I really enjoy cycling to work. Seeing the beautiful sunrises. Smelling the crisp fall air. Hearing the sounds of nature around the whir of my wheels on the pavement. It's the feeling of freedom and openness that spurs me on to ride day after day and I like to encourage anyone who has the opportunity to bike to work to take advantage of it.
One of the many reasons people give for not commuting to work is it is too expensive. Aside from possibly the price of your bicycle (there are inexpensive bikes out there that do the job), most of what you need is cheaply priced. Here is a look at 8 cheap must haves for commuting by bike.
Protect Yo Noggin - Wear a Helmet
From day one, I have worn my helmet when I bike. Call me crazy, but having my head protected in the off chance that I get into a wreck or crash is very important to me, and to my family. I'm pretty hard headed, but I feel careening downhill at 30 miles per hour and crashing into the asphalt would probably crack my skull open. The one time I did crash, riding over some railroad tracks in Charleston, I was glad to be wearing my helmet. There were some scuff marks on it, but it did not crack and I was able to walk away with only a broken collar bone.
You can get a decently priced helmet for around $20 or $30. For that price, you'll get the protection you need with enough ventilation to keep you cool on rides. It seems that as the price goes up, the amount of material used goes down! Although the higher priced helmets have state of the art technology to protect your noggin if and when you do crash.
I like a black helmet when I ride. Like this Schwinn Thrasher Helmet. You'll want to make sure that you wear the helmet correctly also. Make sure you have the helmet facing the right way! The slender end of the helmet is the front and the bulky part goes in the back. If the helmet has a sun visor on it, that goes in the front. Be sure it fits snugly on your head, and has an adjustment knob at the back to loosen and tighten. The side straps should fall below your ears and the chin strap should be tight, but not too tight. If the chin strap is too loose, the helmet can move or worse, slip off during a crash. If the helmet moves, it could expose your forehead causing damage in a crash.
Honestly, if your commute is short, you really don't need cycling shorts. Just wear the shorts you have. But having a pair or two of cycling shorts is really nice. Cycling shorts have pads built in to the seat, giving your tail some extra cushioning so it won't be too sore. Unfortunately, if you are a commuter, a sore butt will always be in your future! Cycling shorts are also made out of material that will wick away moisture. Feel free to go commando when wearing cycling shorts, so that your sweat doesn't foul up your tighty whiteys.
You do have selections when it comes to cycling shorts. If you are a portly cyclist, like I am, and aren't ready to expose the world to you in lycra shorts, you can choose a style like these Santic Men’s MTB Shorts. They fit baggy and still have the extra padding in the rear. I like that they have zipper pockets that I can put my cell phone in while riding. These also are made of moisture wicking material and stand up pretty well to fading from being in the sun.
If you are a fit beast who feels comfortable wearing skin tight shorts, I would recommend the SANTIC Cycling Men’s Shorts. Or go full out cyclist and get the Przewalski Men’s Padded Cycling Bib! Both of these are light and allow air to flow through the material, keeping you nice and cool on your commute.
Stay Visible with Bike Lights
For me, lights and a helmet are the most important accessories you can purchase for your bicycle. Both will keep you safe while commuting back and forth to work. Being visible on the road and obeying the laws will help you arrive at your place of business in one piece. Relying only on the reflectors of your bikes tires and pedals is very dangerous.
When looking for lights, I wanted something bright and that was USB chargable. I did not want to be replacing batteries left and right on my lights. For the front of my bike, I use the Cobiz 6000 Lumen Cree LED Headlamp. I like it because it has three lights and is very bright. There are four different modes, including flash mode that really draws attention. There is no bike mounting accessory for this headlamp, so I wrap it around the stem and keep it attached with a bungee cord. It may not look professional, but it gets the job done.
On the back of my bike, I am using the Lanji Bicycle Tail Light. When I first ordered this light, I was worried that it would be too small. It looked large enough on the screen, but, you know, Photoshop. When it arrived, the size was perfect. The light has three modes, random flashing, steady flash and always on. I feel that the random flashing gets more attention, so I use that mode mostly. There are also lights that emit lines on the road for each side of your bike, giving you a "virtual" bike lane. I don't see the need for these, so they have not been used. The light charges by USB and will last a nice long time. Mine gets charged maybe once a month and is used around 8 to 10 hours a week.
Dress Like a Pro - Cycling Jerseys
You can wear a regular cotton t-shirt when you commute to work, or long sleeved tee in the winter, but having a cycling jersey will help keep you cool and you'll look like a pro rider! A simple tee like these ARSUXEO Men's Moisture Wicking Active Tee will work, but if you want to go the professional route, check out these Men's Short Sleeve Cycling Jersey. Zippered front with 3 pockets on the back and there are different styles to choose from. Whatever you get, look for bright, neon colors or find jerseys that have a reflective strip sewn into the fabric. Bright colors, like neon orange or yellow green, help you stand out against the background of where you are riding. Reflective strips will help you be visible to cars in the early dawn or evenings.
The last useful accessory for you and not your bike, are cycling shoes. I rode for years with regular tennis shoes because I thought that cycling shoes were too expensive and not worth the money. Boy, was I wrong. With regular tennis shoes, your foot tends to arch while pedaling and only the front part of the foot, where it touches the pedals, are on a solid area. Cycling shoes give your entire foot a platform to press down on while pedaling. This help your feet fight off fatigue while riding, making your commute much more relaxing.
Another misconception I had about cycling shoes was that they all have to have clipless pedals to work. Wrong! Some cycling shoes, like these Shimano SH-MT3 Bike Shoes, do not have the cleat part built into the shoe. This leaves the bottom of the shoe compatible with flat pedals. Without the cleat they are much easier to walk around in also. I bought mine for under $60 online from bikeinn.com and have enjoyed them.
Keep Yer Booty Dry - with a Bike Bag
Before I bought my Roswheel Rear Pannier Bike Bag, I carried my spare clothes in a drawstring bag on my back. During the summer commutes, not only was my front sweaty, but my back was also because of the bag setting against me. Having a bike bag to put my clothes and all of my gear, was a great investment. The Roswheel bag has pockets on the side for my spare tube, patches, bike tool, Cat Crap anti fogging balm, wallet and keys. The large compartment easily holds my clothes, even during the winter months when I have jeans, gloves, and a jacket, they all fit. In the off chance that I get caught in a rain storm, the bag will keep my clothes dry. The bag also has a bungee cord area on the top that my safety glasses attach to.
A bike bag is very nice to have, but without a bike rack to strap it to, you'd have to carry it and that would be stupid. So get a bike rack! I stressed about getting a bike rack, because I thought it would have to connect to the frame of my bike and bike stem. I didn't know what size I needed, so ordering online would be hit or miss. Until I found the Outtag Retractable Aluminum Alloy Bike Mount. This rack attaches to your bike post only. No need to attach to your frame. As long as you don't put much weight on it, this one goes up to 22 pounds, it works perfect for commuting. The only drawback to a rack that attaches to your seatpost, is there's no room for your light on your post any more. I was able to remove the end cap and drill small holes on the side to mount my rear light to the rack.
Let the Rubber Hit the Pavement
If you commute to work daily, you have two choices. Buy lots of spare tubes for when you get flats, or invest in good quality tires. I started my commuting doing the first. Always buying and keeping spare tubes with me. Some days, I'd catch a flat, change it, ride a couple more miles and catch another! It was so frustrating that it almost caused me to stop riding. Until I bought a set of these bad boys: Continental GatorSkin DuraSkin Tire. Now when I have to replace a tire, these are my go to purchase. Gatorskins have a thicker middle and side walls that protect your tubes from punctures. Since using Gatorskins, I have not had to replace my tubes in a long time.
If you do get a flat tire using Gatorskins, or any other tire for that matter, make sure you know how to properly change and check your tires. Anytime I have a flat, I pull the tire off and remove the tube. Sometimes I will put some air in the tube to find the hole to patch it there, but most times I'll just put a new tube in and check the old one later. While the tire is off, run your fingers along the inside of the tire, checking for any sharp edges or metal shards. Be sure to go along the entire tire an then reverse and feel the other direction. Many times just going one way doesn't allow you to feel what has poked a hole in the tube and you put everything together and start riding again, just to get another flat down the road. If and when you feel something poking through, use a pair of needle nose pliers to pull it out, then check again.
When putting a new tube in your tire, be sure it is seated properly on the rim. Put a little bit of air in the tube before you put it on the rim, this helps it stay seated when you put the tire on. Once you have your tire and tube on the rim, add a little more air, then inspect the wheel to make sure there is no sign of the tube poking around the tire. If some of the tube is poking out, and you inflate it to the proper psi, once you hop on and ride, it will pop again. Once everything looks fine, inflate the tire to the correct psi and enjoy the rest of your ride.
Of course there are always more expensive products you can buy, but with these 8 products, you can have the enjoyment of commuting to work on your bicycle. Many of the high priced products cost more just for a name brand on the item. Then there are others where time and effort have gone into make the product better than the lower priced one. As you ride more and more into the office, you'll save some money here and there, and one day be able to afford the higher priced items like a Garmin GPS tracker or Cadence Sensor. But probably you'll just do like other cyclists, and add another steed to your stable.