First Published June 23, 2020
Commuting by bike is a fabulous choice for you and the environment, and it makes even more sense now that it's still sensible to avoid public transport to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Here are the best components and accessories to make your commute smooth and comfortable.
If you've not yet got a bike, check out 22 of the best commuting bikes.
For advice on clothing, head over to our buyer's guide to the best casual cycling commuter wear.
The choice between flat pedals and clipless pedals comes down to what you're comfortable with and whether you want to wear the same shoes when you're both on and off the bike.
Flat pedals come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and can be used with everyday shoes. The disadvantage is that your feet can slip off them, particularly in wet weather.
DMR's V12 pedals provide a large platform and loads of grip – especially if you wear soft soled shoes. They're designed for mountain biking but they're also great for everyday riding and are well sealed against the elements.
Another option is to go for flat pedals and MKS Half Clips. These keep your feet in place without the hassle of full toeclips and straps. They're designed to be used with standard shoes and trainers.
A clipless system consists of a cleat bolted to the sole of a cycling shoe that locks into a mechanism on the pedal itself to hold your foot securely in place. You press down with your foot to engage, you twist your heel to the side to release. Your foot will never slip off the pedal and you can pull upwards as well as push downwards, which can be useful at times.
If you have a long-distance commute, there's no reason why you can't use road clipless pedals, such as Shimano SPD-SL or Look Kéo systems, where a large plastic cleat sits proud of the sole of your shoe.
Bontrager Comp Road pedals, which are Look Kéo compatible, are simple and effective.
Mountain bike clipless pedals, such as ones that use Shimano's SPD system, attach to cleats that are recessed into the sole. This means that the shoes are much, much easier to walk in than road shoes.
Look Geo Trekking pedals are a dual-sided design, with a mechanism that attaches to SPD cleats on one side and a grippy, composite platform on the other – so you can use them with both cycling shoes and everyday footwear.
You can fit Shimano SM-PD22 clipless pedal adaptors to many SPD-compatible pedals to give you a platform on one side with the other side still providing a cleat retention mechanism, so you have the best of both worlds.
If you'd like to ride with clipless pedals you're going to need some dedicated cycling shoes that can accept the cleats. There are loads of options out there so you can choose ones that suit your style and budget. There are plenty of cycling shoes that look like normal, everyday trainers, if that's what you're after.
Giro's Gauge shoes are designed for mountain biking rather than commuting, but they offer a great mix of comfort, pedalling efficiency and off-bike grip.
You get a chunky treaded sole that's interrupted by mounting points for clipless pedal cleats. Giro does supply a couple of plastic covers that you can bolt in to cover the cleat mounts should you wish. This means the Gauge could be a great first dedicated commuting shoe for somebody currently using flat pedals but considering moving to clipless down the line.
Gravel bike shoes are another good option for commuting because they have recessed (SPD-style) cleats and soles that are designed for walking as well as riding.
Bontrager's GR2 shoes are grippy with a sturdy synthetic leather upper and a rubberised coating at the heel and toe that adds extra durability. These should last an age.
You'll almost certainly want to carry stuff to and from work, so you need a bag or pannier that's up to the job.
You might need to take a laptop with you, for example, clothes to wear at work if you ride in dedicated cycle kit, plus a multi-tool, a spare inner tube and a pump.
The simplest solution is a backpack/rucksack. The Ortlieb Velocity 17 Litre Backpack (£90) is waterproof and has a dedicated space for a laptop. It also has a padded back to keep you comfortable, and waist and chest straps. These are important for keeping everything stable, particularly when you stand up on the pedals and move your upper body.
If you don't want to spend that much, the Proviz Reflect360 Touring Backpack lives up to its name by being hugely reflective courtesy of microscopic glass beads within one of the fabrics used. Compression straps at the shoulders, sides and bottom keep everything snug if the pack isn't filled, and you can adjust the fit for plenty of stability.
Some people like a messenger bag that rests lower on your back. These tend to be roomy and offer easy access. With a strap that goes over one shoulder, the weight isn't spread as evenly as with a backpack, although you usually get a chest strap to stop things from moving around.
Altura's Grid messenger bag includes a padded laptop sleeve and internal organiser, and features reflective details and a DWR (durable water repellent) finish. You also get a loop for attaching an LED.
Backpacks and shoulder bags can cause you to get a sweaty back, and heavy loads can be uncomfortable, particularly if you have a long commute, so many people prefer to carry everything in a pannier or some other rack-mounted bag.
Okay, you have the extra expense of a rack and you have to fit it to your bike, but heavier loads are handled with ease and the fact that the weight is held low down helps with stability.
The classic rack bag is the side-hanging pannier, and many are made especially for commuting. Altura's 20 litre Grid Pannier (sold individually rather than as a pair), for example, comes equipped with a laptop sleeve and internal organiser. A grab handle makes it easy to carry when you get off the bike.
Ortlieb's Back-Roller Urban Line is made of a blend of Cordura fabrics with a polyurethane coating on the inside to make it waterproof. You get an internal pocket, a detachable shoulder strap and 3M Scotchlite reflectors.
The Ortlieb Commuter Bag Two also has a padded laptop pocket, and a special pocket for 8in or 10in tablets. A detachable shoulder strap makes it easy to carry off the bike.
Bontrager's MIK Commuter Boot Bag is a really well made and superbly stable rear rack bag with surprisingly decent carrying capacity, excellent waterproofing and impressive practicality both on and off the bike. It's a little heavy and a fair price, but you won't be disappointed.
There are various different types of rack out there, the most popular style that's compatible with the most bags being one that mounts to the rear of your bike at the dropouts and the seatstays. Look for racks that are made from aluminium rather than steel; they tend to be lightweight and inexpensive.
The Tortec Epic Alloy rack is made from 6061 aluminium and it fits a wide range of frame sizes, shapes and types.
Like many rear racks, it has two sets of top bars so you can carry your panniers a bit lower than normal to drop the centre of gravity. The Epic Alloy is stiff and strong. Designed for loads of up to 30kg, it's easily capable of carrying everything you'll ever need to take to and from work.
Many rear racks, the Tortec Epic Alloy rack (above) included, are designed to attach to eyelets on your frame – but not all frames are equipped with eyelets. If yours isn't, something like the Bontrager BackRack Lightweight MIK rack will do the job well.
It comes with stainless steel adaptors that fit to the axle of a rear wheel quick release skewer, and a bracket that attaches to the brake bridge (the crosspiece that connects the seatstays). Once mounted at these points, the rack is sturdy and an ideal option for commuters.
If you're just going to use a rack-top bag like an Ortlieb Trunk-Bag, you don't necessarily need a rack that reaches down to the dropouts, you can use a beam rack that fixes around your seatpost. Topeak's MTX EX rack, for example, is suitable for loads up to 7kg (15lb).
You're bound to get the occasional puncture if you commute by bike regularly, so you need to carry a pump that'll get you back on the road as quickly and effortlessly as possible.
As the name suggests, mini pumps are lightweight and take up little space, which is why they're favoured by performance-type riders who use skinny, low volume tyres.
The BBB Samurai Telescopic Mini Pump has a solid 6061-T6 aluminium construction and connects to the inner tube valve via a hose, which is a whole lot easier than using a pump that connects directly to the valve. It is compatible with both Presta and Schrader valves.
We'd be inclined to go for a larger pump for commuting, though, especially if you're using large tyres, because weight and size aren't likely to be your top priorities.
Lezyne's Micro Floor Drive, for instance, is a miniature floor pump that attaches to a mount fixed to your bottle cage bosses. It comes with a CNC machined aluminium barrel, piston, base and T-handle, and has a steel foot peg that you stand on to hold it steady in use. The reversible head fits both Presta and Schrader valves.
Another option is to use a CO2 inflator, which comprises a head and a replaceable cartridge of carbon dioxide. The advantage is that it'll effortlessly inflate an inner tube in seconds, which is particularly welcome if you get a flat on a dark and drizzly ride home from work.
Birzman's Roar Control 16g CO2 Inflator is a neat design that fits both Presta and Schrader valves. You can control the flow by twisting the canister.
Replacement CO2 cartridges are fairly cheap. Cartridges come in threaded and non-threaded versions so make sure you get the type that suits your inflator. They come in different sizes too: a 16g cartridge will fill most road bike tyres. You'll need a larger cartridge for some mountain bike tyres, especially if you want a high pressure.
The tyres you choose will depend greatly on the type of bike you own and the amount of clearance it offers; many road bikes with rim brakes have space within the brake calliper for a maximum tyre size of 700c x 28mm, for example.
Most commuters value puncture resistance and reliability over a light weight, so look for something with a protective layer underneath the tread.
If you're looking for extra puncture resistance for a road bike, Vredestein's Fortezza Senso Xtreme Weather tyre (£44.99) has a full polyamide fabric casing running from bead to bead. It also offers plenty of grip, even in wet conditions. This tyre is available in 700c x 23mm, 25mm and 28mm sizes.
If your bike takes wider tyres, Michelin's Protek Urban tyre has an aramid puncture protection layer, and there's also a reflective stripe on the sidewall to help get you noticed at night. It comes in 35mm and 40mm widths.
One other way to avoid punctures is to go for a tubeless setup which requires dedicated wheels and tyres and no inner tube. Liquid sealant inside the tyre solidifies to form a plug when you puncture (unless the hole is huge). You won't even be aware that it has happened.
Unless it's raining really hard, it's spray from your wheels that's most responsible for getting you wet when you cycle so although you don't have to commute with mudguards on your bike, you'll stay much drier if you have them.
There are mudguards available for virtually all bikes. If your bike has enough clearance and eyelets to take them, full-length mudguards are the best option.
SKS makes some extremely popular models, the Longboards offering a huge amount of coverage thanks to extended flaps. The front one mudguard almost reaches the road and does an excellent job of keeping spray off your feet.
If your bike doesn't have the eyelets and clearance needed for full-length mudguards, you can fit clip-on designs that attach to the frame and fork using simple fastenings. These aren't always as effective but they'll still keep most of the water off.
SKS Raceblades set a benchmark for clip-on mudguards. The Raceblade Pro is suitable for tyres up to 25mm while the Raceblade Pro XL works with widths up to 32mm, so they're ideal for road bikes. They mount solidly to your seatstays and fork legs – even unusually shaped ones – and offer loads of adjustability.
Check out the Raceblade Long if you want more coverage, especially for people behind you.
You don't have to wear a helmet when you commute by bike – or at any other time you cycle, come to that – but if you choose to, here are a few things to bear in mind.
All bike helmets sold in the UK have to conform to the same safety standard whether they're priced £30 or £200. Helmets designed for sports riding are made to be lightweight and well-ventilated so they feel comfortable and you stay as cool as possible when you exercise. If you have a long-distance commute that you use it as a means of staying fit, this type of helmet is perfect.
The Abus Macator isn't designed specifically for commuting but it's a decent entry-level helmet for general use. It's a reasonable weight, it's vented enough for steady riding, and mesh at the front keeps insects out. You also get a removable peak and padding between the chinstrap buckle and your skin. It's a simple yet effective helmet for not a lot of money.
Some helmets are designed especially for commuters. Typically, commuter helmets offer less ventilation than sports lids on the basis that you're likely to ride less intensely through urban streets. The Dashel Urban Helmet, for instance, is an urban helmet with a neat magnetic Fidlock clasp and light mount on the rear.
For year-round commuting you'll need good, reliable lights on your bike, and there are a vast number out there.
You can divide front lights into ones that you can see by, and ones that'll get you seen. If you're going to ride on unlit roads, you need a light that's capable of piercing the darkness and showing you the way, but if you have an urban commute with streetlights the whole way, you can get away with a cheaper, less powerful light that's designed to get you noticed by other road users.
Lezyne's Lite Drive 1000XL, for example, has various settings, the brightest of which lights up the road far ahead of you for riding at speed on unlit country lanes. The beam pattern is pretty good, offering a good central spot which spreads from verge to verge on a single-track road, with more light tapering off to the sides.
Something like Giant's Recon HL 100 is more for being seen rather than seeing. It's a small but punchy front light for daytime or streetlit riding. A low weight, diminutive proportions (it's a 3cm cube), good run-times and surprisingly powerful output make this an appealing option. It's USB rechargeable too.
The Giant Recon TL 100 is a lightweight and bright rear light that comes at a reasonable price. It offers five different modes, good run-times, and it's USB rechargeable.
Lots of our readers ride to work as well of course, therefore will have plenty of tips, tricks and product recommendations just as we do. Here's the pick of the bunch from previous editions of this article:
ktache said: "I will heartily recomend Wellgo's V12 (copy) pedals, not quite as gnarly as the DMR version, more in the old original DMR style, but they do have the ability to have pedal reflectors fitted. And of course you can ride flat mountain bike style pedals in normal shoes, but Specialized mountain bike shoes for flat pedals, like 5 10s are a wonder."
kil0ran said: "I love my V12s [pedals] on my gravel bike. Comfortable, durable, and utterly silent still even after 2 years of mud and fine grit. I've got Shimano XT T-8000 double sided pedals on my road bike - flat one side, SPD the other and I'd say they're the ultimate pedal for a bike that comes out at the weekend too. Flat with pins for the commute with reflectors, cleat the other side, and don't look out of place on fast road bike.
"For panniers I've been impressed with Decathlon's with the Elops 500 bags - just £50 for the pair. Agree on the pump - the bigger the better, and if you're using panniers storage isn't an issue. Or use one of the bottle bosses as you're unlikely to need to carry two bottles. I've got a Mountain Morph which almost makes having a puncture a pleasurable experience.
"Dyno lights all the way if you're sticking with commuting through the winter. Charging lights soon gets boring, as does remembering to turn them on before you've put thick gloves on. Doesn't need to be expensive, kit out for under £100 including the wheel if you buy from Germany."
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Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.