Bicycle Commuting Checklist:
commuting on a recumbent bike in Seattle

When I first decided to commute to work, I knew little about what it involved. I had been riding a bike for recreation since I was five, but I found much of what I knew didn't quite fit. When riding for fun, I got to choose the time of day, the weather, and even where I rode. When commuting in Seattle, the time is fixed, and if I avoided rainy days I'd rarely ride my bike to work. Another issue is that commuting means consistantly putting lots of miles on the bike. That combined with riding often in the rain puts added stress on the bike and means more maintenance and cleaning.

So what I did was find some books and websites about bicycling, bike maintenance, and commuting. Unfortunately most of the sources had a lot of gaps, the information wasn't very applicable, or the checklists presented were unwieldy (suggesting you go out and equip a complete bike shop, nevermind that I live in an apartment and barely have space to store my bike).

Over a few months, riding to work every day, I could see issues come up, and I'd talk to other bike commuters and search the net to find solutions, and my collection of gear grew and grew, until eventually I could ride in the cold and rain and stay warm, dry and comfortable. I also feel secure that with my lights, flag, reflectors, and bright colors, I can see and be seen reasonably well on dark and rainy nights.

So this is my list of gear. Even though much of it is very precise about the specific brand, that is mostly just the one I happen to have. Some items I read a lot of reviews and carefully chose based on various features, and others I just picked up what the bike shop had. In general, I have no complaints -- if an item is listed here, it has worked for me, but that doesn't mean something better couldn't be found for less money.

Also, I've just been getting gear as I need it, so there are some things that would be nice to have but haven't been a high priority. I'm still looking into a cheap, compact, foldable bike repair stand, for example, but so far I've been able to live without it. I've probably also left off a few things, like some general-purpose tools that I already happened to have. And if you have a different situation, you'll probably have different needs.

That said, I hope this is of use to someone, even if you aren't planning on commuting in Seattle on a short wheel-base recumbent. Adding it up, you get $750 for the bike, $406 for various "required" gear, and $659 for other gear, totalling $1815. Sales tax would bring it closer to $1900. So, it's good for me to think about saving $80 per month for parking ($960/year), or $594/year for a bus pass. It probably also saves a fair amount of wear and tear on my car, above gas savings. Plus I get exercise that I need and get to enjoy my commute.

Here are some links to more information about bicycle commuting:

Ok, here's the checklist:
Bike $750
  • Rans Rocket ($750)
    If you are interested in a recumbent bike and decide that a short wheel-base is for you, and you don't want to spend over $1000, then the Rans Rocket is a good choice. It's usually $995, but I was able to get a last-year's model (2000) for only $750. There aren't many recumbent choice for under $1000, and all the reviews I read ranked the Rocket above all the others. If you want to spend much less than $1000, my second choice was a Bike-E CT for $650. If you don't mind going a bit over $1000, you might want to look at the Vision R40 for $1150. Whatever you do, make sure to test ride several different recumbents before making your decision.

    [update 1/20/03] after a year of commuting (about 1000 miles), I still love the Rocket and think it was a good choice. Apparently Rans has a new seat-clamp system that fixes some sliding problems and makes it easier to adjust -- I think this is now available for the new Rockets. After having several flat tires, I decided to get kevlar belted Primo Comet tires, and haven't had a flat since. Another update is that Bike-E is apparently out of business now. For other recumbent options, I recomment getting the most recent version of the Recumbent Cycling News Buyer's Guide.

Required accessories $100
  • Helmet - Bell Image 2000 [bike shop] ($70)
    It looks like this model has been discontinued, but it fits comfortably and came well-recommended, so I imagine newer models are a decent choice as well.
  • Zip ties (aka cable ties) 4", bag of 50+ [hardware store] ($2)
    These are very useful for attaching things to the bike and keeping wires out of the way.
  • Orange flag with fiberglass pole [bike shop] ($3)
    Attached to frame and seat support with 2 zip-ties. This helps make up for the fact that on a recumbent you are much harder to see over cars.
  • U lock [bike shop] ($25)
Required tools $76
  • Floor Pump - Topeak Joe Blow Sport [bike shop] ($30)
    Nothing to get too excited about, but no complaints.
  • Multi-tool w/ hex wrenches and screwdrivers [bike shop] ($5)
  • Chain oil - Tri-Flow chain lubricant [bike shop] ($5)
    Just what my bike shop happened to have, and seems to work fine in Seattle weather.
  • Portable pump - Crank Brothers Power Pump [bike shop] ($30)
    I have this attached vertically to the handlebar stem. This is just for emergencies, since pumping up to 100psi really needs a floor pump. Here's a decent review. Nothing to get excited about, but no complaints.
  • Tire levers [bike shop] ($3)
  • Tube patch kit - Park Tool preglued Super Patch [REI] ($3)
    I've heard mixed reviews on preglued patches, but I've put a few hundred miles on several patches with no problems. When I first got my Rans Rocket, I got three flats in a row due to glass recycling in the alley by my apartment -- either I've gotten luckier or more skilled at dodging glass, or someone cleaned up the alley, because I haven't had a flat for three months of daily commuting. But the patches seem to be holding up great, they take less space, they don't have a tube of glue that dries out, and you almost can't put them on wrong.
    [update 1/20/03] a year later, and I'm less enthusiastic about these. They generally work really well, but I had one that didn't stick well, and it was quite anoying to have to repatch the same leak three times in a couple weeks.
Required night riding accessories $30
  • Cheapo headlight - Cat Eye [bike shop] ($15)
    It's bright enough to make you seen, but it won't help you see the road without streetlights. Also you have to deal with replacing the batteries every so often, and have to carry fresh batteries with you in case they're dead when you need 'em.
    [update 1/20/03] Lights using white-LEDs have been getting better and cheaper, so I'd probably get one of these if I were to buy one now. I don't know which is best, but the ones from Cat Eye look good.
  • Cheapo taillight - Cat Eye [bike shop] ($10)
    It's bright enough to be seen, and it can flash, but I'll probably upgrade to one that plugs into my NiteRider system to get something really bright.
  • Batteries for lights [anywhere] ($5)
Required Rain/cold gear $200
  • Fenders - Rans Rocket fenders [Rans] ($50)
  • Rain jacket - REI Rainshadow Light Jacket [REI] ($50)
  • Warm gloves - Pearl Izumi Amfib [REI] ($50)
  • Rain pants - REI Rainshadow Light Pants [REI] ($50)
    Waterproof, but not terribly breathable, though they work great with the Sugoi Subzero tights. The zippers on the ankles are very handy, so you can easily put them on over your shoes if you get caught in the rain.
Other rain/cold gear $100
  • Tights - Sugoi Subzero [REI] ($55)
    [update 1/20/03] These are great! Even when wet they keep me warm, though I usually wear my rain pants when it's more than a drizzle. If I were to buy tights now, I'd probably spend the extra to get ones with ankle zippers to make it a bit easier to take on and off (when changing from tights to shorts, it would be nice to not have to take my shoes off).
  • Wool sweater [clothing store] ($30)
  • Plastic bag to cover seat [grocery store] ($0)
  • Skullcap - Sugoi Subzero [REI] ($15)
    Keeps my head warm on a cold rainy night and fits nicely under my helmet.
Other Accessories $505
  • Headlight - NiteRider Digital Evolution [REI] ($230)
    I researched this, and it was the only light that had all the features I wanted, and I haven't been disappointed. Features: 15W light, "fuel gauge" showing remaining battery life, fast charger, small battery.
    [update 1/20/03] I hesitate to recommend this light because I've heard many reports about the computer in the battery getting confused and needing to be rebooted in the factory. This happened to me once in one year of near daily use -- I took it back to REI and they gave me a new one with no hassle. It sounds like the problem is that you need to follow the directions very carefully when connecting to the charger, since I've been doing that I haven't had any problems. It's also possible NiteRider has fixed the problem in newer versions. I'd be careful about buying this or any other expensive headlight, and make sure to always have your cheapo AA-battery-powered headlight for backup just in case. Other than that issue, though, I've been very satisfied with the light.
  • Taillight - NiteRider Taillight [REI] ($60)
    Yeah, it's a lot to pay for a taillight, but it is very bright and plugs into the NiteRider system. I waited a while to get it, since it isn't really necessary, but it's a good thing to put on your Birthday wishlist...
  • Bike computer - Sigma Sport Topline BC 1400 + cadence kit + long wire kit [bike shop] ($50)
    It has all the features I wanted, and reviews on the net said it is better than some others in the rain. I needed the long wire kit to make it work with my Rans Rocket.
    [update 1/20/03]A year later, and I must say this is a good bike computer. I constantly ride in the rain and it's held up fine. The batteries lasted for about a year (1000 miles) which is apparently normal. And when changing the batteries, I lost the rubber o-ring seal. I emailed Sigma, and they mailed it off to me the next day. The only problems I've had are that I've had it reset a couple of times when I put it in my bag -- apparently the buttons aren't recessed enough to prevent being pushed when bumped around in a bag. Another issue is that it was difficult setting up the cadence sensor, and I ultimately gave up on it -- it would work for a week or so and then shift just enough to stop working. I could probably have figured a better way to mount the magnet to the crank, but a week or two was enough to get a good sense of the cadence I wanted.
  • Effective Cycling book [Powells Books] ($30)
    Lots of eye-opening info about biking safely as well as information about all aspects of bicycles. Yeah, he writes like a cranky old man with an axe to grind, but at least his agenda is out in the open and its all about you, the cyclist, safely getting the most out of cycling.
  • Waterproof seat bag - Rans seat bag [Rans] ($80)
    [update 1/20/03]It was a decent bag, but after a year of taking it off and putting it back on and one mishap where I forget to strap it down and it fell off the back of the bike, the sleeve that fits over the seat frayed enough that I had to duct-tape it together to keep it on the seat. The problem was that the sleeve wasn't reinforced, especially at the bottom, and also, I was always putting it on the bike with the bag fully loaded which especially stressed the sleeve. I still don't know what the best seat bag is, but I just recently bought the new Streamline Tailpack bag from rans. It's even harder to take on and off, but it works more like a trunk, so I'll just leave it on, taking the contents out in a light-weight bag, and hope nobody steals the Tailpack. The Tailpack is a bit smaller than the old seat bag, and doesn't have all the little pockets, but I think I'll stick with it for a while at least. Another option is the AngleTech Aerotrunk -- it's a bit expensive, but it is big and holds a lot and can improve your top speed by 1-2 mph due to the better aerodynamics. The Tailpack from Rans should also improve things, but probably not as much.
  • Fingerless bike gloves [bike shop] ($15)
  • Bell [bike shop] ($4)
  • Cable lock for locking up wheels/seat [bike shop] ($14)
  • Method for dismantling flag pole [kite shop] (50 cents)
    I cut the pole in half, glued a metal sleave on one, and then fit the top of the flag pole in the other side of the sleave. This is better than cutting off the zipties and putting new ones on every time I need to take off the flag.
  • Handlebar accessory extension - SideTrak Excess Access [SideTrak] ($22)
    With the bike computer and bell on the handlebars, and the big mess of cables in a small space on a Rans Rocket, my headlight didn't fit well. This extension does the trick, letting me properly center the headlight and easily pop the headlight on and off. I did need to pad the clamps a bit extra to get a tight fit on my Rans Rocket handlebars, and the bit that's supposed to rest on the stem doesn't since the Rocket's handlebar stem is backwards from most bikes, but that wasn't a problem.
Tools / spare parts $54
  • Small tool bag - Topeak [bike shop] ($13)
  • 20"x1.35" tube [bike shop] ($7)
  • Break-pads - Koolstop Thinline (salmon or black) [bike shop] ($10)
  • Tire pressure gauge compatible with Presta valve [bike shop] ($10)
  • Clean/lube rags [Fred Meyer] ($6)
  • Cog brush [bike shop] ($3)
  • Chain Degreaser - Simple Green squirt bottle [auto-parts store] ($5)
[Update 1/20/03]
Things I bought a year later
  • SmartWool wool T-Shirt ($50)
    This is a great undershirt -- it keeps me warm even when wet, isn't itchy, and doesn't stink from sweat as quickly as cotton or synthetics.
  • Power Grips shoe straps ($20)
    An alternative to toe clips or clipless pedals. The advantages are that you can supposedly take your foot out more easily, and they work with any shoe. The disadvantage is that it's more difficult getting your foot in them, or so it seems. One thing to keep in mind... if you have big clunker shoes, you'll want to get the extra-large size. I got the regular size, and it works with my shoes, but I have them adjusted all the way, and they're a bit tighter than I'd prefer. I went for a year with just bare pedals, and that worked ok, but I figure I should be able to go faster and not have to worry about keeping my feet on the pedals when I hit a bump or pothole. I've only had them for a week, though, so I'm still getting used to them.
  • Streamline Tailpack bag from rans ($110)
    It's even harder to take on and off, but it works more like a trunk, so I'll just leave it on, taking the contents out in a light-weight bag, and hope nobody steals the Tailpack. The Tailpack is a bit smaller than the old seat bag, and doesn't have all the little pockets, but I think I'll stick with it for a while at least. Another option is the AngleTech Aerotrunk -- it's a bit expensive, but it is big and holds a lot and can improve your top speed by 1-2 mph due to the better aerodynamics. The Tailpack from Rans should also improve things, but probably not as much.
  • Primo Comet kevlar-belted 20"x1.5" tires ($50)
    After having a bunch of flats I decided I needed some new tires. A lot of people recommended various other brands, but I was otherwise reasonably happen with the Comets, so I got the kevlar-belted version. Also, after reading up on tire widths, I decided to get a slightly wider tire (the Rocket originally care with 1.35" tires). It didn't seem to make much difference for speed, but it does appear to have affected the initial acceleration from a stop -- the original, skinnier tires without kevlar seemed to make it feel more like you're "spring into action" when starting up, while the new tires are just a bit sluggish in comparison. Not a bad tradeoff since the new tires give a bit smoother ride and feel a bit safer on turns.

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