When does a bike become a commuter bike?
The short answer is simply: when you start riding it like one.
But, really, there’s a bit more to it. Sure, you don’t have to have any special accessories to start commuting–and, indeed, many of us started without them. Throw your stuff in a backpack and off you go–simple, easy, and cheap. But you’ll quickly find out that a few key additions can seriously add to your comfort on the road.
The type of bike you choose is the obvious first step in this process. Our bottom line is that you should get a comfortable bike, whatever that means for you. We’re partial to yard sale finds and steel frames, and don’t believe you need carbon or fancy name brands to be happy. It’s why one of our very first t-shirt designs proclaims, “Ride a regular damn bike.” (Yes, you’ll be able to buy one here very soon!)
After that, how you kit out your workhorse is entirely up to you. We’ll talk more in coming posts about carrying your stuff, protecting your stuff, dressing for inclement weather, and other such details. We all have our preferences, but there’s no wrong way to do any of it.
So here’s what I’ve come to consider commuting essentials:
Rack. I very quickly moved away from the backpack/messenger bag school of hauling stuff. Didn’t like the sweaty back, the weight on my shoulders, and (in the case of messenger bags) the un-breast-friendly strap placement. Panniers are my go-to, and will be a staple of the Bike-Ready product lineup.
Lights. Be visible. Be visible. And for heaven’s sake, be visible. Reflective items are great (we especially like Lightweights on our wheels), but they only work when lined up properly with a good source of light. A good lighting setup will make you visible from all directions, which just might save your life. We’ve both become fans of the helmet-mounted light (I rock a Light & Motion Vis 360; Dion has a DIY arrangement, with a powerful flashlight mounted up top and a red blinkie on the back), which we supplement with a handlebar-mounted headlight, rear blinkies, and, just for fun, Monkeylights (a gift from my brother–thanks, bro!). I used to feel a little sheepish at being lit up like a Christmas tree; now I firmly believe that a conspicuous cyclist is a safer cyclist.
Fenders will save your outfit and your stuff from road spray. (Seriously–think about the oil/dirt/lugies-spit-out-car-windows/trash soup that rain brews on your average roadway. Now picture it being flung up on you… Eww.) I like to add a mudflap to further protect my shoes and my drivetrain–sloppy grit in your chain is almost as bad as road juice in your work shoes. I spent some time yesterday afternoon fashioning a DIY mudflap cut from the cover of a faux-leather appointment book that was destined for the garbage at my day job. The fine folks at Public crafted a stellar commuter in the C7, but my feet are happy for this addition.
A good lock, used properly. There’s no worse feeling that being the victim of theft. No lock will completely prevent it–given enough time and the right tools, any lock can be breached. Your job isn’t to make the theft of your bike impossible; your job is to make the theft of your bicycle sufficiently difficult that the potential thief moves on (preferably to have a cup of tea and reconsider his/her behavior, rather than on to steal someone else’s bike).
And that’s it. Anything else–a cupholder cradling a stainless steel, leakproof tumbler of your chosen fair-trade coffee, say–is just gravy as far as I’m concerned. Your definition of “essential” might be different. Tell us about it! What can’t you ride without?