A two-wheel revolution is happening on the streets of Sydney as Australians hang up their car keys in favour of the humble bicycle. Inner-city street corners are dotted with bicycle shops that serve up lattes with the latest gear for mountain bikes, road bikes, hybrid bikes, cruiser bikes and contemporary twists on retro-style bikes. It's official: cycling is hot.
Whether you choose to commute to work on a bike, spend your weekends taking to the roads in Lycra or pedalling the paths of your local park with your children, cycling has obvious health benefits. Not only will your cardiovascular fitness improve, your legs will tone while your core muscles get a workout just from balancing.
Cycling is also a low-impact exercise, which means less stress on your ankle and knee joints - making it the perfect gentle exercise for older bodies.
''People are seeing cycling as a great way to get a workout, reduce greenhouse emissions and road congestion and save money while commuting,'' the chief executive of Bicycle NSW, Omar Khalifa, says. ''The lord mayor of Sydney has been making inroads with separate cycle ways in the inner city.'' And that's not all the City of Sydney has been doing. This week marks the launch of the Sydney Rides Festival, a weeklong campaign dedicated to all things bike-related.
The City of Sydney has also been teaming up with BikeWise cycle training to offer city cycling courses to improve riders' safety. The half-day course trains groups of no more than 10 (with two instructors) on how to ride in traffic.
Susi Hamilton, 40, became a bike commuter 2½ years ago after completing the course and regularly rides between her home in the inner west of Sydney and her job at the University of NSW in Kensington.
''I didn't realise how much I needed this course until I did it,'' Hamilton says.
''There were so many little things I was doing that weren't quite right. I didn't understand gears at all and I think I was working against myself with the gears, which wasn't good for the bike or me.
''I learnt about emergency stopping. I used to just slam on the brakes but I realised you have to keep as many contact points on the bike as possible because you're in a stronger position if you're still on the bike.''
Khalifa also recommends ensuring your bike is properly fitted out before embarking on the city roads, cycle ways and leisure parks.
''Make sure the brakes, wheels and tyres are maintained,'' he says.
''Invest in the latest visibility gear with headlights, tail lights, fluorescent vests and a good helmet and go and get your bike fitted properly. Everyone's body is different and the bike needs to be adjusted for your cycling gait.''
As a rule, your handlebars should be about five centimetres lower than your seat but if you are unsure of what works for you, many physiotherapists now offer a bicycle set-up and fitting service.
Balmain Sports Medicine has a cycling video analysis service and adjusts your bicycle to the most comfortable and biomechanically correct fit for your body so you can be more effective with your energy output and reduce the risk of injury.
Helmets are compulsory by law, so ensure you get your hands on a good one. If you do hit your head while wearing it, or your helmet takes a strong knock, replace it; many helmets are only actually safe for a single impact.
The most important thing to remember when cycling is to have fun. With every pedal you take you're doing something for your body and the environment.
ACT TO HEAD OFF ROAD RAGE
If you do take your bike onto the roads, be prepared for road rage, especially during peak hour and in congested areas. The first way to deal with road rage is to not react, though the chief executive of Bicycle NSW, Omar Khalifa concedes it is the hardest to do.
"You are vulnerable on a bicycle,'' he says. ''I always stay proactive; wave and smile if someone has done the right thing by you and given you room.
"Abide by the road rules; motorists get rage when cyclists run red lights and break the law. If a traumatic road-rage incident did happen on the road, it's best to get that person's rego number and do a stat declaration at a police station with a witness."
PACKED PROGRAM TO KEEP SYDNEY'S WHEELS TURNINGRide to Work Day
National Ride to Work Day is this Wednesday, so get pedalling. ride2work.com.au.BikeWise Cycle Training
Whether you're new to cycling, a seasoned pro or getting back into it, there is a course to suit you. bikewise.com.au.Bicycle NSW
Membership comes with an insurance policy that covers you and your bike in case of an accident plus group rides and social activities. bicyclensw.org.au.Balmain Sports Medicine
For biomechanic bike fitting that suits your body. balmainsportsmed.com.au.Sydney Rides Festival
A weeklong series of events run by the City of Sydney now until October 16. See details of the festival events below.
Sydney Rides Challenge: Until Sunday, October 16. Get as many people as possible at your workplace cycling and win bikes, iPads, movie tickets and more. See sydneyrideschallenge.net, free.
Culture Cycle Tour: Today. Ride to Sydney's cultural venues during the day, including the Powerhouse Museum, the Australian Museum and er, a crochet workshop. From 8.30am, $55.
Try a Bike: Tuesday; Friday. Meet at Hyde Park South and try one of 25 free bikes. Free bike tune-ups also available for people bringing their own. Noon-2pm, free.
Ride to Work Day Breakfast: Wednesday. Once you have cycled into the city for national Ride to Work Day, join fellow cyclists at Hyde Park or Bradfield Park (North Sydney) for a free breakfast. Bike check-ups and posture advice is available. 7am-9.30am, free.
Bicycle Film Festival: Friday, to Sunday, October 16. Cycling-related films are being screened at the Opera House and Bondi Pavilion (including the outstanding Bill Cunningham New York). From 7pm, $17.
Spring Cycle Classic Ride: Sunday, October 16. Take part in a ride starting at North Sydney, crossing the bridge and finishing at Sydney Olympic Park (55-kilometre ride) or Pyrmont (16-kilometre ride) for a free family fun day with stalls, music, bike mechanics and a ''pimp my bike'' parade. From 7am, $15-$70 (ride only).
Register for any event to be in the draw to win a bike.