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.

Rack: Look for one that allows you to mount a variety of panniers or bags.

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.

Related Reading

—————–

Posts in our 30 Days of Biking Blogging Inspiration & How-to Series for Sept. 2011 30 Days of Biking

  1. 30 Days of Bike Commuting: You Can Do It!
  2. Why We Ride/Resolve to Ride–A Blogspedition
  3. Preparing to Commute by Bike: Get the Worry out of the Way
  4. Buying a Bike for Commuting: Some Questions and a Blogspedition
  5. How to Bike Commute: Getting the Gear Together
  6. Bike Commuting 101: Carrying Stuff
  7. On a Roll with Wilma Flanagan
  8. 30 Days of Biking: Week One Report
  9. Ride with your Community: SpokeFest Rocks!
  10. There and Back Again: How to Pick your Bike Commute Route
  11. Intro to Bike Commuting: Route Selection Part 2
  12. More Bike Commuting Route Selection Tips: Part 3
  13. Thinking Like a Driver vs. Thinking Like a Bicyclist
  14. Biking as Downtime and other Musings on Overproductivity
  15. 30 Days of Biking: Week Two Report
  16. On a Roll with Katherine Widing
  17. I Shouldn’t Assume
  18. Falling Down on Your Bike. It Happens. To Grown-Ups.
  19. Pretty Handy, Gloves. The Blogspedition Assumes You’ll Get ‘Em.
  20. What to Wear for Your Bike Commute? Clothes.
  21. How to Get a Dropped Bike Chain Back On, Grease-Free
  22. 30 Days of Biking: Week Three!
  23. It’s All in the Attitude
  24. Things I Now Do on My Bike Without Having to Think About It
  25. Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Risk and Trust
  26. More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Friendliness and Openness
  27. Even More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Tolerance, Humor, and Persistence
  28. Bicycling Rites of Passage, Spokane Style
  29. Dear Reader, I Chicked Him
  30. 30 Days of Biking: Final Report!

Your Turn

  • 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?
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32 Responses to “How to Bike Commute: Getting the Gear Together”

  1. All sound advice for the hard core. But it doesn’t have to be so hard or so expensive for someone starting out!

    You can do without all of the above, except a bike, so long as you ride on dry summer days when it’s still light.

    And the term “commuter bike” confuses me as a bike-o-phile. If you are reading this as a novice bike commuter, fear not- any bike you can ride, you can ride to work without fear of social stigma. Office bike storage is a total menagerie!

  2. After trying MANY different models of the following in many different conditions, I swear by a few bike products.

    On bike pump:
    All the features of a floor pump, sized for on the bike. In fact for tires 100 PSI or less, it can double as a floor pump, saving you $$$.

    http://www.amazon.com/Topeak-Turbo-Morph-Bike-Gauge/dp/B000FIE4PO/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1315326738&sr=8-2

    Mirror (a must!):
    http://www.rei.com/search?query=take+a+look+mirror&button.x=0&button.y=0

    Forget all the similar looking plastic ones. This one works! 🙂

    Headlight:
    http://store.dinottelighting.com/shared/StoreFront/default.asp?CS=dinotte&StoreType=BtoC&Count1=103969752&Count2=21110177&ProductID=2&Target=products.asp

    Scroll down to the 200-L-AA. Very bright and lightweight. Awesome light. It is worth the bucks. If I were riding in traffic regulary, I would also spend the dollars for the tail light. Eneloop batteries work great.

    http://www.amazon.com/Sanyo-eneloop-Pre-Charged-Rechargeable-Batteries/dp/B004UG41XW/ref=sr_1_1?s=sporting-goods&ie=UTF8&qid=1315327216&sr=1-1

    shoe rain covers:
    http://www.mec.ca/AST/ShopMEC/Cycling/ShoeCovers/PRD~5009-241/mec-cycling-shoe-covers-unisex.jsp

    I can’t say enough good about these shoe covers. They kept my feet dry after HOURS of riding in the rain, day after day of touring. They are a good wind break for sub freezing temperatures, too. The MEC “brand” is my first choice for all rain gear, but the booties are phenomenal.

    Happy riding!

    🙂

    P.S. Commenting on the above, one only needs a bike AND a HELMET. Protect your brain! 🙂

    Thanks to Barb for taking the time to write all these blogs to help encourage people to get started and preparing them with some items to consider!!

    Bike commuting was always the best two times of my work day. Biking = JOY! 🙂

    Work to Eat. Eat to Live. LIVE TO BIKE. Bike to Work.

  3. I enjoy having a bell to give advanced notice to pedestrians. Whether the pedestrians are near the train stop, crossing the street against a light or just standing too close to the road, I get friendlier comments from others when they are not startled by a passing bike. For negotiating hike-and-bike trails, a bell is essential.

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