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Cycle commuting mistakes and how to avoid them — our top tips for hassle-free rides to and from work

Commuting by bike can improve your health, save you time and save you cash... but there are a few things you'll want to stay on top of to maximise the great benefits cycling will bring you

Commuting to and from work by bike is a cost-effective alternative to driving or using public transport, often resulting in quicker travel times due to less time spent sitting in traffic or trying to find a parking space. It also helps to promote your physical health and contributes to reducing carbon emissions. However, it’s easy to fall into pitfalls that will make your ride less enjoyable and potentially dangerous. Here are some of our top tips for hassle-free rides to and from work. 

1. Not carrying spares

Orange TPU inner tube

Punctures are an unfortunate reality of cycling, and it’s important to be prepared for them, especially during your daily commutes if you have a meeting to get to at 9 am. You need to carry a spare tube, some tyre levers and a pump/CO2 canister to deal with it, even if you’re riding on tubeless tyres.  

A multi-tool is also a must-have as it can address various issues that could arise during your commute. When choosing a multi-tool, make sure it has all the functions you need for your bike, including any sneaky Torx heads.  

Carrying these essentials doesn’t need to take up a lot of room, especially with compact and lightweight options like TPU inner tubes available. Simply put them in your backpack, saddlebag or pannier and leave them there for whenever you need them. 

2. Poor route planning 

Cyclists commuting in London
Image: Simon MacMichael

The route that you take to work will very much depend on where you live and where you’re heading but it’s worth considering the traffic volume, terrain and cycle infrastructure when planning your route to make it as stress-free as possible. 

The shortest route may not always be the best choice as it could include the most elevation or the busiest sections. It’s worth familiarising yourself with your planned route, perhaps by riding it at the weekend before your first commute. You can also vary your route from day to day to keep things interesting. 

Sites such as Cycle Streets and Komoot are great for helping you plan your route.  

3. Hugging the kerb

Cyclist on a red Trek e-bike

> Best commuter bikes

Not riding defensively and sitting in the gutter increases your vulnerability to accidents and reduces your ability to react effectively in potentially hazardous situations. 

There are many reasons not to hug the kerb. It’s where slippery drain covers are positioned, it’s where pedestrians step out and it can also make you less visible and tempt motorists to squeeze past when there’s not enough room for them to do it safely. 

Riding too close to parked cars can also be dangerous because those car doors sometimes open… 

For these reasons, take up the primary position in the centre of your lane when you feel that's the best option. You're fully entitled to do so and it's often the safest choice.

4. Racing!

Two cyclists at a race circuit

It’s a scenario many of us can relate to – finding yourself unexpectedly in a race with a stranger, chasing an imaginary finish line for reasons unknown. The thrill of competition can be hard to resist but it not only risks your safety, it can also leave you hot and sweaty and that’s no good for anybody, particularly if you intend to wear the same clothes for the remainder of the day. 

If you’re a Strava user, you probably don’t want to get too obsessed with bagging KoM/QoMs on your daily commute.

5. Wearing everyday jeans for more than a couple of miles 

cyclist commuting on a black Boardman bike

If you wear jeans at work and have ever attempted to ride to work in them, you’ll likely have discovered just how uncomfortable it can be taking the joy out of your commute. 

While Lycra cycling shorts will provide plenty of comfort for longer rides, they may feel like overkill for your daily commute. Fortunately, there are plenty of cycle-specific jeans and trousers out there that you can wear both on and off the bike, so there’s no need to change when you get to work. 

6. Forgetting a change of clothes 

cyclist in the rain in an orange rain jacket
Image: Jamie In Bytown

Forgetting your underwear may happen at least once, and while you can manage a day without it, being without your trousers presents a far greater challenge. Our top tip is to keep an emergency stash of backup clothes at work, just in case. 

The same applies to not having dry kit for the ride home, as there’s nothing worse than putting soggy kit back on. If your cycle clothing gets way on the way to work, you’ll either need to dry it out during the day or have a spare set for the journey home. Since there’s no trusting the UK weather forecast, it’s definitely worth keeping some spare kit tucked away at work for when you’re in dire need.

7. Riding without mudguards 

bike rear wheel with a mudguard

You don’t get to pick the time of day you ride to and from work which means you’ll inevitably encounter rain and wet roads from time to time. If you’re riding in cycling clothing you might not be too bothered if you get wet, but if you’re riding in clothes you’re going to wear for the rest of the day, it’s a big deal. 

Mudguards make a huge difference and stop spray from your tyres soaking you and the rest of your bike. 

8. Skimping on a lock 

Kryptonite bike lock

You might be tempted to buy a cheap lock but it's a false economy if you rock up at the end of the working day to find that your bike is no longer where you left it.

No matter how much you spend, it’ll always be less than the cost of replacing a stolen bike and the hassle of working out how you’re then going to get home. Look for locks with a Sold Secure Gold rating, like the Kryptonite Kryptolok Standard U-Lock (£59.99). If you don’t want to lug a heavy lock on your commute, leave one at work. 

9. Forgetting to charge your lights

commuter cycling in the dark in London
Image: Simon MacMichael

Uh oh, it’s 5:30pm in the middle of winter, you get on your bike to ride home and you find that your bike lights are out of juice. It happens! 

One option is to keep a couple of emergency lights squirrelled away in your bag, at all times and leave a charger at work so that you can leave your lights on charge during the day so they are ready for your ride home. 

You could also consider investing in dynamo lights that you power as you cycle. 

10. Trusting the weather forecast

male cyclist in a rain jacket and snood
Image: Simon MacMichael

Weather forecasts can give you a general idea of what to expect, they aren’t always accurate and conditions can change rapidly. To avoid being caught unprepared, it’s worth carrying a small, packable waterproof jacket at all times. 

It’s also worth considering investing in cycling-specific clothing that’s designed to handle a range of weather conditions such as windproof and waterproof jackets, waterproof trousers and thermal jerseys. 

Having the right gear on hand will help you to stay dry and comfortable on your commute, no matter what the weather throws at you. 

woman cycling on a lime bike
Image: Simon MacMichael

What are your top commuting tips? Let us know in the comments section below.

Emily is our track and road racing specialist, having represented Great Britain at the World and European Track Championships. With a National Title up her sleeve, Emily has just completed her Master’s in Sports Psychology at Loughborough University where she raced for Elite Development Team, Loughborough Lightning.

Emily is our go-to for all things training and when not riding or racing bikes, you can find her online shopping or booking flights…the rest of the office is now considering painting their nails to see if that’s the secret to going fast…

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86 comments

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chrisonabike | 4 months ago
1 like

Overall: sadly in the UK cyclists need to do more than other road users to keep themselves safe.  Society (including planners, the law etc.) essentially considers you're choosing to take additional risks and it's on you to keep safe, not others.

This shouldn't put anyone off cycling though.  Overall you can expect better health outcomes (and happiness!) if you cycle than if you don't.

In my experience the few bad experiences I've had have almost all been
a) punctures (occur more often in the wet!  Plus your tyres / wheels will be grimy...)
b) other simple mechanical failures (mostly cables parting)
c) bike theft.

The first two can be made (almost) non-dramas through some very easily-learned skills and carrying a few tools and spares.  Even better is if you undertake basic, semi-regular maintenance on your bike.  That makes issues less likely to happen (you can spot wear / damage) and you'll be confident and practiced at basic fixes if you do so.

Theft - you can mitigate against that somewhat.  Somewhat sadly in my experience it seems to involve not leaving a new / shiny / moderately expensive bike outside your house / secure workplace.  ("Secure" bike storage?  Might just be a secure place for cutting locks in overnight...)

Of course you may have the odd unpleasant encounter on the road, depending on where you ride.  And for a few unlucky folks bad health outcomes - because our safety isn't fully under our control.

Roll on a radically different approach to safe, convenient and social travel.  Until then Mark Twain's comic review still applies: "Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live."

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jarpots | 4 months ago
0 likes

Seat Post

Having commuted on a bike in London for 25 years, I would recommend removing your seat post, when you secure your bike, always an effective deterrant.

Facial Recognition

Humans are conditioned from an early age to recognise a human face (At one time the Queens face was enlarged on the bank notes to reduce counterfeiting). It would be interesting to do some research, where the actual sized image of a face is displayed on a bike/helmet/jacket, to see if other road users identify them more quickly than a cyclist pedalling with their head down. I always try to give other road users a good stare in the hope that they will identify me more quickly. Still cycling...

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timtak | 4 months ago
2 likes

It is difficult to purchase hi visibily cycling pants. I buy fluorescent yoga pants and convert them with crotch pads.
 

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chrisonabike replied to timtak | 4 months ago
3 likes

What's your superhero name?

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Steve K replied to timtak | 4 months ago
1 like
timtak wrote:

It is difficult to purchase hi visibily cycling pants. I buy fluorescent yoga pants and convert them with crotch pads.
 

Flouromam

[That was meant to reply to Chris]

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TheBillder replied to Steve K | 4 months ago
3 likes
Steve K wrote:
timtak wrote:

It is difficult to purchase hi visibily cycling pants. I buy fluorescent yoga pants and convert them with crotch pads.
 

Flouromam

[That was meant to reply to Chris]

Wouldn't Flouromam have superpowers related to baking and motherhood? Disabling bad guys with bicarb and sound advice.

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chrisonabike replied to TheBillder | 4 months ago
1 like

I can see you were raised properly! A well-bred fellow, "a pleasant chap at tea-time" wrote he...

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froze | 4 months ago
0 likes

I noticed the riders were all wearing dark clothing as well, not good, at the least put on a cheap home improvement safety vest in a bright neon green or orange if there is a lot of greenery around where you live, and make sure the vest has wide reflective bands.

Lights need to be doubled up on, you have your main 700 plus lumen light that is bright enough to see the road if you ride after dark, and a small but bright strobing light added to the helmet, and you should have a very bright 300 lumen plus taillight fastened somewhere on the bike, and a smaller one on the helmet.  Doing this allows the lights to be seen better.  Different countries have different lighting laws, but in the States, I can have my main front and rear lights on steady, and the others on the helmet flashing.  Then I also wear reflective ankle bands that hold the pant legs against my leg so they don't get chewed up by gears or crank arms.

I read people complaining in the comments about how useless hi-vis is, I strongly disagree, if I hi-vis was useless then why do road crews wear them?  Road crews wear them because, after many years of study, they found that hi-vis is safer for the crews, plain and simple, and a fact that is well known universally across the globe.  Is hi-vis guaranteed to keep cyclists or road crews safe? no, just as airbags and seatbelts don't guarantee you'll survive an accident either; but they do increase your survival chances, and it is the same with hi-vis clothing.

I'll take the shortest route to work whenever possible, and try to stay on bike paths and lanes whenever possible, but coming home, I usually take a self-prescribed detour that takes me into a 20 to 30-mile ride.  I was lucky in the 45 years I commuted to work by bike, all the places I lived were within 5 miles of work.

Your first line of defense against flats is the tire, most jobs are not going to be happy with you if you keep showing up late due to flats, it's not an excuse, once a year is fine, but not all the time because someone wants to ride on racing tires.  Find a robust set of tires, and to be extra safe go to a second line of defense and use a flat liner like the Clear Motion Rhinodillo liners, these work a heck of a lot better against flats than the Mr Tuffy liner, and they are lighter in weight, plus they have a soft edge that goes against the tube which prevents the liner for chaffing the tube.  Today's tires are a lot better against flat than they were even just 15 years ago, I experienced the changes that tires went through, and all the changes have been good.  Don't bother with thorn-resistant tubes, they don't work, and they are extremely heavy more than some tires weigh!  Today's thorn-proof tubes are all junk, the valves are the crappiest of the worse and have a high failure rate, and there are problems with seams separating, so you end up with more flats than you would have had using a good quality regular tube.  Sealant is another weight issue, unless you're using tubeless tires there is no need to use sealant in tubes.

Some of you have been commuting for years but here is a safety website you all should at least read to see if something in it makes you think, just google:  "Bicycle Safety: How to Not Get Hit by Cars"  

There is a tragic video you all need to see, this is about a big truck that kills a promising doctor, both were at fault but the doctor more so because she was inexperienced in knowing what to do in high traffic areas, and knowing what to do around big vehicles, the driver should have been paying more attention, but it is possible that the driver thought she went into the designated bike lane and since big trucks have huge blind spots he never saw her, so he should have stopped and cleared his mirrors first.  Once the truck runs over her traffic moves enough for you to see the fact that she was not in the designated bike lane as is outlined with a picture of a bike on the pavement, she was in fact in a designated bus pickup lane.  She also failed to see that the truck had its turn signals on for 8 seconds before turning, that is quite a ways but she came up alongside the right side of the truck anyway.  The people who put this video out for all to see were from a cycling activists organization, they make it sound like it was all the truckers fault because he had her in view for 16 seconds, not true, she was in his blind spot, watch the video carefully understanding what I said about what she did wrong and you'll see it wasn't mostly the trucker's fault; yes the driver continued on, but a big truck isn't going to feel much of anything running over a bicycle, and if he did feel something he probably thought he ran over the curb which he did clip.  They also argued that the driver made an unexpected wide turn, again not true, he had to swing wide to miss the light pole next to the curb, and flatbed trailers do not turn as well as a box trailer. So google: "Anita Kurmann Video - Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition (massbike.org)"

This case was resolved and it turned out after extensive investigation by both sides of the complaint that the doctor was mostly at fault.  The city of Boston due to this accident has made some important changes on their city streets in a bid to try to make cyclists safer, but at the end of the day, our safety is in our hands, not other drivers, and not on the city.

Be safe out there everyone.

 

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Hirsute replied to froze | 4 months ago
2 likes

"I read people complaining in the comments about how useless hi-vis is"

Then you didn't read what people wrote.

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marmotte27 replied to froze | 4 months ago
3 likes

"I noticed the riders...
[long victim blaming rant, finishing on an incantation:]
Be safe out there everyone."

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giff77 replied to froze | 4 months ago
3 likes

froze wrote:

I read people complaining in the comments about how useless hi-vis is, I strongly disagree, if I hi-vis was useless then why do road crews wear them?  Road crews wear them because, after many years of study, they found that hi-vis is safer for the crews, plain and simple, and a fact that is well known universally across the globe.  Is hi-vis guaranteed to keep cyclists or road crews safe? no, just as airbags and seatbelts don't guarantee you'll survive an accident either; but they do increase your survival chances, and it is the same with hi-vis clothing.

Studies are now showing that the brain is tuning out fluro yellow as everyone and their granny is wearing it. Even now in the U.K. there is signage at roadworks highlighting that there are workers in the carriageway and to be cautious.

Bottom line is that a lot of motorists simply don't  pay attention. They slip into autopilot as they travel from A to B and are caught up in all the things that are happening in their lives. 

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chrisonabike replied to giff77 | 4 months ago
1 like

Adaption and learning taking place!

While I don't doubt there are studies which showed this was safer a) when was that? b) we should be cautious about taking industrial principles and applying them to normal public space. (Presumably road crews are also at risk from their own heavy plant?) c) Once something is held to be "safer" it tends to then be required.  Bigger firms can be somewhat risk-averse when it comes to e.g. compensation claims.  Better just to mandate PPE for all workers.

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Hirsute replied to chrisonabike | 4 months ago
2 likes

My wife worked at a port. When she got the tour, they gave her a hard hat.
"It won't do anything for you but it will ensure the insurance claim goes through."

Edit: a friend was on a building site and disagreed with the manager about the level of h&s. Manger was a bit lapse on this. He finished the conversation and promptly hit his unprotected head on a scaffold pole.

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Oldfatgit replied to froze | 4 months ago
1 like

The majority of 'Road crews" are protected by signage, cones, barriers and their vehicles.in the UK we have the Red Book which tells organisations that need access to the roadway how to set up their access point.
The workforce should always work in front of their parked vehicles, so their vehicles are hit first.
Individual hi-viz is very low down on the protection scale.

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TimPedaller | 4 months ago
1 like

11. Being Invisible.

The photo with item 10 shows a cyclist wearing all black clothes, black backpack, drab green/black helmet, black handlebars. One low mounted front light, presumably similar rear light. When riding into a shadowy area like that behind him in the picture or between a dark area and a car approaching from behind or in front, for the driver he is difficult or nearly impossible to see.

The car driver immediately in front of or behind him can see his lights but the drivers following those two vehicles very often can't. 

Wearing a white or light coloured helmet or a hi-vis vest (£5 or less) makes riders MUCH easier to see - wearing both is even better.

 

 

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Hirsute replied to TimPedaller | 4 months ago
4 likes

You can only be seen by people who are looking and looking for cyclists, m/cs. The image does not take account of contrast or "I was blinded by the sun reflecting off his hi-viz".

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hawkinspeter replied to Hirsute | 4 months ago
6 likes

Hirsute wrote:

You can only be seen by people who are looking and looking for cyclists, m/cs. The image does not take account of contrast or "I was blinded by the sun reflecting off his hi-viz".

This is the truth of the matter.

You can try to maximise your visibility but it's almost never going to be relevant. Observant drivers will be able to see you and inattentive drivers won't see you no matter what you wear. It's almost unheard of for cyclists to be hit by observant drivers, even if they're wearing the most camouflaged outfit possible as the driver would still spot the bike.

The focus on cyclist clothing is just a diversionary tactic to avoid discussing poor driving standards.

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TimPedaller replied to Hirsute | 4 months ago
0 likes

Contrast of colours, between the green or orange of a hi-vis vest and it's reflective straight-edged strips, and whatever is to be seen behind or beyond the person wearing it, is part of my reasoning, which is based on what I see around me - I cycle when I can and drive a small car when I have to.

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Hirsute replied to TimPedaller | 4 months ago
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It's not the contrast of colours you might wear but the contrast to the background.
What has hi Viz got to do with your image ?

I note you don't address looking and I will point out this thread is to educate people. Failing to address the issue that drivers do not look does not help people inexperienced in commuting, it gives them a false sense of security.

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giff77 replied to TimPedaller | 4 months ago
5 likes

Contrasting colours can help but unless the motorist is proactively watching the road you are stuffed. Currently I'm driving to work with early starts. I've no problem picking out people cycling. There's one fella I pass san lights and no reflective kit and I see him 30m out on a reasonably lit road. Personally it makes little odds what is worn as long as decent lights pedal reflectors are being used. Cyclists get hit regardless of what they're wearing because far too many drivers are  distracted, inattentive, daydreaming and lazy rather than observant. I loose track daily of seeing drivers staring blankly ahead with no movement of their heads. It's this that needs to change. 

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chrisonabike replied to giff77 | 4 months ago
0 likes

Agree giff77 - perhaps it's useful to add some specifics for newer road cyclists. (It should be in there for those driving but until then...) Call it Highway Code plus. Specifically around junctions:

a) always check for vehicles wherever they ought to be, but also where they're not (cutting corners, wrong side of road, driving through red lights).

b) If you can't see their eyes they haven't seen you - but if you can it doesn't mean that they have seen you.

a) Constant bearing, decreasing range - as you approach a junction it's possible for a vehicle approaching on a joining or crossing road to be hidden by something until the last second because of junction geometry. Or for you to be hidden by the side pillar of a car. Also for some junctions this may mean you need to look *behind you* along the joining road.

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cyclisto | 4 months ago
2 likes

Half of commuting is route planning. Find a nice quiet route with few cars and it is pure joy.

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Oldfatgit replied to cyclisto | 4 months ago
3 likes

I'd add ... try to keep your right turns to a minimum - unless they are light controlled or have a refuge.

Few things more vulnerable at rush hour than a cyclist trying to turn right on a narrow road.

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neilmck | 4 months ago
3 likes

I have to commute a long way so I carry a puncture repair kit, mini pump, tyre levers, multi tool and fast chain links. All have come in handy over the years either fixing mine or other commuter's bicycles.

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Geoff Ingram | 4 months ago
6 likes

Don't just sling an inner tube in the bottom of your bag with the multitool and tyre levers without first placing it in a stout protective bag/box else when you need it you will almost certainly find rattling tools have already puncture it.

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Steve K replied to Geoff Ingram | 4 months ago
2 likes

Geoff Ingram wrote:

Don't just sling an inner tube in the bottom of your bag with the multitool and tyre levers without first placing it in a stout protective bag/box else when you need it you will almost certainly find rattling tools have already puncture it.

Voice of experience?

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Steve K | 4 months ago
0 likes

The link in the text under 5 is wrong - it goes to waterproof trousers, rather than cycling jeans/trousers.

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OnYerBike replied to Steve K | 4 months ago
0 likes

I think the problem not an incorrect link; it's that road.cc don't have a "Buyer's Guide" for cycling trousers, other than the one for waterproof trousers linked. (Although not all of the trousers on the "waterproof" trousers guide a full on waterproofs - some are relatively normal cycling trousers with just a DWR treatment). 

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Steve K replied to OnYerBike | 4 months ago
0 likes

OnYerBike wrote:

I think the problem not an incorrect link; it's that road.cc don't have a "Buyer's Guide" for cycling trousers, other than the one for waterproof trousers linked. (Although not all of the trousers on the "waterproof" trousers guide a full on waterproofs - some are relatively normal cycling trousers with just a DWR treatment). 

I was pretty sure they'd done one in the past, but I may be misremembering.

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Oldfatgit | 4 months ago
8 likes

If you can, leave a decent [insurance approved if applicable] lock at work; if there's not many of you, leave it locked to the bike stand.

Clothes... my morning commute is around 11 miles with a train ride breaking it up. I'm a somewhat *portly* fellow, so I tend to wear MTB shorts over my bibs.
Winter boots are an absolute godsend if you are commuting in winter ... and waterproof socks are a must.
Few things worse than wet, cold feet.
I use a pannier through choice as it's more comfortable to let the frame take the weight of the laptop.
I also use an ebike ... but that's because I'm disabled and can't walk very far.

Tip ... aluminium extendable walking stick may fit in the mini-pump holder.
I have a couple attached to the platform on my rack, so my stick is secure and out the way.

Another tip... if you only have the one bike and want to use panniers, but are worried about damaging mounting threads (like I did), check out Ortleib Quick Mount rack - takes 5 seconds to take it off, 15 seconds to put it on, and after initial assembly, it's totally tool-less.

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