- Buyer's Guide
10 Awesome Bike Commuting Essentials
Bike commuting is both challenging and rewarding. And these essentials can help you conquer the daily two-wheel grind…
Ditch your car, they said. It will be fun, they said. You wake up at the crack of dawn, gather the supplies you thought you needed the night before, and throw on your full spandex attire. You tiptoe through the living room carrying your bike, so your overpriced hub ratchet does not wake up the random people your roommate was partying with. Then you open the door and instantly get that gut feeling you are unprepared and forgetting things. Three miles in and you get a flat. You’re cold, you start looking for the flat repair kit and pump you did not bring, your hands get covered in grease, panic sets in, you end up calling an Uber XL.
We all had that first day to some degree. The first day of bike commuting is exciting and new, yet scary in some regards. Therefore, I have compiled a list of 10 sweet products that will make your life on the bike easier. Keep in mind, this list can wildly vary depending on where you live, what you ride, and what you carry.
You may know Apidura for producing ultralight, high-end bikepacking gear, but this is something else. They have taken all their technical knowledge and poured it into an urban line of packs.
Apidura is a London-based, independent, family-owned business with some serious cycling experience (world tours, bikepacking, ultradistance races, etc.) and a common goal: to produce long-lasting, sustainable, no corners cut, no marketing hype cycling soft goods. Their product speaks for itself and they stray away from the marketing noise and social media platforms that focus on overconsumption and fast fashion.
Bike commuting is a specialized market that, ideally, requires a specialized product designed with cycling ergonomics and feature sets in mind. Apidura’s City Backpack does all the above in an elegant and streamlined package. Fully seam welded “origami-lite” construction for the rainy days, CT420 Marle laminated fabric, a removable waist belt, laptop compartment, interior/exterior pockets, and plenty of back ventilation for the hot summer days.
Who It Suits
The Apidura City Backpack is for the bike commuter and the minimalist EDC individual who is looking for a technical, yet minimalist bag that has a mature look and top-notch construction. The pack will excel in all weather conditions. So whether you commute in the gloomy, cold, and wet PNW, or the boiling hot and humid Florida afternoons, this bike commuting pack has your belongings covered and dry.
The pack’s main volume (17L, 45 x 30 x 15cm, 17.7 x 11.8 x 6in) is simple. It has a half bucket, half flap-top type opening that is secured with a G-hook and Velcro system, revealing a simple yet perfectly organized interior. The main volume includes a large, easy-to-access compartment for bulky items like spare clothes and shoes, a padded laptop sleeve with Velcro closure, two elastic mesh pockets sewn onto the laptop compartment’s face, one elastic strip within one of the mesh pockets for securing pens, and a large zipper pocket sewn on to the inside of the pack’s main face for miscellaneous items.
The overall silhouette is subdued, elegant, and similar in shape to a gas station paper bag, in the best way possible. The side gussets have a slight crease as the bag packs very flat. The front face is flat with some very minimal welded binding on the flap for reinforcement. The shoulder straps are super-sleek with a soft, neoprene-like hand feel and minimal webbing for the sternum strap. The back is well vented with some grooved padding for heat dissipation, this feature follows the same design aesthetic. Customers who are into minimalist styling will be happy with this bike commuting pack.
Who It Doesn’t
Individuals who are into tactical or sporty styling and like a ton of organization. Even then, functionally, this bike commuting pack would still do its job perfectly. Unless your job is specialized and requires certain bulky items or you are into having a ton of items you never use, this pack will fit the needs of most bike commuters and regular commuters.
Let us start with the materials and construction. The City Backpack is made from CT420 Marle laminated fabric. It has a semi-heathered look and it is fully seam welded on the outside, with only one external waterproof zipper on the right side which has a key clip inside. The welds are barely noticeable but seem very well made. The top flap is also welded and patterned in such a way that when it is open, it pulls on the side gussets making them taught, therefore making the main compartment easy to access. But when it is closed, it keeps the interior totally secured from the elements. Unless it is raining upwards, then you might have an issue. For night riding, this bike commuting pack has some laser-cut slots for mounting a rear light and some subtle, printed retroreflective details on the bottom.
The pack has no liner inside except for the bottom, laptop compartment and the right side, where the external zipper compartment is located. The pocket liner appears to be 210D nylon and is bright yellow for better visibility. The large internal zipper pocket and laptop sleeve appear to be 420D ripstop nylon. The laptop sleeve is internally lined with Nylex, Velour or “soft touch” material. The simple construction and feature set helps keep the bag light at 765g.
The shoulder straps are smooth to the touch and appear to be made from a neoprene-type material with some 3mm foam (my guess). They are bar-tacked onto the back pattern and have another pattern welded/tacked on top for reinforcement and to keep the main volume waterproof. The straps are totally smooth and made from two patterns, back and front, sewn together and pulled inside out. There is a small amount of webbing in daisy chain arrangement to secure and adjust the sternum strap, which is adjustable via plastic anchors that have custom “Apidura” branding on them.
The pack has a simple, Velcro-removable waist belt system made from 2.5cm webbing. The permanent anchoring point is made from Hypalon. You can find many reinforcement and anchor points that are made from Hypalon on this pack.
All hardware (as far as I can see) is made by Woojin plastics.
Ergonomics-wise, the pack is not too narrow and not too tall, it fits very nicely on my 5’11, 155lbs frame. The hip belt is out of the way and lets your hips move freely. The pack sits slightly low on the back and therefore out of the way of the helmet. The padding on the back has some grooves to allow venting. Though no matter what, my back gets sweaty because I am unable to ride at a leisurely pace apparently.
Not So Good
I genuinely cannot find any cons to this bike commuting pack as it perfectly follows my decluttered philosophy. Space for commuting essentials, long-lasting construction, weatherproof, comfortable on my body, and no-frills/no-nonsense design language. If I had to nitpick, my issue would be with these types of coated fabrics. When the pack is rubbed along a hard surface it tends to leave a whiteish mark, nothing that cannot be wiped off.
All in all, considering the point of use, the material choices, and R&D, this pack is a stellar choice for any bike or regular commuter who wants a long-lasting, urban-looking pack that will carry very comfortably. At $218 it is on the pricier side. But they are a relatively small company comprised of experienced individuals, and they’re based in London, so I get it.
First things first, never lock your bike outside. It is not a matter of “if” it will get stolen or damaged, but a matter of when. Unfortunately, I don’t live in Japan or the Netherlands where bike commuting is the norm and theft is decently low. Bike thieves seem to be getting more brazen by the day, especially in cities like LA and SF. I highly suggest you keep your bike in the office or inside your apartment, even garages are not safe.
If you must lock your bike outside you cannot go wrong with a Kryptonite U-lock. They are one of the best-known brands and sold at pretty much every bike shop. U-locks are amongst the heavier options. But they are, by far, more secure than a chain lock or the ultralight variety of folding locks. If you are worried about hauling this Thor hammer of a lock around, they provide rather flexible bike mounting solutions. If you do not want it to ruin your aesthetic you can always keep it in your backpack or stick it in between your belt and pant waist.
Kryptonite also provides steel cable options along with your U-lock to keep your wheels secure. If they cannot take the frame, they will take your flashy Mavic wheels. If you want the maximum-security trifecta, you should also consider wheel locking skewers.
Like bike theft, there is a high chance of getting hit by a car while riding the urban jungle, even if you are an extremely safe and experienced rider. Next time you’re bike commuting or going on a leisure ride, take note of how many drivers are using their phones or distracted by other activities. Therefore, I always keep a GoPro Hero8 mounted on my handlebar, for insurance purposes. Ideally, you should have a rear-facing and front-facing cam for those pesky rear-end slammies or the “let me pass you on the left seconds before hooking this right turn inches in front of you”. This is not to say cyclists do not commit road atrocities as well—we are all in this together. Be safe out there and look after each other.
On the bright side, you can record your scenic rides and even narrate them if you are good at that. Go and get YouTube rich now. The Hero8 has an input for an external mic. However, you need an adapter that is quite bulky and will make your camera prone to water damage. The GoPro also allows you to choose your frame rate, focal length, and color mode. From a vibrant and highly saturated standard mode to a “S-Log” type, low saturation shooting mode.
There are numerous mounting solutions from GoPro that will suit your needs. Stem mount, under saddle, top of the handlebar, helmet mount, chest mount, and many other options.
Most of the cameras nowadays are weatherproof without a bulky casing and offer numerous shooting modes. It is quite hard to go wrong with a big-name brand.
If you bike commute, you will get flats, there is no permanent solution for it. The best you can do is to be prepared for it. And by prepared, I mean carrying a good pump, some spare tubes, and some tools, or crossing over into the tubeless camp, which is what I recommend. There are so many bike commuting pump options out there, so where do you start?
Personally, I like decently large pumps so that I do not have to spend 10 minutes getting an upper body workout with a micro-pump that will start glowing red from friction. CO2 cartridges are nice and compact, but you only get one chance to get it right and I find it to be a bit wasteful. I am running decently wide tubeless tires (45mm) on a gravel bike, so I opted for the Lezyne Micro floor drive in the high-volume variety. It has a replaceable screw-on valve for both Presta and Schrader valves, a deployable floor stand so that you have some pumping support, a decently accurate pen gauge (there is a version sold without it), a hose for getting in between your spokes, and most importantly, it looks beautiful in the black/bronze finish. Most of the pump is made from aluminum so it is decently sturdy and light (225g).
The pump includes a frame mount bracket, but it’s also small enough to carry in your jersey or frame pack.
Sea to Summit makes a wide variety of dry bags in different sizes, colors, and materials. They even offer a version with a removable sling strap, so you can wear it as a sling bag. Even if your pack is waterproof, it is nice knowing that you have an extra barrier of waterproof protection.
Dry bags can be quite handy at separating dirty clothes or your office shoes from the rest of your clothing. I always find it gross to keep your shoes in the same compartment as the rest of your gear and lunch, if you carry lunch. Dry bags can also separate and keep your clothes and electronics dry from items that will condensate. Lastly, they are quite handy at compressing your clothes; this allows you to have a more organized and compact backpack.
While having a backpack is nice to carry your laptop, electronics, and clothes, it is always better to have your small items like keys, phone, spares, and tools in an easy-access location. It is also better to have a lighter pack, keeping your center of gravity low.
Ortlieb’s Toptube bag is an extremely simple but well-built bikepacking bag. It is made in Germany, it is fully seam welded with the same durable and lightweight materials (PS21R) as their other bikepacking bags, and it has a monstrous TIZIP waterproof zipper running along the entire right side. You can literally cross rivers with this bag and the insides will remain dry. The pack attaches via simple, yet very well-placed, coated Velcro straps that will accommodate most frames. The pack has no internal or external organization so make sure you keep your fragile items in separate pouches to prevent scratching.
Looks-wise, the pack looks quite techy with a hexagon patterned fabric and no stitching marks anywhere to be seen. It is subdued in color except for a bright splash of orange from the zipper tracks.
There is not much more to say about the bag other than it just works flawlessly every time. If it does not, Ortlieb is always happy to fix it and work with you.
Honestly, the looks themselves are enough reason to buy this bell. It comes in both a raw brushed finish and a beautiful black DLC coating. The bell has a stainless steel construction with a brass alloy dome and an aluminum hammer, made in ‘Merica.
The bell mounts with a simple, one-piece stainless steel band (includes two sizes) that fits both 22.2 and 31.8 bar diameters. It requires a 2mm hex wrench to tighten said band from the front of the bell, easy access. The bell is isolated from the bar thanks to a small, high-quality rubber fitting.
I find bells to be extremely useful to alert pedestrians who are stuck on their phones and oblivious to their surroundings. The Spurcycle bell has a sweet and bright timbre that resonates quite loudly despite its compact size and light weight (45g); roadies, get one. Its sound is not aggravating and offending. It is more of a sweet and gentle caress, a reminder to snap out of it and smell the flowers.
At $49 for the raw finish and $59 for the black DLC, it is not the cheapest bike commuting bell. But it is well worth it; buy once, cry once. Did I mention just how gorgeous it is?
I live in LA, it does not rain. But I was raised in the Caribbean; anything under 75°F is legitimately cold for me. My commute usually starts at around 7:30am and it is around 55°F-65°F. If you are a baby like me when it comes to temperature, it is critical to have a good bike commuting jacket that breathes and keeps you nice and warm without feeling clammy, with the added benefit of being completely waterproof! If you are in the PNW, east coast, or anywhere that rains, this is a critical piece of gear.
The Showers Pass Elite 2.1 Jacket cuts no corners. It is made from three layers of lightweight, PFC-free, DWR-coated ripstop nylon for wind protection and abrasion resistance. It has a fully seam taped interior with a layer of micro brushed lining on the neck pattern, to avoid that sticky plastic-on-sweaty-skin feeling. To control the temperature, the jacket features two large core/armpit zippers and a massive meshed back flap. The sleeves have adjustable cuffs that also aid in venting. The front zipper is an AquaGuard Vislon zipper with a storm flap, functional and straightforward. For downpour days, the jacket is also compatible with a fully removable (Velcro) hood; however, this is sold separately. As far as storage, there is a large, zippered back pocket and a chest pocket with an audio port, but please be careful riding with earphones.
One of my biggest pet peeves with cycling jackets is the fit. They are either suffocatingly tight in the wrong areas or unflatteringly baggy and long. Showers Pass really nailed the fit and sizing on this jacket. I am 5’11, 155lbs with a decently broad back and chest. The medium size fits perfectly with a tiny bit of room for layers. The waist is cinchable to tailor the fit even further. The back or “tail” is longer to accommodate the leaned forward cycling position and to avoid the infamous backsplash if you do not have fenders. The neck is snug but loose enough that you do not feel like you’re being choked.
As far as colors, the jacket comes in black, pacific blue, cayenne red, and a beautiful and highly visible Goldenrod yellow. Because you are never visible enough on the road, the jacket also has reflective 3M trim on both the arms and back.
9. Rear/Front Lights
Early morning and evening bike commuting is a risky business. It is the hardest time to see and be seen so it is crucial to have a good set of lights. I typically like categorizing lights into two camps: lights for seeing and lights to be seen. Lights for seeing are usually larger in size and weight, are USB rechargeable, and have a higher lumen output; lumen preference is subjective. Lights to be seen tend to be very compact, have low lumen output, use coin cell batteries, and just serve as a reminder to drivers that you are there. I highly recommend you buy the “to see” type of lights, at least do so for the rear light, where most drivers will be seeing you from.
I have been running the Serfas E-Lume 200 as a front light for what feels like an eternity. It has never failed me, in inclement weather or rough, bumpy conditions. The light has a 200-lumen Cree LED with three solid modes: High (200 lumens/2 hours), Medium (100 lumens/4.25 hours), Low (50 lumens/7 hours). It also has two flash modes: Daytime Flash (200 lumens/50 hours), Low Flash (50 lumens/18 hours). It is USB rechargeable (micro-USB) and has an IPX4 water-resistant rating. The body is made from aluminum with a polymer backing and lens. The mount is a mix of polymers and is quite large and sturdy with a pivoting head and a quick release for the light. This light is no longer manufactured but they currently make a 350-lumen up to a 1750-lumen headlight.
As far as the rear, I run a Serfas UTL-6 Thunderbolt light. Again, I have used this light for years without a hiccup. It is a 35-lumen, micro-LED strip with four modes: High – 35 lumens, 1.5 hrs; Low – 10 lumens, 4 hrs; High Flash – 35 lumens, 2.5 hrs; Low Flash – 10 lumens, 8.5 hrs. The entire body is made from a polymer, it is sleek and covered in a grippy TPU skin. Even though it does not indicate an IPX rating, I have ridden in the pouring rain multiple times with no issue. The only downside is the outdated USB Mini-B charging port.
Suffering with spaghetti cable syndrome? Fear not, for there is a solution that will change your commuting and traveling spaghettification ills. Cables, batteries, SD drives, hard drives, thumb drives, point and shoot camera, and pens, the Peak Design Tech Pouch can fit and organize it all.
There are countless (exaggeration) elastic sleeves, compartments, and zipper pockets, all soft-lined, to keep your portable office protected on the move. At first glance, PD’s iconic design language graces your eyes. The pouch is a simple clamshell made of 100% recycled 200D nylon water-resistant fabric. When you slide open the water-resistant YKK zipper, the pouch flares open like an accordion, exposing all the compartments and items in a neat way. The pouch has external structure and stays upright so you can pick out your individual items without having to spill everything out. There are two anchor attachment points that are compatible with PD slings, but also come in handy if you want to hang it with a carabiner. At 2L, it is the perfect size to fit in most backpacks and slings.
I own two of these pouches, each dedicated to different adventure modes. A bike commuting version, with all my office tech necessities, and a photo version with all my camera cleaning supplies, SD cards, cables, and film rolls.
This article was written by new contributor, Gino Romano, industrial designer, cyclist, minimalist and master of carry memes. Follow his adventures on Instagram.
This article was sponsored by the fine folks at Apidura. Thanks so much for the support!