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Once you’ve chosen to cycle to work, how can you ensure your ride is comfortable, safe, and worry-free? The accessories you buy for yourself and the bike can ease your mind and enhance the commuting experience.
This article looks at some of the best commuter bike accessories you can buy.
19 Must-Have Bike Commuting Accessories
There are numerous bike accessories that you could or should have for a commute. Accepting that some are more important than others, here’s our list:
1. Bike Helmet
For many of us, there is some risk attached to bike commuting. The first thing you’d want to protect if you fell from your bike is your head. A bike helmet will protect your skull and potentially prevent a concussion if you crash into the asphalt.
In the last decade, a significant development in bike helmets has been protection against rotational forces caused by angled impacts. This technology has different names, including MIPs, WaveCel (Bontrager helmets), or Spin (POC helmets).
Since brain injuries are more likely to result from rotational forces than linear, this type of technology is probably worth investing in.
With these technologies, the helmet liner moves slightly with an angled impact (as opposed to linear). This small amount of movement is meant to reduce the amount of rotational force that would otherwise be absorbed by the brain.
You can spend a lot of money on bike helmets, particularly when they’re light and aerodynamic, but this isn’t necessary for everyday use. An inexpensive MIPs helmet for the commuter is the Nutcase Street Helmet, available in many colors and designs.
Continuing in a safety vein, few accessories are more important than lights if you’re riding to work in murky conditions or darkness. A static front light (i.e. non-flashing) that emits around 400 to 800 lumens of light should suffice upfront.
At the rear of the bike, a flashing light helps to attract attention. You don’t want this at the front, since it’s believed to impair a driver’s impression of distance.
For convenience, you can often buy both lights bundled together, as is the case with the NiteRider Swift 500 Front Light and Sabre 110 Rear Light Set.
Because the rear light is only intended to get you seen rather than light the way ahead, you need far fewer lumens. Around 60 to 120 will suffice.
Lumens are the measure by which most lights are sold since LED technology came to the fore. LEDs are ideal for bike lights since they are unaffected by low temperatures, shock, or vibration.
3. Robust Tires
The one thing most people don’t want to be doing on a commute is repairing punctures. For that reason, many will favor tires with a high degree of puncture resistance over performance-oriented alternatives.
Tires that are highly puncture resistant are a bit cheaper than fast tires and a bit more expensive than all-round “middling” tires. So, what tires should you go for?
Practice removing and reinstalling a tire at home before using it on a commute, especially if it’s a tough puncture-resistant tire. Once you know you can do this, it’ll give you enormous confidence should the worst happen.
The Schwalbe Marathon Plus is sometimes used on city rental bikes, which should tell you something about its reliability.
Most people don’t want to look like they’ve just ridden a cyclo-cross race when they arrive at work. If you have to commute in the rain, fenders on the bike help to keep your machine a bit cleaner, but they also keep you cleaner.
A classic sign of cycling in the wet without fenders is the mud stripe up your back. It’s not a great look, particularly if your workplace has limited facility for cleaning yourself up or changing. A fender is the answer.
The type of fender you’ll fit will depend on the type of bike you’re riding. A leading brand among manufacturers is German company SKS, which makes the SKS Raceblade Pro XL Road Bicycle Fenders. You can install these on bikes without built-in eyelets or mounts.
For the minimalist commuting on a sleek road bike, a fender that mounts to the seat post is at least enough to avoid a spray of water up your back.
5. High Vis & Reflective Clothing
Staying safe on a bike commute has to be the main objective. During the daytime, fluorescent yellow is the brightest, most visible color you can wear. It’s often found in garments like the Little Donkey Andy Women’s Cycling Jacket, among many others.
When commuting in the dark, your focus has to switch to reflective clothing. This is one of the best ways to stay visible in the dark, so you should avoid covering your body with anything that may not be reflective (e.g., a backpack).
One of the very best brands on the market for reflective clothing is ProViz. They use millions of tiny reflective beads in their material to achieve extraordinary reflectivity. The Proviz Men’s Reflect360+ Cycling Jacket is one example of their range.
6. Cycling Shoes
If you’re going to cycle to work regularly, you might want to treat yourself to some shoes designed for the job. These don’t have to be the type where your feet are attached to the pedals (i.e., clipless). They can be almost the same as regular sneakers.
A chief difference between cycling shoes and regular shoes is the sole. Cycling shoes have stiffer soles to make pedaling more efficient. Conversely, shoes that are too soft may cause you discomfort as pressure from the pedal focuses on one part of the foot.
One of the best-known ranges of cycling shoes for flat pedals is Five Ten shoes from Adidas. Some of these are primarily for MTB riding, though there are more general-purpose models like the Five Ten Sleuth DLX PU Shoe.
If you want to clip into your pedals on a commute, of course, you can. It may be best to choose a shoe with a composite sole rather than carbon if you need to walk at all. Shoes designed for SPD cleats might be better for walking on, as the cleats are often recessed.
7. Repair Kit
If the worst should happen and you get a puncture on your bike commute, what’s the quickest way to fix it? What items do you need to carry in your repair kit?
Most people find it impractical to locate punctures by the roadside and apply patches to tubes. Typically, you’d do that sort of thing at home using a patch kit with rubber cement and patches.
Out on the road or trail, you need the following items: one or two spare tubes, a set of tire levers, a mini pump and/or a CO2 inflator kit, and a multitool. The multitool is useful for other quick fixes – not punctures.
It’s best if the multitool has a chain tool built into it, though on a commute you may be tempted to call an Uber if your chain breaks. Tire levers vary in their usefulness. Schwalbe’s blue 1847 tire levers are excellent for removing and remounting difficult tires.
8. Water Bottle & Cage
If your bike commute is longer than 10-15 minutes, it’s a good idea to carry water on your ride to work. Even with a short ride, you can never be sure you won’t be delayed for whatever reason (e.g. mechanical problem, accident).
A water bottle, or “bidon” in cycling circles, carries anything from 500ml to 1l of water. If your commutes are strenuous, you can put an electrolyte tablet in the water to replace electrolytes such as magnesium and sodium. This may also prevent cramping.
To carry a water bottle you’ll typically need a water bottle cage. This installs onto the eyelets built into the seat tube and down tube of most bicycle frames. You can usually have two of them if you want.
There are bottle cages that fix to bikes without any eyelets or screws. You can also use a bottle cage to carry a tool storage container. This can hold everything you need to change a tube or make quick adjustments to your bike.
Hardcore road-bike cyclists may have a problem with fitting a bell to their bike, but a bell is a useful accessory on many bike commutes. You can use it to alert pedestrians or other cyclists to your presence and potentially avoid collisions.
Of course, you can go for a traditional-looking bell if you want, which you may prefer on a city bike, coaster, or hybrid. The important thing is that you’re heard without needing to shout out warnings or startle people.
A camera is not essential gear for a bike commute, but it can supply useful evidence if you get into an accident or are assaulted by other road users. Should you be this defensive as a cyclist? Not in an ideal world. We don’t live in that world.
If you’re only installing one camera, it’s probably best to go for one built into a rear light like the TEENTOK Bike Camera with LED Tail Light. That will record the stuff you can’t see, such as events leading up to you being struck from behind.
One way to capture incidents that occur in front of you on your commute is to fix a body camera to your clothing, bag strap or bike helmet. This may be a cheaper option than dedicated bike cameras, and the quality should suffice for security purposes.
11. Radar (Garmin Varia)
There is currently only one bike-specific radar product on the market: the Garmin Varia. In combination with a bike computer (e.g., Garmin Edge, Wahoo), this device tells you when vehicles are approaching from behind.
One thing you may have noticed when cycling along at a fairly brisk pace is that it’s often hard to hear vehicles approaching from behind. The Garmin Varia prevents you from having to repeatedly twist your head around to check.
A feature of the Varia is its ability to detect vehicles up to 140 meters away, and not just the first vehicle, but up to eight at a time. Most people that use these find them invaluable thereafter.
Other cyclists will also trigger the Varia if they are traveling significantly faster than you are, so it’s useful on trails as well as roads.
12. Bike Computer
If you buy the Garmin Varia, you also need a bike computer. But computers have many other advantages. You could be using your commute to get fit, for instance, in which case it might be helpful to see metrics like speed and heart rate.
A heart rate monitor paired to a bike computer is not purely useful for fitness. It can also help people to moderate their effort if they have a heart condition, or when riding in extreme heat.
An example of a mid-priced bike computer is the Garmin Edge 520 Plus. This is compatible with the Garmin Varia and has more memory and better routing than the straight Edge 520 model.
Bike computers have other uses, like relaying SMS messages or issuing weather warnings. They’re generally a good thing to have on your bike, especially if you mean to monitor your fitness or health.
13. Phone Mount
Some people mount a phone on their bike as well as a bike computer. Why would you need both? The computer is for the cycling feedback while the phone keeps you connected to friends, family, and work colleagues.
Perhaps on your daily bike commute you need to be reachable or stay abreast of events at work? Having the phone in front of you helps with that.
A phone mount like the VUP Universal Bike Cell Phone Holder holds phones very securely. What this type of mount doesn’t do is protect your phone against rain, but then most smartphones have a high IP rating, indicating a robust level of waterproofing.
Intuitively, exposing an expensive smartphone to rain seems a bad idea, no matter what the specs say. For peace of mind, you can always place your device in a phone mount case that fixes to the top tube.
14. ID Bracelet
While a traffic accident is every cyclist’s worst nightmare and may seem pessimistic to contemplate, the possibility is worth mitigating. An ID bracelet with your name, contact numbers, and allergy details is a sensible safety measure.
One of the best-known products in this area is the Road ID bracelet, which you must customize with your details before ordering. Other products are available from the same company, like kid’s bracelets and tags that fit onto existing health bracelets.
In wearing this bracelet, first responders are immediately in possession of vital information in the unfortunate event that you may be unconscious or disoriented. For a modest price, this is a worthwhile investment.
15. Bike Lock(s)
If you’re going to commute, you’ll probably need a bike lock for work. You may also want to stop off at a store on your way to work. So, what kind of lock do you need to keep your bike secure?
The amount of money you spend on a lock should probably be in proportion with the value of your bike. That being said, most cable locks are ridiculously easy to cut, so you should avoid those for all but the briefest of stops.
For a bike of considerable value, a Kryptonite New York U-Lock is hard to beat. Its 16mm shackles are resistant to bolt cutters and double deadbolts make it impossible to break with a single cut.
You’ll achieve the best security if you use two high-quality locks rather than one, preferably of different types. It may be possible if you’re bike commuting to leave a heavy chain lock in the bike shed at work, so you don’t have to carry it.
Read more: Where to keep your lock while riding
16. Floor Pump
You won’t be taking a floor pump with you on a bike commute, but it’ll be useful for quickly pumping up your tires before setting off.
A floor pump (aka track pump) invariably has a pressure gauge at its base, so you can pump your tires up to your preferred pressure. Floor pumps deliver a higher volume of air per stroke than most frame pumps or mini-pumps.
An example of such a pump is the Specialized Air Tool HP Floor Pump, which represents great value for money. While it’s possible to buy floor pumps for less, a well-made metal pump with a durable head will save you cash in the long run.
Bike commuters often carry stuff to work with them, perhaps including a change of clothes, a bike lock, a packed lunch, and/or work-related tools. Some prefer a backpack as a simple way of doing this rather than adding a rack to their bike.
An example of a suitable backpack for bike commuters is the 16L Thule Lithos Backpack. For cycling purposes, the backpack should never be oversized and cumbersome. You need to feel stable on the bike.
Features to look out for in a bike commuter’s backpack include: water bottle storage, a loop for a bike light, broad padded shoulder straps, and a padded back with channels in it for airflow. Many backpacks include a special compartment for laptops or tablets.
18. Bike Rack
If you buy a backpack, maybe you don’t need a bike rack, but you can have both. There are times when you might not want to be carrying a bag about your person, like at night when bags might obscure visibility in reflective clothes.
The Ibera Bike Rack is one example of this type of product. It can hold panniers at the sides and a trunk bag on top, though you may only need one bag for a commute. You can attach a backpack to it as well, which still has its uses off the bike.
If your bike doesn’t have the eyelets needed for installation, you may be able to use p-clamps to install a bike rack instead. Alternatively, you could fit a smaller bike rack to the seat post, though this has a lower load capacity and requires a metal seat post.
We round off our 19 bike accessories with headphones for cycling. While the whole topic of listening to music while cycling is controversial, headphones that leave your outer and middle ear free allow you to stay aware of your surroundings.
Even with bone conduction headphones, users should keep the volume switched low enough not to drown out ambient sound. With these headphones, sound reaches the inner ear via vibrations sent through the cheekbone.
Popular among cyclists and other athletes are AfterShokz Aeropex Headphones. Be aware that some states and countries enforce a blanket ban on all headphones while cycling, so check this before buying.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and that it gave you some ideas for your bike commute. Naturally, you’ll find some more compelling than others.
Any of these accessories should make your commute safer or more enjoyable. And if you enjoy bike commuting, your mental and physical health will benefit.