Bike Gear for New Bicycle Commuters
There are tons of great reasons to bike to work, for your own health and the planet’s. In many cities, bikes are faster and more efficient than cars for navigating downtown areas. If you’re new to bicycle commuting, you’ll want to get the right bike gear to make your commute as safe and comfortable as possible, while also keeping your belongings secure.
It is definitely possible to have too much gear. Don’t bog your bike down with gimmicky tchotchkes that will just wind up in the trash. This list of bike gear focuses on just the essentials that any commuter is likely to need.
Below, we’ve listed recommendations for bike gear that you can use on your commute. These are just helpful suggestions. The links provided are to illustrate particular products. Bay Area Bicycle Law profits in no way from purchases of recommended gear. You may find these items cheaper on different sites. So use these recommendations as a jumping off point for comparison shopping.
Storage options for your bike
A good mantra for the new bike commuter is, “Make your bike carry it.” A backpack will weigh down your shoulders, leave you sweaty, and make you generally more cumbersome and top-heavy. Bike messengers have their own good reasons for carrying their messenger bags, but for a bike commuter, opt for a solution that gets the load off of you and onto your frame.
Folding baskets. Don’t underestimate the benefits of a collapsible basket, especially if you leave your bike parked in a high traffic area. We all want to believe the best in people, but there’s nothing quite so disheartening as returning to your bike to find the basket has turned into a de facto trash receptacle. Wald makes a no-frills folding basket that is spacious enough to haul groceries but collapses flat when not in use.
Pannier. A pannier, like a saddle bag for your bike, can give the items you’re carrying a little more protection than an open basket. They also lift cleanly off your bike’s rack when you reach your destination, which is one less thing for a would-be thief to focus on. Choose your pannier based on what you realistically expect to carry. You don’t need a refrigerated grocery bag compartment for a handful of documents. The Dutchy 22L pannier from Green Guru is a versatile pannier with a bit of personality to it, made from upcycled billboards and banners.
Reduce the risk of bicycle theft by investing in a tool that can keep your bike secure.
U Lock. A U lock provides the best combination of convenience, security, and portability. The ease with which you can lock your frame to your front tire to a bike rack, fence, or sign post is unparalleled. For many bike commuters, a U lock is all you need. But every commute is different, so if your work involves not knowing where your bike will be parked day to day, you may want the versatility of a chain. Your lock isn’t where you want to scrimp and save, so go with a trusted name like Kryptonite.
If you’d like even more recommendations for bicycle locks, you can check out this guide here.
Depending on the length of your commute, you may need a water boost to get you to your destination. Especially during hot weather, the human body can dehydrate quickly. A quick sip of water can keep your body running as efficiently as your wheels.
Water bottle. Go with a water bottle over a hydration pack for commuting. The convenience of hands-free hydration offered by a hydration pack is more than offset by back sweats, shoulder strain, and a higher center of gravity. Camelbak has a variety of great sport bottles that fit the standard water bottle cage that might already be on your bike. If a cold drink on a hot day is important to you, check out their Podium Chill bottle.
If you have a particularly gravelly or dusty commute, you might consider a water bottle with a flip cap so you don’t get a side of grit with each sip. The Nalgene Fitness ATB is an otherwise no-nonsense bottle with a flip cover protecting the spout.
Water Bottle Cage. If you love your 32 ounce Nalgene bottle or Hydroflask and want to bring it on your commute, get a water bottle cage that can hold that extra-wide bottle. The Velo Orange Mojave Water Bottle Cage offers simplicity and versatility. It doesn’t look like anything special, which is an added benefit for something attached to an unattended bike.
Hydration Pack. While a water bottle is sufficient for a city commute, you may want to opt for a hydration pack if you plan on getting in some exercise after work. If you’re going to navigate rugged terrain, check out the Camelbak Octane Dart 0.5L Backpack for a pack that keeps a low profile and the added weight close to your body. The narrow design and open mesh of the straps cut down a bit on the sweat factor
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This gear will keep you visible, safe, and all in one piece.
Reflective clothing. If any part of your commute takes place during dark hours, whether it be early morning or evening, reflective clothing is essential. A brightly colored windbreaker can be an easy layer to throw over any outfit. If you tend to run hot on your bike, a mesh vest like the kind construction crews wear can be a light-weight choice. At the very least, reflective velcro bands around your arms and ankles will make you that much more visible to cars on the road. If you started bike commuting in the spring or summer, don’t let the early darkness of fall catch you unawares.
Head lamp. A head lamp can provide the dual benefits of making you and your path more visible. A headlamp that’s USB rechargeable can be a great choice for a commuter who doesn’t want to worry about carrying spare batteries. Petzl makes a variety of headlamps and accessories for mounting them on helmets.
First Aid Kit. A ziploc bag of a couple bandaids, alcohol swabs, and Neosporin honestly ought to do it, but if you want that extra peace of mind, a lightweight version of an all-in-one first aid kit will give you that extra relief against blisters, bug bites, sprains and whatever else the road throws at you. Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight Watertight .5 Medical First Aid Kit is, as the name implies, ultralight and watertight. Plus the bright yellow bag is easy to find in even the most disorganized pannier. And the cost of a first aid kit can often be less than buying full size quantities of the individual components. Just be sure to check the expiration date on the kit before buying.
Tire Patch Kit. The Topeak Rescue Box is a small and mighty patch kit that’s self-contained and well-organized. The glueless FlyPaper patches are housed in a sturdy aluminum case to keep them dry.
Bicycle Helmet. We saved the most important for last. The single most essential piece of gear for any bicycle commute is a good helmet. We have written recently about all the studies confirming that helmets really do reduce head injury severity in the case of a bicycle accident. Try it on first to make sure it fits your head comfortably and securely. You only have one head, so this is especially not the place to pinch pennies and go for a no-name brand. Trusted brands include Giro and Bell. Some helmets have built in lights and lamps, but there’s something to be said for buying these items separately so you don’t have to replace the whole shebang when one element fails. If you buy only one piece of gear from this list, make it a helmet.