Bicycle Commuting – My Bike and Gear

I upgraded my bike a couple of months ago, and I haven’t shared much about it so let’s take care of that today.  I want to share the details of my new bike and also some of the bike gear and accessories I have added.

When I first started biking to work six months ago, I wanted to make sure it was something I wanted to stick with before spending any money on upgrades.  After the first couple of commutes I was hooked.  I loved the relaxed pace and it was more fun to ride my bike home than to drive.  I started out with my old beach cruiser with a flashlight strapped to the handlebar and a blinky light in the back.  I already had all these things and didn’t need to buy anything to test out the bike commute.

Over the months that followed I had a chance to ride in a variety of conditions and weather, enough to know that I still like commuting by bicycle no matter what the weather looks like.  I knew I’d be sticking with it, so I decided to upgrade some of my equipment, including the bicycle itself.

My Old Bike: Schwinn Del Mar Beach Cruiser

beachcruisercommuting

My beach cruiser died after a few weeks of commuting.  It was a Schwinn Del Mar that I bought from Walmart.  It was about five years old by the time I started commuting and had maybe around 100 miles on it.  During the past year it was stored the stairwell at our apartment and was exposed to the weather.  The age and weather may have contributed to the failure as something let loose in the rear hub.

On the plus side it was very comfortable to ride with its wide seat and swept back handlebars.  It also had full fenders to keep the rain and mud at bay.  On the downside it was a single speed, which made it harder to pedal into a headwind and limited the top speed.

My New Bike: Jamis Commuter 1

Jamis Commuter 1

When my beach cruiser died, I upgraded to a Jamis Commuter 1.  I bought it at my local bike shop for $400.  I added a water bottle and holder and a kickstand for another $20 or so.

This is an entry level commuter bike.  A commuter is similar to a comfort bike with is a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike.  Commuters also add a few things that are good for commuting.  In the case of the Jamis Commuter 1 it includes fenders and a chain guard.  It’s not a full chain guard, but rather just covers the front sprockets so your pant legs don’t catch on them.  It also came with a rear rack with a bungee for hauling stuff.

This bike is a seven speed which has worked well for me.  I commute over flat terrain, so I can’t comment on the hill climbing ability of this bike, but it does have a very low first gear that I use sometimes when I ride across the grass.  Seventh gear is pretty high and I can typically only stay in that gear for a few minutes before I get too tired.

Overall it’s a good bike.  I like the gear ranges, and I like the ride and feel.  The seat is not as comfortable as my beach cruiser but I can ride it without needing padded pants.

My only real complaint is the fenders.  I have two complaints regarding the fenders.  First, two of the screws holding the fenders on fell out within the first month.  I replaced them with zip ties and that seemed to do the trick.  Second, the fenders are adjustable.  I have no idea why fenders would need to be adjustable, as in side to side adjustable.  Being that the tire sits centered, I see no reason for the fenders to need a side to side adjustment.  The real problem with this is that every time I bump the fenders they move and I have to re-center them.

Lights

I have tried a few different lights over the past six months for both the front and the back of the bike.  Next I’ll cover the different lights I tried and what I ended up with in the end.

Headlight: Flashlight and bungee cord

Don’t laugh, I have passed many people in the darkness of the pre-dawn hours with no light at all, so a flashlight would be quite an improvement.  I started out with this on my first few days of commuting because I already had them.  It worked ok.  It allowed me to see a little and it allowed me to be seen a little.

Headlight: Bell iPulse


The flashlight wasn’t a good long term solution and I decided to upgrade within the first couple of weeks.  I found a bike headlight that got good reviews on Amazon and was priced reasonably at $25.  It was a Bell iPulse.  I used this for about a month before I decided I needed something better.

I would call the iPulse a great light for the occasional night time rider, but it’s not cut out for a daily commute.  It wasn’t bright enough for my needs.  It was brighter than the flashlight, but didn’t shine far enough for my liking.

I understand why it got good reviews on Amazon.  For a $25 light, it’s very good.  If I needed a light to use for riding home from dinner once in a while or if I wanted a light for my kids, this would be the light I would choose.   In fact, I passed it down to my daughter and it’s working great for her whenever we bike somewhere in the evening and the sun goes down before we get home.

Headlight: NightRider Lumina 650


The NiteRider Lumina 650 is a fantastic light.  It is really bright and casts a nice long beam.  It illuminates the sidewalk/street very well so I can see obstacles in plenty of time to adjust my course.  It has three different brightness levels, and I usually use medium as it offers the best mix of brightness and battery life.

It is rechargeable and uses the same micro USB as my cell phone for charging.  When I get to work I bring it in with me and let it charge while I’m working so that it’s ready to go for the next day.

This thing is so bright that cars aren’t sure that I’m a bicycle.  I experienced this first hand when I saw another bike with a similar light heading towards me.  I thought it was a motorcycle or scooter, but it ended up being another bike.  My wife also experienced this when I rolled up behind her with my headlight blazing and she thought I was a car.

It is expensive though.  I paid $116. I see that it’s down to $99 on Amazon now, but it’s still a pricey choice.  Seeing and being seen at night is very important for safety so it’s worth every penny.

Taillight: Bell Spider Light (aka blinky light)


There are any number of bicycle taillights that are simply referred to as blinky lights.  These usually consist of one to three low powered LEDs.  Mine was a Bell Spider Flasher.  I bought mine at Target for about $10.  I bought these lights for me, my wife, and my daughter a long time ago as we would occasionally ride at night.  Like the iPulse headlight, these are good for the occasional night time rider, but for commuting I wanted something better.

Taillight: Portland Design Works Danger Zone Tail Light


WOW… this sucker is bright!  The Portland Design Works Danger Zone was a huge upgrade from my blinky light and at $25 it was a great value.  It has two 0.5 wat LEDs that are super bright.  It’s so bright that when I look back I can see all the reflective street signs lighting up with a red glow as the light flashes.

My favorite feature, other than it being really bright, is that it has a varied flash pattern.  It blinks fast, alternates between the two LEDs, then blinks slow, then repeats.  This really catches the attention of drivers as they approach from behind.  There is a video review on Amazon that shows this thing in action, you should check it out to see how good this light is.

Helmet: Bell Mantra

BellMantraBikeHelmet

My helmet is a Bell Mantra.  I’m not sure how much there is to helmets, but I just picked out one I liked at Target.  It has an adjustable clicky thing in the back, which worked good in the winter when I had to loosen it to fit with my knit hat.  It also has a visor, but I’m not sure why.  I think it’s just for looks, because it’s much too high and not long enough to block the sun and it really doesn’t do much for the rain.  I did end up mounting my rear view mirror to the visor, so I guess it’s go that going for it.

Rearview Mirror: Take-a-Look Mirror Original Size


Since I’m riding in traffic, I wanted to be able to see behind me.  I could turn my head, but I noticed when I was doing that, my handlebars tended to turn also and I’d veer out into the street.

I did a lot of reading online and the choice came down to a handlebar mounted mirror or a helmet/glasses mounted mirror.  I decided to go with the helmet/glasses mounted mirror.  It’s working pretty good, but I do have to turn my head slightly and squint one eye to get a good look.  It was inexpensive at $13 so it’s not a bad piece of equipment to have, even if it does make me look a little dorky with a mirror hanging off my helmet.

Panniers: Bushwhacker Moab Black


I used a backpack for the first five months of my bicycle commute.  This worked good for a while.  I was able carry my laptop, a change of clothes, and my rain gear.  The problem was it made my back all sweaty.  My routine was to wear the backpack in the morning and bungee it to my rack on the way home.  I couldn’t put it on the rack in the morning as it would block my taillight.

I put up with the sweaty back for a while, but eventually I decided it was time to get some panniers (aka saddlebags) to attach to my rack.  Waterproof ones would be nice but they are really expensive (like $100 or more expensive.)  Many panniers are designed for long haul or overnight rides, where you’d have to carry a lot of gear with you.  I didn’t want anything too big and bulky, as I just needed to fit my laptop, a change of clothes, and a rain poncho.

I settled on a set of panniers made by Bushwacker.  They were $45 and were nearly the right size, or at least looked like they would be according to the pictures and the reviews.  Now that I have them I think they are on the small side.  Even so, they are working ok for my needs.

They have handles so you can carry them with you, but I had a hard time getting the bungee attached, so I couldn’t see taking them on and off on a daily basis.  I’d need to upgrade to a more expensive set with a different attachment method to do this.  I was hoping I could put my loaded backpack in the pannier, but they are a little too small for that.  For the time being I’m using a cheap flimsy backpack, that I got for free from work.  It fits nicely in the pannier, but it’s already falling apart so I’m going to need to do something else.  I may look into a dry bag, as I’ve heard you can find them at Walmart for pretty cheap and that would keep my stuff dry in case it rains.

They are also a bit small for groceries.  They hold about two plastic bags worth of groceries, but because of the tapered bottom I often have to unbag the groceries to get them to fit.

So, overall they are not ideal but are good enough for now.  The price was reasonable and they meet my basic needs of carrying my laptop and clothes.

Bike Computer: Cateye Commuter

I wanted to track my mileage, see the time, and monitor my speed.  I tried a Cateye Commuter that I ordered from Amazon but I ended up returning it.  My headlight interfered with the wireless sensor on the computer making it useless any time the light was on.  With light off it was fine, but with the light on it didn’t register input from the wheel sensor.

For now I decided to forego the computer.  I don’t really need one anyway.

Handlebar Bag: Schwinn Bag from Target

I added a bag to the handlebar to hold my phone.  It has a plastic case that the phone slides into.  I mainly did this because I started playing Ingress along my commute and I wanted easier access to my phone.  I did a lot of reading about the clip style phone holders and read too many stories of phone crashing to the pavement.  This phone bag works well, is securely fastened, and the phone really can’t fall out.

As I shared in my six moth review, I really enjoy bicycle commuting.  It’s really the high light of my  work day.  I’ll keep this post updated if I add or change any equipment in the future.

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