So you’re thinking about commuting to work by bicycle? First of all, congratulations. Your life is about to get a zillion times more fun. And you’re going to save money and reduce your environmental impact! You probably have a bunch of questions about bike commuting gear, though.
Don’t worry. Riding a bike is really simple. In fact, bike commuting is one of the greatest experiences you can have as an adult. When you are riding your bike at 20 mph, adjusting course, monitoring cars, and making the hundreds of other unconscious corrections you need to make, the stressed, annoying part of your brain gets pushed to the back and you get to just enjoy the ride.
As you get into bike commuting, there are going to be all sorts of things you will want to buy. A work stand! Clipless pedals! A GoPro! Handlebar mirrors! Another bike! But for now, let’s keep things simple. What do you really need?
I really shouldn’t have to tell you this. I mean, I REALLY shouldn’t have to. But every day I see more and more cyclists without helmets. If there is any piece of gear you buy on this list, then please let it be this one. They come in all different styles and colors. Some of them have cool peripherals that can let you attach a Go Pro, a mirror, or a flashlight. But most importantly, remember that all bicycle helmets pass the same safety certifications. So when you are buying one, the $20 helmet is just as likely to stop you from getting killed as the $200.
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Commuting by bike means you are going to be riding on the road. And the most important thing about staying safe on the road is being seen. Most drivers don’t look for cyclists when they are driving, and to be fair, we are pretty easy to miss. So rather than relying on reflectors doing the job for you, be proactive and grab yourself a set of lights (note: Vermont bicycling law states that you must have a white light/reflector on the front and red light/reflector on your bicycle).
As you shop, you will come across nearly as many light choices as there are cyclists on the road. And everyone has their own preference. Personally, I use the NiteRider Lumina and Sabre. I love the range of strobe patterns and intensity. They can both also be charged via USB so you can plug them into your computer while you’re at work and have them fully charged by time you go home.
As with lights, everyone has their own preference when it comes to locks. But there are some distinct differences that might change which one you pick. Always remember that regardless of your lock, a determined thief will be able to break it. Lock your bike in a well-lit area with lots of foot traffic to help deter theft. If possible, park your bike at your work building if there is a secure space where you can keep it. Or, better yet, keep your bike in your office/workspace. Here are some options:
Chain Locks: Big tough and can be fit around any bicycle. Their bulky sight alone can deter some would-be thieves.
Pros: Extremely tough, excellent visual deterrent, flexible
Cons: Very heavy, cumbersome to carry
U-Locks: A solid metal shackle with an attachable crossbar to loop around your frame and a metal railing/post.
Pros: Very tough, repels most bolt cutting tools, great visual deterrent, lighter than heavy chain locks
Cons: Difficult to use with some bicycles, can be awkward to carry
Cable Locks: Flexible metal cable wrapped in silicone. Usually feature a combination or key lock.
Pros: Lightweight, easy to carry, can be looped around any bicycle
Cons: Poor visual deterrent, susceptible to bolt cutters and metal shears
A multi-tool is like an insurance policy. Having one always makes you feel better and you hope you never have to use it. But you very well may need it. Whether to raise your seat, fix a broken chain, tighten a screw, or adjust your brakes, you’ll be glad to have it. Something small, like the 9-tool Bontrager Multi-tool, is easy to fit in your bag and has plenty of tools to fix most problems.
If you ride for fun, you might be thinking you don’t need fenders. Well, yes you do! Bike commuting means you don’t always get to ride with perfect weather. So unless you want to show up to work with your pants covered in mud, you are going to need fenders.
If you are riding in a city, you are going to get a flat at some point. But, not to worry. Changing a tube is actually pretty easy once you know what you are doing. Also, you may have to help out some other poor soul change his or her tube, and won’t that feel great?
Tire irons (pictured below) are little plastic levers—all you’ll need to get your tire off the rim. They only cost a couple of dollars and are super light.
A PATCH KIT
Once you have your tire off, it only takes a minute or two to slather some of this stuff onto your tear and press the patch in place. This is another lifesaving piece of gear that is tiny, cheap, and light.
A HAND PUMP
Once you get your tube fixed, you’ll need to inflate it so you can get back on the road. And since floor pumps are way too big and heavy to keep with you on your ride, you will need one of these little guys. A hand pump is about the size of your hand and fits easily into a backpack. You could ditch the hand pump and go for CO2 canisters, but canisters are a lot more expensive per use.
A KEY CLASP
You are going to be taking your keys out a lot. You’ll take them out to lock your bike, unlock it, and get into your house. And keeping them in your pocket, while convenient, is a huge pain on your leg when you’re riding. Having them on your hip is a super easy alternative that will make your ride that tiny bit less annoying.
AND FINALLY, A BRAIN
The most important thing about commuting by bicycle or city riding is being aware. Be aware of what’s going on around you. Take a quick glance back when you’re turning, make sure cars know you’re there when you pass them, and, seriously, take out your earbuds while you’re on the road.
In addition here are a few rules and laws you need to know:
Stop at every red light. Just like cars, while you are on the road you are considered a vehicle. That means you have to obey the same traffic laws they do.
Don’t pull into crosswalks. Pedestrians have the right of way, both in a crosswalk and on the sidewalk. Respect their right of way or get off your bike and walk it.
Double up. Unlike motorcycles, it is legal for cyclists to ride side by side. In fact, many local police agencies recommend it. It makes you more visible and encourages cars to give you the four-foot buffer they are required to by law.
Pick the safest route. Remember that you can ride in the middle of the lane, side of the road, or the bike lane at any time, for any reason. That’s right. Even if there is a bike lane, you can ride in any lane by law. So don’t take the broken-up, sewer-ridden bike lane.
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