The Wausau area just got a little bike friendlier with the recent introduction of a community-wide system of 622 bicycle route signs. Finally! Perhaps you’re thinking that a bike could replace some of the miles you log in a car each day. So do you need any special gear to make commuting a genuine part of your routine? There are a few pieces of equipment that are absolute necessities. And a few more to up the convenience and comfort factor.
Bike – Obviously. While there are some seriously cool commuter-specific bikes available it doesn’t really matter what kind of bike you have as long as you’re comfortable. You want to ride a titanium frame racer? Great! A dual-suspension downhill mountain bike? Good for you. A beach cruiser? Cool! As long as you are comfortable riding the bike, ride what you want. Just make sure the bike fits you well, is comfortable and in good working order. If shopping for a new bike makes sense, proceed with caution with regard to department store bikes. Some brands you will find at department stores use lower level components which are not easily exchanged or upgraded. Other brands, however, can be upgraded with new parts and easily customized to make your commute comfy and efficient.
Find a reputable bike shop (preferably locally owned and operated by someone who rides where you do) and speak to someone who can explain the benefits of different bicycles.
Helmet – This is a non-negotiable item. Consider this a very inexpensive insurance policy against head injuries. A helmet is not a magic wand that will keep you from sustaining any injuries, but it can protect you from potentially serious injury that will ruin your day, commute, and possibly much more. Shepherd & Schaller’s adult helmets start at only $35. The investment is worth the price.
Lights – Lights are a must in twilight hours, not to mention in the dark. Unless you are able to commute both directions in daylight, and the weather is never dark or stormy where you live, you need lights. You should have a good bright white light for the front, and at least one red light in the back (preferably one that can be set to flash to be better noticed). Some commuters swear by two lights up front; one bright fixed beam and one flashing LED. The flashing lights are supposed to draw a driver’s attention to the fact that you exist. Some communities, including Wausau, WI, even require lights between dawn and dusk, or longer.
Basic Repair Tools – A patch kit, spare tube, tire irons and an air pump (make sure it’s appropriate for the valves on your particular tubes – Presta or Schroeder ). Having these things with you, and knowing how to use them, will allow you to get yourself going again quickly after a breakdown. Forget them, and you may find yourself hoofing it.
Something to carry your stuff – Backpack, messenger bag, rack and panniers, basket on the front or back of the bike, trailer. Really, it doesn’t matter. There are many, many options out there.
Many backpacks, panniers and messenger bags are made to be truly waterproof, which could be important as well as convenient. Be aware that how you carry your gear may affect your balance and the overall ride. If you can test options out with your typical load it will help you decide how to best carry your things.
Lock – Unless you have a place that provides secure storage for your bike, you’ll want a good lock. Cable locks and light chains come in different weights and will make a thief’s task difficult. Invest in a heavy-duty (and heavy) U-lock such as those made by Kryptonite if your bike is especially attractive to thieves to further reduce risk.
Knowledge of traffic laws applicable to cycling – Most are the same as the rules that apply to motorists, but there are some differences. Know them and follow them. You can be given a ticket for breaking them.
Special clothing – You can ride in your work clothes. In fact, if it’s a short ride, it may be preferable. If you have a longer ride, bike specific clothing will add comfort and performance, and doesn’t always fit like a glove or glow in the dark (although reflective features are a really good idea, if only on your shoes.) Padded bike shorts are often the first thing commuters add to their shopping bag.
Rain Gear – Something to keep you dry from the outside, and preferably something that vents well to keep you dry on the inside as well. Most rain jackets and pants roll-up or stuff into a self-pocket for storage that doesn’t take up much room. Again, reflective hits on rain gear make you visible to motorists.
Fenders – These are great to keep the road muck off your clothing in the rain. If you choose to commute in your street clothes these may move into the necessity category if you hope to avoid going into that business meeting or classroom with a stripe of mud up your back.
Water bottle or “hydration system” – A ride of just a few blocks probably won’t require this, but it’s always good to have something to satisfy your thirst as you ride. For longer commutes, it will become more of a necessity.
Bell – Or a horn. It’s not only polite to let pedestrians and other riders know you’re coming up behind them, your bell can improve your safety.
With so many resources at your fingertips, bike commuting may be the easiest new habit you adopt. If you have more commuting questions or concerns, commutebybike.com is your next stop.
Shepherd & Schaller’s professional bike shop specializes in customization and will install your bike new accessories for free. (those you buy from us) Plus, meet with Pete for fit adjustments and one-on-one advise to plan your commute in all the weather that Wisconsin offers.