The Basics

People often ask me what they need to get started bike commuting. The list may vary depending upon the circumstances surrounding their commute, but here’s my short list.

  • A bicycle. Any reliable bike will do, so long as it’s appropriately geared for the terrain. Puncture proof tires (or tire liners) are a good idea.
  • Lights. A pair of small, modern LED lights are sufficient. I’m a fan of the Planet Bike Superflash and Blaze 2W.
  • A repair kit. It’s good to carry a small multi-tool, a patch kit, and a spare tube for those inevitable roadside repairs.
  • A lock. A high-quality U-lock is a must. Even if a person has secure bike parking, it’s good to carry a lock for shopping, meetings, etc.
  • A way to carry things. This could be as simple as a small backpack or as elaborate as a set of touring panniers. My favorite for everyday use is a simple grocery pannier.
  • Motivation. The most important element is the desire to get out of the car and do a good thing for oneself and the planet.

That’s about it. Of course, a person can get much more elaborate if they so choose, but the fact is, bike commuting is a simple activity that doesn’t require much in the way of specialized equipment or training. For our readers who are already bike commuters, feel free to chime in with your short list of bike commuter “must haves”.

22 Responses to “The Basics”

  • Logan says:

    Great list! The only things I would add to the list are fenders (at least in winter time) and a working knowledge of how to change a flat bike tire. Preparation can provide a great sense of empowerment and add greatly to cycling motivation. :)

  • Garret Parsons says:

    I just wanted to say that I lovev eading this site. It is one of thoses things I like to do in the morning before I get on the road with my bike or after I get into my office just before I get to work. This site informs me, delights me and gives me the boost I sometimes need to keep going.

    I started out simple, with a used old bike and after the years went by I bought bikes that were more suited to the road conditions and specialized for the seasons. My last bike coast me $1,700.00 and now I have at least three bikes at all times. One for summer and one for winter with another for speed when I need to get somewhere fast and I am already late. My wife now tries to deflect me from bike stores if she see one a head or she knows that I will be sucked into the biking vortex and she will have lost me for the day. I started with one used bike, biking to work once a week, to bike everywhere all year round.

    What do you need to commute to work on a bike, not much just some old bike you have lying around, but watch out once you realize what you have been missing it will turn into a beautiful obsession that will last a lifetime. Oh, it looks like I have to drop of a deposit to the bank; yes bike ride! :-)

  • Bliss Chick says:

    Excellent list. I love the attitude to keep it simple.

    Yes, I yearn for a beautiful Dutch bike or a Trek commuter with and 8-speed internal hub and upright handlebars, but right now, my ancient (15-YO?) mountain bike with slick tires does the trick. I don’t even have panniers because I’m towing my youngest and a Trail-A-Bike, so a backpack works just fine. The only investment I needed to make to start commuting was the slick tires, which I got from a friend for $10, and a tune-up on the bike, maybe $75, including parts.

    Freedom for the price of a couple of tanks of gas.

  • townmouse says:

    The ONLY essential thing on a commuter bike is a rider. The rest is important but I hate to see well-meaning long lists of kit so people think ‘oh well, I would ride to work but first I need to get fenders fitted/buy a better lock/find some panniers…’ The only exception is maybe the lights (in the winter) but most people start commuting in the summer when they’ll probably only ever ride in daylight.

  • brad says:

    Good list! The one thing I’d add to the repair kit is a pump. You can always use one at a gas station, but if the nearest gas station is a few miles away, you’ll be walking.

  • Alan says:


    “The one thing I’d add to the repair kit is a pump.”

    Doh! Thanks, Brad… :-)

  • Andrew says:

    A bell is handy, too, for the $5 it costs.

    I’m not sure it actually does anything, but ringing it frantically as I ride past potential doorings by parked cars is a psychological salve, anyway…

  • Moopheus says:

    That does pretty much cover it. The “elaboration” is really a matter of personal circumstance–how far do you have to go, what do you need to have with you, what are your local road and weather conditions like. It is important to have a bike that fits well and you are comfortable handling. Riding in traffic isn’t that hard, just try to stay alert to what’s going on around you.

  • bongobike says:

    Some additional items I consider essentials, and which I always carry in my commuting panniers, are clips or velcro straps for my pants cuffs, gloves (to suit the season), a saddle cover to protect the Brooks, replacement batteries for my head light and tail lights, a small note pad and pen/pencil for writing down information after an accident or any other important tidbit, and a reflective vest (which I rarely wear). In the winter, or a particularly rainy stretch (rare here), the list may include a winter/rain jacket that stays in the pannier.

  • Iain says:

    Thanks for that Alan, I think the most important thing is the motivation, without it the first puncture or soaking will put anyone off.

  • Lee Trampleasure says:

    @townmouse, I think your comments are valuable, but you forgot that a rider without a bike is a pedestrian. You still need a bike :-)

    Perhaps the next list is “So you’re commuting by bike and enjoying it, what do you do with your bike now?”

    For each their own, but I’m in the “I want one bike that I don’t have to fudge much with regardless of the time of day or time of year.” Most folks have a car they can get in and do anything they want with, and I suspect they’ll want a bike to do the same (although perhaps only the truly committed ride in the rain). So, I’ve gussied my bike up fenders, dynamo hub and LED lights, two racks and two sets of easy on/off panniers (for groceries or touring), a BOB trailer, a trail-a-bike for my granddaughter, and a great coffee thermos that fits snugly in my waterbottle cage. In the end, it weighs more than most bikes (and it’s a Surly LHT, so it didn’t start out that light either), but I can just jump on it and go.

    Perhaps that coffee holder should go on the list of necessities for many riders. Having a sip of a hot beverage at that long traffic light is sure nice on a cold morning…

  • Alan says:


    “Perhaps that coffee holder should go on the list of necessities for many riders. Having a sip of a hot beverage at that long traffic light is sure nice on a cold morning…”

    I like how you roll, Lee… :-)


  • » “The Basics” of Commuting from EcoVelo says:

    […] about blogging, and this is hardly a post anyway, but it’s good. EcoVelo posts his list of what you need to start commuting by bicycle. I’d say it’s pretty solid. Of particular note: lights. The other night I saw (and I […]

  • Pete says:

    As some one who just started bike commuting a couple months ago, I would add a healthy dose of self indulgence. I chose a beautiful, sunny 68 degree morning for my first attempt. I still only ride on nice days. The hardcore will scoff, but when you are just starting out it is really helpful to keep it fun. Riding in the rain may be fun for some, but if it’s not for you, then drive that day. If you can’t show up sweaty to an important 8AM meeting, then drive.
    The enthusiasm of daily commuters is infectious, but if you want to get hooked, then keep it fun at first.

  • Jim says:

    Eye protection for sun, bugs, pollen, wind I consider essential.

  • No says:

    The only essential item is a bike (with lights if your going to be riding at night). But agree that is a sensible list of things to consider to keep you commuting.

  • Leduig says:

    I agree with you. It is exactly what I use for my daily commute

  • Kate says:

    Definitely motivation is a key starting point. I started riding year round with a fixed gear conversion without fenders, bells lights nothing! But I loved riding so much I kept at it year round. I had to learn the hard way about fenders, bells and lights but without motivation and passion I never would have made it to the point where I wanted to seek out the things to make commuting year round more comfortable. Love your blog!

  • Kallie says:

    @Jim – I agree…I never leave home without my Ray-Bans :)

    Great list! I’d say motivation and a bike are most important. When I started commuting it really helped having someone at work that loves biking to help me make adjustments to my bike and that was generally excited about having another biker to chat with. So share the love folks.

  • kanishka says:

    i enjoyed this a few weeks ago. a little more negative, but also insightful. “the struggle” viewpoint:

    i thought this was a useful advanced summary:

    as for my reactions, 3 years into this, the first question is what is your goal for the person:
    -all weather? – no
    -night time? – no
    -general transportation, errands, or just to work? – just to work
    -multimodal rides or bike only? – multimodal
    -how pleasant, comfortable initial rides vs cost? – moderate
    -shield from nuisances of maintenance/trips to bike shop vs cost? – moderate
    -provide an emotionally fulfilling experience/shield from loneliness? – yes

    given that goal, i would add:
    -focus on finding a buddy at work or contact local bike commute organization to find “bike poolers”
    -bottom of the line car rack
    -get the most comfortable, simple, cheap initial carrying setup. sweaty back and weight on shoulders when you are working hard pedaling could be a big turnoff
    -schedules for local buses with racks that overlap with your route
    -basic bike fitting – get seat, handlebars at optimal positions
    -zipcar membership – for errands while you are at work initially

    build up your time management skills. start coming up with ways to do your other chores quicker – use an automatic dishwasher, make simpler/quicker meals, figure out how to check email on your cell phone – to make up or slight decrease in free time from possibly longer bike commute than car commute.

    curiously, if you pay a little more and get a low end folder, you can make this list shorter:
    -no repair kit, just fold, call taxi
    -no lock, just fold, bring into buildings

    every bike commuter develops and fleshes out these thoughts over time, as you have a lot of free time to think abotu things, adn you start to wonder how you can “convert” peopel to your religion, and make the conversion process easy, smooth

  • Carfree, Biking, and Simple Living Link Roundup | Carfree with Kids — Carfree with Kids says:

    […] give a short and sweet primer on how to get started bike commuting while Lynn at Upcycled Love waxes eloquent on the benefits of going cafree or […]

  • Don says:

    Recently I went back to using a rearview mirror in town and it has been pretty helpful for turning left. I’ve been feeling my age when trying to crane my neck.

    When it comes to the possibility of getting drenched, the only thing that might really get damaged is a pair of shoes, so Keens or some other aquaphilic shoes are good for peace of mind.

    For me, getting reacquainted with the elements is fun, like a mini camping trip each day. So I would second the notion that above all else it should be what the rider considers most fun.

    My last tip is a travel showercap like the ones given away in hotel rooms tucked away under the saddle. When rain is expected, you can pull it out, then return to your parked bike with a dry saddle.

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