Bicycle Diaries: Essentials for Bike Commuting

In this series we ask Todd Sheer for some tips and tricks for making bike commuting a little easier.
| Updated: November 27, 2018

Here are Greg's "essentials" for bike commuting:

"I was thinking about some of the "essentials" for bike commuting.  It's easy to find the list of the best lights or the best jacket or the easiest panniers, but here are some of my tricks for making bike commuting routine a little easier (or I should say my tricks for not allowing myself to talk myself out of bike commuting). 

1.  Figure out an easy way to get your bike out of wherever you store it.  If you have to knock over three boxes, go thru more than two doors, or put back on tires before you're even able to get on your bike, chances are this will be a pretty big demotivator.  Think creatively about where you can store your bike so that it's easy for you to get on it in the a.m. 

2.  Leave your street/work shoes at work.  Okay, so this requires NOT using those shoes when you're home, but trust me, the lack of a big pair of men's shoes in your bag (if you're a man) is a big plus. 

3.  Leave a little toiletry bag on the tail end of your ride.  You don't need a huge shower facility, but a little deodorant, a hand towel, maybe a comb or brush can go a long way towards making you feel like you're feeling very irish spring. That can all fit in a drawer in your desk.  Why carry it with you?

4.  Related -- figure out if you can hang a few clothes somewhere.  If you need to be unwrinkled, just hang a few shirts at work and periodically rotate them.  Trust me, no one really notices what you're wearing...i'm serious, no one really cares. 

5.  Get rid of all the shit that sits in your current commute bag or backpack that you never use/pull out.  I'm amazed by the amount of crap (folios, books, ipods, magazines) that people carry that they never access.  My commute bag contains a change of clothes (no shoes -- see above) and a very small laptop.  I only bring home reading that I know I have to do.  I never even come close to filling up one pannier.

6. Leave your bike lock at work.  If you don't use it at home, don't bother bringing it home.  Many of the riders I see pack it back in their bag (and it's by far the heaviest thing in there) out of habit rather than because they need it.  If you're feeling flush, buy a second lock and just leave it at work to use on that end of your commute.

6.  Carry a tube instead of a patch kit.  If you're commuting, you can fix the leak later when you get home, not while you're getting to work.  And, frankly, I'm not a big fan of carrying a pump (mostly because I'm okay with freeloading off other better prepared bikers who are more than likely going to ride past you every couple minutes).  Get one of those little under-the-seat bags (a small one) and stick it in there with some tire wrenches.  Then you never have to think about it again (till you have a flat).

7.  If there's a few bike commuters at your work, see if you can pool a little money for a few shared tools (pump, a few tubes, some tire wrenches, allen wrench) and store them somewhere at your place of work so you don't have to carry them.  Chances are someone in the group is hardcore enough to have extras of everything at home.   

8.  Don't bike commute sometimes.  Okay, so this sound counterintuitive, but if I allow myself a lazy day or if I plan on "stocking up" my clothes at work one day by driving and taking in clean clothes and taking home dirty ones, then I've made all my other commute days easier and I'm more likely to do them. 

Bottom line, besides having reasonable enough gear/bike to get you where you need to go, there are other principles that will keep you motivated to keep biking:

1. figure out an easy way to get your bike out and put it away each day.  Amazing, but that can be half the battle.

2. figure out an easy way to make yourself look okay when you get to work.  Unless you're biking 20 miles one way, chances are it doesn't take much!  Probably easier said for guys with a buzz cut like me...

3. go light -- how much crap do you really need?  Think of it like backpacking -- if you aren't going to use it or eat it that day, don't take it. Most bike commutes are on big enough roads that it's not like you aren't going to see a bus or something if you get in a pinch.  It's worth saving the hassle of unpacking and carrying a bunch of crap every day "just in case". 

Best thing is you can probably do just about all of the above for about $20-$30 if you're thrifty and they'll make you far more likely to ride than a $200 LED bike light."


Seattle mag contributing blogger Roddy Scheer recently explored the art of biking in the city. Check out more posts from his series:

Bicycle Diaries: Shopping for Groceries on Your Bike

Bicycle Diaries: The Competitive Side of Bike Commuters

Bicycle Diaries: Celebrating Urban Bike Commuting in Seattle