25 Must-Have Bike Commuting Products
25 Must-Have Bike Commuting Products
Although it was designed primarily as a high-performance mountaineering piece, The North Face Verto Jacket is a bike commuter's best friend. It packs down to the size of a baseball when you dont need it, and deploys into a wind- and light rain-blocking jacket when you do. It comes in the orange color seen here (great for hunting season!) and is also available in so-called sublime green, or a Hefty trash-bag black. The jacket is made from comically lightweight but seriously strong seven-denier fabric, comes in sizes S through XXL and provides a snug, weatherproof fit with elastic hem, cuffs and over-sized, helmet-friendly hood. At $120, its pricey, but in the right conditions, it's priceless.
Blackburn’s aptly named Flea 2.0 USB light is small, lightweight and tenaciously clips and holds onto just about anything. The Flea is an ideal commuter companion in that it charges via a slick little USB device—and what commuter isn’t within arm’s reach of at least one USB port for most of the working day? The Flea’s four uber-bright LEDs put out a powerful glow in three different modes—one steady and two flashing options. The light will last for six hours in the former, and 12 hours in blinky mode, but the built-in LED fuel gauge should ensure you’re never left out in the dark. The light comes with a svelte Velcro strap that wraps to any seatpost, and also has a stiff metal spring that clasps securely to coattails, backpacks belt loops.
Leave it to the Brits to remind us of the surprisingly practical roots of the modern-day monkey suit. And leave it to Brompton, specifically—the manufacturer of our favorite folding bikes—to engineer in whiz-bang features. In one aspect, the Brompton Oratory Jacket is a sharp double-vent, two-button sport coat. But the details are more than just fashionable—function abounds. Note the hidden pit-zips, which help keep the wearer feeling airy and well-ventilated while keeping up a brisk pace. The natural bamboo fiber helps wick away moisture, too, while a waterproof coating helps repel water. The cuffs flip out to reveal reflective liners, and for commuting on chilly days, the flip-up storm collar snugs up tight and offers extra reflective panels for safety; and if that’s not enough, the jacket features a deployable neon cape that even the most distracted drivers can’t help but notice. For a full rundown check out this video from Brompton, which shows the Oratay jacket in all its bespoke, MacGyver glory.
Dakine might not be the first name that comes to mind when searching out quality bike commuter gear, but the Surf/Snow/Mountain Bike brand has a proven knack for making weather-proof bags, and the Dakin Cyclone pack certainly merits consideration. The pack’s waterproof welded seams with dry-bag style roll-top closure, protect precious cargo even in monsoon conditions. As a nice added touch, the front pocket is sealed off by a waterproof zipper, so users can store a wallet or phone quickly and securely without having to open up the whole kit and caboodle. The 2,200-cubic-inch bag sports some nice commuter-specific amenities, too, like a loop for fastening a blinky light (we like the Blackburn Flea featured in this slideshow), and reflective logos for added visibility.
Remember slap braceletsthat late eighties/early-nineties schoolyard fad? Brooks has brilliantly re-purposed the whimsical idea and brought it back as a sensible commuter accessory. While you can buy a DayGlo reflective pants strap at the checkout counter of most any bike shop, this simple spring-loaded leather-clad device offers a classy way to keep clean on your commute without looking so much like a crossing guard. The Brooks Trouser Strap helps keep pant legs out of the way of your bikes grease-caked chain. Brooks is better known for its iconic full-grain leather saddles, but hats off to the 146-year-old company for coming up with a novel application of an otherwise useless technologyand even further kudos for offering the Trouser Strap in a colorful eight-color spectrum of options. While you may find some colors available online, your best bet to find Brooks product is through your trusty neighborhood bike shop. Choose from the staid/sophisticated black, brown, honey or mustard optionsor funkier apple-green, turquoise, violet or raspberry models.
Chrome got its start making products for professional bike messengers—a surly and critical crowd if there ever was one. And if the quality and durability is enough for a user group that spends eight-plus hours a day riding a bike in a harsh urban environment, you can bet the product is ready to handle the commute to and from most nine-to-fives. The Southside shoes are part of Chrome’s street collection—they skip SPD cleat compatibility in favor of a more versatile, all-around approach. The shoes have tacky rubber soles and outers made from oiled full-grain leather that—perhaps most important in a commuter product—weathers well over time, looking better the more they’re used. Shown here in gray, the shoes also are available in black or tan.
Chances are you’re not going to want to change socks after riding into the office, so you’d best pick the right pair for the range of your day’s activities. The socks seen here are made from a blend of 60-plus percent au natural Merino wool, plus Nylon and Lycra for added stretch—and each one comes with an unconditional satisfaction guarantee. The company’s uber-thin and lightweight Argyle Crew Light socks come in two patterns and can easily work with a business casual dress code, or even a suit if needed. Meanwhile the Darn Tough’s women’s-specific Good Witch model delivers the same functional performance, but with considerably more fun. They’re great for commuters because wool wicks sweat, is anti-microbial and naturally regulates temperature—whether you’re motoring down the bike path before work or kicking back at the office later in the day. All Darn Tough socks are made in Vermont with latest-generation Italian knitting machines for an ultra-light yet extremely dense construction for durability, and all-but-undetectable toe seams, for comfort. There are plenty more patterns to pick from at DarnTough.com.
Whether for navigation purposes, to listen to music or (admit it) to check email en route to the office or on the way back home, anyone commuting to work by bike with a smart phone stands a good chance of reaching for their pocket to check in along the way. BioLogic's Bike Mount can helpand kills a couple birds with one stone by providing a hands-free mounting solution while also protecting that precious smart phone from shock or water damage. The unit is built with a hard plastic shell, a clear touch-screen-friendly plastic membrane in front and a porthole for the phones camera lens in front. A molded silicone liner cradles your expensive electronic cargo and has built-in ports for both charging cables and headphonesboth of which can be sealed with included tethered plugs up when not in use. The whole unit clips on and off handlebars in a snap, and uses an indexed 360-degree swivel for dialing in viewing angle. The Bike Mount is available for iPhone and Android, and BioLogic recently began offering a ReeCharge option for $50 more, which uses the same basic design but incdlues a built-in power source.
Dring Dring bicycle bells offer a whimsical way to let people know that they are in your way, and that if they don't move, you are going to keep sweetly trilling in their ear until they do. The bells are hand-painted with eco-conscious materials in Canada, and are available online or at better bike shops near you. If you're really in a hurry, try BioLogics $35 Blast horn, which isn't nearly as cute as a hand-painted bell from Canada, but its compressed-air-powered sonic blast is remarkably effective at clearing bike-path traffic. Just don't expect to make any friends along the way. (Thanks to Robin Bylenga at PedalChic.com for the great tip!)
If the tires are one of the most important points of contact—that between your bike and the road—then the butt/saddle interface is certainly worth paying attention to as well. While wearing a chamois to the office is likely overkill (not to mention less than convenient), choosing the right underwear can make the difference between a happy derriere and an uncomfortable day at the office. For men, the Give-N-Go boxers from EXOFFICIO are worth their weight in gold. Made from fast-drying synthetic with a gusseted crotch design, theyre lightweight, breathable and several orders of magnitude better than commuting in cotton. For women, look for a pair of Pedal Panties. Theyre available in teal, black or two different shades of pink, and are cut for comfort and style, with a thin cushion sewn into their lightweight fabric. (Thanks again to women's specific bike shop PedalChic.com for the great tip!)
Although Co2 inflators have traditionally been the province of racers in a hurry, they’re equally valuable for the time-strapped commuter—especially the professionally attired types who can’t afford to work up a sweat forcing a hundred strokes into a mini pump. When time is of the essence, Co2 is as quick as it gets. Genuine Innovations has been a leader in Co2 inflation devices for cyclists since 1989, and when it comes time to get aired up quickly, with minimal fuss, the company’s Proflate Elite unit is the cat’s meow. The unit’s sturdy plastic sheath keeps fingers from freezing, and an easy-to-use trigger device helps control air flow into a Presta- or Schrader-valve tube. A pop-out indicator lets users know how much air is left, and best of all: the device works with any sized Co2 cartridge you can find: 16-, 20- or 25-ounce refills; threaded or non-threaded—it’s all good. For those looking to save on space, check out Portland Design Works’ svelte Shiny Object inflator head, which sports an adjustable valve that effectively rations air from any-sized threaded Co2.
There are two schools of though when it comes to commuter clothing. One is to clandestinely incorporate high-visibility reflective elements into normal-looking but technically advanced commuter-specific clothing. Mavic takes the opposite tack with its appropriately named Vision Vest—which is hard to not notice during the daytime—and downright impossible to ignore at night, when high beams light the vest up brighter than Clark Griswold’s Christmas tree. The bright orange vest is guaranteed to leave drivers tapping their brake pedal, thinking they’ve wandered into a construction zone. The Vision Vest has a sporty cut and gripper panels at the rear hem to keep it from riding up. It packs down easily when not in use, but offers high-visibility plus basic protection from the elements when you need it.
Outlier is a small, New York City-based apparel brand that turns out fashionable, functional designs that are equally at home on the bike, at a dead run, or in the boardroom. Outliers 4Season OG pant is sewn at the companys New York facility from Schoellers miracle fabricwhich is breathable, has built-in, four-way stretch and is water resistant, to a degree (both rain and coffee will bead off the fabric, but the pants won't withstand a monsoon). These features aren't immediately apparent from the pants' cut and styleand thats sort of the point. Yes, at nearly $200, these pants are expensive. But so are options from, say, Brooks Brothers, but try putting some bespoke piece of menswear through the sort of abuse the 4Season OG pants are designed to endure youll quickly find yourself wearing an expensive pair of shredded, stained and sullied rags.
While backpacks can be convenient and capable, there’s nothing cool about a backpack-sized sweat splotch. The best way to avoid this is to carry cargo on a rack, and let the breeze keep your torso cool and naturally ventilated. The German-engineered Downtown briefcase/pannier from Ortlieb combines the company’s 30 years of making bombproof bicycle touring equipment with the modern-day needs of today’s urban commuter. This bicycle-friendly briefcase sports a padded, removable shoulder strap for toting around off the bike, and an adjustable mounting system that affixes to either the left- or right-hand side of most any standard bike rack (see the Portland Design Works option in this slideshow, for example). The inside of the downtown has a four-pocket organizer (two zippered, two internal), a pen holder, a snap hook for keeping keys in place, and can accommodate a 15.4”-inch laptop and full-length legal documents. The flap-top closure system is waterproof, and reflective logos help commuters stay visible on the way home.
This may be the most critical accessory of the whole bunch. A flat tire on the way to work is about the last thing you want to deal with on the way to work, a situation made all the worse by the prospect of pulling out a traditional glue and vulcanized rubber patch kit. Instead, pack along one of these little Super Patch Kits from Park Tool. Just locate the leak in your tube, scuff it up with the included sandpaper, slap a 3M sticker on there, and get back on your way. The kit itself takes up virtually no space, and is the best $3 get-you-to-work-on-time investment you can make.
There are plenty of conventional tubular aluminum bike racks to choose from. Blackburn, for example, offers a whole bevy of options, from recreational grocery carriers to full-on touring setups. But what they offer in rugged efficiency they lack in style and soul—high-value priorities for some commuters. Enter the Loading Dock from Portland Design Works. It’s sweeping oversized aluminum tubing arcs in an elegant line, and it’s topped with a durable 15-by-5-inch double-ply bamboo deck. Plus—it’s compatible with most pannier systems and comes with a 35-pound weight limit. For you serious gear haulers, the company also sells a burlier version—the “Payload”—that’s rated to carry up to 75 pounds.
If you're going to carry a pump, tube and patch kit, you'd better have a tire lever; and if you're looking to economize on space reach for the made-in-the-USA Prestalever tire lever. Its slippery Nylon surface smoothly slips underneath tight tire beads, and its honeycomb construction means you can really honk on it without fear of it snapping off in your hand. Plus, the Prestalever has a unique rim brace feature for plying tough tires back onto the rim after you're all patched up. The best part is you only need one to get the job done.
Commuter lights are generally lumped into two, very obviously construed categories: front, and rear. But such straight-ahead thinking ignores the notion that danger could well come approach from a perpendicular angle, as a motorist might not be able to see cyclists cutting directly across their path. The Princeton Tec Push commuter light takes care of this blind spot with two flashing-red side panels that along with the front beam combine for a full 260-degrees of visibility. The 100-lumen Maxbright LED bulb puts out enough light to flash off street signs several blocks away, while the red side lights are thankfully tucked low enough under the circumference of the light to avoid inducing epileptic seizures, but still bright enough to warn would-be wayward motorists of your position. The light is easy to remove from the tools-free bracket, runs on three AAA batteries and is—gasp—made in the U.S.A. New Jersey, in fact. Don’t believe it? Proof.
The Topeak Ratchet Rocket provides most every tool a commuter could need to make minor mechanical adjustments or repair a chain—all in a blessedly small and easy-to-tote package. The heart of the tool is a Lilliputian-sized reversible ratchet wrench, which cleverly incorporates a secondary bit chuck into its butt-end for spinning bolts on or off in a hurry. The tool includes hardened-tool-steel 2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5 and 6mm hex bits, plus No.2 Phillips and T-25 Torx bits. Everything packs up to about the size of a pack of Trident gum, and can easily be stowed in a pocket, pack or Tallac Behold tool pouch.
Tires belong more in the hardware category than the accessory aisle, but as the lone points of contact between commuters and the actual commute, they’re as important as anything. Let make it an easy decision: buy Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tires for your commuter bike. Doing so will considerably up your chances of never needing to whip out the pump or the patch kit. Replacing the popular Marahon XR tire in Schwalbe’s lineup—widely regarded as the tire to pick for an around-the-world tour—the new-for-2012 Marahon Mondial gets the company’s so-called “snake skin” sidewall, for even greater protection, and also now uses a triple-rubber compound (hard in the center, softer on the shoulders) to improve both performance and durability. One noted feature the tire retains: it’s 360-degree reflective pinstripe. The Marathon Mondial is available in a variety of 26” and 700c sizes in wire and folding bead variations, ranging from $44 to $90.
The Behold Tool Cage offers a unique tool-and-tube storage solution for any bicycle with standard water-bottle cage mounts. Simply sandwich the tool cage in between and existing water bottle mount and your frame, and voila—you’ve got yourself a handy holster for the tailored ballistic Nylon pouch, which is just big enough to accommodate a tube, patch kit, tire lever and Co2 cartridge. The cage itself is welded in the USA from tubular stainless steel, and comes with all the hardware needed to piggyback a bottle cage. For those looking for a bit more capacity, Tallac makes another version big enough to hold a 29er tube.
As part of The North Face’s bike-commuters-specific series, the Hayes Encore shirt incorporates some nifty technical features in a passably business-casual package. For example, this it incorporates 3M reflective yarn to deliver what the company says is the highest commercially available reflective properties. It also sports a clandestine vented cape, a rear stash pocket and recycled rubber buttons throughout.
In theory any old mini pump will get you aired up and back on the road, but in practice most pump designs call for a whole lot of monkeying around, and many won’t reach the high pressure needed by road bikes. Moreover, keeping the pump head locked onto the valve stem while you muscle enough force into a pint-sized pump barrel is one of the most awkward tasks imaginable. Plus, if you wiggle a Presta valve stem around enough its needle-thin valve will quickly snap from the stress, rending the tube a useless, giant rubber band. It’s not hard to long for a floor pump in these situations—and that’s where the Topeak Road Morph G comes in. The design brilliantly integrates the best aspects of a floor pump—namely, it de-couples the pumping action from the crucial pump-head/valve-stem connection. It also retains the promise of a mini pump—it’s lightweight (220 grams) and portable (only 14-inches long). The Road Morph G’s flip-out base provides a stable pumping platform and the in-line gauges makes it easy to read your pressure rating—all the way to 160 PSI.
The Giro Feature comes in eight colors including this Highlighter Yellow version, which gives commuters by far the least chance of getting run over by an absent minded motorist. Although it’s built to be a mountain bike helmet, its full-coverage design and dozen different cooling vents make it a great pick for commuters, too. For those looking for a less flashy lid, this one is also available in anonymous matte black. Or if you’re looking for a more retro, ironic sort of helmet, don’t miss Giro’s throwback Reverb model.
While the Brompton H6L Folding Bike is a bit more substantial than the rest of the commuting products in this slideshow, it folds down small enough to be considered an accessory. Plus, it won our collapsible folding bike shoot-out from National Bike to Work Week, and we miss it, so it's worth mentioning again. The Brompton is built around 16-inch wheels and comes complete with a pump, fenders with mud guards, and even a safety bell. It packs up to the size of a briefcase and can be carried into the office, tucked into a closet at home, or toted onto public transportation or into most any bar or restaurant. Read the full review here, and check out the competition it was up against from Tern, Montague, Dahon and Pacific Cycles. Bromptons are readily available in Britain and around Europe, but harder to come across stateside. Try your local bike shop, or surf over to NYCeWheels.com, a New York City shop with an online store that specializes in folding bikes. The stores online custom configurator lets users choose from 52 different custom options.