Bicycling In Australia: From The Wheels to The Bars

Date Posted:26 November 2017 

Cycling has been a longstanding part of Australia’s history since the invention of the bicycle itself. In the 1890s, ten years before the automobile was invented, rural and migrant workers used bicycles to commute to work, traveling longer distances and eventually creating a more versatile economy. Today, over four million Australians – more than 17 percent of the population – cycle regularly as a form of transport or recreation. 

However, the pastime of road cycling is declining in Australia as a new generation grows up. This is concerning to cyclists as well as the more environmentally conscious, due to how much more of an energy-efficient mode of transportation cycling is. So it’s clear that in addition to a popular recreational activity and a competitive sport in recent years, roadcycling is a necessary step to reducing one’s carbon footprint. However, if you want to get into road cycling, you need to thoroughly know different components and customizations you can make on your bike, so you can have a deeper knowledge of how to upgrade and fix your bike to use it to its full potential. 
The first part we’ll go over is on the front part of the bike: the handlebars. This is, of course, the steering mechanism that swivels on the bike’s main frame and controls the direction of the front wheel. There are several different designs and materials of handlebars, depending on what type of riding the cyclist is doing. The most popular designs are drop handlebars (sides curve forward and down), bullhorn handlebars (sides curve forward and up), flat handlebars (popular on mountain bikes and fixed-gear bikes), and riser handlebars, a variation on flat handlebars where the sides rise up at a slight angle of the center. 

When looking for a good set of handlebars, it’s also important to look at the material they’re made of. Aluminum alloys are the most common, and usually the safest bet for several reasons. They’re a lot more durable than the alternative, which is usually carbon. Carbon is lighter than aluminum, but also tends to be more expensive, and more brittle. Because of this, aluminum – or an alloy of it – remains the leading material for road bicycling. 

However, because aluminum also tends to be slippery for a sweaty biker’s hands, it’s recommended to buy tape or grips to put on the handles for traction. When looking for grips – the ones that actually slide onto the bars – there’s a variety of materials to choose from. Rubber is the most popular material, and the grips can be entirely rubber or filled into a gel or plastic mold. Grips are designed for flat handlebars, so when it comes to drop or bullhorn handlebars, different materials of specialized handlebar tape are widely and cheaply available. 

Moving down from handlebars, we come to the head tube of the bike frame. This is where the bicycle fork (which holds the wheel and attaches to the handlebars) swivels in place, so it’s important to have a headset that makes this action as smooth as possible. Headsets consist of several parts, usually two cups compressed into the top and bottom spaces of the head tube which have tiny ball bearings to reduce friction between the tube and the fork. 

There are various types of headsets to choose from (depending on the type of riding) and many types of spacers to fit the headset to the bicycle fork snugly. Spacers also allow a rider to adjust the height of their handlebars, so when choosing a spacer, the diameter, height, and material are important factors. Carbon and aluminum are popular lightweight options for spacers, and diameter and height depend on the diameter of the fork and length of the head tube, respectively.  

Moving down the frame, different types of protection are recommended. The most common places where protection is needed are points of friction, mainly the cables and chains. Cable covers are available in multiple designs – fully covering or spiraling – and materials, typically silicone or neoprene. Chain stay protectors – which protect the chain from grinding away the chain stay; the part of the fame closest to the chain – can either be plastic or neoprene, and wrap around the chain stay. Sets of carbon frame protector stickers are also popular alternatives.

Because the pedals are crucial to the rotation of the wheel, it’s important to know what types and materials different pedals are made of. The most common pedal designs are platform pedals, which have no cover or strap to secure the rider’s foot. These pedals traditionally have a larger surface area, and have a rougher surface to provide traction to shoes with less grip. Pedals that have a cage around the toe of the shoe are called quill pedals. These are typically made of metal or plastic, while platform pedals are usually plastic or a kind of carbon or aluminum alloy.

Moving up from the pedals, we arrive at the saddle. This is the seat on which the rider actually sits, and is usually made of a hard plastic or carbon mold, held in place by rails that connect to the seat post by clamps. The saddles themselves come in a wide range of shapes, while the seat post is usually made of a stronger material such as steel or thick aluminum. The clamps that hold the saddle in place -- its height is, after all, adjustable -- are also typically made of steel or some sort of alloy.  

The wheels are literally where the rubber meets the road, so having a good pump and a tight valve are crucial to a long-lasting wheel. Valve caps and extensions are most commonly available in aluminum. This is also where a good set of brakes becomes important, depending on the type of brakes one’s road bike has. Either way, however, a set of rubber brake pads is important to making a smooth stop when using the bike’s brake system.

For the more seasoned enthusiast, wider selections such as bells, saddle bags, bottle cages on the frame, and actual water-wicking clothes are all things to look into. However, when rubber meets road, not just knowing your bike’s moving parts but how you can customize them is just as important as knowing how to it…no matter what your reason for road cycling is.


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