Bike Commuting – The Finer Points

Before you tour, you commute. When your bike becomes your primary mode of transportation, you are well on your way. Yes, gas is always expensive and bicycling is good for your health, but you choose your bike because – you like it. You might be riding an old clunker, a hand me down, a converted old mountain bike or a specially designed/ manufactured commuter bike. It’s all good. It’s transportation.

I consider myself pretty lucky that I have a pretty easy commute to work and town. I ride my bike to work everyday. There are several very good bicycle commuting websites on the internet and I don’t intend to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. But, I will highlight some of my bike commute tips, though.

As you can see, I converted my old mountain bike to my commute bike. I just could not part with this bike so I put slick tires on, reflectors, rack and storage. It’s about as sexy as a white Ford pickup, but it is practical.


If you are riding on pavement, go with “slick” or tires with less aggressive treads. There is no reason to wear out a perfectly good pair of mountain bike tires that actually slow you down. Generally, commute tires are designed for more miles. Also, consider Kevlar belted or thorn resistant tires and tubes. Flat tires are a drag. Tire width and air pressure are important factors in the feel or ride of your bike. Narrow, high pressure have lower rolling resistance and are faster, but be prepared for a stiff or bumpy ride. If you are just cruising go with “fatties”. My tires are Panaracer Hi-road V. There are so many tire choices that I went with sale tires. The price was right and performance acceptable.

For flat tires, I really like the Park glueless Super Patch. I also like my Topeak “Morph” mini pump that works like a more traditional floor pump. CO2 inflators work fine too, until you find out that you are out of cartridges 5 miles from home.

Bike lock and security

If you live in New York City, I don’t think that they make a lock big enough to protect your bike. In fact, if a bike thief wants your bike bad enough there really aren’t that many totally secure locks. That makes where you park you bike critical. Make your bike less of a target. Don’t get me wrong, a bike lock is a necessary deterrent. Just be aware that in the wrong neighborhood, a thin cable lock is easily cut with heavy duty cutters. I have a very old Kryptonite U-lock and an inexpensive cable lock. Depending on the circumstance, I use what’s appropriate.

Recently, I had a pair of prescription glasses stolen out of my pannier when I ran into the Post Office. Who would steal prescription glasses? Anyhow, I learned my lesson. Don’t leave anything on your bike that might get stolen. Seems pretty obvious but sometimes I actually like to go around trusting people.

Rain Gear

It is going to rain. If you are a serious commuter get Gortex rain gear. In my opinion, it’s the best. It keeps you dry and it “breathes”. Old style slicker rain gear doesn’t breath and moisture from your sweat can create a mini rainforest inside your rain gear. For the short haul – no problem. There are lots of choices in between.

I have Performance Goretex coat and pants. Also, a lightweight Go-Lite jacket.
Additionally, the old reliable slicker coat and pants. Fortunately, here in California, I don’t have to wear rain gear too often.

Lights and reflectors

Even if you don’t plan on riding in the dark, you should be prepared to do so. Headlamp, tail lights, reflectors : Being seen is every bit as important as seeing. There are too many choices for me to recommend a favorite light system. The high end lights such as Niterider are incredibly bright and work great but they are expensive. If you go with a low-end light system, make sure that it meets your needs. Rechargeable batteries are a good idea. Also, high-visibility/reflective clothing is recommended.

For headlights, I have a Niterider Trailrat and a lightweight Nashbar LED. The LED is my “just in case” light, whereas the Trailrat is a more formidable 10 watt head light. My tail light are just basic Nashbar or Performance flashing red lights.

If you are planning on riding at night a lot, get the best lights possible. I prefer to not ride at night for obvious reasons.

commuter bike

Racks, bags, panniers

How much do you plan to carry? Some people are fine with a back pack or messenger bag. I like my panniers and rack bag. In my opinion, the more the storage space, the better.
I have Blackburn rack with Nashbar Rack Trunk bag and Performance panniers.
I also have a messenger bag and backpack that I use occasionally.

One more thing: If you are wearing long pants, roll up your pant leg on your right leg to keep it out of the chainring. Or, use velcro or even a rubber band to keep your pant leg protected. I should know better but I continue to forget, resulting in a greased or torn pant leg. Duh!

The 2 most important maintenance items for your commute bike:
Don’t forget to clean your chain and properly inflate your tires!

Bike Commute Links