'And you'll need lights, a lock, a jacket…' The bike shop assistant selling you a bike isn't giving you the hard sell with these suggestions. There are lots of extras you might well need. The good news is that you can get them as part of your Cyclescheme package – even as an accessories-only Cyclescheme agreement.
What you need will depend partly on the bike that you're buying. A fully-equipped town bike is designed to be comfortable for short trips in normal clothes. You won't need the sporting cyclist's uniform of skin-tight lycra for that any more than you would need running kit to for a casual walk to the shops. On a road bike, conversely, cycling gear such as padded shorts makes sense.
What you need will also depend on how you commute. Will you only cycle in good weather? Only when it's light? Will you change when you get to work or cycle in a suit? How fast will you ride? The slower you'll be riding and the fewer miles you'll be covering, the less specialist clothing you will need. And as to whether you wear a cycle helmet or not: that's entirely your decision. Be wary of anyone who says you absolutely have to have such-and-such item to cycle to work.
That said, there are at least half a dozen items that you should seriously consider, either when you get your bike or as soon as possible afterwards. Here's what they are, in our order of priority, along with the reasons why you need them. Feel free to challenge our list!
Even if you won't be doing bike maintenance, get a pump. And not just a hand pump. You need a floor pump with a flexible hose, so that tyre pumping is easy. The pump needs a gauge. That way you can inflate your tyres to the pressure rating that's stamped on the sidewall, topping them up every few days (narrow, high pressure tyres) or few weeks (fat, low pressure tyres). With properly inflated tyres, every single ride will require less energy and will have a far lower risk of punctures. Either buy a full-sized floor pump plus a little emergency hand-pump or a mini floor pump that's small enough to carry on your bike.
Your bike must have a white front light and a red rear light to be ridden legally at night, along with a red rear reflector and amber pedal reflectors (a requirement that is seldom enforced by police). For regular night-time use, a hub dynamo system is the most economical and practical, as you provide the power and the lights are always on your bike. But modern LED battery lights offer long burn times, especially rear lights. For the front light, which requires more power, invest in a good quality rechargeable one; that way you won't be binning a set of batteries a week in winter.
Raining or not, you'll get soaked if you cycle on wet roads without mudguards. The fashion police don't like them but any commuter will soon see their worth. You can fit some kind of mudguard to any bike. Full-length, frame-fitting mudguards offer the best spray protection; look for good wraparound or a mudflap on the front guard to keep your feet dry. You can get specially designed mudguards (from Crud and SKS, primarily) to fit even close-clearance race bikes, and there are plenty of partial mudguards for mountain bikes.
At home you can probably store your bike behind a locked door, and some commuters can do so at work. If you can't, a lock is essential whenever your bike is out of your sight. Don't skimp: as a rule of thumb, spend at least 10% of the value of your bike on a lock (or locks). Locks rated Sold Secure Gold are best. Locks like this are not light, although you may be able to leave the lock at work, fastened around a bike stand. Otherwise, the best compromise between portability and security is provided by short D-locks.
The more effort you put into your ride and the more athletic your riding position, the more you'll benefit from a dedicated cycling jacket. You won't get as hot and sweaty, as cycling jackets are lighter and much less insulated. Good ones are breathable too, so your sweat can escape through the fabric – and perhaps through vents in it – even while rain is kept out. Hem, cuffs and collar will be elasticated or adjustable, so they won't scoop air and flap about, and the jacket will be longer in the arms and back to keep you covered in a leaning-forward riding position. Many are brightly coloured and swathed in reflective patches, so that you stand out in traffic.
For shorter trips and lighter loads, a shoulder bag or backpack is okay. Generic ones can be unstable when cycling. Backpacks work better on a bike with chest and waist straps, while messenger-style shoulder bags have an auxiliary chest or waist strap to stop the bag swinging around. If your bike has or can be fitted with a rear rack, panniers are a better option for heavier loads or longer commutes, as you won't sweat or ache as much. Look for secure hooks, durable and weatherproof construction, and a size and design that best suits your commuting load; dedicated 'bike briefcases' are readily available.
Cheap doesn’t have to mean nasty. Choose wisely and you can buy a decent new commuter bike for £250 or less.
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