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Essential Bike Commuter Gear

Gear You Need to Be Comfortable and Safe on Your Commute

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Using your bike to commute to work or school is different than going out for a recreational ride. You need to make sure you'll absolutely get there on time. You have to be prepared for all types of weather. Some of your riding may be in low-light conditions, like early morning and evening and in rush-hour traffic, so you have to be visible to motorists. Here are the items bike commuters need to make sure they stay safe and comfortable on their daily trips.

1. Headlight

NiteRider UltraFazer Max
(c) NiteRider

If you're going to commute regularly, you need a good front light for your bicycle. These should be white with a steady or flashing beam. Particularly if you ride in urban areas, the reason to have a front light is to make you visible to motorists, rather than trying to illuminate your way. Things to consider in assessing headlights:

  • What type of battery does it use?
  • Are the batteries rechargable?
  • How many hours of run time does the light have before draining the batteries?

Halogen and LED bulbs are both good choices for delivering strong, bright light. Expect to pay $25 and up for lights that allow you to be seen by drivers; more ($100+) for stronger lights to help you see.

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2. Tail Lights

Blackburn Mars 3.0 tail light
(c) Blackburn

Just as important as the white light on the front of your bike is a red one on the back. Most offer several blinking patterns - steady, continuous flash, random, etc., -- to give you and your bike visibility from the rear to approaching motorists and others from a long way off.

Most tail lights run on either one or two AA batteries, and last for several hundred hours. These red blinkie lights can either be mounted to your seat post or rack; or else clipped on to your backpack or belt.

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3. Reflective Vest or Jacket

Rear View of L. L. Bean Ridge Runner Vest with Illuminex Technology
(c) David Fiedler

Though it may feel just a touch dorky the first time you wear it, you want to get yourself the brightest colored reflective vest or jacket you can find. Your goal is to be as visible to motorists as possible. I've got a Ridge Runner vest by L.L. Bean that is so bright, motorists literally squint and shield their eyes when they look at me. Which is great, because it means that they see me.

A bonus is that when you're not riding, you can also wear these vests to direct traffic, go deer hunting or just pick up trash alongside the road.

4. Bike Rack

Topeak MTX Beam Rack with V-Type neck.
(c) Topeak Corporation

With a rack or basket on your bike, you can tote along the necessities like your lunch, a change of clothes or books and papers for school or work. Racks come in quick-release models that pop onto and off of your seat post in seconds for easy removal, or sturdier permanent mount with support struts that bolt to your frame. These type of racks also allow for panniers or grocery bag holder attachments. There are even suit-bag panniers for hauling your snazziest work duds, wrinkle free.

5. Fenders

Bike with fenders.
(c) Tammy Green/Flickr

Don't forget about getting fenders for a bike that you plan to ride in all sorts of weather. Fenders are wheel covers that prevent your wheels from throwing water and road filth all over you as you ride.

Usually made of metal or durable plastic, fender sizes are listed in relation to your wheel size, which is printed on the sidewall of your tire. For instance, a common road bike tire is 700x23. That means 700 mm diameter and 23 mm wide. Plenty of fenders are available to fit this, and that spec will be listed in the product description.

Fenders are usually quite light and easy to install, and some come equipped with quick release attachments, though I don't really see the need to be constantly taking fenders on and off the bike.

6. Rain Gear

Rain Cape
(c) J&G Cyclewear

If you ride regularly, you're going to get rained on. It's just a fact of life. The good news is that decent raingear makes riding bearable and even fun when it gets wet out.

It's easy to carry along a simple windbreaker that you can bust out when the drops start dripping, but for my taste, a raincape is where it's at. J&W Cyclewear offers a terrific rain cape that tucks neatly in your bag and offers a host of features that make it more comfortable choice than a standard jacket. In just a couple of seconds, you can slip it on over your clothes. The cape keeps the rain off, yet also allows air to circulate from underneath, helping you stay cool. A waist tie and hand grabs keep it in place, and the neck opening adjusts to fit.

7. Basic Bike Tools

Park Essential Bike Tool Kit
(c) Park Tools

A basic set of tools will keep you going even if you have minor breakdown along the way. We're not talking here about the full collection that they use down at the bike shop. Really all you need is a multi-tool and a couple of tire levers. You can create this assortment yourself, or pick up something like the Park Essential Bike Tool Kit, which features hex wrenches, tire levers, a patch kit, a straight blade screwdriver and small adjustable wrench, in a small tool wallet.

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8. Frame Pump

Blackburn Frame Pump
(c) Blackburn

Whether you carry a patch kit or spare tube, if your tire goes flat, you will need to find a way to get air back into it. That's where a nice little pump comes in. Usually clamped to your frame, these mighty little dudes will put enough air in your tire to get you back on your way.

Some riders prefer to carry CO2 cartridges - little battery-sized cylinders that deliver a burst of pressurized gas and refill tubes in a fraction of a second. They are lighter, but require a bit of practice to use, else you can blow out the tube you've just replaced. Plus, they cost about a dollar a piece, for what is typically a one time use.

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9. Spare Tube

A new inner tube for a bike tire.
(c) Oskay/Flickr.

When riding day in and day out on your commute, by far the most likely problem you'll have with your bike is a flat tire. So bring along another tube specific to your bike. They are fairly compact, easy to change out, and you'll be back riding in no time. Never changed a flat tire? Here are easy instructions on how to change a flat.

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