Commuting 101: Getting geared up

Photo by Danielle Keller
In our Commuting 101 series, yesterday we discussed choosing a new bike if you need one and getting a bike tuned up if you're resurrecting an older one.  Today's topic is gear - some extra stuff you might want to make your ride more convenient, safer and more comfortable.

First, let's take a moment to discuss bike lights.  Lights on a bike are required by law in the City of Columbus between sunset and sunrise, and at any other times when the weather requires.  And they're simply a good idea for the sake of visibility while riding as well.

City traffic code requires a white headlight, visible up 500 feet away and 300 feet to each side (I assume that means 300 feet to each side from that point 500 feet away).  Generator-powered lights that are only in operation while the bike is moving are acceptable.  It also requires a red rear reflector and red taillight.  If the red taillight is also a reflector then that's fine.

Lights really aren't that expensive to get a serviceable model.  Many times you can find sets of both headlights and taillights.  Some people like to get a little more in a headlight, and they can run up to a couple hundred dollars, but you can get a perfectly useful model for anywhere from $20 to $60.  Some of the model names that you should look for are CatEye, CygoLite, Planet Bike, and Knog (though these are hardly the only ones).  Most are battery powered, any many have rechargeable batteries.  Some companies now have models with a solar-rechargeable battery so you can charge it during the day while you ride.

Though a backpack or messenger bag is perfectly acceptable as a way to get your stuff from home to work, they have the disadvantage of making your back all sweaty.  And for those who are trying to keep their clothing changes to a minimum, this isn't a desirable outcome.

Panniers are bags that hang from a front or rear rack on your bike, next to the wheel.  They are fantastic for carrying your stuff around.  When you're looking for panniers for your bike, keep the following things in mind.

First, you want them to be waterproof.  Even if you don't want to ride in the rain, your panniers may get splashed or you may get caught in a sudden downpour.  Being prepared with waterproof panniers is the best plan.

Second, you want them to have some reflective material on them for the sake of visilbility.  Some panniers come in bright fluorescent yellow or orange colors, others have reflective piping or stitching on them.  All work well to increase your visibilty.

Third, they should be easy to remove.  You don't always want to leave your panniers out on your bike where someone can snatch them.  Ease of removal will make your life more simple when you get to your destination.  Asking the clerk at the bike store for this will make your life easier.

Finally, panniers generally require a rack of some kind on your bike.  A rear rack is easy to install and very handy, even if you're not carrying your panniers for whatever reason.

The final item we'll mention in today's installment of Commuting 101 is fenders.  These are simply pieces of material to keep water from splashing up off your tires onto you.  There's nothing more annoying than arriving at your destination with a line of dirty water running up your backside and back, and no one wants to have to wear rain gear when it's not raining.

Many bikes come with fenders already attached.  If you can find these, that's great.  But as we mentioned yesterday regarding chain guards, fenders are one of those items that American bikes haven't featured for standard bikes for a long time.

Fortunately, there are plenty of options for fenders that can be added to your bike.  Some are called blade fenders, and are a simple piece of wide steel or plastic that extends back from your seat post to keep water from splashing up on your back.  But using one of these makes it difficult to carry anything on your rear rack.  So we recommend getting a pair of regular fenders, as pictured to the left.  You'll notice that they include a mudguard which will keep water from splashing up on people behind you.  There are a number of these available from companies like Planet Bike and TOPEAK.

So with all your gear and your bike picked out, you're ready to ride.  Tomorrow we'll feature some of the clothing items that will make your ride safer and more comfortable.

People, not speed.