Bike Commuting 103: No Shopping Spree Necessary

[[image:xtra_cycle3_mini.jpg::inline:1]]With a wealth of options available to bike commuters, picking the right gear may seem overwhelming – but it doesn't have to be.

Published October 26, 2007 by C.I.C.L.E.
By Jeff Rossini

With a wealth of options available to bike commuters, picking the right gear may seem overwhelming – but it doesn't have to be.

[[image:xtracycle3.jpg::inline:1]]While it would be great to compile the "End All, Be All" list of gear for bike commuting, it would not do you a lick of good. Because, you see, bike commuting is as unique and distinct as the rider. The gear you need will depend on many factors: distance, climate, time of day, and cargo will all shape your needs. The good news is that it is very easy to separate the fluff from the necessities.

The Must-Haves

A Bike – "Duh," you may say. But what kind? Mountain, road, commuter, touring, hybrid? Go with what is most comfortable, most efficient, and what fits. has an excellent DIY guide to proper bike fit and seat positioning. If you are buying a new bike, the shop should fit you for free. If you will be riding mostly on streets, tires without a lot of tread are best. Standard mountain bike tires produce a lot of friction and rolling resistance, which means you put much more effort into pedaling than you need to. If you have a mountain bike, you can buy street-specific tires that fit on the same wheels you already have. I recommend investing in thick tubes with built-in sealant that helps prevent most flat tires. Mounting a water bottle on your frame is the best way to ensure easy access to water – and in the summer months, this is vital. Make sure your bike has front and rear reflectors, and if you ride even close to dawn or dusk, invest in a red, blinking tail light and some sort of headlight.

Riding Clothes – "Obviously," one might suggest. Your local climate will help dictate what clothes you wear while you ride. In my experience, the best thing is to wear some sort of technical fabric that helps wick away moisture (especially in the summer), but also keeps your body warm in colder weather. If you live in a rainy area, keep a poncho or rain jacket that can pack down with you. Sunglasses will keep the sun out of your eyes and bike gloves will protect your hands from road debris, bugs, or the occasional fall.

Tools – There are a few tools that you should keep with you at all times. Spare tubes AND a patch kit, some sort of CO2 inflation system or a hand pump, at least 2 plastic tire levers, a multi-tool with screwdrivers and allen wrenches are all essentials. These items will help you do just about any on-the-go repairs or adjustments. You can fit these all into a bag that fits under your seat.

Safety Gear – You really should wear a helmet. Carry a cell phone with emergency phone numbers already stored in your "Contacts." Always have some form of ID that gives information on who to contact on your behalf, as well as any vital medical information someone would need to know if required to assist you. Road ID makes bracelets/anklets for this specific purpose. Keep some change or small bills with your tools in case you need to catch a bus, make a call from a pay phone, or buy a snickers bar from a Circle K.

The Rest

Most gear outside that list is not necessary. And you will be surprised how compact most of this equipment can be. Once you have the essentials taken care of, you can decide how much more weight you are willing to carry.

If you don't mind a sweaty back, carrying all of your clothing and toiletries in a backpack or messenger bag can suit you just fine. I carry my work clothes, my lunch, a towel, soap and deodorant in my backpack every day. Things like shoes and other toiletries can be left at your office. You could also invest in installing a rack on your rear and/or front tires that can support panniers, allowing you to carry extra gear – or simply not strap it to your back.

What matters is that you are comfortable: comfortable riding your bike, comfortable that drivers will notice you and comfortable knowing that you can handle on-the-go repairs.

The next and final installment of this series will address the adventures you might encounter and will want to be prepared for when bike commuting. Happy riding.

Jeff Rossini lives and works in Phoenix, Arizona. He recently began an experiment of biking to work, 8.3 miles one way, every day for the month of August. Did we mention he lives in Phoenix? Jeff is blogging about the experience daily and you can read his anecdotes and tips for bike commuting at