier than walking the whole distance, then you’re a bike rider. And the great news is, there are serious physical and mental health benefits to slow, relaxed biking.

Cycling Myth #2. Cycling is for young people.

Cycling involves balance and some level of leg strength and cardio. These all decrease as we get older. How do we fight back? By doing something low-impact on the rest of your body that helps with balance, keeps your leg muscles good for walking, and keeps your heart strong.

Senior couple biking

Maybe this is why 1/4 of all cyclists in Copenhagen are over 65.

Cycling Myth #3. Gearing is complex to learn.

The idea behind gearing is super-simple: You want to use the same amount of energy all the time, no matter what’s happening with hills around you.

If you’re going downhill, your energy will go into frantically pedaling super-fast. So fix it. Change to a big gear in the front and a small gear in the back. Now you can pedal normally while your rear wheel spins.

Gears animation

If you’re going uphill, all your energy is going into muscle work, like someone lifting a massive rock. So fix it. You can life a whole car with little motions on a car jack handle. Just do the same thing here. Use a small gear in front and a big one in the back, so every pedal turn does just a little bit of work. Pedal normally while your rear wheel cranks slowly, but with more power.

In short, be comfortable. Everything else is details.

Cycling Myth #4. Cycling is dangerous.

Not surprisingly, the National Transportation Safety Board tracks the safety of a variety of transportation methods in significant detail. Here, sorted by fatalities, are the top ten methods of transportation in the US.

Pie chart of transportation methods
Cycling is one of the tiny slivers.

As expected, car passengers and light truck passengers led the list in 2018, with more than half of all cases. Cyclists were in the bottom half, between large truck passengers and boaters. Cycling is slightly more dangerous than being in a boat and less dangerous than sitting in a large truck. Who knew?

Cycling Myth #5. Tighten everything on your bike before you ride.

On your next ride, you don’t want your bike to look like a mobile yard sale, randomly shaking off used parts as you bounce down the trail. But there’s a world of difference between securely attaching your various gadgets and components and getting everything you see as tight as possible.

Tuning a derailleur
Don’t tighten these to the max!

Yes, make sure your wheels, handlebars, and stem are tight and can’t wiggle out. But here are two tightening errors to avoid:

  • Set screws and barrel adjusters. These adjust the range of travel of your derailleurs and the tightness of your cables. If you tighten these, you’ll lose access to your upper and lower gears, and the rest won’t shift well.
  • Overtightening. The smaller the screw, the less turning power (called torque) it is designed to withstand. If you tighten screws too much, you will strip the screw or the device that holds the screw, requiring you to replace one or both.

Cycling Myth #6. If your bike is squeaking, just use WD-40.

The thinking goes like this. WD-40 is popular for loosening things and stopping squeaks, and my bike makes noises, so… why not?

Here’s why. Fundamentally, WD-40 is a degreaser, capable of many things, including unsticking locks, removing crayon marks, and unsticking bubble gum. Put it on a bike, and it will strip off the chain oil and crank grease that are essential to a silent, well-maintained bike.

gum in hair
WD-40 is better for using in your hair (to get that bubble gum out) than on your bike.

Cycling Myth #7. Always pump up your tires to the number printed on the tire.

If you read closely, the stated pressure on the tire also says “Maximum” or just MAX. That’s the maximum pressure before you ride hard and warm up your tires, have your tires on a hot road, or simply hit a big rock that compresses your tire and increases the pressure.

Tire PSI

When we ship out a bike, we typically pump up the tires to 5 PSI below the stated max on the tires, so you can just get on and ride. And with mountain bikes in particular, riders may deliberately lower the pressure far below the stated MAX for a spongier, grippier ride on technical trails.

Cycling Myth #8. The thinnest tires are the fastest.

According to Schwalbe, who makes tires, “Rolling resistance is the energy that is lost when the tire is rolling. The main reason for the loss of energy is the constant deformation of the tire.”

Tire deformation

If you want to go fast, then reduce the deformation of your tires as you ride. There are three ways to do that:

  • Keep your tires pumped. A high-pressure tire deforms less and therefore retains more rotational energy.
  • Have smooth tires. Essentially, an MTB knobby tire is festooned with wiggly rubber doohickies that constantly flex and deform as you’re riding on pavement. Do the opposite!
  • Have a wider tire (up to a point). If a wide and a narrow tire have the same pressure holding the same rider weight, then the wide tire will disperse the weight more and deform less, making it faster.

Point #3 is counterintuitive. If wider tires are so fast, why don’t processional racers use them?

Actually… they are. 18mm and 20mm tires of the 80s are rarely seen now, and even the 23mm standard is giving way to 24mm or 25mm tires on pro bikes. (We sell the CHANGE 702 folding road hybrid with 25mm tires and the Flatbike Century folding road bike with 28mm tires).

Cycling Myth #9. Cyclists should always ride at the edge of the road.

Cars go faster than bikes, so giving them easy opportunity to pass you is generally a good idea. But riding all the way at the edge of the road is unsafe for many reasons:

  • Edge obstacles. The edge of the road can be a dangerous place, by accident or design:
    • The pavement edge itself. Pavement has a thickness. If you pin yourself in the last few inches of the road and cars take the rest, you run the risk of driving off the edge and then trying to get back on, risking a spill in close-moving traffic.
    • Intentional obstacles. Often, civil engineers will include sewer caps, or worse, sewer grates with tire-sized slots at the edge of the road. Without room to maneuver, you will hit them.
    • Occcasional obstacles. On trash day, you’ll find barrels in the cycling lane. After a big storm, it’s branches and wet leaves.
  • Moving obstacles. The #1 concern is car doors popping open, but you also need to be aware of cars themselves pulling out (with or without blinker) and dogs running into the street.
  • Unsafe passing zones. There will be times, such as right before a blind hill, when passing is a very bad idea. This is the time to make passing more difficult, along with a hand signal to say what you’re doing.
disappearing bike lane
Some edge obstacles are more serious than others.

Typically, 1/3 of the lane over from the right side is the safest place to ride. You make your presence known, and car drivers must factor you into their driving early, not react to you–or not!–at the last second. You are also far enough from edge dangers and car doors that you can react with fewer surprises for the drivers behind you.

If you find yourself slowing traffic, that is the time to identify a safe passing zone and relinquish your 1/3 of the road on your own terms to let cars pass.

every lane is a bike lane

Cycling Myth #10. Converting car lanes to bike lanes causes congestion.

What perfect timing. We were just talking about how the edge of the road in a bike lane may not always be safe, forcing you to get out in the road and slow traffic. When you convert a car lane into two bikes lanes–one each direction–bikes are completely separated for cars.

When you do that, it’s better for drivers and better for cyclists. Yes, drivers lose a lane of traffic. But the remaining lanes are both free of cyclists and free of ex-drivers who want to get out of traffic jams now that cycling is safer.

throughput comparison
Three ways to move the same number of people. Which one is most congested?

It is useful to think about Area and then Throughput. A single driver in a car consumes the area of the car plus a little extra at the front and back so cars don’t collide. With an average car length of 15 feet, a couple of feet in front and back at slow speed, and a lane with of 8 feet, that’s roughly 150 square feet for one person. That same area can easily accommodate six bike riders.

A car traveling 15 mph goes 22 feet/second, or roughly the distance consumed by one driver, every second. In the same time, six cyclists going 15 mph can pass through. If cycling is safe enough through converted bikes lanes and connected networks, bikes have the potential to move more people than cars, particularly in areas of slow-speed traffic.

Cycling Myth #11. Always deflate your tires before shipping a bike.

This is the question that started this article. “Don’t you folks deflate your tires before shipping a bike?”

We do not. In fact, we do the opposite. We inflate your tires before shipping so your bike is ready to ride within minutes after you take it out of the box.

The reason we can do that is because of how airplanes are made. In this cross-section-view of a plane (an A380), the purple area is cargo. Curved surfaces are excellent at holding pressure, which is why wine bottle bottoms and pop can bottoms are both curved.

plane cross-section
In this case, only the outside surface is curved. The entire fuselage is pressurized.

Because the entire plane is pressurized, there is zero reason not to have inflated tires. Any bike manufacturers who use this excuse when shipping a bike are likely drop-shipping–packing the bikes well in advance and then shipping them out when sold, often through a third party, without looking at them. That makes it a matter of seller convenience, not customer ease or air cargo operations.

Are there any cycling questions you’d like answered? Drop us a note!

Bob Forgrave's Signature

Bob Forgrave is president of Flatbike, an
ecommerce company offering full-size folding bikes
and kits to make any bike take up half the space.



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