5 Key Steps to Embrace the Bicycle Lifestyle
Part II: Steps 2 – 5
(Fairfax County, VA) The bicycle lifestyle is a mindset, of course, of choosing the bike as your first choice of transportation. If you are used to jumping in the car for local errands, it can be difficult to reach for the handlebars instead of the car keys. You are not alone in this struggle! We have found that optimizing your bicycle as well as your person is the best way to maintain your bicycle lifestyle and make riding a joy rather than a burden. A lifestyle choice requires lifestyle tools.
Last week we reviewed Step 1: Backpack or Pannier. This week we are going to discuss key on-bike accessories in Steps 2 – 5.
Step 2: Get a Lock
It does not matter if you spent $300 on a bike or $3,000. Getting your bike stolen is a gut-punch of the highest magnitude. Think of that feeling when you forgot to save your thesis and the computer crashed. Yeah, like that. So, get a lock! While I try to avoid bolting anything unnecessary to my bike, I would consider a bike lock holder that discretely attach to the top tube, seat tube, saddle seat post, or other. It is always there if you need it and the lock is easy to remove on those group rides on Saturday. Bike locks also fit easily into your backpack (or panniers, if you go in that direction), so there is really no excuse not to get one.
Things to consider when buying a bike lock:
- Size of your bike
- Kind of security you will need
- Are bike racks available?
There are different types of lock that you can choose from. There are U-locks, cable locks, chain locks, or even high-tech locks that use keypads, Bluetooth from your phone, or your fingerprint. U-locks are horseshoe-shaped locks that can resist hammers and chisels because it locks the bike leaving no space for a thief to chisel his way out of breaking the locks. Cable locks are more suitable in a place where there are fewer bike thieves because the cables of the locks are not cut-proofed. Chain locks are excellent because they are made of steel and hacksaws or chisels will not work. Bike locks range from a couple dollars to over $150 based on capability and strength. We believe you can get a great lock for about $25.
Another critical element to consider in selecting a lock is whether the locking mechanism can include the bike frame, front tire, AND the bike rack. Too many of us, to include myself, have locked only the front tire to the bike rack. When we returned, we found our lock and a lonely bike tire waiting for us, as the thieves easily spring the tire quick release and made off with a great bike minus one tire. Similarly, we have seen plenty of forlorn bicycles securely attached to the bike rack, but minus a front tire. Make sure your lock can reach all three.
Step 3: Assemble a Bike Repair Kit
I will say this—you only forget bike repair equipment once. Once. Most bikers carry a small bag for a spare tube, patches, and repair tools in a small pouch under their bike seat. Others carry bike repair equipment in their backpacks or panniers. Carrying a spare tube and bike pump is an absolute minimum. You can purchase a complete bike repair kit for around $30. More tools cover more contingencies, but also add weight. Here is the minimum I would recommend:
- Multitool. A multitool is a highly versatile piece of repair equipment that can address most of your maintenance needs. If you encounter a loose screw, realize your saddle height is not right, or that your brakes need tightening, you will be happy to have it.
- Spare Tube and Patch Kit. A spare tube is essential that every cyclist should carry; flats still happen to everyone. Having a spare tube and patch kit will be the difference between pushing home or riding away in minutes.
- Tire Levers. These are especially important if you are riding a hybrid or a road bike where tires usually fit more snugly on the rim. However, MTB tires can also be quite stubborn.
- Bike Pump. Bike pumps are extremely light and small nowadays and fit comfortably on your frame. There is no excuse not to carry one. Some are even so compact that they can fit in the rear pocket of your jersey.
There are several ways to carry your bike tools. Some riders hate—HATE—putting anything extra on their bike and will carry their kit in their jersey back pocket. Other riders will purchase an under-the-seat bag that contains their spare tube, patches, tools, and emergency items. Some backpacks, like our Shellback Bike to Work backpack, have a Bike Repair pocket built in. I recall early in my riding career that I left my tools at home because I did not want them in my shirt pockets. Predictably, I got a flat and ended up walking 2 miles in bike shoes until I found a payphone to call my girlfriend (yes, I am dating myself with that story). Regardless of how you carry your repair tools, always bring them along.
Step 4: Invest in Lights
If you embrace the bicycle lifestyle, you will sooner or later ride in low-light conditions. It might not be at night, but it might be during a dark day, a rain shower, or fog. Remember the Cyclist’s Creed: Be Safe; Be Seen; Be Predictable.
Choosing lighting is all about two things: seeing what is in front of you, and being seen from behind, especially in traffic. Here are a few things to consider:
- Colors. Bike lights come in two colors: red and white. Following the rules of the road for cars in most states, you will need both lights to ensure that you can always see the road ahead of you and be seen by cars behind you. Many bike to work commuters will put a third flashing light on their front forks for additional method of attracting a vehicle driver’s eye.
- Brightness. Different lights offer different lumen ratings, which is a measurement of how well the lamp illuminates a subject at a certain distance. Do not assume, however, that higher lumens automatically result in a brighter light. The lens and bulb housing design are also factors that influence brightness levels. Some lights provide a focused narrow beam, which illuminates a smaller area at greater distance, and a wider beam, which improves your peripheral vision (preferable in traffic). Lights generally offer anywhere from 40 to 500 lumens.
- Battery Life. Some rear lights and most bike headlights offer multiple lighting modes, such as high intensity, low intensity, and strobe (flashing, blinking) mode. Battery life also depends on power source—rechargeable or alkaline batteries. Rechargeable systems feature lithium ion batteries. They can be charged hundreds of times, making them an inexpensive and environmentally sound alternative to disposable batteries.
Like anything in the bike world, the quality and price spread are massive. Bike lights range from lights under $10 to high-powered lights over $300.
Want to Bike to Work But No Place for Your Professional Attire?
Is your Bike to Work day confined to Casual Fridays? Do you have two wardrobes—the Bike to Work wardrobe at the office and the rest at home?
GrüneStrasse Backpack Co. produces the Shellback Bike to Work backpack. This hand-crafted backpack stores the entirety of your one-day work requirements to include: crease-free professional attire (suit); laptop; shoes; toiletries; bike repair kit; accessories, and dozens of other bike-friendly features that Simplify, Organize, and Protect.
Step 5: Add a Speedometer
Could you imagine driving your car without a working speedometer? It is one of those little things that you simply cannot do without. You may not have previously considered a speedometer to be as essential for biking, but once you use one, you will never want to be without it again.
A bike speedometer might also be called a bike odometer or a bike computer. Depending on the type you purchase, a bike speedometer can collect a wide variety of data on every ride. You will want to purchase a model that collects the data that is important to you. If all you need is miles traveled and current speed, even the most basic bike speedometers will have you covered. Advanced units can store and average the data for you, so you will also have figures for average speed, maximum trip speed, and accumulated miles. Your ride time can also be tracked. The most expensive models may display the temperature and altitude and monitor your heart rate, cadence, and more, making them highly effective training tools.
We recommend a mid-range GPS computer like Garmin or Wahoo. The GPS computer gathers your data more accurately than traditional tire rotation models. It also means you can create and store routes. These routes can be categorized by distance, elevation, terrain type, or any other criteria you prefer. A GPS can also come in handy when you are biking in a new and unfamiliar location. Most importantly you can download and store your data in transportation apps and share with friends. It is a great way to measure your mileage and performance over time.
If a GPS bike computer is a bit too glamorous for you, consider a wireless bicycle speedometer. This traditional speedometer works by counting wheel revolutions via a small magnet attached to the wheel. The data from the wheel is transferred to a small display screen attached to the bike’s handlebars. These types of speedometers are usually inexpensive ($15 – $40) and provide a lot of information to include speed, average speed, elapsed time, riding time, weather info, etc. If you are on a budget and relatively new to riding, a bike speedometer is an excellent choice.
For what it is worth, all my bicycles have a wireless bike speedometer attached so I can see my current speed. I store all my data in my Garmin Forerunner 30 GPS watch. I prefer this setup as I my watch supports any of my activities, be it running, biking, walking, or swimming, while a bike computer has limited utility.
Shellback6 is GrüneStrasse’s regular blog contribution to the Bike to Work and Alternative Transportation Movement. Comments, suggestions, and dissenting points of view welcome!