How to Bike Commute: Getting the Gear Together
OK, now it starts to sound complicated. You don’t just need a bike–you need all this other stuff.
Maybe not all at once, mind you, but over time once you get hooked (and you will) you will start picking up the items on this list.
If you’re starting from scratch you may be lucky enough to get a bike that’s already set up for commuting, if one is available from your local bike shop or you find a great deal on Craigslist (which you must promptly take to your local bike shop for a check-up, just as you would take a used car to a mechanic).
If you’re buying a bike to use for your commute, does it come with the following items? If the answer is no, price them and add them to the base price of the bike. You need to create a fair price comparison between a commuter-specific bike that comes with many of these items standard and a bike with after-market equipment you have to buy separately.
Fenders: Even if you think you’ll never ride in the rain, some neighbor overwatering his lawn can give you a bad case of back spackle, and you’ll love the fresh air riding the morning after a cleansing rain. You just don’t want the cleansing of your shoes and pant legs.
Headlight: Get one that shows you where you’re going, not just a signal to drivers about your whereabouts.
A true commuter bike may come with a built-in generator to power the headlight with your pedaling so you never have to worry about dead batteries. That gets a definite gold star.
Taillight: Not just a reflector—you want to be really, really visible at all times. While relatively few car/bike collisions involve the rider being hit from behind, you don’t want to be a ninja biker.
Other lights: I can’t say this often enough: Light yourself up like a Christmas tree for greater visibility. I have a clip-on light that attaches to the spokes, or you can get the awesome ones made by Monkey ‘Lectric. Side visibility is important when you’re going through intersections.
Caution: Some rack/bag systems are proprietary (designed only to work with each other), which means you may not be able to use a different type of pannier down the road when you’ve learned more about your preferences. That’s not necessarily a problem with a manufacturer who has a wide range of bag types, but it’s something to consider.
Conversely, you may end up deciding the perfect bag for you is the one that requires its own special rack so you’ll end up listing the one you started out with on Craigslist. What can I say? Biking creates excuses for shopping.
In addition to thinking about how the bag or Boxx attaches to the rack, remember to think about how the rack will attach to your bike.
I’ve managed to put a rack on my road bike but the clearance for heel strike isn’t ideal. (Translation: Sometimes when I pedal my heel hits the bag I’m carrying. This is affected by rack placement, size/placement of bag, and shoe selection.)
Road bikes often don’t have the lugs on the rear triangle that some racks require so you may need to attach some hardware.
You can go with a rack that mounts on the seat post but it won’t rate as high for the amount of weight it can handle.
Next time you make a typical “just a few things” grocery store run, weigh the bag of groceries when you get home. Now weigh your average workday load: lunch, purse essentials (maybe not as many as you think you need), laptop, etc. You need a rack that will support this combined load.
Maybe not today (if you don’t commute at all yet you’re thinking, “What?! Go to the grocery store on my bike?!”) but you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to get around and how handy parking is when you’re not competing with cars for a spot.
Toolkit: Eventually you really should learn some basics of maintenance and you’ll end up getting a toolkit.
Personally, I love the way riding my bike has led to greater feelings of mechanical competence. I can fix things on my bike that I can’t fix on a car, which means I’m less helpless as a biker than as a driver.
Shopping aside: As I said in the post on buying a commuter bike you should go to your local bike shop, get to know them, and take them your business. In case you don’t have access to one that carries commuter gear, I’ve set up an Amazon associates store with bike accessories. It isn’t everything I’d like to show you but it’s a start. As for my commitment to buying locally, Amazon is headquartered in my home state so the taxes they pay help support things in my city.
- DIY for incredibly cheap: Bike Fender Made from a Milk Jug
- EcoVelo review: Planet Bike Grasshopper Fenders made from bamboo
- Woody’s Custom Bike Fenders: Beauties made in Oregon of mostly recycled hardwoods
- Advice from Rivendell Bikes: Adding Things to Your Bike
- Delightful Cycles in Sydney: Fenders: Bike Bling
Posts in our 30 Days of Biking Blogging Inspiration & How-to Series for Sept. 2011 30 Days of Biking
- 30 Days of Bike Commuting: You Can Do It!
- Why We Ride/Resolve to Ride–A Blogspedition
- Preparing to Commute by Bike: Get the Worry out of the Way
- Buying a Bike for Commuting: Some Questions and a Blogspedition
- How to Bike Commute: Getting the Gear Together
- Bike Commuting 101: Carrying Stuff
- On a Roll with Wilma Flanagan
- 30 Days of Biking: Week One Report
- Ride with your Community: SpokeFest Rocks!
- There and Back Again: How to Pick your Bike Commute Route
- Intro to Bike Commuting: Route Selection Part 2
- More Bike Commuting Route Selection Tips: Part 3
- Thinking Like a Driver vs. Thinking Like a Bicyclist
- Biking as Downtime and other Musings on Overproductivity
- 30 Days of Biking: Week Two Report
- On a Roll with Katherine Widing
- I Shouldn’t Assume
- Falling Down on Your Bike. It Happens. To Grown-Ups.
- Pretty Handy, Gloves. The Blogspedition Assumes You’ll Get ‘Em.
- What to Wear for Your Bike Commute? Clothes.
- How to Get a Dropped Bike Chain Back On, Grease-Free
- 30 Days of Biking: Week Three!
- It’s All in the Attitude
- Things I Now Do on My Bike Without Having to Think About It
- Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Risk and Trust
- More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Friendliness and Openness
- Even More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Tolerance, Humor, and Persistence
- Bicycling Rites of Passage, Spokane Style
- Dear Reader, I Chicked Him
- 30 Days of Biking: Final Report!
- What’s next on your list for commuter gear to add to your bike?
- Is there a product you love that you tell everyone to get?