By Stefan Abram
Cyclist's using their bikes to commute will need a slightly different set of equipment when compared with the leisure rider. Although minimising weight and bulk is always desirable when cycling to work, the more utilitarian nature of a commute means that practicality is paramount.
Some essentials are applicable for all bike rides, such as multitools and inner tubes. Whereas others, like a lock, are more specific to the particular needs of the commuter.
In this list we’ll cover items from both of these categories, so you’ll know everything you need for a smooth commute.
>>> Best flat pedals
This guide includes links to some products. With each product is a ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
What you need to cycle to work
The unpredictability of our Great British weather means that even if it is dry in the morning, it could well be raining on your way home.
The human body can lose up to 30 times as much heat when in contact with wet clothing, compared to being dry. So, keeping the rain at bay will make a massive difference to your comfort.
Although any old rain jacket will keep the water out, going for a cycling specific cut confers a number of benefits. A dropped tail of the jacket increases the protection for your posterior from any road spray. While a shorter cut on the front of the jacket prevents it from bunching up on your legs when pedalling. Longer sleeves mean that your arms remain fully covered, even when stretched out on the handlebars.
Going for a jacket that has a bit of Hi-Viz—or reflective strips—is a wise option. By its nature, wet weather tends to greatly reduce vision for other road users, so increasing your visibility is sensible.
Additionally, getting a waterproof jacket that has a high breathability rating means that it can double up as an effective wind-breaker without making you uncomfortable clammy.
Breathability is measured by the amount of water vapour that can pass through a square meter of the fabric over 24 hours. You will want at least 10,000g/m2/24h but if you know you have a propensity to sweat, looking for 20,000/m2/24h would be sensible.
Endura Urban Luminite Jacket
Assos MILLE GT jacket spring fall
One of these is a necessity if you will be leaving your bike for any length of time.
Cable locks are lightweight and versatile, but they often among the easiest for a thief to cut through, making many of these a bad choice unless you are leaving your bike for just a few minutes.
D-locks offer far greater security and are a popular choice amongst commuters. But it is important to recognise that not all D-locks are created equal—some are significantly more secure than others.
Fortunately, the lock testing company Sold Secure provides independent certification of the quality of bike locks. A sold secure silver rating is acceptable for a lock being used on a lower value bike.
Bear in mind that some insurance policies will only cover a bike if it is locked with a gold rated lock, so it is worth double checking your policy wording before buying.
A lock is only as effective as the person using it. Make sure to lock the bike through the frame and to an immovable object. In higher risk areas it is also worth using an additional cable, or lock, to secure the wheels. Our guide on how to lock a bike securely can be read here.
A final feature to bear in mind is whether the lock comes with a mount to attach to your frame. If you have a dedicated commuter bike, this is a good way of ensuring you never forget your lock.
Kryptonite Evolution Standard D-Lock with FlexFrame Bracket
These become more important as we head into winter and the ride to and from work begins and ends in the dark.
However, they can also be a worthy purchase during the summer, as daytime running lights are an effective way of increasing your visibility to other road users.
Even when the sun is shining, if it is low in the sky this can be more of a curse than a blessing. It is difficult to see any vehicle when the sun is directly behind it—a flashing light can greatly increase how easily you can be seen.
Lights should either be really easy to take off or rather difficult. If the light is too fiddly for you to bother taking it off, but has no functional impediment for a thief, then this is a sure-fire way of ending up with no light.
Lights that attach by some form of rubber loop and hook are among the simplest to attach and remove. This has the added benefit of enabling you to easily use it on other bikes.
Or you could opt for a dynamo and have the light fully integrated into your bike. This has the benefit that you will never forget to bring it with you or charge it. Although the initial cost might seem rather large, they are not significantly more expensive than some high-powered LEDs—and remember, the least cost-effective light is the one that you forget to bring!
Knog PWR Commuter Front Light - 450 Lumen
Lezyne KTV Pro rear light
You are not required by law to wear ahelmet in the UK. However, their function in protecting your head should you fall definitely makes one a worthy purchase.
The cheaper the helmet, the less research and development that went into its construction and so the less likely it is that it will fit your head, and offer breathability and comfort. That said, the only way to guarantee a good fit is to try a few on and see what works for you.
Although you can be assured that all helmets sold in the UK have passed the relevant safety regulations, recently there have been large developments in helmet technology. So now you have choice to buy a helmet that far exceeds the regulations.
The main development has been the introduction of MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System), or similar technologies which allow the helmet to rotate with the impact, meaning that less rotational force is applied to your head and neck, which helps to reduce injuries.
Read: Best road bike helmets
Smith Signal MIPS Helmet
We all get to experience the dreaded puncture at some point or other. As on any bike ride, you will need the tools to get you up and going again.
Bringing a pump is straightforward solution for this. Although you can use CO2 cannisters, these are a one-time deal, whereas the humble pump can deliver inflation indefinitely.
However, it can be difficult to achieve the pressures required for narrower tyres with a handpump. They also can be very tiring on the arms.
Fortunately, there are pumps more akin in form to track pumps which can fold down to a similar size as a handpump. These are the kind you will want for trouble free top ups.
Read: Five best mini bike pumps 2020: a buyer’s guide
LifeLine Motion Floor Mount Mini Pump
Panniers / backpack
Some form of carrying capacity is almost a prerequisite for a commute. You will be bringing items needed for work, as well as other essentials.
A backpack offers a lightweight and versatile option. One that is especially good for commutes that involve the use of public transport.
Alternatively, you can shift the weight onto the bike by use of a rack and panniers. This has the benefit of taking the load off your shoulders and increasing the capacity you can carry.
Read: Seven of the best cycling backpacks: a buyer’s guide
Osprey Radial Backpack
Ortlieb Back Roller City Panniers Pair 40 Litres
A good multitool will solve the majority of issues you are likely to experience while out on your commute.
It’s important to bear in mind the bolts that you have on your bike. Torx bolts are increasingly being specced by bike brands due to their mechanical advantages (such as being harder to strip), but some multitools don’t include Torx keys.
To save yourself the frustration of having the wrong tool for the job, double check what you need before you buy.
Also, worth considering is choosing a multitool with a chain splitter and some spoke keys. A broken chain or spoke are rarer problems to have, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. And, if any of these problems do arise, you will thank yourself for it.
LifeLine Pro 18-In-1 Multi-Tool
Used for getting the tyre on and off the rim, when it comes to fixing punctures, a couple of these are a vital part of the puzzle.
Bear in mind that metal tire levers can damage your rims, however plastic ones can fatigue and snap after a number of uses.
The best tyres levers are ones that have a metal core and a plastic covering. These might be more expensive, but they will last longer—and who can put a price on the satisfaction that a tool perfectly suited to the job brings?
Ribble Metal Core Tyre Levers
Although you may have a spare tube, bad luck tends to come in clusters. A simple pack of patches allows you to mend your tubes should bad luck befall you—multiple times!
Some are self-adhesive, others keep the patch and glue separate. Each has its merits, simplicity versus time-proved reliability.
LifeLine Puncture Repair Kit
LifeLine 10 Self Adhesive Instant Puncture Repair Patches
There are times when a hole can’t be patched, or you simply don’t have the time to. So it is worth bringing at least one spare tube.
Even if you’ve eschewed tubes in favour of a tubeless system, although punctures may be a rarity, there are still cases when the only solution is to put a tube in.
Schwalbe Road Inner Tube
Tubeless repair kit
If you are riding tubeless and you have a puncture that is too large for the sealant to deal with, a tubeless repair kit can save you the messy faff of taking off a sealant covered tyre to put in a tube.
These kits contain rubbery strips that are placed on a metal spike and forced into the hole in the tyre. By doing so, you give the sealant something to coagulate around.
It can feel somewhat disconcerting to stab something into your tyre—as if you must surely be making the problem worse, rather than better. But this is part of the process of plugging a hole, you’ll get used to it after the first time!
LifeLine Tubeless Repair Kit
We hope these tips help you make the perfect choice—happy commuting!
Omnium: What is the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Omnium and how does it work?
Get to know the Omnium for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
By Tim Bonville-Ginn •
Hope's secret Olympic time trial bike didn't go to Tokyo but it will go into production next year
Cycling Weekly gets an exclusive look at the first prototype of the roadgoing Team GB Olympic track bike
By Simon Smythe •
Best hybrid bikes reviewed: how to choose the right model for you
How to find the best hybrid bike that suits both your riding and your budget
By Stefan Abram •
Best panniers and pannier racks for cyclists
Going touring, or using your bike for commuting? You may want to opt for a panniers to carry luggage
By Michelle Arthurs-Brennan •
Best bike handlebars: how to choose them and best reviewed handlebars
The best bike handlebars are an oft overlooked upgrade - we explain why they're so important and outline what to look for when you hit the shops
By Michelle Arthurs-Brennan •
Best road bike helmets: a buyer’s guide to comfortable, lightweight and aero lids
How do you maximise safety and comfort? Balance aero and weight? Work out the best road bike helmet for you with our helpful buyer's guide
By Hannah Bussey •
Best kids' bike helmets: A buyer's guide
Getting your kid into cycling is one thing, it's another to make sure they are safe. We put together a buyer's guide on what to look for when choosing a kids' bike helmet
By Craig Cunningham •
Best kids’ bikes: tips for choosing a children's bike
Having a kids bike conundrum? We compare prices, weight and components on bikes from top brands and help you choose the best kids bike for your little one
By Michelle Arthurs-Brennan •
The best cycling shoes rated and reviewed
A good pair of cycling shoes can make a big difference to your riding, helping you go faster while being more comfortable and looking great at the same time.
By Michelle Arthurs-Brennan •
Best bike pumps: a buyer's guide to the perfect mini pumps and floor pumps
At home or out on a ride, the ability to add air and inflate a flat means the best best bike pump is a must have for any cyclist.
By Hannah Bussey •