Bike Commuter Essentials: 10 Bits of Kit You Need!


It might seem daunting but you can start bike commuting with just a few of the essentials on this list and work your way up from there.

I can tell you that is precisely what I did! I actually started by just cycling to work a few times a week in good weather (easier said than done where I live!).

Doing so gave me the confidence to make cycling my regular journey but also the reassurance that I was buying the right gear.

For instance, I went through at least 2 pannier bags before settling on the one I currently use, so there was a certain amount of trial and error on my part, which is something I hope to remove for you as you read this post.

I have, over time, got myself all of the bike commuter essentials listed below and they have helped me to cycle to work consistently now for the last 4 years.

Hopefully this list will also be of use to those who are just starting out, or anyone looking for gifts to give to a cycle commuter they know or love.

That said, it’s called bike commuter essentials as having all of the gear below allows a rider to go through all four seasons while cycling to work in most temperate climates.

These are all things that I have for my cycle to work. There is no fluff here or added extras, just essential items that will make a ride to work that much more pleasurable and enjoyable for anyone, as well as adding maximum levels of safety to a commute.

1. Reflective Waterproof Jacket (Not Just Hi-Viz)

Getting a reflective waterproof jacket is more important when cycle commuting than simply having a hi-viz one, or other similar garment. This because hi-viz clothing does not help to make you more visible to drivers at night or in low light situations, so around dawn/dusk (think autumn/winter/spring).

Obviously, having this as both reflective and waterproof then means you only need this one jacket for all your bike commuting needs. 

I only have the one jacket that I use all through the colder months of the year and it does me perfectly from those bitterly cold winter days right through to the warm summer months. 

The only time I don’t wear this kind of jacket is generally during the height of summer, which I’m sure you know is not for long in the UK!

A good quality jacket here is also great for commuting as it will be breathable over a shirt/blouse or other work clothes. 

The advantage of this is therefore that you will sweat less and can wear your work clothes on the bike without them getting really sweaty! This time-saving goes a long way if you plan to cycle to work regularly.

The reflective waterproof jacket I have used for the last 2 years is the Altura Night Vision Evo 3. 

I would recommend this jacket because it comes with all of the details mentioned above, as well as having an integrated flashing light on the back (a great back-up if your rear light batteries ever die on your commute!

2. Waterproof Cycling Overpants with Reflective Detail

I think it’s because of the angle when riding but if you have ever been caught in a shower when riding your bike to work, you will know that your pants get incredibly wet when on a bike.

This is particularly pronounced on the thigh and crotch area. As such, a good pair of cycling-specific waterproof overpants are ideal for bike commuters. 

The reasons for getting a pair of cycling-specific waterproof pants is two-fold. 

Being visible while cycling to work is a must, especially if you spend a fair amount of time on the roads. The first question many bike commuters ask is the following:

How can I make my bike more visible? Use simple added features like inexpensive spoke reflectors, good quality lights all over your bike and body, tires with reflective trims and even reflective strips on the frame of your bike.

I’ve found that I’ve been able to increase my visibility over the years of bike commuting with a few accessories (and techniques) that don’t break the bank and are easy to do/use right away.

In this post, I’ll start with the simplest things you can add and progress down to some of the more advanced items as we go through the post.

I also want to say that the ideas here should help you to be more visible on your cycle commute since they are based on research from Australia which found that drivers were more aware of cyclists at night when they had reflective detail on parts of their body which moved, particularly around the wrists and ankles as these parts move the most when we are cycling.

Being That Bit More Visible to Other Road Users

Essentially, it boils down to a couple of key points:

  1. Use as much reflective clothing and accessories as possible to make yourself be seen at night. This is because the lights from cars will make you stand out a mile when the reflective detail on you or your accessories reflects back at them. It’s incredibly powerful if you have enough of it.
  2. Hi-viz items will help during the daytime to make you more eye-catching. These items are certainly recommended but there is a caveat: they are not particularly helpful at night, hence they come second in this list to reflective items in terms of importance.
  3. Don’t do anything crazy! I know, it sounds simple, but the amount of cyclists I see who don’t want to wait at lights and decide to run the light, or skip a minor traffic jam by undertaking the cars is ridiculous! It’s those kind of actions that will make you invisible to other road users, so keep a cool head and follow the rules of the road to enhance your chances of being seen even more! This might seem an oversimplification but you really don’t need to increase your chances of an accident by knowingly putting yourself at risk for a minimal time-saving at best.

With that said, let’s have a look at the key items you can get to help you register that bit more in the eyes of other road users, mainly car drivers as they are the most common.


1. Hi-Viz Reflective Snap Bands for Wrists and Ankles

These are a really simple and practical addition as they can be put on and off in seconds, they help to keep your pants clean and they also make you more visible in the key areas of ankles and wrists.

These snap bands are inexpensive although I have found that they generally only last a year or two so buy a few packs of these reflective snap bands in one go and you’ll be fine.

This is something I wear every day on my legs. They also work well in winter for sleeves on my cycling jacket as they help to stop the wind getting inside (even though I have the sleeves tightened!)

This small adjustment makes it that bit easier on those bitterly cold days and also adds a nice bit of extra visibility when it comes to turning.

If raising your arms to indicate your turn properly, this can help your signal to be seen at night, so definitely consider getting a few more of these bands for your wrists.

be more visible on your cycle commute
Time to get a little more visible, friends!

2. Reflective Shoelaces

A pair of reflective shoelaces will also make you more visible on your commute as they offer reflection in one of the key areas of movement, namely your feet.

The constant movement means they will be an added source of noticeable visibility for drivers from the front and sides, yet again helping you to be more visible on your cycle commute.

I currently use the black Clarks Triactive Run trainers for cycling and work (semi-casual dress code and they look enough like work shoes to get away with it!). They are extremely comfortable and come with laces with reflective detail as an added bonus.

This again adds to visibility in the key areas of movement when you are on your bike.

Not the greatest shot but these are the reflective shoelaces on my current shoes from Clarks

3. Reflective Overshoes or Shoe Covers

Obviously, we all know that the British weather is not all sunshine and rainbows. As such, when you need to cover your feet for winter or on a rainy day, you will lose the visibility of the shoelaces mentioned above.

To get around this, try buying reflective overshoes for your cycle commute. If you get these shoe covers with full reflective detail, as with the Altura Thermo Elite Overshoes.

These will keep your feet toasty, keep out the rain and water, and make your moving feet attract the attention of drivers, making you that bit more visible on your cycle to work.

You could also combine these overshoes with the corresponding Altura Thermo Elite gloves, which have their patented ‘darkproof’ technology, making them highly visible to car drivers, too.


4. Add Spoke Reflectors

These are really small and extremely cheap to buy, yet they light up your bike really well if placed appropriately.I bought two packs of bicycle spoke reflectors and they were enough for both mine and my wife’s bikes.

These show up best when you are turning as they create almost a complete circle of reflection around the wheel area, as you can see in the photo I took below of my old bike.

My old bike with spoke reflectors and reflective trim on the tires.

5. Keep Your Bike and Gear Clean

This might sound a little strange but bear with me just a moment. Bike commuting on roads means that your bike, and many of your accessories, can become dirty and covered in grit and grime over time.

This is particularly a problem after days of rain as the wet weather can cause splashes of dirt to stick to your bike in the coming days, effectively reducing the reflective properties of all the items and accessories mentioned here.

With that said, make sure to give your bike a good wipe down on a fortnightly basis, or even more often if you regularly ride in the rain. This simple bit of maintenance should help you to stay that bit more visible.


6. Use a Helmet with LightsOn

The first way is to get an additional rear light that attaches to your helmet. This works because the helmet is on a part of your body which moves constantly when cycling, namely the head!

The strap on these kinds of lights should also mean that you can quite easily attach them onto your helmet – my wife does this as a regular fixture of her commute.


7. Use Reflective Tires

As you will have seen in the photo above, I have tires with reflective trim as well as the reflective spoke reflectors. This provides a constant source of reflective light on the dark roads and helps to add even more intensity to the reflective spoke reflectors.

The nice thing about these is that they are not expensive and can be easily added in under an hour. Even if you have good tires, you can keep them as back-ups and install tires with reflective sidewalls.

The other nice thing about using this kind of tires is that many tires have this added feature so it’s quite easy to find them and get the right tires for your commute.


8. Reflective Tape for your Bike Frame or Handles

You can also increase the reflectivity of your bike by placing some reflective tape or strips on the handlebars and the frame.

These can again be quite inexpensive although I’d suggest going for a mid-range product in terms of price as the cheaper stuff will likely only fall off, leaving you less visible and with more work to do to stick it on again!

The handlebar tape is generally a bit more expensive as it is more specific as it has padding and is of a certain material.

The reflective tape you can use on your frame can be just about anything that is weatherproof, although try to find a bike-specific product if you can.

If I were to use only one of the two, I’d opt for the frame tape as the handlebar tape is going to be covered by your hands more often than not and is fiddly. It might also be something you don’t need to add, so creating more hassle for a minimal gain in terms of visibility.


9. Use Hand Signals!

This might sound a little obvious, but one of the best things anyone can do on a bike commute in the dark is to use the appropriate hand signals when turning or changing lanes on the road.

One of the most surefire ways to become effectively invisible on the roads is to make unexpected moves on your bike. With this in mind, keeping your hand signals clear before every movement makes you far more visible on the roads at night!


10. Use a Helmet with Lights

More and more helmets are available now with lights built in, but you can also quite easily add lights yourself. The key point about having lights on your helmet are that it means you have lights that move, a known way to make your lights more noticeable and visible to other road users.

Some of the helmets with integrated lights can be quite expensive, but fear not: many smaller, inexpensive bike lights can be attached to a helmet, both front and back, with ease. The kind of lights of that can be fitted in this way have an attachment like a wristwatch strap. This gives you the most flexibility and adaptability, and of course added visibility!

Either way, adding lights to your helmet, or a specific helmet with integrated lights, is yet another way to help you stand out on your commute in the night.


11. Add Reflective Detail or Hi-Viz Cover to Your Bag

Most good bike bags should come with reflective detail, so remember to get one with this added detail to your bag of choice, be it a pannier or backpack.

Be aware that having a backpack will block some of the reflective detail on your back so you need to make up for this either in having the same reflectivity on your backpack/pannier, or in the cover that you put over it.


12. Carry Back-up Lights

One of the worst things to happen on a bike commute in the night is for the battery on your bike lights to run out, leaving you literally in the dark! The clear, simple solution is to carry a back-up light with you in your bag at all times.

This will give you the confidence in your bike commute and means that you don’t need to worry about the charge left in your bike lights at all times. As these are a back-up, I’d suggest going for a cheaper, smaller option than your main light but still one with a good amount of lumens so that it is visible on the road.


13. Don’t Do Anything Crazy!

The main point here is that you becomealmost invisible when you start doing unexpected things, especially on a bike!

By that, I mean doing crazy maneuvers like undertaking cars or trucks, or riding close behind large vehicles. The stopping distance on a bike is similar to a car, so remember to keep your distance so that vehicles in front of you so that they have a good idea that you are actually behind them!

To round up, this might sound a little obvious, but lots of bike commuters I see don’t do it! The gold rule is: follow the rules of the road at all times when bike commuting if you want to have the safest ride you can!


Summary

Hopefully this has given you some inspiration for different ways you can quite easily make yourself a heck of a lot more visible on your cycle commute.

Remember the key points about using reflection and also focus on adding lights/reflective detail to the parts of your body most frequently moving.

Doing this should increase your chances of being seen by other road users and give you the confidence to keep commuting by bike.

Happy cycling,

Steve

is two-fold. 

First, they allow movement in the right ways which standard (and much cheaper) waterproof pants will not.

While a cheaper pair will leave you feeling restricted and uncomfortable, spending a little more on a pair of waterproof cycling overpants for your commute will make everything much more comfortable and enjoyable. 

The second reason is that cycling overpants fit perfectly over work pants or a skirt, making them again ideal to avoid taking a change of clothes and saving that little bit more time.

Having reflective detail on your legs while riding again adds greatly to visibility as legs are constantly moving, therefore being more likely to be noticed by car drivers, and allow for further reflective points on the sides, particularly helpful when turning on your cycle journey to the office.

For a good pair of overpants, I happily recommend the Altura Nightvision 3 Waterproof Overtrousers (currently only available in Europe) as, similar to the jacket above, these are the ones I’ve used for the last 2 years on my bike commute and they are affordable, comfortable, of good quality and have served me extremely well (as well as keeping my legs dry!

3. Reflective Waterproof Overshoes

From your waterproof overtrousers, rain runs directly down onto shoes, making them (and socks) even wetter than without! To get around this, as with your legs, you will want a pair of reflective, waterproof overshoes. 

To reiterate, we want reflective detail in all moving parts to maximise our visibility to other road users, namely car drivers. Hence having reflective detail on your feet adds yet more visibility.

Getting overshoes means that these can be worn over normal shoes, however you’ll want to go up a few sizes as most of these are made for slim cycling shoes with cleats (which you definitely do not need for riding to work!)

For example, I wear size 10/10 ½ shoes and always need the largest size of overshoes available (even then they can be a real stretch!) 

I’d recommend the Altura Night Vision Overshoes, again for the visibility, thermal protection for warmth in winter months, and for their price. I should add that I do not currently use these but they are most certainly on my list for when it comes time for a replacement pair!

4. Pannier Bag

Just to be clear, a pannier bag is a bag that fits onto the rear rack of a bicycle with special clips to attach it. These bags might look like an unnecessary addition to the observer but trust me, any regular cycle commuter should have a pannier bag for their ride. 

The first reason is that using a pannier bag prevents a sweaty back and therefore the need for a change of clothes when arriving at work.

If using a regular backpack when cycling, irrespective of how advanced the ventilation system is, your back will heat up and almost sweat, leaving an unpleasant (and possibly smelly) wet patch on your back and clothes.

By contrast, a pannier bag means that there is no contact with the skin while riding, and therefore no sweaty back – a win for you, your laundry pile and for your colleagues!

The other reason for a pannier bag is that it takes the load off your back, reducing strain while riding. OK, so you might have an extremely light load, but some days may call for a heavier bag, leaving you to bear the strain on your back if using a normal bag.

Clearly, strain on the back in the long term is not ideal and so a pannier helps to avoid this potential issue and make riding more comfortable and hygienic. A big win, I’m sure you will agree.

As panniers are designed specifically for cycling, most come as waterproof or with a waterproof cover, making them ready for all weather conditions, unlike the more standard backpacks.

I’ve had a lot of good use out of my Altura Morph Pannier Backpack, hence I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a good quality cycle commuter pannier/backpack that won’t break the bank. 

It is a little more expensive than a normal backpack, but it’s far more than a normal backpack! 

It’s also a lot cheaper than the premium panniers on the market yet it has several compartments and pockets, which many standard panniers do not.

As the Altura Morph is a two-in-one cycling bag for commuters, it converts in a few seconds from a fully fledged pannier on the back of your bike to a standard backpack that you can use around the office.

It has always had ample room for my wet-weather cycling gear, lunchbox, bottle of water and other daily essentials for work.

5. Pannier Rack (or ‘Rear Rack’)

So this might be a bit backward in terms of order but, if you’re going to get a pannier bag, you’ll need a pannier rack to fix it to!

I won’t spend much more time elaborating on why a pannier is so essential (see points in section above if you skipped them!), but I will say that a good quality pannier rack makes a cycle commute a heck of a lot easier and less stressful.

There are many options here but a good quality one will probably outlast your bike (!), so it will be money well spent.

Having a pannier or rear rack for cycling to work can also make it much easier to carry other things on your bike as you can start to fix other items with bungees onto the back if desired, too.

Just check that your bike has screws/holes for fitting a rear rack onto it before going out buying one. These are on the rear part of the bike frame, usually on the angled parts which extend to support the rear wheel, at about the same height as the top of the wheel.

One point to note is that road bikes do not usually have these as they are designed for speed. If you have a road bike and still want a rear rack for a pannier back, you can get a seat post version. Many of these are available but are generally for carrying a lighter load (which should be fine for most commuter bags anyway).

The rear rack I currently use on my commuter bike is the Specialized rear touring rack as this is sturdy enough to hold lots of bags for people going on epic touring adventures, meaning it is plenty strong enough for my cycle commuter bag without worrying about it.

6. Waterproof Gloves with Reflective Detail

When cycling to work, hands get cold very easily in rainy or windy conditions, even sometimes in summer!

Even on days when gloves are not needed when walking, hands will often feel cold on a bike given the exposure and movement.

The reflective detail here is particularly useful for turns as holding your hand out properly will mean that drivers will more likely see your signal and be aware of the turn.

The gloves I’d recommend for cycle commuters are the Proviz Reflect 360, which are also waterproof. These should cover just about all possible needs for a cycling glove!

7. USB Rechargeable Bike Lights

Essentially, USB rechargeable bike lights are the easiest and most convenient option for any cyclist working in an office environment.

USB charging options are everywhere and bike lights which charge in this way are unlikely to ever fail given the charging time and ease of use.

Most USB rechargeable bike lights also have standard cables meaning a replacement is easily found in an office if the cables are ever lost or misplaced.

For the front bike lights, which are white, the brightness needed depends on the darkest part of route. From my journey, I had a patch of cycle path with no lights for 10 minutes, so I got 1100 Lumen lights. 

I opted for these because the weaker (and cheaper) bike lights I initially bought were not bright enough for me to see any more than a few feet in front.

Hitting bumps and fallen branches on the path was a regular and scary occurrence, as were encounters with any oncoming cyclists with similar lights!

Fortunately, rear lights do not need to be as powerful, but they definitely need a flashing function to increase your visibility while cycling in rush hour traffic (or even cycle paths!)

Although my current bike light has been discontinued, I got my wife the Lezyne 110XL front light about a year aog and it has been really good for her. It comes with multiple settings and is easily taken on/off the bike (definitely remove bike lights when leaving your bike outside the office!).

As for a rear bike light for commuting, the Lezyne Zecto Drive Y11 Rear Light is a great option that is USB rechargeable. This is not my current light (which was made by Moon and has since been discontinued) but this is the exact one I will replace it with (if ever needed!).  

Both of the above have a wristwatch-like strap, making it easy to take them on/off – a definite bonus for saving time when locking your bike up outside the office (don’t be tempted to leave them on the bike during the day!).

8. Cycling Multi-tool

This allows you to adjust small things en route, like your seat or saddle, as well as any mudguards or similar issues.

These kinds of tools are generally lightweight and you should have no need to take out of bag day-to-day, leaving it there more for your peace of mind than an expected piece of kit to be used regularly!

You generally want one that has a variety of Allen/hex keys for all the most common parts on your bike.

I would also recommend, as per the heading above, a cycling-specific multitool as these come with lots of added features that other kinds of multi-tools don’t.

Another reason for a cycling multitool over more general types is that the cycling versions do not come with a knife, so you won’t have any trouble carrying them into your office!

9. Gold Standard Bike Lock with Cable

Let’s be clear about the need for a quality lock if you are going to be bike commuting even more than a few times a month.

You should definitely spend a bit more than you’d expect on a lock in order to get one with a security rating.

I can’t tell you how many people I see who use locks that look like they are out of a Christmas cracker and which probably wouldn’t stand more than a few seconds when faced with a determined thief.

I often ask the question: why have a nice bike for work only to leave it chained to a cheap lock and massively increase the chances of having it stolen?!

Getting a lock with a cable also means that you can secure your bike and your front wheel (which seem to get stolen more than you’d think).

I’d recommend locking the bike around the front of the frame and using the cable for the front wheel since the back wheel is more secure as it is not so easy to steal (although this is clearly still possible).

Price Guide for the Right Lock for Your Commuter Bike

I would always think of the following simple rule:

more expensive bikes = more expensive lock!

I know that seems like I’m stating the obvious but it’s advice based on what I’ve seen people fail to do time and time again!

As such, I’d suggest the following locks per price point:

Locks for Bikes Worth Less than $1,000: Kryptonite D Lock with Cable

Locks for Bikes Worth More than $1,000: Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit ($3,000 compensation for a stolen bike BUT heavy).

10. Helmet with Reflective Detail

Clearly, the benefits of a helmet when dodging in and out of traffic at rush hour should be fairly obvious.

Other than saving your head from a direct collision with concrete (or even a motor vehicle), helmets can add to your visibility during your commute, as well.

The great thing here is that a good commuter cycling helmet with reflective detail does not need to break the bank.

I currently use the Specialized Align Helmet and, apart from being very comfortable, it was also in the budget price range at around $45.

This particular model has webbing and print that are both reflective. My wife has it is in a hi-viz yellow (they didn’t have that in my size!) making her even more visible during the day.

Whichever helmet you use for your bike commute, get something that is both comfy and reflective!

11. Fenders (or Mudguards) on Front and Back Wheels

Hopefully you can find a good commuter bike that comes with these but if not, you’ll definitely want to add fenders (or mudguards) to both the front and rear wheels.

This is because, on days when the ground is even slightly wet, you will be left with a spray line (usually of grime/mud) all the way up your back. Not ideal if you don’t plan to change clothes when arriving at work!

Fenders are generally very light and still fit around panniers. I find them a pain to fit so I like to ask the shop where I buy them to fit them.

Summary

So, I hope that all of the points above have made things clearer for you on your journey to becoming a fully fledged bike commuter!

Remember the rules stated at the beginning of this post:

Start on good weather days in mild weather and build your way up from there.

That’s certainly what worked for me and I’m sure it’ll do the same for you.

Enjoy and get those wheels rolling!

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