Bike with GroceriesThe single most important (and cheapest!) accessory that a bicycle commuter will want is a pants guard, aka ankle strap. This handy device is worn wrapped around your pants near your ankle and keeps your pants from brushing against the chain and getting covered in black grease. If you’re without an ankle strap, you can always just tuck your pants into your socks.

Cyclists who plan to commute in all weather may want to consider fenders. They’ll help keep you from getting splashed as you ride in the rain or snow and keep you considerably dryer and cleaner. Some cyclists chose to make their own quicky fenders out of pieces of bleach bottles.

Other useful accessories include a basket or rack of some sort to help carry your lunch or that loaf of bread you pick up on your way home. A water bottle holder is also handy so you can stay hydrated on your ride. A good thermos will help folks who are used to taking a mug of coffee from home in the mornings.

Some stuff that might fit more under safety and maintenance but provide comfort in the form of peace of mind:

  • A portable bike pump
  • A patch kit and spare tube (especially if you have far to travel)
  • A rear view mirror – some attach to your helmet, some attach to your handle bars
  • A bell – not as loud as a car horn, but nice for warning pedestrians or giving a friendly hello

Not all cyclists will need all of these accessories. Once you’ve been riding for a few weeks it will become clear which ones are right for you.

17 comments on “Accessories

  1. Phoenix Biker says:

    My vote is for good reflectors if riding at night. It is the law in many places. I enjoyed the writeup and am going to remember a few of the recommendations when I start biking again. Got my eyes on a schwinn and as soon as I can get a break from my job you can rest assured I’m going to bike like crazy.

  2. Labann says:

    Bindle: A plastic zip lock bag with cash, cell phone, keys, levers, inflater cartidges, other stuff you'd like to keep dry or organize. Makes for a quick grab before ride. A bag mounted to bike is good for carrying at least 2 tubes; did you think you'd get away with only 1? The best mirror is the Take a Look that attaches to your safety glasses, which are essential if you want to avoid being blinded by SUV tires flicking stones in your face. Wear bright colors and suitable apparel for comfort and safety.

    Fenders do an excellent job of directing a flood onto your shoes. Never use them.

  3. Mark Dieterich says:

    Fenders do an excellent job of directing a flood onto your shoes. Never use them.

    I totally disagree with this. Put a good set of full coverage fenders on your bike and you will stay much cleaner riding on wet days. Add a set of mud flaps and you increase your level of cleanliness even more. I view panniers and fenders as two of the best upgrades I ever made to my bike!

  4. Labann says:

    Mark: There are different types of rides and riders. If you're one who braves bad weather, fenders are the least of your protections. You can stay a little dry with right apparel, but expect to get soaked anyway. Often had to wring out my gloves, which I always wear. Don't see anyone (except one I know) who commutes 25 miles with fenders.

    Reflectors aren't going to get the job done at night. In other countries lights are mandatory. I use L&M, red blinking back and white steady front, which can been seen literally a mile away. More importantly, I can read roads. At night, traffic moves faster, so that only gives motorists about 45 seconds to check next lane, lower cell phone, and react. Reflectors offer about 5 seconds, maybe okay for slow moving city traffic. Local law states that you must SELL bikes with reflectors, not that you must use them. Spoke lights grab attention better at intersections than reflectors. Even if you wear reflective clothing, motorists think of you as a guardrail or traffic cone. Bright lights elevate you to competing traffic.

  5. Matt Moritz says:

    I'm with mark on this one, I much prefer having the fenders on the bike to keep the splash level at my feet, rather than on my clothing. Since I'm commuting in my working clothes, I'd rather not have road spray all over me. Same is true if I'm out for along "fun" ride in wet conditions, much rather have wet feet than wet feet and be grime plastered, and if you ride with other people, its polite to those behind to have a full coverage fender at least on the rear wheel.

    Having done the the training on night riding, we did an exersice in a controlled situation to compare different lights types, different types of reflectivity and high visibility. The reflectors bikes are sold with are not good, they have a low reflectivity index and as you say aren't visible very far away. Much better to use modern reflective tapes on the bike frame and integrated into clothing. For clothing, reflective "piping" is too small to be seen, need good wide strips to really light up when light from headlights hits its. Hi visibility clothing is useless after dark, it needs ambient light to be effective and doesn't really react to headlights. It's great at dusk/dawn/rainy days for low light situations, but not much else. As for lights, yes, spending on really good lights is great and many overlook the point you make that having a really good, bright white headlight really does change how other vehicle operators behave, but not everyone can do that. The problem with most lights is that they can be easily "drowned" out by headlights and be rendered unnoticable.

    Ideally everyone has a combination of, large, highly efficient reflectors, as well as a bright head light and tail light.
    If you only have a few bucks, buy a construction worker safety vest with 2 inch wide reflective stripes and wear that. No mistaking that for a traffic cone.

  6. Mark Dieterich says:

    if you ride with other people, its polite to those behind to have a full coverage fender at least on the rear wheel

    Perhaps I'll be called a bike snob after this, but I've gotten to the point where I no longer ride with someone when it's wet if they don't have a full coverage rear fender. I have no interest in eating someone's dirty spray.

    Along the lines of "if you only have a few bucks"… I'd strongly suggest getting something highly reflective on a moving part (ankle, leg, etc.). These stand out clearly as something different to drivers and our eyes are designed to detect moving objects, so they will be naturally drawn to them.

  7. Labann says:

    Who rides with others? If you wait for company, you'll never be a bike commuter. Unless there are laundry facilities at your destination, getting cotton clothing dry during the day is nearly impossible. You sweat through jerseys, too, so wearing tights and wicking materials, NOT WORKCLOTHES, makes more sense. Rainy days are when you drive and tote changes of clothes. Fenders are superfluous to the suitably dressed solo cyclist. About the only thing fenders are good for is slowing you down when they rub. Cleanliness is next to godliness, about the furthest thing from cyclists.

    A highly reflective ankle strap? Invisible. Too few bucks? Get a free bus Eco-pass from employer. Nothing beats free.

    • MattMoritz says:

      Actually, I occasionally commute with others, we live in the same neighborhood and are going the same place. I just met someone last night after work and we rode around the city chatting, both of us had full coverage fenders. I also ride near others who appreciate not being painted if I'm in front of them in the lane.

      You're not advocating very effectively to get someone to ride a bike here. You're saying that one has to have specialized clothing, specialized and expensive lighting, need to be able to take a shower upon arrival. It seems as though you have bought into all the excuses people give for NOT commuting by bicycle, and yet, after 5 years of year round commuting, the only days I don't wear my daily wear clothing on the bike are the days when it's 70+ degrees and I don't want to sweat them up, in which case i wear shorts and change in the restroom. I don't think that Mark is suggesting just the ankle strap, but as an additional, inexpensive item that can help increase visibility.

      Not everyone (possibly very few!) have access to Eco-Pass either (my employer doesn't offer it despite over 350 employees in Providence).

    • Mark Dieterich says:

      I'm fortunate to live in the East Bay, where there are quite a few bicycle commuters. If I have the chance to ride with someone else rather than on my own, I often opt for company. This doesn't mean I won't bicycle on my own, but I spend so much of my time cycling on my own, that it's a nice change to have others to ride with… as long as it isn't raining and they don't have fenders. I also go out of my way to invite people to try bicycle commuting and often do so by changing my schedule around so that we can ride together. Does this mean I'm not a bicycle commuter? Hardly.

      I used to be one of those people who used all the special clothing, etc., but have been moving away from it over the years. I came to realize that I could make my commute in regular work clothes, even with my one way distance being 15 miles.

      I agree with Matt, you aren't really helping us sell the idea that anyone can commute by bicycle!

  8. Labann says:

    Fear and inconvenience are why people rather drive than ride. Making streets safer would help. A pair of tights starts at $10. Padded shorts ($30+) free your hips and soften seat. Rode for years on jean seams, totally chafed and uncomfortable. Don't bother suiting up myself if ride is very short. White socks over your cuffs are highly visible; some swear by them. Since I ride far and hard , I enjoy a change to office casual and stenchless dry.

    Comparing autos to bikes is tomfoolery. You pedal to extend life, feel alive, and save time… doesn't matter what it cost. You should be glad to invest thousands to live another decade or two. Fact of the matter is, you don't have to. I ride a $300 beater bike in bad/winter weather and save $5000 roadie for longer distance and Sunday best. Just as there is no one demographic of cyclists, there's no right or wrong way to get involved. Don't understand your insistence. Tips by long experienced riders may or may not work for you. Take your 40 lb. Schwinn for a spin… builds character and muscles, especially when you go flat and have to carry it home.

    • jack says:

      Labann – You are talking to people who are "long experienced riders". Discounting their advice as less sage than yours is "tomfoolery". There are many well-informed opinions out there including Mark's and Matt's. Novices who may use this site to jump into bike commuting need to be aware that the gear they see others use may or may not work for their personal situation and needs. All you need to ride a bike is a bike and maybe a helmet. The rest is a matter of time and experience. Peace.

  9. Labann says:

    Bells work on bike paths, which I don't ply much, but nowhere else; they are silent in road noise, and take up space on handlebars, which I use all of for relieving hand stress by varying positions. Yelling work better. Never found a tube patch kit that worked, especially on high pressure (80 psi +) tubes and multiple punctures. Hand pumps don't firm up your tires and tests your strength after 50 psi; CO2 cartridges (12 or 16 gram) will restore firm pressure (80 or 120 psi, respectively). Doesn't compare with a good floor pump, which gets daily use, but easier to carry. Must be especially careful on all accounts not to bend or damage Presta valve's twist plug, which will then leak air. Your pump should also have an adapter for Schader valves, should you prefer them or ride with someone else who does.

  10. Labann says:

    Hate to sound like a misanthrope, but that another reason I'd rather ride alone… having to fix companion's flats and lack of mechanical diligence. Spent an hour in Olneyville helping a rider on a borrowed bike repair toe clips. I mean, who carries a complete small hex socket index? Hex plug, needlenose pliers, screwdriver, whatever wrenches your bike uses, yes. Even carry chain tool and spoke wrench, but not sockets.

    A nice accessory is a combination chronometer/odometer/speedometer; nice to gauge times of arrival and departure, monitor progress and self improvement, study details of commutes, or time legs. Never needed a gps myself, but surely useful for the cue/direction/map challenged despite handlebar impingement. Another is the small loop of plastic some people use to connect front wheel to downtube when parked; beats having a rattling kickstand.

  11. Steve says:

    I love to ride with others, but yes, it does frustrate me when people do not use rear fenders. Sometimes I feel i should take a shower cap and a snorkel and mask with me when I go on group rides, just in case the rider in front can’t be bothered to get a rear fender fitted!

  12. Labann says:

    Just like motoring, if you're so close you're getting sprayed, maybe you ought to back off. Nobody wants a crybaby newbie drafting badly on his rear wheel. There are nasty cyclists who will snot-rocket, spit, spray waterbottle, or urinate on anyone hanging on or trying to pass. Fortunately, I usually pass them before they know I'm there. So much for a friendly bell.

    • Mark Dieterich says:

      We aren't talking about hopping on a random wheel, we are talking about riding with other people… co-workers… friends… other commuters. It's not about sucking a wheel for performance reasons, it's about the need to sometimes slide in behind another cyclists because you need to single up. Spray from a rear wheel can extend a long ways without fenders, so it's not always trivial to stay back far enough.

  13. David Cashman says:

    I have a headlight mounted to the handlebars and a red flashing light on the seat post. My helmet has reflector tape, and I try to remember to wear a reflector vest. Reflectors are on the spokes. I'm a fan of fenders. Also, a rear rack with at least one pannier for tools, a spare tube, a laptop, books, some clothes, etc. I often end up with a backpack, too–I haven't gotten as "minimalist" as I would like. With a wind-resistant, fleece-lined jacket, gloves, and boots, I can handle my 10 mile round trip commute in temps down to the 20s. I'd like to solve the rain issue more effectively than I have: a rain cape and rain pants that slip over my chinos, cords, etc. Any suggestions?

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