10 Gear Essentials for Biking to Work
Thinking about starting to commute by bike to work? Congrats, you’ll find that biking to work is not only better for your health and the environment, it’s more fun, too.
Riding a bike is one of the most simple outdoor activities there is. Most of us started riding a bike when we were kids. But whether you ride often or it’s been awhile, you may want some gear to be prepared for your new means of commuting.
If you still need to purchase your bike, this is our top commuter pick for under $500.
Like most outdoor activities, there’s a laundry list of gear out there that could help your ride be more comfortable and safe. We put together the below list to get you started, whether your ride is a mile or two, or more of a long haul. This gear will get you started and make sure you’re ready to ride Monday through Friday.
Clothing for Wet Conditions
One thing is for sure: you don’t want to walk into work in the morning after your morning ride looking like you just got in an hour-long battle with the rainstorm that, by the way, wasn’t in the weather forecast.
Weather can be unpredictable, so you should be prepared for rain when commuting to work by bike. If you have the right gear, you’ll walk into work in the morning, and out of work in the afternoon, with full confidence and comfortability.
Like we said, rain can come out of nowhere. Overshoes will help ensure your feet stay dry, whether it’s raining when you ride or you simply encounter some wet pavement. If you don’t mind carrying the extra gear, biking to work in a separate pair of shoes than your work shoes is a good idea. However, if your workplace is more casual, you may want to commute in the same shoes you’ll wear all day. Either way, wet shoes (and feet) are no fun. Get a pair of overshoes and you’ll be ready for anything.
2. Waterproof Clothing
While wet feet are no fun, neither is walking into work looking like you just jumped into the pool in your clothes for the day. The type of waterproof clothing you choose should depend on how much you’re willing to pack. If you bike in separate clothes than you wear to work, you may just want a rain jacket. However, if you’re biking in your work clothes for the day, we’d recommend a full rain suit that covers you head to toe. This rain gear is quick drying and compact, so don’t worry - it won’t take up much room in your pack.
Safety and Bike Equipment
Safety should be your top priority when you’re getting ready to start biking to work. In a survey, 54 percent of Americans said fear of getting hit by a car held them back from riding a bike.
However, with some thought and preparation you'll feel much more confident. Put some thought into the route you’ll take to work. Try to utilize bike lanes and bike-friendly routes whenever possible. It will not only make you more safe while on the road, it will also allow you to relax and enjoy more of your ride each day. A helmet isn’t included on the list below because that’s just a no-brainer. The below items will ensure you’re safe while on the road and the fenders will just help keep you dry, clean and comfortable - almost equally important.
Depending on the hours of your job, time of year you’ll be riding and part of the country you live in, there may be times you’re riding in the dark. Lights are absolutely a must-have item when bike commuting. Even if you don’t think you’ll be riding in low-light situations, unexpected situations come up and you should be prepared.
In many areas of the country a front and bike light is required by law, but you should use bike lights even if it isn’t required in your area. You’ll want to find a bright headlight that will illuminate the road ahead of you, while also signaling to drivers that you’re on the road. Many bike lights come in a package with a red light to project at your rear, similar to an automobile tail light. Any time you’re riding at dusk or dawn, in foggy situations or anything else with limited visibility, your lights should be on.
4. High Visibility Clothing
Next to lights and a helmet, some high visibility clothing is the most important safety gear you can have in your pack. Look for bright colors when riding during the day. You want to stand out to drivers and ensure they see you from a distance away. Look for opportunities to add reflective gear wherever you can - your shirts, backpack if you’ll be carrying one on your back, etc. If drivers can see both your bike lights and reflective clothing while you’re riding in low-light situations, you’ll be much more safe on the road.
5. Hybrid Tires
If your bike commute route is anything like ours, you’ll encounter all different types of terrain and not all pavement will be perfect. Sometimes we find ourselves in a rough patch of pavement or there’s debris in the road. In fall, there can be leaves covering the streets or you could have to cruise through the border of a street construction area that’s dusty or has uneven pavement.
In any of these conditions, a hybrid tire will ensure you can keep a grip on the pavement and don’t lose control of your bike and take a spill. No one needs to start their work day with a spill on the bike. Instead, find a great hybrid tire and ride with confidence. You want to look for a tread that is aggressive enough to handle loose terrain, but also work with your local bike shop to make sure it will fit your bike, particularly between the width of your front fork.
6. Fenders and Mudguards
Fenders are on our short list for bike commuting gear for one simple reason: they’ll prevent you from being covered in mud, water or anything else that will make it appear like you had an accident on your way into work. We don’t want that. Plus, it’s no fun and terribly uncomfortable to ride while you’re wet.
Many don’t like the look of traditional fenders on a bike - and honestly, we’re in that camp, too. If you don’t want to add mudguards to your bike, there’s also plenty of clip-on and temporary options out there. Just pop them on your bike when commuting in nicer clothes and you’ll have the best of both worlds at your fingertips.
Similar to most outdoor activities, being well prepared is a key to long-term success. Things don’t always go to plan, and being prepared allows you to adjust when things don’t go perfectly to plan. Along with things like waterproof clothing, the two items below are important to pack, even if you don’t think you’ll ever need them. We kept this list short, because we hate an over packed bag as much as the next person. The items below won’t add much bulk, and each pulls its weight in terms of long-term value on your commute.
For those dryer days, make sure you have a bottle of sunscreen packed. Depending on your schedule and the time of year, you may not need it in the mornings or evening part of your ride, but odds are, you’ll encounter sunny days on your commute. Plus, it’s a good idea to apply an SPF to your face daily, even if you’re one of those people who “doesn’t burn.” You can look for a face moisturizer with SPF built-in, or buy a smaller travel size for your pack. Just make sure it’s at least a 15 SPF.
8. Repair Kit
There are a few basic repairs you should always be prepared to make, and this includes your commute ride. There’s nothing worse than puncturing a tire tube on your ride to work and having no means to fix it, meanwhile you’re running late.
It’s a good idea to always carry two spare tire tubes and a patch kit for a quick fix on the fly. A tire lever will also help make these changes much easier and quicker. A quality multi-tool that’s made specifically for biking should be the only other thing you absolutely must have. It will allow you to do everything from tighten your chain to tighten bolts throughout your bike. Look for a multi-tool that has a phillips and flat head screwdriver, hex wrenches (3 to 6 mm) and Torx wrenches (specifically a T-25).
Now that we’ve given you all kinds of things you need to pack for your commute, where are you going to put it all? Carrying a backpack is definitely one option, but another is to add storage panniers to your bike. This all comes down to the overall purpose of your bike and what else you do with it, along with your tolerance for carrying a backpack each day. Experiment with different ways to carry your gear and see which methods work best for you.
You’re probably going to have more stuff to pack on your work commute than you will on most other rides. Aside from the things you’ll want to have to be prepared for repairs or night riding, you’ll also have whatever you pack to work - laptop, lunch, gym clothes and those presentations you were up all night reviewing. If you don’t want to carry everything on your back, panniers are a great option. They can feel a little bulky if you’ve never ridden with them before, but you adjust quickly.
Panniers also balance the weight evenly so you feel balanced on the road. There are all kinds of panniers out there in every size you could imagine. We recommend riding for a week or two with a backpack to start. See how much gear you really carry on you and how much you want to carry in a backpack. This info will help you make a decision on panniers - you don’t want to get ones that are bigger and bulkier than you need.
You may already carry a backpack in and out of work on the days you aren’t commuting by bike. If this is the case, you may just want to throw your usual backpack on when commuting by bike and add a few other key items in there. Odds are, however, you’ll find your backpack is more stuffed than you’d like it to be. So you have a couple options: purchase a bigger backpack that’s designed for commuting or split up your storage between a backpack and panniers. Biking backpacks will have better support and stability, keeping you more comfortable with more weight and bulk. Or you can simply load up the extra stuff in your panniers and utilize your backpack for light items like your work laptop and folders.