Lockdown restrictions are starting to lift, and many Torontonians desperate for a bit of exercise or a different way to commute are looking to bicycles to get around.

Novice riders will need to navigate road laws, different types of bicycles and physical distancing measures.

We’ve tried to answer some questions on what to expect for those just starting out, including how to buy your new wheels.

Should I be worried about safety?

The lockdown has meant fewer drivers on the road, meaning streets are a bit quieter than usual at the moment, said Michael Longfield, interim executive director of Cycle Toronto.

“There is maybe the appearance of more space for cycling,” said Longfield, but there are also reports of speeding and stunt driving due to the emptier streets, which could be dangerous for cyclists. “In many ways, the situation isn’t safer.”

Longfield pointed to city initiatives like ActiveTO, which has created 57 kilometres of quiet streets in Toronto to allow cyclists and pedestrians to move around, as something that could protect cyclists.

He stressed that bicycling is covered under the Highway Traffic Act and subject to similar rules of the road.

Specifically, bikes are classified as vehicles. Riders need to stay on the right-hand side of the road and obey all traffic laws. Cyclists under age 18 must wear a helmet. Adult riders are not required to wear one, although Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation strongly recommends you do.

If you’re over 14, the City of Toronto prohibits riding on sidewalks. Drivers are required to leave a metre between themselves and a cyclist while passing.

What do I need to know when buying a bike?

There’s no textbook answer on what to look for, said Pete Lilly, owner of Sweet Pete’s Bike Shop on Bloor Street West.

“The first thing that I would say is find a bike shop that you trust,” Lilly said. “You want to find a bike that fits properly, that is going to do what you are expecting to do with it.”

It’s good to think about what you’ll use the bike for.

“You don’t want to end up with a really heavy mountain bike for riding to work,” he said. And “you want to make sure you’re getting good advice from somebody who has some specific knowledge to be able to help you find what you need.”

Since bikes come in varying sizes, go in knowing your measurements, said Owen Ardal, a worker-owner at Urbane Cyclist on College Street. A bike can be too long or too tall for you or, if you’re long-limbed, you might need a taller one.

“A good shop will be able to fit you no problem just with height and maybe a vague idea of what you want out of the bike.”

Those looking for commuter bikes might consider hybrid or city bikes, he said.

One thing to keep in mind is that bike shops are not operating normally due to the pandemic, with fewer staff on hand and “basically bare cupboards” due to overseas factory closures in December and January, Lilly said.

“Things are a little bit topsy turvy in the bike world right now.”

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How often do I need to tune up?

“The bare minimum I always recommend is going to be an annual tune-up, maybe more if you ride a lot,” said Ardal.

“I think some people get sticker shock,” when they see the cost of repairs. “But the reality is if you start comparing between, you know, transit or car insurance, parking, gas, cycling is totally an affordable and really reasonable way to get around the city.”

What should I expect to spend?

This varies depending on the bike, but both Ardal and Lilly agree you should expect to spend $500 to $800 on a brand new bicycle.

If that is too expensive, several shops in Toronto offer refurbished, used bikes at much lower prices. However, it’s important to keep in mind that used bikes might end up costing as much as a new one when you factor in the price of tune-ups, said Gordon Robb, owner of Queen West’s MetroCycle. Robb has had customers who “actually spent another $300 or $200 on service and getting that bike going,” with new tires or other equipment. “Now they’re at the price of a brand new bike.”

If you’re set on buying used, “make sure it’s from a reputable shop and make sure it’s tuned up,” Robb said. He also recommends that new riders budget up to $250 for accessories like lights, bells and a helmet.

Can I bike while physical distancing?

“A bicycle is a great way to social distance,” said Longfield of Cycle Toronto.

Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, has said “the risk of contracting COVID-19 by passing somebody on the sidewalk or riding your bike is very, very low,” he added.

He advises cycling solo and avoiding group rides with people outside your household to maintain distance.

“But other than that, if you’re using your bike to get groceries or to go to the pharmacy, to even take trips for physical and mental health, I strongly encourage it.”

Jenna Moon
Jenna Moon is a breaking news reporter for the Star and is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @_jennamoon

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