There’s more than just the bike to think about when you’re starting out as a cycle commuter. In the UK, most bikes are sold without lights, mudguards, and other things you need for riding to work. The good news is that that you can include these items with a bike in your Cyclescheme package. Alternatively you can get an accessories-only package. So there’s no need to go without.
Required by law
Unless you’ll only ever ride in daylight, you must have front and rear lights. Along with a red rear reflector and amber pedal reflectors, lights are a legal requirement between dusk and dawn. Clearly you’ll want lights anyway, so that other traffic can see you and so that you can see where you’re going!
By law, a road-going bike must also have two efficient brake systems. Performance degrades as pads wear and cables stretch, so you - or your local shop - will need to adjust the brakes. That will usually require or more Allen keys and/or a T25 Torx bit. Rather than buy separates, just get a good multitool.
Essential for comfort
You’re exposed to the elements on a bike, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stay clean, dry, and comfortable. Mudguards are your first and best line of defence, preventing dirty water on the road from spraying all over you and your bike. If your bike will accommodate them, get full-length, frame-fitting mudguards with mudflaps.
To keep out the rain and wind without overheating, you’ll need a breathable waterproof jacket. It’s the one item of cycle-specific clothing that practically every commuter will find use for. For the wettest days, you might also want overtrousers and overshoes.
Ordinary gloves will keep your hands warm enough in spring and autumn. For winter, it’s worth investing in cycling gloves to keep your digits cosy.
Anyone who rides in normal clothes on a bike without a decent chainguard needs cycle clips to keep trousers oil free. They’re inexpensive, even if you get reflective ones.
Essential for practicality
Every cycle commuter needs luggage – for work gear, a packed lunch, spare clothing, or anything else. Any small backpack or shoulder bag will serve but a cycling-specific one will be more stable on your back while riding, and may also be waterproof and reflective. The further you’re riding and the more you’re carrying, the more sense it makes to let the bike bear the load. Fit a luggage rack and panniers, if your bike has the necessary fittings. If not, consider a large saddlebag intended for bikepacking.
Unless your bike is a compact folder that always goes indoors with you, you’ll need a decent lock so you can safely park it on the street. Expect to spend at least 10% of the bike’s value on the lock. Whenever you turn your back on your bike, lock it – through the frame to a solid piece of street furniture.
Essential for efficiency
All pneumatic bike tyres gradually deflate. As they do so, the bike becomes harder to ride because the softer tyres have more rolling drag. Handling, especially in corners, can become unpredictable. Punctures are more likely too as the tyre can bottom-out over bumps and potholes, pinching the tube. The solution is a good pump with a pressure gauge, so you can keep the tyre topped up to the pressure stamped on the sidewall.
A chain that becomes dirty or rusty is inefficient, as the links become stiff and stop pivoting smoothly. You can waste a tenth or more of your pedalling energy riding a bike with a neglected chain. At the very least, get a couple of types of lubricant (spray lube and chain lube) and some brushes so that you can look after your chain.
Essential for safety?
So long as your bike is in good working order and has effective lights and reflectors, safety comes less from equipment and more from behaviour, such as good road positioning and communication with other road users. Reflective items are nevertheless useful. As you’re buying luggage and a jacket in any case, it makes sense to get ones with reflective details that make them - and you - more visible.
Whether you need a cycle helmet is a matter of opinion rather than law. As you can include one in your Cyclescheme package, it’s worth getting one if you’ll wear it only some of the time – riding off-road, for example, or on road when it’s icy.
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