If you want to commute to work by bike, then really you only need two things. Number one: you need a bike. And number two: you need a job.
Okay, so that’s not the whole story. Any old bike can get you to work and back, but if you want it to be something you do and enjoy every day, then it’s worth thinking about all the things that might get in the way of that.
For a start, if you’ve never ridden to work before, you might just think that you can do the journey the same way you did in your car. And that’ll probably mean you end up on busy roads that aren’t much fun to ride. You might find that it’s a lot hillier than you remember. Funny how the hills don’t seem so steep in the car. So your work clothes might get a bit sweaty.
Sooner or later it’s going to rain, too. It always does. And that rain’s going to mess up your work gear. Especially your shoes if you’re splashing through puddles, and your back wheel will probably spray road muck up the back of your shirt too.
All that rain will probably wash all kinds of things down onto the road. Bits of flint, and thorns, and glass, all waiting to bury themselves in your tyre. You did bring a toolkit, right?
This is a BMC Alpenchallenge AMP AL Sport hybrid. There’s a lot of different styles of bike you can commute on, and what will pick will depend on what your commute is like, and what kind of rider you are. Sporty hybrids like this are really popular, you’ll see a lot of them about. They’re kind of in the sweet spot between feeling quick and being practical, really.
It’s also an e-bike. We love an e-bike, we do. It’s using a Shimano 105 road transmission, so 11 sprockets at the back, but with a single ring at the front. There’s an 11-34 cassette back here so that’s a good range of gears.
With the Shimano STEPs 6100 motor at the front helping out that should be enough to get up anything without even breaking a sweat. This motor puts out 60Nm of torque which will have you flying up the hills in the top mode. Or, you can turn the assistance down and get more of a workout.
Stopping to change a puncture on your way to work is no-one’s idea of fun, so we’ve swapped out the tyres for these Panaracer Tour Guard Plus ones which have a really thick puncture belt built in. You’d have to be pretty unlucky to get a flat with these.
Our setup includes kit for emergency repairs. Yeah, a spare tube, some tyre levers, a multitool. We’ve got an SKS pump here on the frame that’ll get us rolling again. You could carry your toolkit in a saddlebag if you wanted; but we tend to sling it in the work bag as we switch between bikes quite a lot.
We've also added mudguards: no commuting bike should be without them. These SKS ones are nice and long. We’ve finished the front one off with an extra mudflap, too, just to stop too much road spray ending up on our shoes.
And there’s also a Hiplok D-lock too for locking the bike up at work. And we’re still in lights season, so we’ve got a set of rechargeable Cateye lights that should get us seen about town. As well as those lights on the bike, this Giro helmet has a rear LED in it too, so that’s a bit of extra visibility higher up which can be pretty useful about town.
So that’s our bike sorted out, but what about kit? Just like with bikes, there are a load of different ways you can dress for a commute by bike, and lots of things to take into account. What’s the commute like? How long is it? How hilly? What are you riding? What’s the weather like? All these things will affect what clothing works best.
On a sunny day with a short commute, we’ll just ride in work clothes. It’s not like we have much of a dress code anyway, to be honest. If your commute is flatter than ours then civvies is probably an option whenever it’s nice out, really.
But sometimes it’s just miserable, and you’ll have to deal with it. If it’s warm and wet you can just wear less, and change when you get to work if that’s an option. A proper hardshell jacket like this Altura one and some overtrousers like this should keep you fully dry.
Look's Geo Trekking pedals have a flat side and an SPD side, so you can ride them clipped in, or just in your normal shoes. So for a bike that you’ll be doing a mix of stuff on, they’re ideal.
For longer rides a pad makes all the difference. These Altura tights have a nice comfy pad. You could wear them on their own, we’ve gone for a set of baggy shorts over the top which are waterproof, and this Nightvision jacket is waterproof too. When you’re working a bit harder it’s good to have a helmet that’s well-ventilated too, so something like this Bell Avenue road lid is ideal. And it still has an LED light in the back for a bit of extra visibility.
We tend to use a rucksack for commuting, mostly because we're always carrying a laptop and it just feels like it’s better isolated from all the bumps along the way if it’s on our back. This Altura backpack has a laptop sleeve and it’s fully waterproof with this roll-top closure too, so it’s great for all-year commuting. Messenger bags can work well too, and they look a bit more professional and stylish if you work somewhere that’s a consideration.
Some people swear by a pannier though, as it’s putting the weight on the bike and you’re not having to worry about your back getting sweaty.
Lastly let’s touch on routing. If you’re starting out commuting by bike, especially if you’re switching from a car, then it’s tempting to stick to the routes you know. But those often aren’t the best option for the bike.
In a car you’ll tend to pick the fast roads, but on a bike your speed is mostly dictated by your legs, and quiet routes can be just as quick. Plus there are often cut-throughs and traffic-free paths that you can add in.
We find that using a mapping app like Komoot can be great for working out routes. It’s amazing how much riding you can still find in your local area that you've not really tried. And it’s great for trying out different options for your commute and seeing what works best.
The SKS Compit system attaches the phone to your stem, so you can get turn-by-turn directions on a komoot route. It’s waterproof too, and you can still use the touch screen, so it’s great for following a route you don’t know so well.