So you’ve done your calculations, weighed up the options, and have attained that higher level of self-realisation: Cycle commuting makes sense.
You’ve chosen your two-wheeled wonder (see Part 1), so….what’s next?
There’s a lot of gear. Some essential, some practical, and a lot for those who just want more toys. For anyone new to cycling here’s a basic rundown.
- Helmets: Required by law. Research shows they reduce injury. And your head is pretty important, enough said.
- Lights: Must be used when riding at night. They can be either fixed beam or flashing, with white on the front and red on the rear. Lights fall into two broad categories; the types “to see” with, or the “be seen” variety. The “be seen” types (10-50 lumens) are sufficient for most urban situations and make you visible to even the most bleary-eyed of road users. If you cycle in poorly-lit streets or paths where vision is bugger-all to none, then the higher-powered “to see” lights (200+ lumens) are the best way to avoid hitting that tree. (JP’s handy hint: rechargeable lights cost a bit more but save on batteries, and can usually be charged via a USB. Some even have the connector built-in, meaning no cables wooo )
- Law says you need a bell (or horn). There is no available data on whether it saves lives, or if it makes you safer, if other cars can hear it, if walkers or joggers with headphones even notice them, or if that dog off-leash knows what it means, or if a ting-ting bell is any more use than shouting. You simply have to have a bell. (JP’s handy hint: In Sydney there are regular police blitzes to fine cyclists caught without one)
The Practical Bits:
- Hand pumps: You’ll need one. A saggy tyre is a sorry journey. Pumps can range in size and price, just make sure it suits your bike - a high-volume pump ( ~60psi / 4bar) is better for bigger tyres, whilst a high-pressure type (~ 120psi / 8bar) is needed for the narrower high-performance tyre. Also check that the pump fits your valve type; Presta are the skinny road-bike valves, Schrader are the bigger car valves seen on wider tyres (some pumps can do both). Floor pumps are the most efficient, but stay in the garage.
- Bottles: Your body is 90% water. A bottle + cage are essential to keeping it that way, especially on those hot days.
- Locks: If you don’t have a secure place to store your bike then these are the only option to stop thieving lowlifes or 'thugs'. Chains are best for security, but can be heavy and cumbersome. Cables are easiest to carry, but easier to cut through. U-locks lie somewhere in between. There’s also a decision between key locks (more secure) vs combination locks (no worries about losing a key, just don’t make the code 1111)
- Mobile phone mounts: not essential, but really handy for navigating cycle routes, using cycling apps, fitness tracking,oh... and communication (Important safety tip - it is illegal to use a hand-held phone whilst cycling)
- Gloves: your palms can get sweaty, but even sweat-soaked gloves will still grip handlebars and levers. There are winter-specific types to stop numbing fingers. The greatest benefit is in case of a spill - its usually your hands that react first. Skin: it’s soft stuff….
- Saddle bags: neat under-seat storage to keep spare tube(s), puncture repair kits, multi-tools, CO2 bulbs, tyre levers, etc, etc. It is the zenith for any rider’s obsession with self-sufficiency; the ultimate DIY survivalist metaphor, and worthy of an entire chapter in and of itself (look out for my upcoming dissertations on “Zen and the Art of Bicycle Roadside Repairs”)
The Final Frontier
- Lycra: From ladies rocking yoga pants (the de-rigeur-cafe-wear), to cycling MAMILs (middle-aged-men-in-lycra); there are those in society who decry it as a privilege, not a right. Well body-shamers be damned! - I’m a cyclist and I’ll wear whatever shiny tight spandex I want !! Cycling in regular pants is about as comfortable as surfing in denim jeans. It’s sport-specific-attire people……..get used to it!
- Clipless pedals and shoes: Ok - stay with me here: those fancy cycling shoes that click into pedals and lock your feet into position. They’re called “clipless” because they no longer use the old-style leather straps and toeclips to anchor the foot…….got it? (nope, me neither). The thing is no pro-tour rider would be seen dead without them, swearing by pedal efficiency gains of up to 30%. Others reckon there’s little difference between the clipless pedals and standard flat pedals. I love both. (And if you want to go clipless, just make sure you practice a gajillion times whilst standing still).
Whether it’s your lunch, a laptop or a lounge suit (yes it can be done): have a think about the options -
- Backpacks: These are good for big loads, and there are no concerns for security as it goes wherever you go. Downsides? - they can become sweaty on your back and shoulders on hot days. Chest straps are useful, but waist straps are more of a hindrance when cycling.
- Messenger (cross-body) bags: easier to carry, less cumbersome, but not a spacious as a backpack. Look for those with a fixing strap attached to the main shoulder strap as they keep the bag from swinging down your side.
- Panniers: Keep your body free and can carry much bigger loads, though they need a rack to support them (proper mounting points built into your bike are best for this). Also consider security; if you walk away from your bike at your local shops you may need to unhook the panniers and lug them with you.
If you’re lucky enough to not need more than a phone, wallet and keys then cycle jerseys are your best friend. Those back pockets swallow loads, are easily reached, yet unobtrusive when riding. And remember, there’s no shame in lycra.