Bike commuter holiday buying guide

November 29, 2019 § 20 Comments

I got a call from a cycling pal in Long Beach who I haven’t seen in a few years. “Dude,” he said, “I was reading your blog.”

No conversation that starts like this is ever good. Ever.

I steeled myself for the words “bully,” “asshole,” “defamation,” and “lawsuit.”

“Yes?” I said, trying to sound normal.

“Man, I read your post about new year resolutions and I’m getting the jump on it. You inspired me to start commuting.”


“Hell, yes. There’s no reason for me not to do it. My office is ten miles away and there’s a bike trail that practically goes from my front door to my office. I see people on it all day long and I’m always wishing I was out there, too.”

“That’s great!” I felt so happy. The conversation wasn’t going to be a demand for a retraction, and I now had proof positive that by blogging about commuting there were two actual people who had read any of it. In addition to reading, they were taking action. I felt like Adolph Ochs.

“But I got a couple of questions.”

My heart sank. Here it comes. “Yeah?”

“What gear do I need?”


“Yeah. What do I need to commute?”

“Uh, a bike?”

“Dude, I got that. But it’s a very nice road bike. Not sure I want to turn it into a commuter.”

“Check. Shoot me an email and I’ll send you a list.”

So he did, and I did. Here it is. When you are wondering what to buy yourself for Black Friday, or Purple Tuesday, or whenever, start here!

For a bike: Any bike will do as long as it has tars and pedals. I use my ‘cross bike because it is beefy and because I suck at ‘cross. A f’rinstance is the Giant TCX Pro, about $2,900. One fact is that if your commute is in LA, you will beat the shit out of your equipment. The roads are variable and you will wear shit out if you commute much. So eventually you might want to think of something sturdy AF if you’re going to be doing this a lot.

Tars: I’d recommend the IRC sand tire tubeless. They roll smoothly but are grippy AF. When I wore out my rear tar I got a different IRC and although I like it, it’s too much tar for urban roads. Key point for tubeless commuting, per Gary Z. and Boozy P.? Run the pressure low. I have 40 in front and 45 in rear. Never (yet) flatted.

Pedals: I could go on a long time about pedals. Boozy P. set me up with these beasties. They have competition-grade bearings which means they spin as well or better than your Look/Shimano clip-ins. Flat pedals develop a whole different set of muscles. You are mashing down all the time, and if you are practicing #fakestarts at the lights, you will start to grow new thingies in your legs. Flat pedals are way more comfortable because you can move your feet around as conditions require. They also strengthen the muscles in your feet, which is a whole ‘nother piece of awesomeness. Plus, the big platform lets you really mash. And mashing is the best.

Pants: Pants are a big deal. Jeans get sopped with sweat and sag and rub. You’ll need suspenders, or at least want them in order to complete the #fakehipster look. I have two pairs of riding pants, both from BetaBrand. However, after getting them and liking them very, very much, I found out that Chrome makes what look like equally or perhaps more awesome pants. Bike pants stretch, don’t get soaked easily, look #fakedressy, and have all the pockets you need to store stuff. Most crucially, the paper over the plumber’s crack that likes to creep out when you’re hunched over the bars.

Suspenders: You can go low-rent and get clip-ons, or you can get button suspenders. They look better and don’t come unclipped, but they are a pain in the ass to take on and off the pants. You’ll need to take your riding pants down to the tailor and have her sew on suspender buttons. If you’re one of those people who’s always suffered from droopy pants, these are the best. Plus, no plumber’s crack, ever.

Shoes: With the above pedals, your tennis shoes might not cut it because the pedals have little pegs that hold your feet in place. You’ll feel these pegs through a soft or thin sole and it won’t feel good, especially at about mile 50. Normal shoes are also very flexy and it kind of sucks to be giving away all those watts to the thin air. Fortunately, Adidas makes an MTB shoe that you can walk in, has a stiff, thick sole, and only vaguely looks like it belongs in a coal mine. I wear the  Adidas Five Ten Freerider.

Underwear with cycling pad: If you have a really short commute, you don’t need anything special. If you are sitting in the saddle for any length of time, or in the rain, or in the heat, you will get raw ass. I grabbed a few pairs of the Zoic Essential Liner; it’s underwear with a cycling pad. I find it a little bunchy, kind of like wearing a big ol’ maxi-pad, but it is thinner than bib shorts and they work just fine.

Lights: Okay, here’s where I get fanatical. Combined with lane control, this will make the difference between riding as a normal part of traffic and riding as a gutter bunny always on the verge of getting smushed. Please don’t be a cheapskate and get a nice bike before you spend every penny you can on lights. It’s dumb and lazy. The Christmas tree effect has changed my riding experience because cars see me and avoid me. Even the occasional punishment pass is fine because I know they see me.

Rear: Cygolite 150 x 2 for seat post and to clip onto your rear pants pocket. These little bastards shoot out crazy bright blasts that penetrate steel. I actually have three, one on my seat post and two clipped to my rear pockets.

Rear: You can’t be overlit. Apace Vision Seat Stay Light x 4 will clip onto your seat stays. Individually they are not super bright, but together, each one set on a different blink mode, they are incredibly hi-viz. And they last forever, are waterproof, and are cheap.

Front: In the past I’ve always used the Diablo MK11. However, its runtime isn’t sufficient for commutes of over eight hours or when, for example, I did the Sags Fondo and then rode home from San Diego; i.e. I need something that can run for 10+ hours. For normal commuting the Diablo is plenty of light; if you really want to do it right, get 2 of the MK11 lights and put them on your bars so that you have twice the illumination and they act like car headlights. You can also run one on strobe and the other on steady beam for night commuting. If you don’t care about weight you can go with the Toro MK11 and auxiliary battery pack. That’s my birthmas gift to Seth this year.

Please don’t skimp on the lights and please consider running your lighting rig, including the headlights, on ALL rides. The total cost of the best lighting setup is way less than an ambulance ride. I see so many cyclists now with daytime lights, which is awesome, but many of them use the cheapest, smallest, most worthless ones they can find … and pair them with $10k bicycles. So lame.

Lights and therefore survival require planning. I’ve found that the toughest part of commuting is being organized. If you chuck all your shit in a heap after riding and wait until the next ride to sort it out, you’ll have problems, especially with the lights. It has to become habit that THE RIDE ISN’T DONE UNTIL THE LIGHTS ARE PLUGGED IN FOR RECHARGING. Spend a few bucks, get a couple of power strips, and set up a dedicated light charging station. Otherwise you’ll wind up with uncharged lights or worse, you’ll leave them on your bike because they haven’t run down all the way, and they’ll die mid-ride. In the dark. With 20 miles to go. I’ve learned this the hard way. The ride’s not done until they’re all plugged in. It’s as important as having air in your tires, maybe more so, because without air you can’t ride, but without lights you are begging get hit.

Gloves: I ride with full-fingered Giro gloves but also have a pair from Pedal Industries by Todd Brown in San Clemente. My hands are thin and girlish; the PI gloves are a better fit for a thicker, meatier hand.

Backpack: I have a small commuter pack for clothes, laptop, and lock. It is the best bike backpack on earth. Unfortunately it was a one-off promo model distributed by FastForward and I don’t know where to get another. For a mid-size pack, and I’ve just ordered one, go with the Chrome cargo or similar (Timbuktu and Ortlieb make great stuff). Rolltop packs are the best for commuting, I think. They make it a cinch to quickly get and stow stuff on the fly. And when commuting, you’re always on the fly.

Socks: I usually use cycling socks with the Adidas shoe; they aren’t too thin and fit well, but you can go with a thicker sock, too.

Glasses: Your favorite cycling glasses. Mine are still the SPY Quanta.

Helmet: Nope but thanks anyway.

Toolkit: With tubeless you should still carry a spare tube and tools to put the tube in if you get a bad gash or the tubeless won’t seal for some reason.

There. You can start your shopping engine now.


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§ 20 Responses to Bike commuter holiday buying guide

  • Scott Stryker says:

    Seth – Thanks for your all your help. I ordered everything, except the suspenders, and should be rolling very soon.

  • Joe Clement says:

    I keep forgetting……why are you so anti-helmet? Just a rebel? Like to piss people off? Maybe I missed that post….

    • Deb says:

      Don’t get him started. It’s a lot like the Christians during the Spanish Inquisition only without the comfy chairs. 🙂

      • fsethd says:

        I’m not anti-helmet. I choose not to wear one, same as I choose not to drink. That doesn’t make me anti-alcohol. I encourage people who want to wear helmets to wear them.

  • SWRVE makes really nice psycling-2-work clothes. And Dinotte makes the brightest lights I’ve found. They’ve got a 3200 lumens headlight and a “daytime only” tail-light where there’s a check-box on the order form for you to acknowledge that it’s for daytime use only. They just lowered their prices too, from crazy expensive to just expensive. Still cheaper than UCLA/Ronald Reagan. Light is right!!!

    • fsethd says:

      Great advice and great tip!

    • tbernhardt100 says:

      Big Dinotte fan here — I have the Quad Red Taillight, and it’s one of the best investments I’ve made. Bulletproof, super-bright with lots of modes and battery life, and extra hardware, so you can switch it between several bikes.

  • I started using the Lumos Helmet a couple of years ago and always have it in flash mode. While this helmet comes with turn signals, which are actually visible, and clear, and if you have an Apple Watch, can integrate such that simply performing hand turn signals activates the turn signals in the helmet, I find that cagers aren’t trained to “LOOK” for turn signals on a bike, so I have almost been hit, at night while using them, so I still use them, but I don’t expect them to be seen.

    • To reply to my own comment, I think Seth would say that if I practiced better lane control, then perhaps those turn signals would be seen, because as soon as the cager sees that I am hugging the shoulder, they are already in passing mode and concerned about the next deer around the next corner.

      • fsethd says:

        I think it’s more that if you are hugging the shoulder they simply don’t see you until the last minute. If your rear light set-up is bright enough, they will see you even in the gutter. In the lane, they will absolutely see you.

  • Banksie says:

    A commuter for $2900. is crazy expensive when you can find a beautiful lugged steel bike for 290. Steel is real and will last and soaks up road noise like nuthin else. Convert it to 650B and run those cushy low pressure tires. Commuting life will be fantastic.

    One thing I don’t think you mentioned Seth – a lock! I think these are tough cuz most thieves can cut through just about anything. I use a Tek-lock which is amazing. Lightweight and impossible to cut. It’s very pliable and EZ to use.

    • fsethd says:

      You are right. I tried to sort of suggest it by saying any bike will do, but for sure, a cheap steel bike or any bike at all will get the job done. I left off the lock, huge miss. I use a big Kryptonite with a 6-foot cable. Key point is that I rarely let the bike out of my sight or park it in an unsecured area, because a thief can cut through those items quickly, and even a thief without a cutter but armed with a set of hex keys can strip most of the bike clean. Bars, levers, derailleurs, crank …

  • Jane P Buyny says:

    I commuted to work by bike before it is fashionable, (if it is now). I worked near the airport and lived near Palos Verdes, and most days I rode along the bike path. It was a great way to keep in shape all year long, and enhanced training, as well as avoided cars and parking. Good question about gears and bikes. I had a road bike set up with a fixed gear, and that was my favorite.

  • Just going to say check out backpacks at proviz, they’re roomy and totally reflective to light you up at night

  • Old man tim says:

    Oh my! this is all so exciting! Personally I think…grlbg mlff dggnb
    Stupid breathalyxer tubevokmfytkd dngiy…I just wanted to say,onyshngbdl


  • Mario says:

    I’m a recent convert to the combo video/lights setup, ie, Cycliq Fly12CE in the front and Fly6CE in the rear.

    Already proven itself earlier this year : via Sheriff, aggressive driver got arrested, $5K bail.

    Other member of our club with same gear caught video of bike thief taking bike that was parked behind his (20 seconds at SaMo pier while they were momentarily looking in the opposite direction). Po-po circulated video and arrested thief 24 hours later in Glendale.

    • fsethd says:

      It boggles the mind that people think lights and visibility are not great strategies in LA County, which has 21,000 miles of maintained roads and less than 700 miles of bike lanes in LA. But oh, well. Glad the bad guys got pounded.

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