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My commute is a bit over 5 miles each way through the city. It's not that long a commute; in traffic, it takes about 35 minutes door to door, and I'm never far from public transit that I could use in an emergency. I tend to prefer to travel light; rather than lugging a lot of equipment around so I can spend a while fixing my bike in the middle of my commute, I'd rather just lock it up and hop on the train or walk the rest of the way; this isn't a bike I'll be taking on long trips out in the middle of nowhere. Beyond the commute, I'll use my bike to get around town on weekends as well, but usually for similar sorts of rides.

What would you consider essential equipment for such a commute? What kind of bike would you choose for such purposes?

Is it worth it to carry a tire patch kit with me in such situations, or pump? How much rain gear should I have, or should I just give up and take the train at the slightest rain? Regular pedals, toe clips over normal shoes, or should I look into clipless pedals? Lights are of course a given, since I ride home after dark. Anything else I should think of?

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4 Answers

up vote 24 down vote accepted

Equipment/Accessories:

  • Fenders — keep you dry if it's rained recently. I prefer the "full-coverage" kind with a mudflap, but anything that keeps you from getting a stripe up your back is probably sufficient.
  • Regular platform pedals (or even better: BMX style pedals) - clips or clipless and frequent stops don't go well together and might mean needing to lug shoes with you.
  • A basket or rack — better to put your stuff on the bike than on your back, and you're bound to need to carry something sometimes.
  • Some kind of minimal rain gear. There's some cheap packable rain pants and rain jackets out there. You might be able to make do with a rain jacket you already have. Very preferable if the rain gear tries to be "breathable". Check the weather for the day before you leave in the morning and leave at home. Or maybe a packable rain cape...
  • Tires — smooth tires that try to be puncture resistant.
  • Water — bottle cage (or two) and water bottle (or two). Might want one of those water bottles to be insulated so that you can have ice water on hot days. (I love my travel mug for a hot beverage in cold weather, and that works for cold beverages on hot days, too). Don't necessarily need the water on the bike for every trip, but you should have a way to easily carry water on the bike.
  • Pant leg retention — Something to keep your pant leg from getting into the chain. Some bikes have a cover for the chain... You can get a velcro strap... Or you can just roll your pant leg up or stuff your pant leg into your sock...
  • Sunglasses — Especially nice if you have some with swappable lenses, because sometimes you want light or clear lenses just to keep the wind and bugs out of your eyes.
  • Lights — forward white and rear red. Blinking optional. These could go on your helmet, be removable from the bike or permanently mounted on the bike... Leave them home when you're not going to be riding at night.
  • Reflective stuff &mdash If you're concerned about night time visibility, look for retroreflective things. Reflective vests similar to what construction people use are common, cheap, and making your torso visible can be more helpful than making the lower bike parts visible.. Some reflective tape on various parts of the bike. The normal set of reflectors bikes usually come with. Reflective details on clothing, etc.

Bike:

Any bike you like the feel of riding. Properly fit. A hybrid (flat handlebars, wide-ish road tires) bike marketed as a commuter would probably be ideal, and they often come with everything. However, any halfway decent bike would be fine for what you described, really.

If there's any risk of carpal tunnel or similar issues from your job and/or other hobbies, seriously consider a handlebar setup with multiple hand positions. (bar ends on the flat handlebars, bullhorn bars, drop bars, etc...)

Repair kit:

Unless you're particularly into bike repair, forget the on-bike pump and patch kit, carry enough cash for a bus or taxi instead. And keep track of where the bike shops are (and establish a relationship with one or two). Most bike shops can fix a flat in a few minutes without needing to be scheduled ahead of time, and they'll probably only charge $5-$10 (plus the cost of the new tube, of course).

On the other hand: a pump can be mounted to the bike and doesn't weigh much, and a patch kit's pretty small. You'd need a tire lever or two (or multitool that includes them) also. I do carry a pump, spare tube, patch kit and multitool with tire levers, but didn't when I was first bicycle commuting. If you're using a bicycle with for short urban trips and are able and willing to use a secondary emergency transportation option (bus, taxi), flats should be very rare. Changing a flat only takes a few minutes, so unless you get a flat right as the bus is coming it's probably still faster to change a flat than take a bus. And it's reasonably easy...

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Am I the only one who doesn't bother with rain gear? I just pack clothes with me. I change when I get to work anyway, so it doesn't matter if I'm wet. I don't like riding it bulky clothes, as I find it really adds to the resistance. –  Kibbee Oct 2 '10 at 17:16
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Rain gear is always a compromise. In warm weather overheating (or just sweating lots in the rain gear) can be worse than the rain. In cool weather it's better to keep out the cold rain. Even if you aren't dry you will be warm. –  Wayne Johnston Oct 3 '10 at 1:53
    
I don't in summer. You end up just as wet sweating as you do from the rain (nothing is breathable on a bike in rain). In winter you don't want an hour cycling with freezing rain - I wear booties and a helmet cover but I don't usually bother with waterproof trousers. –  mgb Oct 20 '10 at 16:37
    
In the name of safety. I would move lights to the top of this list, and add "reflective vest". I would also remove the 'sunglasses'. –  pedrorolo Jan 18 '12 at 14:11
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@WayneJohnston in summer I sometimes use "swim-suit": dry-fit t-shirt, and synthetic-fabric shorts (above-knee). Pedal in the rain, soaked, and that's it. Then change when arriving on destination. It's way less worry with getting wet. –  heltonbiker Jan 19 '12 at 17:34
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I carry a spare tube and a CO2 canister with me always. They live under my bike seat in a small bag. I can change a tire in 5 minutes flat, often this is significantly faster than walking home or waiting for public transport.

In my opinion this is the only thing that you must bring with you. Everything else is optional. Water, rain gear lights, all of those things depend on what the conditions will be like. Spare tube and CO2, you always need.

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My suggestions/opinions.

Is it worth it to carry a tire patch kit with me in such situations, or pump?

It's worth getting tires like Marathon Plus which I hope won't flat, but run well.

It's important to keep tires inflated: a good pump at home.

How much rain gear should I have, or should I just give up and take the train at the slightest rain?

I get wet anyway even when it's dry, because I find biking to be hot work.

So at the slightest rain, so what.

Regular pedals, toe clips over normal shoes, or should I look into clipless pedals?

I looked into clipless, for an 18 km each way commute; and like them.

Lights are of course a given, since I ride home after dark. Anything else I should think of?

Fenders, a pannier, brakes that work, and a great route.

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Ride with what you need.

My commute is about 3 miles. I never carry any tools, and i only bring rain gear if rain is in the forecast. Good fenders are key, and i agree a basket or rack is nice. Lugging it all in a backpack gets old. Especially a laptop, lunch, water, coffee and bike lock.

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