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Bike Commuting: Equipment

In this second week of the Bike to Work challenge, Alex and I pooled our wisdom to share advice about equipment. Last week we shared our Road Rules.  We absolutely believe in the power of the pedal and are happy to give personalized advice by email should you want to write us!

Equipment:

  • Get a decent bike.  I ride a Surly Cross Check and Alex has an updated vintage Fuji road bike and a Surly Karate Monkey for commuting.  Measure yourself and potential bikes to make sure they fit.  City riders are likely to encounter rough surfaces often, so a cross or commuter model makes most sense.  29er mountain bikes can also be configured with no suspension and fat road slicks like Alex's Karate Monkey for a versatile comfortable ride.  Disc brakes are best for superior stopping, though my bike performs just fine with the cantilever style.  If all the bike speak is gobblygook to you, Alex loves talking this stuff.  Email him for specific advice.
  • Outfit your ride with proper accessories.  A Bicycle Head Light and Tail Light are a must.  A Fender Set make riding in foul weather much more pleasant, a very high priority in our opinion.  If you intend to carry anything with you, a rack and/or panniers are handy. I love my trunk bag with side panniers. I have a basic computer to mark time and distance; Alex has a Garmin Edge 205 because he's a gadget freak to track more details.
  • Saddle matters.  Sometimes cyclists go through several saddles before finding the one that is least uncomfortable.  Alex and I both have settled on Brooks Leather Saddle.  They mold to your specific sits bone structure aka "ass grove", providing a customized fit that eventually makes the saddle seem to disappear.  Making fine adjustments to the height and angle of your saddle can make all the difference for long term riding comfort.
  • Wear a helmet.  For the love of all that is good, protect your noggin.  After a couple dozen miles wearing a helmet you will hardly notice it is there until you crash and are glad you had it on.  Trust me.
  • Carry a tire emergency kit.  While our Schwalbe tires have never gone flat, every other tire we've used has had a flat once in awhile.  You can either carry a repair kit or replacement tube (we opt for the tube) and a slim hand pump or CO2 inflater.
  • Glasses.  Each of us have a pair of Tifosi 3 lens sunglasses.  While the sun protection is nice, what glasses really do on a bike ride is keep your eyes clear of grit, dust and wind.

Clothing

  • Materials.  We love merino wool clothing for superior breath-ability and comfort. Synthetics are also available more cheaply, even at thrift stores if you look.  Riding in street clothes is certainly possible and many people do it, but the seams, inflexibility, and discomfort when wet makes me change into cycling clothes whenever I'm going more than a couple miles.
  • Chamois.  I am most comfortable in compression shorts without a 'junk pad'.  Alex always wears shorts with a chamois.  Different parts lead to different preferences, I guess.
  • Cycling shoes and pedals.  We love our Clipless/Clip Pedals and wear shoes and clips for almost every ride, though these pedals have a flat side for quick jaunts.  They seem like an add-on that isn't necessary but only a few miles into my first ride with clipless pedals I understood how much more power I was getting out of my ride.
  • Gloves.  Padded cycling gloves absorb road shock so your wrists and shoulders don't have to.  I also try to remember to put them on when I'm loading or moving my bike so the gloves take the grease instead of my skin.  After going through a few expensive pairs, we both opt for cheap versions now because they do compress and need to be replaced frequently.

Those are our bike equipment essentials.  After the initial bike purchase, we added items slowly, giving them as gifts for holidays and birthdays over a few years.  Bike loot is a big investment, but the health and environmental benefits of bike riding are totally worth it to us.