The Chainlink

15 Things You Need On Your Commuter Bike

By Brett Ratner

For many, the shocking portion of a bike purchase is that part at the very end when it's time to choose the accessories.

It kinda blows the mind how the number of necessary items (and cost) add up. Pretty soon that (insert dollar amount here) purchase balloons into an (insert dollar amount plus $150) purchase.

Regardless of sticker shock, if you plan on venturing beyond a one-mile radius of your home, you're gonna want to be prepared.

Following is a list of must-have items that I believe should be on your commuter bike at all times. We'll start with the obvious ones and move on to some you may or may not have considered:

1. Inner Tubes
You don't want to push your bike home with a flat tire, so it helps to have a tube or two on hand.

To ensure a functioning tube, however, proper storage is important. A bike mechanic once advised me not to transport a tube in its cardboard box, as the cardboard can (after many miles of being jostled around in a pannier) wear a hole in the tube. I've had good luck with sandwich bags. Rubber bands are great for keeping the tube wrapped up, but some say rubber bands can react with the rubber of the tube over time. So if you haven't had a flat in a long time, it helps to periodically inspect your tubes and make sure they are in pristine shape.

2. Tire Levers
Unless you have freakishly strong hands, a tire lever is useful for removing a flat tire. Two is even better, since you can use one to hold the bead open (by hooking the lever around a spoke), and use the other to peel the bead off the rim.

3. Mini Tire Pump
Leave the CO2 cartridges for the roadies. For everyday riding, I think you're better served with a quality mini pump. The pump in the photo has faithfully served me for 10 years. I like it because I can operate it like as a floor pump. In other words, I can use the ground for extra leverage, and the flexible hose prevents me from accidentally breaking the valve. The inline pressure gauge is likely not accurate, but it's way more accurate than me "guestimating" pressure by squeezing the tires with my fingers. (Topeak Road Morph Bike Pump with Gauge)

4. Tire Boots
If you're unlucky enough to get a large gash in your tire, a new alone tube won't help. This is because it will just poke through the gaping hole. For years, people have used dollar bills to get them home. But a proper tire boot is better. Simply stick it over the hole (from the inside), pop in a tube, inflate and go. (Park Tool Tire Boots pack of 3)

5. Patch Kits
If you're carrying a couple of tubes, this is more an insurance policy. But in the event you don't manage to find the source of your flat after the first or second try, this can offer a couple more chances. (Park Tool Super Patch Kits)

6. Master Links
Assuming you replace chains before they wear out, it's unlikely you'll break one...but it can happen. A couple of master links can prevent you from having to roll home Fred Flintstone style. Just make sure the master links you use are compatible with the brand of chain you use.

7. Chain Tool
In order to repair a broken chain, you're gonna need one of these. (Park Tool Mini Chain Brute Chain Tool)

8. Multi Tool
Road bike types like to choose the lightest, most minimal tool they can find. For your commuter bike, however, the more tools the better. Thankfully, for around $35, you can arm yourself for practically any roadside adjustment on any bike in your stable. This includes a full array of allen wrenches, spoke wrenches, screwdrivers, box wrenches, a pedal wrench...even a bottle opener. (Park Tool Premium Rescue Tool)

The multi-tool in the photo saved me the other day. This is thanks to its Torx wrench, which I never knew I needed until I unexpectedly had to adjust a mountain bike disk brake lever. Interestingly, the updated version of that multi-tool offers a host of new additions to meet the needs of today's bikes. This includes three sizes of Torx wrench, a disk brake rotor truing tool, and a presta valve tool (necessary for adding tubeless tire sealant).

9. Bungee Cords
Nice for strapping odd-sized items down to your rack. Required if you bring your bike on the Metra train. These are definitely a must-have.

10. Tail Light
Not much explanation needed here. I personally prefer the rechargeable USB type. If you use a seat bag, however, it may obscure a light that (like the one in the photo) attaches to the seat post. In this case, choose a light that can clip onto the seat bag, a backpack or piece of clothing. (Knog Boomer USB Rechargeable Tail Light)

11. Head Light
I prefer the rechargeable USB type, and a handlebar mount. Helmet mount is good too if you don't mind the extra weight on your head. Since most "blinky" headlights are only suitable for being seen (vs. seeing), my only suggestion is spending a few extra bucks for a light that's bright enough to illuminate a dark road. (Light and Motion Urban 350 Bike Headlight)

12. Quality Locks
I've had good luck with the setup shown (knock on wood). For high-theft areas, I've brought two U-Locks. (Kryptonite U-Lock with Cable, Kryptonite Evolution Mini-5 U-Lock)

13. Balaclava
The weather when you head to work may be vastly different than the conditions on your ride home. And few things sting more than snow on bare skin, or breathing in frigid air. Keep one of these in your bag in case the weather takes an unexpected turn for the worst. (Balaclava selection)

14. Belgian Cycling Cap
I swear by these for wearing under a helmet in frigid temps. A stocking cap works too, but I personally like how the brim of a cycling cap keeps wind and snow and sleet out of your eyes. (Swrve Belgian Cap, Rapha Deep Winter Cap)

15. Gloves
Keep a pair in your bag to avoid frozen digits in the event of an unexpected drop in temperature.

NOTE: For summertime, switch out the cold weather stuff for good waterproof/breathable gear. This could include a jacket, overpants, and even shoe covers. There are many good brands, but we've had good luck with 7Mesh and Showers Pass

BONUS. Knowledge How To Use All This Stuff
A chain tool, for example, won't help you if you don't know how to connect a chain. Buy a mechanic friend a few beers (better yet, throw a few bucks his/her way) and learn some basic roadside repairs. Videos help too, as do resources like the "Repair Help" section of the Park Tools website.

EXTRA BONUS. Packable Backpack
Additional storage in the event you need to swing by the grocery store, or you unexpectedly have to carry an item that won't fit in your panniers. Easy to find online...or as a giveaway for opening a checking account or applying for a credit card you'll never use. (G4Free Ultra Lightweight Packable Backpack Hiking Daypack)

So there you have it. If there are any items we may have left out, please let us know in the comments!        

About the author:

Brett Ratner (brett@thechainlink.org) has been a professional journalist for more than 25 years. He has contributed to dozens of publications, including The Chicago TribuneThe Nashville TennesseanThe Nashville SceneGuitar Player and Musician. Brett began commuting by bike in 2005. Shortly thereafter, his interest in cycling expanded to century rides, bike camping and trail riding. The competition bug bit in 2012 and nowadays he races cyclocross, track, mountain bikes, criteriums and gravel for The Bonebell.

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Comment by Yasmeen on March 18, 2016 at 9:32am

Sarah, Thanks! I love the cup holder. I've had spillage when I put my latte in my bottle cage. 

Here's a link to the product on Amazon just in case anyone wants to check it out. : http://amzn.com/B003Z80J6E

Comment by Sarah D. on March 18, 2016 at 9:14am

Brett! One thing you majorly forgot. Even on my 2-mile commute, I couldn't live without it. Looking for one to put on a third bike this wknd.

Comment by Skip Montanaro 14.5mi on January 31, 2016 at 6:56am
I'm more with Duppie. I ride down into fairly cold temps. If I'm commuting, I still need to get to work (or home) in a timely, safe fashion. Risking frostbite isn't worth it to me. Ability and tools or not, we are talking about commuting (sometimes during frigid weather), not a self-sustained summertime tour.
Comment by Garth Liebhaber on January 31, 2016 at 5:53am
Also remember there's not a bus route on the Illinois Prairie Path! ; )
Comment by Martin Pion on January 30, 2016 at 9:00pm

I have the same attitude as Tom A.K. Over the years, as things have broken, I've bought the necessary tools etc., such as spare brake and deraileur cables and a hardened steel cable cutter. I want to be self sufficient when I'm on my bike.

Comment by Tom A.K. on January 30, 2016 at 12:47pm
I like to deal with any breakdowns on the bike and keep moving. I try to be prepared and would advise other cyclists to do the same. I would only use my bus pass if I, physically, felt unable to continue, not my bike.
Comment by Duppie on January 30, 2016 at 11:02am

I replaced item 1 thru 8 with a bus pass.

Saved myself from carrying a lot of stuff that I need maybe once a year.

Comment by Martin Pion on January 29, 2016 at 3:36pm

A tool I discovered several years ago which is superior to tire levers, which I rarely use now, is the Crank Brothers SpeedLever Tire Lever. It works well for both tire removal and replacement and avoids the real risk of a new puncture when using a regular tire lever.

It's also recommended to coat spare inner tubes with baby powder (talcum powder, available from Walgreens, etc.) which makes them slippery without degrading the rubber. Just pour a little into the plastic bag holding the tube and shake it.

Comment by Garth Liebhaber on January 28, 2016 at 8:23pm
It's a nice list! A raincoat is a good idea, too.
Comment by Garth Liebhaber on January 28, 2016 at 8:21pm
A chain that breaks while crossing an intersection can be very dangerous.
Comment by Garth Liebhaber on January 28, 2016 at 8:21pm
A chain breaking while riding can be dangerous, especially while crossing an intersection...
Comment by Marcusn on January 28, 2016 at 7:53pm

Great point on the bus pass. 

As for the lock, I've had mine frozen from water/ice, so I carry a small tube of de-icer also.

http://amzn.to/1PE0ZfJ

Comment by CJ on January 28, 2016 at 2:08pm

all that repair stuff could just be replaced with a bus pass.  seems easier than trying to change a tire outside in january

Comment by Skip Montanaro 14.5mi on January 28, 2016 at 2:04pm

Good list. A few modifications/comments:

  • Assuming you have a dollar bill (a twenty works as well, but is rather spendy :D), that will probably suffice as an emergency tire boot.
  • While I carry a spare tube and mini-pump, I no longer carry patches. Instead I squirt Stan's No Tubes into my tires. I should probably carry a small bottle as well.
  • In the ounce of prevention department, I use decent quality tubes (Schwalbe, Continental), not that approximation of tubes Kenda makes. Similarly, I use good quality tires. The true cost of cheap tires and tubes becomes apparent when they leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere.
  • I wear the cap/balaclava & gloves all the time this time of year, so I rarely need to carry them, however, a pair of disposable nitrile gloves are handy to keep dirt, chain schmutz, and brake dust off your hands.
  • I use two taillights at all times, mostly because one might go out without me noticing. I also have a third on my backpack which I leave unlit unless I need it. I also have a cheapo blinker light for the front in case my headlight goes dark.
  •  I agree with the recharging aspect. I have a mixture of USB and AA/AAA-powered lights. I use Panasonic Eneloop rechargeable batteries and good quality charger. I cycle through the batteries on a regular basis.
  • I don't bother with chain stuff. I don't push it as far as chain life goes. 90% of my riding is commuting anyway, so if my chain breaks, I can just push my bike to a CTA stop and take the train or bus in the general direction of home or work.

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