Essential Commuter Accessories: Stock or DIY?

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My point isn't to dissuade anyone from buying the things you might need to make your cycling pleasant, efficient and fun. As a bicycle store owner, I would be dishonest if I said I don't want the cycling public to buy more bike related stuff. 

However, a larger purpose is to encourage more people to ride, show how easy it can be, and get them excited about it. And I think some of those just starting out get discouraged before they even begin, feeling that they need too many fancy, complicated and expensive accessories.

No question, there are some items you must have, and the must-have's are services and add-ons that will enhance your safety and security.

 

Non-negotiable:

Your bike MUST be safe to ride.

  • If you've purchased a new bike from your local shop, chances are some follow-up service and maintenance was included with your purchase for a period of time. (Click here to read about what's included with new bikes we sell at Cosmic Bikes.
  • If you wish to use an existing bike, please get it assessed and serviced by a competent bicycle mechanic. A full comprehensive tune-up on an older bike might easily run $150-300 between labor and parts.

Must Have :

There are quality purpose-made bike commuting essentials you should have. These essential add-ons will keep you safe and your bike secure, and add about $170 to the price of your bike.

  • helmet ($40 and up)
  • lock ($50 and up)
  • spare tube and pump (about $40)
  • lights, if you ride at night ($20 and up)

Nice to have:

These accessories will make your commute more comfortable and efficient, and turn your bike into a versatile vehicle, maximizing its usefulness and your investment. These will add another $155.

  • rear rack ($35 and up)
  • street tires ($70/pair)
  • saddle that fits your butt ($50)

What you can improvise:

These accessories can add up to a quite a lot of money. While ultimately the purpose-made, bike-specific gear will pay for itself in further increasing the utility of your bike, you can get buy with home-made or thrift shop substitutes until your budget allows you to upgrade to the real thing.

  • Bicycle panniers are nice. We especially like Ortlieb waterproof Backroller Classic bags, and Jandd and Banjo Brothers Grocery Panniers. However, these can easily add up to $200. If that's not in your budget right now,  follow other savvy commuters on limited budgets who have repurposedfound milk crates, storage or shopping baskets, mail carrier crates, or even plastic waste bins fastened to the rack. (It you don't have a rack, a cheap thrift-store backpack can be your schlepping companion!)
  • It's great to have a full set of fenders ($52 plus installation), but sometimes you have to make do with what's on hand. I've seen fenders fashioned out of soda bottles, stiff cardboard and pieces of car tire. Affix one piece to the end of your rack (see how useful that $35 rack is?) to extend it's reach, and zip-tie another to the down-tube to protect against spray from the front tire. In and emergency, you can shove a tightly rolled and flattened newspaper, covered in a plastic bag, through your rack as a makeshift fender.
  • Newsflash: your rain gear does not have to be bike-specific! It also doesn't absolutely have to be breathable. Basic, functional rainwear can be picked up at thrift shops and camping stores. If your commute is not very long, or if you don't plan to ride in the rain frequently, an emergency poncho might be right for you.

And some things you may be able to dispense with altogether:

  • Horn. Use your voice.
  • Padded shorts. A good fitting saddle may do the trick.
  • Mirror. Some people swear by them. But it's possible to ride safely without one. Practice looking over your shoulder without swerving.
  • Messenger bag. These can be pricey, and are not necessarily that functional if you are not actually a bike messenger. Go for that thrift-store backpack instead.

If you're just starting out, all you need is some clothes you can move in, comfortable shoes, the four accessories listed at the top, and, of course, your bike. Start simple, and build on what you think you will need.