What this blog is about

Bicycle commuting, bicycle touring, bicycle racing; bicycle ADVENTURING.
To the grocery store, up a mountain, across the country or to the finish line--
it's all an adventure.

Monday, July 14, 2008

How to turn your bicycle into a COMMUTING bicycle

This is my bike. It is a special bike. While the prominent feature is its useful carrying capacity (200lbs), there are lots of little, but important things that make my bike a commuting bike.

FRONT LIGHT. If you're going to commute by bicycle you should be prepared to ride in low-light conditions. A good light helps you not only to be seen, but also to help you see. I have been very happy with my Blackburn Voyager 3.0. For $30 at your local bicycle shop, you get a lot of light for your money. The only downside is that the "blink" mode makes me nauseous and I only turn it on briefly to catch the attention of oncoming drivers in very dark conditions. Otherwise I leave it on the "steady" mode and I love how it lights up the roadway for me (for not very much money!). It also mounts easily and I carry extra AAA batteries in case it dies mid-ride.
UPDATE, April 25, 2009: The Blackburn Voyager 3.0 initially provides a lot of light, but it's a "battery eater!" I am currently using a PrinctonTec light that has 3 mount options: helmet, handlebars, headlamp. I am also eyeing a Cat Eye light that my friend has. Keep an eye on the "gear reviews" section for an updated light review!

REAR LIGHT. Again, a commuter must be prepared for low-light conditions. Not only can a white front light and red rear light save your life, it's actually the law. I outfit my bike with two Planet Bike Blinky Super Flash rear lights which I love. They are the brightest red lights I've seen and come with an eye-catching crazy blinking option (bu-bu-BLINK!#BLINK!%, bu-bu-BLINK!#) as opposed to a rhythmic (blink. blink. blink.) that's easier to miss. They also mount really easily. It's not in this picture, but I've also added a safety triangle to the back of my bike which increases my visibility any time day or night. The reflective orange tape was also my addition and it is extremely reflective. I also used it on my Bikes at Work bicycle trailer. You can find some online at Identi-tape.

PUMP. A hand pump is part of the complete flat kit. If you're going to commute by bicycle, you need to know to fix a flat tire. The things I carry to fix a flat are basically: something to get the tire off, something to patch a hole, a spare tube if that doesn't work out and air to pump it up. I also carry back-ups for some things (like 2 sources of air) in case one doesn't work out. More specifically, this is what I carry:
  • Pump. I like my Wrench Force frame pump because it has a large shaft which makes pumping up your tire go faster (forget those tiny ones!). It also works on presta or shrader valves and fits nicely into my frame (which is amazing because my frame is SMALL!).
  • 2 CO2 cartridges & an applicator. This is a fast, yet wasteful and risky way to pump a tire. I keep it as a backup or if I need to get back on my bike fast (rainstorm!).
  • Tire levers. You only need 2 (or sometimes 1) to get a tire off, but it is best to carry 3 in case one breaks.
  • A "old fashioned" glue patch kit and the "new school" stick-on patch kit. Either work. What can I say? I like back-ups.
  • An extra tube in case your tire is not patchable or you're in a hurry (rainstorm!).
To learn HOW to fix a flat, I recommend asking someone to show you how. I've also posted this helpful video.

MAP, ADDITIONAL VISIBILITY & RAIN GEAR. Having an Xtracycle sure is handy-- there are handy pockets for keeping handy things. I keep a bright yellow rain jacket (the sleeves zip off!), a safety triangle (I kept it in there for passengers but now it's just mounted on the back of my bike. I may purchase another.), a bright orange poncho I bought at the thriftstore for $1 (again, for passengers or perhaps to cover & protect a load) and a map of Walla Walla.

(NOT PICTURED): FENDERS. I take them off for the hot, dry summer months- but for the rest of the year, I keep my butt and feet dry by installing fenders! For complete protection, I recommend mud flaps to stay extra dry. I am also eyeing these rain chaps or this rain cape or this nifty rain cape and spats (scroll down) for the next wet season which I would then keep tucked away on my bike.

(NOT PICTURED): BUNGEES. I keep lots of bungees in different lengths to help strap on awkward loads.

 PEDALS. The folks down at Rivendell Bicycle Works are adamant that bike shoes & pedals really aren't necessary and don't actually help much (in non-racing use)-- though I do love using them on my racing bike. On my racing bike. Otherwise- these simple yet grippy platform pedals are wonderful for hopping on in whatever you're wearing.

(NOT PICTURED): KICKSTAND. Again, no one is racing, so there is no reason to "save weight" and neglect to install a kickstand! They are superbly handy when parking your bike and are of great assistance when trying to load your groceries!

CARRYING CAPACITY. There are lots of ways to carry things on your bicycle. That's a whole post of its own, but to brief you.. a front basket, a rack and basket, a rack and panniers, a bicycle trailer, an Xtracycle, a bakfiet or cargo bike, or a very large bicycle trailer for those XXL loads (like your mattress and box spring). Also note the gray tape on my bags. I used strong fabric glue to adhere some reflective fabric tape to increase my side visibility. I bought the tape from Identi-tape.

PASSENGERS. Okay, so maybe not everybody's bike can do this- and you don't really need to just to commute.. but it sure is nice to be able to take passengers on your bicycle! Another solution for larger parties is just to bring along another bicycle (or two, or three!).

If you can think of any other 'essentials' to bicycle commuting or have questions about anything I've listed, please leave a comment!

Oh, and since we don't live in Copenhagen, please wear a HELMET!


Sandy Hereld said...

V. cool post! I've been commuting to work since June pretty reliably, but I've totally wimped out since the snow starting a few weeks ago.

Do you ride at all in snow? (or in the slushy days after the snow starts to leave?)

My other issue is I get hot v. easily, and eventually I end up taking off all of the clothing with reflective gear -- It's silly, but I wish more regular clothing had reflective detailing!

RJ said...

Hi Sandy!

I hope that you did find that post useful or at least interesting. :)

To answer your first question-- I do ride in snow, but it's a day-to-day decision. If it's slush-tastic outside, I'll usually stay inside. If it's dry and packed, riding is actually remarkably easy and a great way to show off. I should also note that I have *studded bicycle tires.* If you click on "Snow Riding" under my list of contents, you should find a review of the tires I've been using.

In regards to getting hot-- I am fortunate that Walla Walla gets cold, yet stays mostly dry. It's easier to find a comfortable temperature when you don't have to wear a sweat-trapping rain jacket. I have found wool to be super at regulating heat.

To stay cooler while wearing rain gear, I can't say I've used these products (again, WW is dry), but I will still recommend:
a) a rain cape (scroll down)
b) rain chaps
c) Or, what I plan to do if we ever get wet stuff that's not frozen on its way down-- I have a big, cheap yellow poncho I keep in my 'panniers' that I am going to rubber-band onto the handlebars to act as a rain cape.
d) Also, fenders and some nice waterproof casual shoes (like the KEENS I just reviewed) are key.

And finally, for reflective regular clothing! I think you'll love this. Casual khakis.. except when you fold up the pant leg or pull out the pocket-- REFLECTIVE!

Also, while most of their stuff is 'sporty', check out illuminite:

Ride on!

Jim said...

Funny, I was just in Walla Walla yesterday, down from Clarkston. Ate lunch at a little French place - Brasserie? Found your blog today googling Surly LHT + Xtracycle. Looking for the perfect do everything bike! Almost stopped at Waitsburg to bring home some microbrew, wish I had.

Less snow here for easy winter commutes and road rides along the Snake. Lots of good hills when it warms up. Keep up the inspiring adventure!

RJ said...

Hi, Jim. Thanks for the comment!

Yes, Brasserie Four-- quite wonderful, I hope you enjoyed them. They have been very supportive of our local fledgling food cooperative, Daily Market!

And I DO quite feel like mine has been a do-everything bike. I think of it as akin to a Subaru. At home off-road, on-road, while maintaining efficiency and pleasure to drive. :) But of course, everyone's version of 'perfect' is different!

Marc said...

u needa garmin gps for ur bike it would be a great thing

Average Joe Cyclist said...

Just found your blog. LOTS of great content, and I love this post on commuting. Also I felt a pang of nostalgia for my long-ago youth when I read that your favourite book is Winnie-the-Pooh (it was mine for years; sadly, none of my kids ever took to it). Hopefully you mean it (not being sarcastic), otherwise you will think I'm a loon! Anyway, added a link to your blog on mine, in Pooh and Bike solidarity.

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