Commuter Bicycles and a Bike-Commuter Check List

A bicycle is a relatively simple machine that has experienced little in the way of extreme evolution over the last 100+ years. Fads come and go through the decades, but the machine itself remains fairly constant and consistent.

There has been a fair amount of press about a new commuter bicycle from Volata. This bicycle comes equipped with a built in horn, a dynamo hub that powers the head and taillight, has built in GPS and some other often used/requested features for a commuter bicycle. When something like this comes along, there is always a level of interest and curiosity about such a machine. I couldn’t help but take a glance and wonder if this is the future of commuter bicycles – having built in capabilities just like a modern automobile.

While many of these features may be a necessity or simply good options for a commuter bike, they don't necessarily need to be built in to a bicycle. This bike from Volata is somewhat questionable as a commuter bike anyway as it is missing components for a truly commute-focused bicycle (such as fenders, a chainguard, carrying capacity for daily needs, etc).

As technology changes and becomes more a part of everyday life, it is easier to look at possessions as throw away items when newer tech becomes available. Is creating a bicycle with technology such as built in GPS a good idea? What happens in 6 months or a year when something more efficient becomes available? Is the bike then a throw-away item?

One of the great things about a bicycle without any special technological advances is that items can often be added and changed easily if/when the need arises. If a commuter rides in pre- or post-sun hours, a headlight and taillight can be added inexpensively to an existing bicycle. Bells are an easy to install accessory for those times when a cyclist needs to be heard. GPS units are available from just a few dollars up to several hundred dollar price tags, depending on the needs or wants of the user.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting or buying a new bicycle, but when a good portion of a bicycle is centered on technology, is it a wise investment and is it practical? Should bicycles be built as though they are automobiles with built in lights and other technology? Does it make sense to use a bicycle already owned, a second-hand bicycle, or even a new bicycle at a lower price point that can be made to work for commuting purposes?

While not every commuter will have the same needs, here is a list of possible items you may want to consider for your bicycle commute:

-          Bicycle (the most important item)

Whether riding a couple of miles or 20+ miles for your commute, your bicycle should be comfortable to go the distance. If it isn’t, perhaps there is a simple fix such as an adjustment to your handlebars or the seat post. It may be that it just doesn’t fit properly too, but we can help you figure that out.

-          Helmet

Your helmet should fit securely and be positioned properly on your head for maximum protection. Also, if you have ever fallen or crashed on your helmet, it should be replaced immediately.

-          Bike Lock

Fairly self-explanatory, but if you aren’t able to keep your bicycle with you at your destination, you’ll probably want to lock it up to prevent theft.

-          Eye protection (such as sun glasses)

The sun can be quite damaging to our eyes, not to mention it can be really difficult to see with the sun shining directly at us while riding. What’s more, glasses can provide some protection from extreme wind, or even flying insects that could end up in your eye.

-          Water bottles or a hydration pack

Hydration is important and if your commute is longer than a few miles, you should probably consider having water with you, especially in summer’s sweltering heat. Even if you don’t think you’ll need it, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

-          Headlight and Taillight

If you ride at all in the early morning or late afternoon/evening hours, lights should be at the top of your list. Being visible to others and being able to see possible debris in the road is crucial to keep you upright on your bicycle.

-          A Bell

This may be one of the most over looked accessories for a commuter, but it can come in handy when your voice can’t be heard or you don’t want to alarm walkers, joggers, or others that may come into your path.

-          Mirror

A mirror, just as on a motorized vehicle, can help you see who is around you or approaching from behind.

-          Fenders (especially for those riding in rain or snow)

Not everyone loves fenders, but they can definitely keep your bottom half dry when riding in rain or snow. If you’ll be changing once you reach your destination, this may not be as concerning for you, but having these means you’ll stay drier and therefore also a little warmer in colder conditions.

-          Rear or Front Rack

Depending on your bicycle, you may be able to add a front or rear rack (or maybe both) to help carry items. Not every bicycle is capable of this attachment and there are usually weight limits to be considered with the load carried on each of these racks, but if you aren’t sure, bring your bike by the shop and we can take a quick look for you.

-          Panniers/Messenger Bag/Backpack

Panniers are a great option for those with front or rear racks to carry items needed for your destination (such as a change of clothes, a laptop, lunch, etc). They are also handy for picking up a few items at the grocery store on your way home. If you don’t like panniers or your bike isn’t fitted with a rack for these to hang, you might consider a messenger bag or backpack to carry extra items on your commute.

-          Straps or Bungee Cords

Being able to secure extra items on your rack(s) or to your bag can be invaluable. These really can be a life saver when there’s an unexpected item to get to or from your destination.

-          Saddlebag/Handlebar bag

A saddlebag is attached under the saddle while a handlebar bag straps to your handlebars, but they are each great for storing smaller items you may need such as a spare tube, tire levers, a pump and so on. These can vary significantly in size, depending on your needs and the size of your bicycle.

-          Spare tube and/or a Patch Kit

No one likes to deal with a flat tire on the side of the road, but when you don’t have a way to fix the problem, it can be even worse. Always carry a spare tube and/or patch kit to make repairs for those unforeseen issues.

-          Pump and/or CO2 cartridge and inflator

If you have a spare tube or patch kit, but you can’t re-inflate your tube/tire, it won’t do you any good. Some people like to use a pump while others prefer CO2 and still others carry both. What you need will depend on your preferences and likely distance traveled as well.

-          Tire Levers

These are handy for removing your tire to get the tube out for repair or replacement.

-          Bike Multi-Tool

This is a small item that can help significantly. These come in all different sizes and with different options, but even having the simplest multi-tool on the side of the road can come in handy. Make sure the tools are the right ones for your bike and needs.

-          Sunscreen

Sun, skin, a long commute – this can be a tough combination, especially in summer. Make sure to protect your skin to keep from burning.

-          Lip balm

Colorado can dry out lips quicker than anything, and having some lip balm handy on your commute can keep those lips from cracking.

-          Cell Phone

Today, most people have a cell phone and having it for your commute may be a last-resort savior. On rare occasions, there are just those times when something goes wrong and you just can’t fix your bike on the side of the road.

-          ID/Credit Card/Cash

In a pinch, you could need any of these items and they are usually items we need when we get to our destination regardless of where we are heading.

-          Bus Pass/Map/Schedule

Having an alternate plan if something should go wrong on your bike will make your commute less stressful. Knowing where the nearest bus stop is and having the schedule handy could prove invaluable if you find yourself stranded on your bike commute.

If you are a bicycle commuter or you’re thinking about cycling to work and aren’t sure how to get your bike ready to handle your needs, come by and see us. Each person can have unique requirements and while some choose to use a mountain bike, others use road bikes, and some have specifically dedicated commute bicycles. Whatever you ride to get you where you need to go, and whether you just need a replacement for your handlebar headlight or you’re thinking about adding a rear rack or panniers, we can help you find the right pieces to make your bicycle and your commute work for you. 

Although there are plenty of other possible needs, the list above is intended to get you started with planning your bicycle commute. If there’s ever anything we can do to help, please stop by and see us in person. We are here to offer thoughts and feedback, and to provide the accessories for your bike commute.