Commuting by bike is a simple, fast and cheap form of transport to get around the city. However, there are a few things you need to consider to make sure that your cycle to work is a happy and safe experience. We have put together a checklist of some important things to consider so that you arrive at work on time and ready for the day ahead.
What commuter bike accessories do you need?
While your bike will come with tyres, and any tyre will work for commuting, city streets are littered with glass and potholes waiting to dish out punctures to unsuspecting cyclists. Upgrading to a high-quality specific commuting tyre will greatly improve reliability as they prioritise puncture resistance and durability. Featuring additional puncture-resistant layers, thicker rubber and reinforced sidewalls to keep debris from causing damage. If you are accustomed to road tyres you may notice a rolling resistance and weight penalty but we think, as a trade-off for not having to fix a puncture in the rain when you're late for work, it is more than worth it.
There are many commuting tyre options to suit all riders from the tank-like Schwalbe Marathon’s to winter training tyres like Continental Gatorskins, for more information check out our guide to the best commuting bike tyres for a breakdown of the best commuting tyres available and what to look for in when buying tyres for commuting.
- Best commuting bike tyres: rubber for riding around town
While they aren't necessarily an essential commuter item, full mudguards make a huge difference to riding enjoyment in poor weather conditions. By keeping the dirt, grime and spray off you and your bike, rider comfort is greatly increased and wear on expensive drivetrain components reduced. They may look a little dorky, but after the first commute in the rain without a wet bottom, or having to hose down your salt-covered drivetrain, you won’t look back.
Mudguards come in many different forms and you really get what you pay for, full mudguards are the way to go if you have the mounting points and SKS Bluemels is a great budget option. If you don’t have mudguard mounts on your bike or are looking for something a bit more premium, check out our road bike mudguard guide to learn everything you need to know about mudguards.
- Road bike mudguards: the best bike fenders available this winter
3. Pumps, tubes and repair kits
No matter how puncture-resistant your tyres are, the day will come when they are faced with a nail or piece of glass that is just too much to shrug off. Carrying a pump, spare tube, tyre levers and repair kit will mean that you aren’t left stranded halfway between work and your house. These items can live in your backpack or, even better, stored in a little saddle bag on the bike so you always have them when they are needed.
Pumps come in two types depending on the type of tyres that you have. Road bike pumps are capable of achieving high pressures, and while mountain bike pumps cant achieve the same pressures they push more air per stroke to inflate large tyres faster.
Choosing the correct spare innertube may seem like a mystery if you are unsure what size you need, however, all tyres should display the diameter and the tyre thickness, for example, 700x28C. If in doubt your local bike shop will be more than happy to help you find the correct size innertube for your bike.
Swapping a tube will get you back on the road quickly but a good old fashioned repair kit will get you out of a truly sticky situation. They generally come in two options, self-adhesive or standard patches and glue. Self-adhesive patches can be a bit hit-and-miss although we have had good experiences with Park Tool’s Puncture Repair Kit Super Patch. For a standard patch kit, Wiggle’s own brand, LifeLine Puncture Repair Kit comes with everything you need for the paltry sum of £1.25. It is important to remember that any patch is a temporary fix and, although we have seen standard patches hold tight for years, there is always a chance they will come unstuck in the future.
- Best bike pumps: The best mini-pumps, floor pumps and CO2 inflators
The best bike multi-tools can prove the difference between riding home and paying for a taxi, and will be extremely handy should something come loose or need to be adjusted mid-commute. It doesn’t need to be a foldable workshop in your pocket, but simply having a few common size hex keys and a screwdriver can make the difference between riding home or walking home. We recommend looking for a tool with at least a 3mm, 4mm, 5mm and 6mm hex keys, Philips and flat-head screwdrivers, Torx keys (if your bike uses Torx bolts) and a chain breaker. These tools will likely get you moving again 95 per cent of the time.
For the winter months, lights are a necessity as commutes are likely to happen in dim light conditions and poor weather. In summer you may feel that there is no need for lights, however, even during the day, daytime running lights can make a cyclist far more visible to other road users. The best front lights and rear lights will have different modes to cover all riding conditions, just make sure they are charged and ready for the morning ride.
Depending on your local laws, wearing a helmet might not be compulsory, however, we would always recommend wearing one no matter the distance of your ride. It is irrefutable that, even in the event of a slow-speed crash, a helmet will provide potentially life-saving protection. Helmets come in a huge number of shapes and sizes but are best divided into three subcategories: road bike helmets, mountain bike helmets and commuter helmets.
All helmets purchased from reputable manufacturers and retailers will be required to comply with local safety standards, however, each category will specialise in a particular field. Road helmets will be lightweight and well ventilated while mountain bike helmets boast features for increased coverage as well as the addition of visors. Commuter helmets generally offer a more casual aesthetic and may include more city riding features such as built-in lights and reflective panels to aid rider visibility.
- Best road bike helmets: Helmets that perfectly balance safety, comfort and performance
- Best mountain bike helmets: the best MTB helmets of the year
- Best commuter helmets: safe and stylish helmets designed for the city streets
7. Pedals and shoes
Deciding what shoes to wear while commuting really depends on your journey. For short distances in which you wear your normal clothing and regular shoes, platform pedals will be the best option. That said, should your commute go over longer distances or be required to deal with inclement weather, then cycling-specific footwear is advisable.
What shoes to choose from will depend on whether you prefer a flat pedal or clipless pedal setup for commuting. SPD SL and clipless road bike pedals attach the shoe to the bike for better power transfer, however, mountain bike flat pedals will appeal to less confident riders or those that require a sure-footed shoe to walk in. The middle ground would be a mountain bike clipless pedal and shoe which uses a different mechanism and recessed cleat in the shoe.
- Best road bike pedals: Our pick of the best performance road bike pedals
- Best pedals for MTB: our pick of the 10 best mountain bike pedals you can buy this year
Bike thieves are an unfortunate reality so equipping yourself with the best bike lock will help ensure that your bike will be where you left it. D-locks are generally the best way to go thanks to their compact size and security features although they can be somewhat limiting when it comes to choosing your anchoring point. There are other options such as chains and compact folding mechanisms.
- Best bike locks: Keep your bike safe with our pick of the best locks
9. Emergency procedures
With governments increasingly investing in cycling networks to improve safety and encourage environmentally friendly modes of transport, it has never been a safer time to commute by bicycle. However, unexpected circumstances can arise so it is important to consider what you need in case of an emergency. This could be as simple as checking the weather and investing in a jacket, to the worst-case scenario of a crash or collision with a car.
No matter how careful and responsible you are, accidents do happen and it is important to be prepared. As most commuters carry a mobile phone this will likely be the most important tool in the event of an emergency. Something as simple as making sure it is charged will allow you to call for help or for emergency services to access your details and ICE (in case of emergency) contact information.
Many brands have developed tracking and alert features that assist if something goes wrong such as helmet manufactures such as POC and Specialized. POC’s Medical ID feature allows first responders to access medical info using NFC, while Specialized’s ANGi system and Strava's Beacon will send a distress call if it detects you having a crash. All these features are aimed at saving valuable time which can make a huge difference in a critical situation. GPS computers also include tracking features and even phone apps like Strava have a live tracking feature although you will need to pay a subscription.