I want to share a little about my bike. Some people get the idea to bike to work so they go out and buy a new expensive commuter bike even though they already own a bike. That’s the consumerist way, and around here we prefer the minimalist way. That means using what we already have. In my case it’s a single speed Schwinn beach cruiser that cost around $120. In some ways it’s a good commuter bike – it has fenders and a chain guard. In other ways it’s not an ideal commuter – it has really wide tires and is single speed.
I had already made some additions to my bike before I started using it for commuting to work. I added an LED blinking light to the back for night riding. We often ride to the park or to dinner in the evening and darkness sometimes sneaks up on us, so we added those LED lights to the backs of all our bikes. I also had a cup holder. Some might question the cup holder, but we’re talking beach cruiser here and a handle bar mounted cup holder suits it better than a frame mounted water bottle holder. I also installed a bell when my daughter, Faith, and I started riding to school once a week.
My morning commute begins before the sun comes up, so that meant I needed a headlight also. For the time being I’m using two LED flashlights held to the handlebars with a bungee cord. It’s not ideal, but it was enough to get me started. There is usually enough ambient light to see, so my main concern is being seen my motorists. I also have an old bicycle helmet.
To sum up, here is what I already have:
- Schwinn single speed beach cruiser
- LED flashing red light for the back
- Dual LED flashlights attached with bungee cord
- Bicycle Helmet
There were a couple things I needed to improve safety and security. I bought two things between my first and second commute. My old bike helmet was old; probably in the neighborhood of 15 years old. I’m not sure the life span of a bike helmet, but it had a few cracks in the plastic shell. That’s probably not ideal in something that is designed to protect my head. Plus, it was ill-fitting, which is also not ideal. I upgraded to new Bell helmet from Target. It cost about $40. It is has an adjustable band and fits really well.
I also needed a lock to keep my bike secure while parked all day. We had been sharing a pretty pink cable lock chosen by Faith. Having only one lock was a problem, because we still needed to keep our bikes locked up at our apartment. I bought a $10 black cable lock from Target to secure my bike at work. Keep in mind, our bikes are all $120 or less, so they are not really targets for professional bike thieves. We went with cheap cable locks because we mainly need thwart opportunistic bike thieves. I work in a fenced secure facility with badged access, and I’m not even sure I need a lock at work. In fact on my first commute I didn’t use one. Even so, I figure it’s better to lock it up.
Summary of Recent Purchases
- Bike helmet
- Bike lock
Thus far I’m at an additional $50 for two days of bicycle commuting. I didn’t want to sink any money into this project but after the first day I decided I liked it and wanted to do more commuting by bike so these safety upgrades made sense.
Future Needs and a Wish List
Now we come to my wish list. Actually, I have some needs and some wishes.
Afternoon weather here is unpredictable. Even the weather forecasters have a hard time predicting it. One thing is certain, in spring and summer, afternoon thunderstorms are a common occurrence. This means I’m going to need some rain gear. At the very least I need a way to keep my laptop and cell phone dry. The weather is warm, so I could just enjoy the rain, but I think some rain gear would be a nice addition.
My current solution is a garbage bag for my laptop and phone, and I’ll just put bag and all inside my backpack. I also have a pvc raincoat. It’s not breathable, but we’ll put upgraded rain gear on my wish list. I could really use a pair of waterproof pants. I’m planning to look around at thrift stores and craigslist to see if I can find something cheap. I’m not sure what to do about shoes, I might pack some flip flops to wear in the rain and put my work shoes in the garbage bag with the laptop and phone.
My blink red LED light and my bungee corded flashlight work ok for now, but I’d like to have something brighter. Bright lights are expensive. Some even cost more than my bike. Seeing and being seen at night are paramount for safe pre-dawn commuting. I have the minimal, and at some point I’ll want to upgrade to something better. I’m putting upgraded headlight and taillight on my wish list.
I’d also like to get a reflective vest, or at the very least some reflective tape to put on my backpack. I may start with the tape on my backpack. That should be an inexpensive way to create more visibility.
At some point I’d like to get a rack with some panniers for the back of my bike. Right now I pack my laptop in my backpack. This works okay, but my back gets really sweaty by the end of the commute. It would be nice to have some waterproof panniers that I could slide my laptop into. This would also be a nice addition for hauling groceries when I ride my bike to the grocery store.
My current bike is acceptable for commuting, but it could be better. I’m not sure how long a $100ish bike will hold up when being ridden 20 miles a few times a week. I need to make sure I’m committed to bicycle commuting before deciding to upgrade my bike. For now it’s a distant wish. I’m thinking that maybe if I stick with it for a year I might consider upgrading.
That rational thinking doesn’t stop me from dreaming though, and I already have my eye on a Breezer Uptown commuter bike. It has full fenders, chain guard, multiple speeds, a rear rack, and built in headlight and taillight powered by a dynamo. It’s a pretty sweet ride. Cost is somewhere near $1000.
I’m giving myself a year for a couple of reason. If I commute by bike three days a week for a year I’ll save about $700 in gas. After just over a year I could pay for a new bike using the money I’d save in gas. One year will also give me a really good idea of whether or not I want to do this long term.
My Bicycle Commute Wish List
- Rain gear
- Reflective vest or tape
- Upgraded headlight
- Upgraded taillight
- Rear rack with panniers to carry my laptop and rain gear
- Upgrade my bike to a real commuter bike
I plan to evaluate my need for these items after a month or two of commuting. The first four items are higher priority due to health and safety, but I can make do with the things I already have for now.
Heck, I may decide to give up on all this nonsense and go back to driving. I think I’ll like to continue bike commuting, but I need to give it some more time and see if I continue to enjoy it. I also need to see how the hot summer commute will be.
I’m enjoying the bike commute, and I think I’ll continue to like it. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes and if anything changes.