If you're using your bike to commute to work, you'll need a slightly different set of equipment than a recreational rider. Although minimising weight and bulk is always desirable when cycling to work, practicality is paramount and you want kit that is durable but doesn't cost the earth.
Some items, like a quality bike lock, are really important to the commuter, whereas others such as a multitool and inner tubes are needed by all riders.
Here's our list of the essentials for a smooth commute and our suggestions for inexpensive picks that will still do the job, as well as more expensive 'investment' choices in each category.
Essentials for commuting by bike
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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 (opens in new tab), compared to being dry. So, keeping the rain at bay will make a massive difference to your comfort and it's worth investing a little cash in a jacket that will be durable and function effectively.
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.
The best commuter cycling jackets will have a bit of Hi-Viz—or reflective strips. By its nature, wet weather tends to greatly reduce vision for other road users, so increasing your visibility is sensible.
Additionally, getting one of the best waterproof jackets that have a high breathability rating means that it can double up as an effective wind-breaker without making you uncomfortable clammy.
Breathability (opens in new tab) 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.
Level up: Castelli Commuter Reflex jacket
Pedalling efficiency is improved significantly with a pair of cycling shoes, making riding more comfortable too. Cycling in ordinary trainers or shoes is an option, but they probably won't be comfortable on the pedals, which can cut into their soles, or provide enough support.
Having one set of shoes that works both on and off the bike is a lot easier than having to carry a second set of shoes in to work and change them once you arrive.
Fortunately there are plenty of options that will do dual duty and the Crankbrothers Stamp Lace shoes are one of the best commuter cycling shoes for urban use. They have flat soles that mean that they'll work with the best flat pedals for cycling, some of which are featured in our guide to the best commuter bike pedals, too.
You can ride even more efficiently with a set of clipless pedals though and you can buy cycling shoes for urban use that have a recessed SPD cleat to fit them and which still allow you to walk around comfortably once you park up your bike.
Level up: Shimano AM5 SPD shoes
The best bike locks are a necessity if you will be leaving your bike for any length of time.
Cable locks are lightweight and versatile, but they are 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 (opens in new tab) 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.
Level up: Abus Bordo Alarm lock
Having the best front and rear road bike lights becomes 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 worthwhile 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. The other option is a light with a separate bracket. Many brackets are fiddly to remove and have limited value to the light-fingered if there's no light to go with them.
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!
Level up: Exposure Trace and TraceR lightset
Giro Cormick MIPS helmet
You are not required by law to wear a helmet 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 is the best road bike helmet 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 the 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.
Level up: Lazer Genesis MIPS helmet
LifeLine Motion Floor Mount Mini Pump
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 one of the best bike pumps is a straightforward solution for this. Although you can use CO2 canisters, 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.
Level up: Topeak Mini Morph G pump
Cycling backpack or panniers
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.
One of the best cycling backpacks will offer 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.
Level up: Chrome Industries Barrage Cargo backpack
LifeLine Pro 18-In-1 Multi-Tool
A good multitool will solve the majority of issues you are likely to experience while 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.
Level up: Birzman E-Version 15 multitool
Pedros Tyre Levers
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?
Level up: SKS Leverman tyre levers
LifeLine Puncture Repair Kit
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!
The best puncture repair kits include those with self-adhesive patches and others that keep the patch and glue separate. Each has its merits, simplicity versus time-proved reliability.
Level up: Lezyne Smart puncture repair kit
LifeLine road inner tube
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 inner 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.
Level up: Schwalbe Road Inner Tube
Tubeless repair kit
LifeLine 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!
Level up: Birzman Tubeless Repair Kit
If you've yet to start cycling to work, check out our guide to the best commuter bikes for practical cycling on a daily basis and find our top tips on cycling to work here.
After winning the 2019 National Single-Speed Cross-Country Mountain Biking Championships and claiming the plushie unicorn (true story), Stefan swapped the flat-bars for drop-bars and has never looked back.
But his favourite rides are multiday bikepacking trips, with all the huge amount of cycling tech and long days spent exploring new roads and trails - as well as histories and cultures. Most recently, he’s spent two weeks riding from Budapest into the mountains of Slovakia.
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