Bike commuting essentials part 1

Bike Commuting Essentials Part 1 – Le vélo

So you wanna start bike commuting? Great. Now what are the essential items you need to get started?

Getting into anything for the first time can be overwhelming. And if you hang around the internet long enough you’ll start thinking you need everything. So I decided to create a “bike commuting essentials” series of posts to clear things up a bit.

These will be different that most posts, I promise, because nobody is paying for me to recommend their products here.

But if Dahon or Diamondback wants to send me some cash or a free bike, I ain’t stopping them.

So here it is, the complete list of mandatory items you need to start bicycle commuting:

  •  A bicycle

In order to bike commute you need a bike and that’s about it. If we’re being technical you should also be wearing clothes but I’m going to go assume that you’re a functioning human being who chooses to wear clothes in public places. So let’s carry on.

Obviously, there are some more items you should consider as safety, comfort and efficiency need to be addressed. Those will be addressed in the accessories post and the winter bike commuting post.

But I want to start simple and don’t want you buying a buncha stuff you don’t need. That’s the purpose of this blog.

We all have different commutes – those who don’t ride at night have no use for a headlight so I can’t say its mandatory in all cases. In all cases of bike commuting a bike is mandatory, everything else is a need based choice.

So lets start there. The bicycle.

Q: What is the best bike for commuting?

A: A functioning one

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Google that question and you’ll undoubtedly come across 4,000 articles which give you “10 best bikes for bike commuting” where the cheapest one is $900. You can literally go to a yard sale, buy a bike a functioning bike for $25 and start riding to work. That’s it, don’t over think it. That old busted mountain bike in your basement, sure that’ll do.

But there can be some things to consider: location, length of commute, weather and storage. These can all still be considered at that yard sale, or at the bike store, it really doesn’t matter. They’re amazing investments even if you end up spending too much. You will save money, reduce your carbon footprint, be healthier, make the roads safer and be happier.

If you’re unsure that you’ll like bike commuting then buy some clunker at a yard sale and test it out first before you make a “major” purchase.

Or offer your neighbor a few beers to borrow that road bike that sits in his garage unused. You know, the one he bought for that triathlon he did once. It’s probably a baller of a bike too, my guess is a Trek. Yuppies love them a good Trek. He’ll prob be happy to stop tripping over it on his way to his car.

So what kind of bike(s) should you consider?

Commuting Location

Urban:

For those of us who commute in cities I recommend either a hybrid/commuter or a folding bike. A decent hybrid/commuter bike will run you about $300-$600 new and is characterized by slightly wider tires than standard road bikes and flat handle bars. This allows riders sort of “best of both worlds” between road and mountain bikes – a tad slower than a road bike with some of the utility of a mountain bike. It’s really perfect for the varied terrain of a city.

If space is not an issue and you’re commuting around a city then a hybrid should probably be your bike.

The folding bike (my weapon of choice is the Dahon Speed P8 below) is characterized by its ability to fold and its hilariously small tires.IMG_1681 They’re a bit pricier than a standard commuter bike (~$500-$600 for a decent Dahon) so you may want to consider your need for it before buying it.

For those of us with a multi-modal commute (car – bike, subway – bike, helicopter – bike, etc) or a tiny, overpriced Manhattan studio then the ability to store and put away the folding bike makes it really desirable. Here it is folded. Tell me that’s not awesome.

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Plus, like the hybrid bike, the Speed P8 allows riders to handle various terrain with relative ease. It’s virtually impossible not to love riding a folding bike. I like mine so much I’ve given it three nicknames (The Dinker Dooter, Le petit vélo and Dahoni Jones). Brompton makes a fabulous folding bike as well but they’ll run you about a grand.

Suburbs: 

If you’re riding longer distances on normal roads I would suggest either a hybrid/commuter bike or a standard endurance road bike. An endurance frame is your typical road bike and is a little more relaxed than a racing frame.

Who’s racing to get to work anyway? They literally have to pay you to be there so whats the rush?

Look for a good “bike store” brand so you can be assured it will have decent components and be assembled properly (just to name a few: Cannondale, Giant, Specialized, Trek, Fuji, Diamondback, Felt, Raleigh). There’s plenty more, just ask the internet.

I like recognizable brands because most bike stores know how to fix them and they’ll sell easier if you decide you don’t want them anymore. Nobody wants your used WalMart bike and trying to move a Pinarello is like trying to sell a Ferrari – they’re beautiful and amazing but a require very niche buyer. I personally own two Cannondales, a Felt, and a Dahon.

Quick note – Diamondback has recently entered into the road bike market and you’ve probably noticed their prices are quite attractive. Some people snub their nose at Diamondbacks (gear snobs!) but we love them here. Those people are idiots.

You can get a LOADED bike for a fraction of the price of comparable builds from other brands. THEY LITERALLY PUT THE SAME COMPONENTS ON THEM AS THE OTHER BRANDS. Think about it, if they’re good enough for pro cyclists they’re probably good enough to get your lazy butt around. Don’t let your yuppie neighbor convince you otherwise.

Woods/snowy places

If you live in the woods or a place with tough terrain then a mountain bike is probably your best bet. I’m not a fan of the fat tire craze so I’d go with a standard hard tail (sorry for the jargon. Hardtail means it has no rear suspension) mountain bike.

I doubt your commute requires any jumps so rear suspension is probably a bit of overkill, but whatever floats your boat man.

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Mountain bikes can be used in suburbs and urban areas too but they’re just slower than road and hybrid bikes. If I were riding longer than 5 miles on roads I probably wouldn’t go with a mountain bike. I also wouldn’t ride a road bike in the woods. That’s why hybrids are so great. Unless you need to cross a canyon you can probably roll with a hybrid in most cases.

So I hope this has helped some. Getting into bike commuting is fun and choosing a bike can be a bit overwhelming for a beginner. Whatever you choose you’ll have a good time, I swear.

The next post well cover accessories (helmets, bags, lights, fenders, etc.). Those are also important.

Until then. Happy riding.