If you’re thinking about commuting to work it’s worth considering a checklist of practical must-haves, in order to make sure you can negotiate the urban jungle safely but also turn up to work in a presentable state – let’s face it, rocking up to your Monday morning briefing meeting in team–issue bib shorts and helmet is hardly going to endear you to the powers that be (unless they’re biking mad too…).
Even as Sunday morning roads are thronged with chain-ganging club runners, the longer days and evenings make the possibility of biking to work a great way to eke out more miles for many riders.
So without further ado here is our commuter checklist:
Short-hop Sam – commutes of up to 5km
What’s up, city slicker? If your commute consists of little more than a few blocks across the urban jungle, you obviously don’t need to pack enough gear for a huge trip.
Our top tips include:
If your city-based commute can be measured in terms of half a dozen tube stops, any bike really will do, but a hybrid-style city bike is built for the job.
Nothing beats the practicality on offer from this style of bike – mudguards, a rear carrier, basket (why not?) and bell – it’ll all come in handy. However be wary of ‘extras’ that you may not need, one case in point being suspension forks. For most city bikes they are cheap, clunky and add nothing but weight.
Many short-hop city commuters may not consider investing in bike-specific clothing, simply wearing the same clothes to ride to work as they would in the office. However some key outer layers – waterproof biking trousers, a breathable-but-waterproof cycling jacket, proper gloves and a Buff-style neck gaiter – may protect against sudden changes in the weather and prevent anyone coming into the office looking like a drowned rat. Gilets and lightweight tops are a great choice too.
Also, cycle-specific clothing is available in hi-vis colour options or with reflective piping, helping to ensure you’re seen in low light.
No matter how short your work commute, we wouldn’t advise taking to the streets without a helmet. Pro tip: When negotiating city streets you will need a sixth-sense for unwitting pedestrians, a clear voice or a loud bell. Preferably all three.
Mid-range Martha – commutes of 5-20km
Of course, the more distance you are going to have to travel on your commute, the more prepared you will need to be.
When faced with a journey of more than a couple of kilometres you are going to have to factor in possible weather changes, the chance of mechanical trouble, etc. Be prepared, as the scouts say.
Here are our top tips for commutes of 5-20km:
The further you have to go, the more important the bike is going to be. There’s still a place for the city hybrid but look for a lightweight model with a good range of gears, or even a flat-barred road bike with a light frame and wheels that will see you from home to office in speed.
Of course, a normal road bike will also serve perfectly well but look for one with commuter-friendly touches such as rack mounts (so you can put on a luggage rack) and enough clearance for mudguards. Some commuters find that touring bikes, cyclo-cross bikes or even the new breed of adventure/gravel bikes offer the perfect blend of comfort, speed and versatility that a good commuter bike needs.
Again, the longer you are going to be in the saddle the more prepared you need to be, so few riders taking on a 10-mile commute would do so in street clothes only. Your options include waterproof, breathable outer layers worn over office gear (waterproof pants, shell jackets etc) if the weather isn’t great or more specific ‘dual duty’ clothing that can be worn on the bike but won’t look out of place at a presentation. Cycling-specific clothing is perfect for this length of commute too, and probably the more comfortable choice for longer distance rides.
Some riders may choose to bring their office clothes with them in a backpack or pannier bag and change at work – this largely depends on the distance you have to cover and the facilities that are available to you.
Lights and a lock– these go without saying. But if you have a longer commute the consideration of how to carry your gear becomes greater.
Courier bags have the disadvantage of uneven weight distribution and even the best-ventilated backpacks may lead to ‘sweaty back’ syndrome (sadly incurable) so many mid-distance urban commuters opt to fit out their steeds with a rack and pannier system to carry office essentials, laptop, lunch, work clothes etc.
Again some bikes may not have the required mounts for ‘proper’ racks so investigate the alternatives (e.g. seatpost-mounted rear racks) or considering investing in a commute-specific bike. If the latter is an option also look for key features like mudguard clearance, and bear in mind that such a bike will also make an ideal winter trainer, so saving your ‘good’ bike for those dry summer evenings.
Again, with increased distances comes the increased possibility of mechanical error or breakdown so ensure you have a pump, spare tube, tyre levers and multi-tool so you can fix a puncture or sort most mechanicals – you’re probably not going to be able to just hop on a bus or just walk the rest of the way so don’t get caught out.
Pro tip: Park Tool’s super patch kit allows for fast and easy puncture repairs, but you may want to consider carrying a spare tube too.
Long-haul Larry – commutes of 20km and more
If your commute looks to most people like a solid training ride (20km or more, for example) then you need to treat it like so, and prepare accordingly.
Indeed, many’s the roadie with a chunky commute who uses it as an ideal opportunity to fit in some sneaky training hours midweek. More power to them, and you.
A long commute, like any big ride, isn’t going to be fun without the right bike for the job, and that means a drop-barred road bike. This will have the lightweight frame/wheels, wide gear range, narrow tyres and correct positioning to eat up the roads in a way that a hybrid just can’t.
If you’re considering a 20km commute (there and back, remember?) as doable you probably already have a road bike but if you don’t , consider taking the plunge. If your commute features a mix of flat and hilly terrain considering your gearing – the lower gear options of a compact or triple chainset, for example, may be more practical than a big-ringed racing drivetrain.
For long distances you’ll need not only the bike to suit, but also the right clothing – this means thermal base layers for cold mornings, tight-fitting jerseys, waterproof and breathable outer layers and padded bike shorts or bib shorts. If the weather’s playing ball – bibshorts and short sleeve jerseys it is!
Obviously this rules out wearing the same clothes in work, so you will need to work out a system of changing into office clobber, either by bringing it with you daily or as may be more practical, by leaving a selection of work clothes in the office and changing before you start your workday.
It’s worth adding too that proper cycling shoes and pedals make pedalling more efficient so are recommended – but you’ll need ‘work shoes’ in the office as you can’t walk around in cleats.
You’ll need all the normal riding essentials but really, if you have a long-distance commute you’ll want to keep things light so ideally won’t be loading up a pannier with laptop, folders and office wear.
Most long-haul commuters will try to keep their on-bike luggage to the bare minimum, carrying (at most) a small and streamlined backpack with the day’s essentials, lunch and shower gear etc., leaving the rest at the office.
Remember as well that you’ll need to hydrate and fuel just as you would on any training ride, so ensure your bike has a bottle/cage or your backpack has a water reservoir, and make sure to stick some snacks in your pocket in case your energy dips.
Pro tip: The last stretch of your second commute of the day after a long day’s work can be a test of your endurance. Keep some energy gels in your commuter backpack for an emergency fuel hit if you find yourself miles from home with an empty tank.
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