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Monday, September 26, 2011

Equipment suggestions for bicycle commuting

This July I was contacted by a writer for Outside Magazine, regarding bicycle commuting equipment recommendations. I sent several paragraphs of suggestions, based on my experience. The October 2011 issue is now out, and my comments appear with only one suggestion. So I thought I'd share the rest of my comments here. I offer more equipment suggestions on my website, and elsewhere on this blog.

Basically, I was asked what I would recommend, either brands or features that are especially helpful, in the following categories: Wheels, Drivetrain + Pedals, Handlebar + Grips, Brakes, Lights + Lock. Here are my responses.


In general, commuting bicyclists will want to acquire stronger, beefier wheels than those used by recreational bicyclists. We bicycle commuters are often contending with more varied and challenging pavement surfaces (potholes, debris, etc.), and we are generally more heavily loaded, with things like a laptop, work materials, books, lunch, change of clothing.

My general advice to any bicycle commuter is to get the strongest handbuilt wheelset they can afford, and for most a standard 36-spoke wheel will work very well. Many bicycles come off the showroom with machine-made spec wheels, which may not always be the most reliable over time. Likely great for light recreational riding on weekends, and over a few years, no problem. For everyday hard urban bicycle commuting, you really need great wheels.

My main commuting bike is a hybrid. After breaking many spokes on an inexpensive 32-spoke rear wheel, I recently replaced my rear wheel with a 40-spoke tandem wheel, with a Sun ME-14A rim and Shimano HF-07 hub. I purchased this wheel online from Rocky Mountain Cyclery.

Basically, the advantage to me: I'm a heavier rider (200+) and frequently carry fairly heavy loads during my commute (2-liter bottle of diet cola, books, papers, etc.) I typically break many spokes, had wheel come out of true (wobble) and other maladies. I needed a "bullet-proof" rear wheel, and this one has been really great.

Bicycle commuters should also consider beefy tires for similar reasons. Spend a little more for durability and puncture resistance. It's worth the investment. I use Specialized Crossroads Armadillo tires on my everyday commuter. I also prefer the fattest and widest tire size allowed by my frame clearances. The minimal sacrifice in rolling efficiency is well compensated by the comfort.

Basically, regarding bicycle equipment, my advice is always the same: good durable frame, great durable wheels, strong puncture-proof tires. Get the most bike you can afford; in the end it will always pay off.

Drivetrain + Pedals

I pedal pretty casually in my dress shoes or sneakers; I tend to dress for the destination and not the trip. So my preferred pedal is a double-sided and sturdy BMX style, such as the Diamondback Sound pedal. Bicycle commuters who plan to go faster or want to wear clipless pedals may want to consider the flexibility of the Shimano PD-M324 pedals, which is double-sided with a clipless attachment on one side and a flat on the other. I have these on my touring bike, and they're great.

Handlebar + Grips

I don't really have any strong opinions on handlebars and grips. I prefer a more upright riding position, but all are generally fairly comparable.


I don't really have any strong opinions on brakes. Many commuters prefer disc brakes, but I've only used cantilevers and V-brakes.

Lights + Lock

The first consideration with a lock is to understand that EVERY lock can be defeated by a motivated thief. Learning good locking techniques (secure wheel and frame, remove lights, etc.) and accurately assessing the threats are critical to prevent the heartbreak of a stolen bike. I have used a number of different locks. My primary everyday lock for the high-theft college campus where I work is a Kryptonite Evolution u-lock, which I use to secure the frame. I keep my wheels secure with OnGuard locking skewers. Again, no lock is 100% secure. The key is to make your bike MORE secure than the other bicycles in the vicinity. My website has more suggestions on locks.

I've used a number of lights over the years, including the Light & Motion Stella 150. My favorite headlight right now is the NiteRider MiNewt 600 cordless, which is way bright, very lightweight, and is a smart cordless design. Use the brightest light you can afford. Not only will it illuminate your way, but you will get more respect from motorists. I've found the brighter the light, the more respect.

Image: luxomedia
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site