Thursday 29 August 2013


In addition to their being a bewildering array of bicycles to purchase, there are a staggering number of bicycle accessories you can buy. As with bicycles, you have to be aware that to a certain degree products from different companies are very similar. There are of course exceptions, and to a degree price can be a good indicator of quality differences. Sometimes the $40 bike light is better than the $10 bike light, so shop around, read online reviews and take advice from knowledgeable bike shop employees.

However, there are two things you want to be careful of, don’t be convinced that you need all of the accessories that are on offer, some things you don’t need for a safe ride, and don’t be convinced to purchase the most expensive version of a particular piece of equipment. As I said before, greater price does not necessarily equate with greater safety. There are plenty of websites that do product reviews, thus I won’t be doing that here.

I will not cover all of the possible equipment you can buy for your bicycle, as it would not be possible I suspect. Instead I will review the equipment that may be of interest for long-distance urban cycling. As much as possible I will try and indicate the things you really need to have versus the things that would be helpful but not necessary. As with the post on bikes, I am not endorsing any particular brands. Finally, some of the standard accessories for cycling won’t be mentioned as they pertain to different concerns (e.g. clothing will be discussed in a post on seasonal weather variations, lights when discussing night riding). The list is in no particular order.

In many countries helmets are mandatory equipment, and you could face a fine for not wearing one. Most doctors, and most bike shop employees, will recommend that you wear one. I always wear one. When I had my accident, my head bounced off the pavement and my helmet cracked, which of course is a good thing, I would much rather crack my helmet than my head.

Helmets need to be properly fitted, a loose helmet won’t be much help in an accident, and a tight helmet can be very uncomfortable. If you are unsure about fitting your helmet get some help when you pick it up. As with bikes, there are a large variety of helmets, and they each have their own particular advantages. The jury is still out on some of the claims of difference between helmets. For example, the now classic swept back helmet design is being challenged by the “round helmet” design that has bike helmets looking more and more like motorcycle helmets. I don’t know if one or the other is safer, and until studies are done I won’t endorse either kind.

One of the chief problems with bike helmets is that they suffer from the “you may never need them” issue. With the exception of my one auto collision, I have never hit my head while on my bike. When you have ridden your bike for many years without your helmet coming into play it is tempting to think that you can just forget about it. And then there is the argument that if you are going to wear a helmet you should probably also wear kneepads, elbow pads, etc. Both of these points are probably true, I made it approximately 34 years before my helmet came into play in an accident.

Nonetheless, this is another case where you have to keep the bigger picture in mind, and a bit of cost benefit analysis is useful. Yes, you may never need it, but if you don’t have it when you have a head trauma accident the consequences can be significant, and the cost is so minor that it is in your best interest to purchase and wear a helmet. Forester points out that 75% of cycling fatalities come from head injuries. Whatever you do avoid what I often see on the road, people cycling with their helmets hanging off their bikes. If you go to the trouble of buying a helmet you might as well wear it!

The same argument applies to cycling gloves. If you have ever taken a dive on the bicycle you would know that you often go down palms first. Getting “road rash” on your hands is very painful and remarkably inconvenient; you use your hands for a lot. So although it is unlikely that you will need them, cycling gloves are another good investment. And the fates have a way of messing with you on these issues. Case in point, last year I forgot my cycling gloves on the way out the door one day. I had just purchased a new bike, and as is often the case, I had a fall while riding as I wasn’t used to the new ride. I landed on my palms and scraped them up. I had worn my gloves every other day that cycling season, the one day I forgot them was the one day I needed them.

Bells, like helmets, are mandatory in some places, so you may be facing fines if you don’t have one on the bike. I used to ride without a bell, until I realized that bikes are quiet. Unlike cars, a bicycle is comparatively noiseless on the road. This means that motorists, and many pedestrians, will never hear you coming. I had wondered why pedestrians would sometimes jump five feet in the air when I cycled by, and then I realized it was because they had no idea I was there until I was right beside them. As an interesting aside, car companies are currently contemplating giving electric cars artificial noise generating equipment, as electric cars are so quiet that they are a safety hazard on the road. In short, a bell, and a comparatively loud bell, is a crucial piece of safety equipment on a bicycle.

It is important however to use a bell intelligently. For example, you can’t assume that motorists will hear your bell when you ring it. A car with the windows rolled up has a degree of sound insulation. Add to that the fact that people often drive with the stereo on, and they may simply not hear you. Ditto for pedestrians, who frequently have earphones in and might not hear the bell.

Not only that, but with all of the traffic and all of the competing noises, it is sometimes difficult to isolate where the bell is located. Car horns are really loud; it is usually possible to determine the general location of a car when it sounds a horn. With bicycle bells it is not always so clear. Add to that that many cyclists aren’t where they are supposed to be on the road and a bell is an imperfect tool for alerting motorists and pedestrians to your presence.

The best piece of advice I can give here is to use the bell in addition to other methods to maximize safety. So, for example, when you ring the bell you should also start slowing down a bit in case the car driver or pedestrian does not hear your bell, or chooses to ignore it. Don’t assume the bell has got their attention and caused them to react the way you want them to. Until the motorist or pedestrian either acknowledges your presence directly or behaves in a way that indicates they are reacting to you (e.g. the pedestrian moves the side, the car switches lanes) it is always safer to assume that they are not going to do what you want and to slow your approach in anticipation.

I went to a conference in Ottawa a few years back, and I stayed with a friend of mine named Dan. Dan lived in the downtown core, a few miles from the conference site. I could have taken public transit to the conference, or grabbed a cab and expensed it, but I decided I wanted to ride a bike there instead. Dan had a mountain bike and he was more than happy to let me use it, so the first morning of the conference off I went on Dan’s bike. Within about five minutes of starting my ride I realized I would have to get a mirror for the bike, as I found myself constantly looking down where the mirror was located on my bike, and there was nothing there. Fortunately I knew several bike shops in the city, and I cycled over to one immediately to grab a mirror.

I hadn’t realized how much I used the mirror until it was gone. If you were to ask me to list the top three safety features for bicycles a mirror would be near the top of that list for a few reasons. For example, one of the interesting things about bicycles is that when you turn your body the handlebars turn with you. Unless you are very diligent, it is very easy to turn your torso when you turn your head, and the bike turns with it, and considering that you ride to the right of traffic, you end up turning into traffic when you do this. Needless to say this is unwise.

I check my mirrors constantly while driving, it allows me to anticipate traffic problems and make safer decisions on the road. You still need to shoulder check if you want to make a lane change or a turn mind you, just like car mirrors bike mirrors do not give full rear visibility, but you can get a lot of use out of a mirror when you are just driving forwards but you want to be aware of approaching traffic.

There are a number of different kinds of mirrors available. I have tried helmet mounted mirrors and I found 
them very frustrating. I spent most of my time with the helmet mirror trying to “find” what was behind me in the mirror, and I decided it was not safe to continue using it. I now use two mirrors, both mounted on my left handlebar. One of the mirrors is mounted underneath the handlebar, and is oriented to provide me with a good view when I am sitting forward in my seat. The other is mounted over my handlebar, and is oriented to be used when I am standing up or sitting back in the seat. Having two mirrors means that I can always get a good view of what is behind me. In addition my top mirror is a concave mirror, so it gives a wide range of vision. If I were on a motorcycle or scooter and I was not pulled over to the right of the lane most of the time I would want mirrors on my right handlebar as well.

Forester claims that mirrors are unnecessary, and even unsafe, something that surprised me. He argues that any significant activity on the road (a turn or a lane change for example) that requires you to know what is happening behind you requires a proper shoulder check as mirrors provide a limited view. The only way to have a comprehensive view of what is behind you is to do a shoulder check. Thus mirrors tend to deceive people into thinking they have a sufficient view of what is behind them, and should not be used. Forester believes that any competent cyclist should practice the shoulder check maneuver enough that they don’t turn their handlebars while doing it, and thus that the risks associated with it are minimal. Forester ultimately believes that mirrors are for cyclists that have undue fear of overtaking traffic, and thus that their purpose is primarily psychological.

I disagree with Forester about mirrors on two fronts. First, he has a tendency to reject options unless they are optimal, since mirrors don’t give you a complete view of what is behind you (according to Forester) they are to be rejected. However, cars use mirrors that do not give you a comprehensive view of what is behind you either, yet they can still be used to great advantage. I agree that you must do a shoulder check before any lane change or turn, but that does not mean that mirrors are unnecessary. Mirrors allow you to check oncoming traffic on a more regular basis, and I find it useful to know what approaching traffic is doing so I can anticipate. When I’m doing a mirror check I’m generally looking for one of a few things: a string or succession of 18 wheel trucks, a clear road behind me, or someone signaling a right turn.

When I spot a string or succession of large trucks I often exit the road and let them pass, spotting them in the mirror means I have more time to pick an exit point. When I see a clear road behind me I can, for example, sit up and back in the saddle and let go of my handlebars for a while. “Riding up” like this varies your cycling position (which is good for the back) and works out different leg muscles (good for your fitness), but I never do it in traffic as I want my hands on the wheel so to speak whenever there is traffic around.

Cars with right turn signals on that approach you from behind can be a significant risk to the cyclist, as they are often interested in making a right before the next major intersection (say a private driveway) so they are in the position of either waiting behind you (as they don’t think there is room to pass you on the left and cut back in) or going around you. For less experienced car drivers this can be a difficult choice, and in more than one case I have seen a motorist (in my rear view) hesitate for a while then at the last minute decide to overtake and turn, cutting me off. Because I was watching them in the rearview I knew what they were trying to do and when they moved to pass me I slowed down giving them room to make their turn.

I have found that there are innumerable traffic situations like this, where knowing what’s happening behind you, even if only through the “incomplete” picture provided by a mirror, can be invaluable to safe cycling. You have to check regularly with mirrors to use them properly, as cars can come into the road at any time from driveways and small intersections, but a mirror check can tell me what is happening in my immediate vicinity at a glance. When I am in my car I do mirror checks every 10-20 seconds or so, something recommended by my driving instructor. I do so as well on the bike.

I also disagree with Forester’s claim that mirrors have significantly limited visibility. My regular mirror gives me a complete view of all the lanes behind me, and a perfectly adequate view of the cars that are passing me to the left. Yes, it cuts off the image at the corners as it is small, and yes, it takes a bit of practice to be able to see back long distances, a shoulder check allows you to see further back faster. Still, I can see the immediate traffic, and as long as I regularly check the mirror I can find cars that have joined the road. In addition, the mirror allows you to keep a regular check on the road, and with practice you can see back just as accurately for long distances as you can with a shoulder check. In addition, you can look in the mirror for a longer period of time than you do with a shoulder check. Shoulder checks tend to be very fast and far between, mirror checks can be longer, or you can string together a series of them to get a good view of the traffic behind you.

I think that Forester may be thinking of the blind spots of cars and equating them with bikes. Cars have blind spots as they are wide, the mirrors on either door can’t capture all that is behind them, and the main rearview mirror can’t catch everything at the periphery. On a bike however the mirror can catch everything behind the bicycle, so there is no “blind spot” on the left. Your body blocks you from seeing behind you on the right, but when I am stopped at an intersection I can tilt the bike and use the rear view mirror to see who is in the right hand lane behind me.

The key to making all of this work is to have your mirror at the right angle to capture as much of the traffic as possible. It is also important to keep the mirror tightly adjusted so it doesn’t move around too much. I carry an allen key set at all times so I can tighten my mirrors if needed. I also use two mirrors, one low slung that is adjusted for visibility when I am seated, and another set high with for use when I am standing or sitting up. In addition, the top mirror has a convex lens so it gives a good view of your peripheral area. Again, I would never make an actual lane change without shoulder checking just to be sure, but keeping an eye on traffic in the mirror lets me know, for example, how long I will have to wait to make that turn. In addition, the ease of using the mirror (after you have experience with it), combined with the fact you only have to avert your eyes, not turn your body, imply that it is worth considering.

Jeff, a friend of mine that used to be a bicycle courier once told me that he didn’t bother with a mirror; he simply rides where he is supposed to ride and that’s that. I respect this view, which is essentially Forester’s, what I disagree with is that this is the only safe way to drive. As long as you take some time to learn how to use them, and as long as you are doing proper shoulder checks before turns and lane changes, mirrors give you more information on traffic, information that allows you to make better riding choices and to anticipate concerns. Add to this that they eliminate the need to physically turn around (and thus potentially turn the bike handles) and I see mirrors as an essential cycling tool for the new urban commuter.

There are a number of different tires available for your bike. Most road bikes come with equipped with slicks, regular tires designed for normal road and trail use. There are also more advanced tires with special grooves designed for wet conditions. There are “knobby” tires that are standard issue on mountain bikes; these are intended to improve your grip on loose soil and dirt. For years I have been using slicks on the road, regular tires have been more than enough to get the job done. A few important caveats here though: I do zero off-road riding on my regular commute and I ride most often in dry conditions. Depending on your regular route and general weather conditions special rain tires or knobby tires might be worthwhile. I will say though that knobby tires are very noticeable in terms of speed loss on longer commutes.

Recently, however, I have found that the roads have gotten worse. Whether that be due to the city cutting back on road cleanup to save money, or just a general increase in traffic that leads to more detritus on the road, there has been a definite change. When I went to my bike shop grousing about this they confirmed what I had discovered, many people had come in to complain about the same thing. Over my last cycling season I had a total of 9 flat tires, a new record for me.

I don’t normally advocate for “new” or “high-tech” equipment, as I find that it is seldom that much better than regular equipment. However, I had finally had enough of the flats last season so I tried a special “puncture resistant” tire by Bontrager. It was well worth the cost, as I have been 8 months without a flat tire. Flat tires are a significant concern for long distance cycling, and although special tires are not necessary, I would recommend some degree of "puncture resistance" in your chosen model of tire to save yourself inconvenience and add to your safety on the road.

Shoes, Pedal Clips and Cages
When I first started cycling in the city I noticed other cyclists with special shoes and funny small pedals, these were pedal clips. Pedal clips are designed so you can snap your shoe into the pedal. There are advantages to this, it keeps your foot in one place, maximizes the power of your pedaling, and allows you to pull up on the pedals as well as pushing down. Cycling shoes also improve your cycling efficiency as the shoes have hard soles, not soft soles like regular shoes. This allows you to transfer more of the force from your pedaling to the pedals. You remove your feet from pedal clips by twisting them out.

I don’t use pedal clips myself as I am not comfortable with the removal process, I don’t trust that my foot can come out of the pedal clip in a hurry. I know many people who use pedal clips who swear that removing your foot is very easy. However, when you are in the process of having an accident I would prefer not to have to try and do anything to remove my feet from the pedals. Just to put a fine point on it, I was hit by a car while cycling a few years back. I did not have pedal clips on, and as a result I flew off the bike rather than staying on it. I had no time to react and remove my feet. Flying off the bike saved my life, if I had stayed on the bike I would have ended up under the car rather than a distance away from it.

As a result of this I use pedal cages, straps that loop above the pedals. I keep them extremely loose so my feet slip out on their own if I fall from the bike. They still keep my feet in aligned and allow me to pull up on the pedals as I ride if I want to. I also wear cycling shoes to improve the efficiency of my ride. You don’t necessarily need pedal clips or cages for safety, though they do keep your feet on the pedals, which is helpful. When you are riding hard slipping off the pedals can lead to significant injury or a crash, so I tend to use something on my foot.

Disc Brakes
This is not necessarily a piece of equipment that you buy for your bike as much as a piece of equipment that now comes standard on some bikes and not others. Until my most recent purchase I had always had “cantilever” brakes, basically metal arms with brake pads, when you wanted to stop you pulled the brake cable, which moved the arms with the brake pads to “pinch” the wheel just below the tire edge.
Cantilever brakes work by creating friction between the rubber and the metal wheel frame. It is a fairly efficient system, and for the majority of slow to medium speed riding it is effective in stopping you fairly quickly. Wet weather can reduce the efficiency of cantilever brakes, they can become loose, and brake pads can wear down. If you keep them well tuned they will last a long time as they are mechanically simple, and they are relatively easy to disconnect when you are changing a tire. For road riding I have found well-maintained cantilever brakes to be more than adequate.

Disc brakes have a pair of “pincers” that essentially grab a disc mounted on the wheel axle. The chief difference between this kind of brake and a cantilever brake is that you can stop very quickly. The first time I used disc brakes I found that the bike stopped much sooner than I expected and I felt my body shoot forwards over the handlebars. So I have a mixed recommendation for disc brakes. I tend to prefer my brakes softer, but I do like the fact I can stop in a much shorter distance if needed. Since I drive a bit on the slower side, disc brakes are actually a good choice, as I can stop suddenly if I want to and if I want to stop more gradually I just “pump” the brakes in short bursts rather than jam them on for extended period. I have changed 1 flat with a disc brake system, the rear in this case, and it worked without significant complication. I would recommend disc brakes for long distance urban cycling, but with the caveat that you need to ride with them for a bit to get used to the increased power, and they are better if you ride on the slower side.

Repair Gear
I commute to work, so if the bike needs any major repairs on route I’m calling a cab to pick me up or I’m taking the bike on the bus. I can’t spend a half hour fiddling with my spokes or realigning my wheels. Minor repairs should be possible though, and I carry a small amount of repair gear to deal with those situations. I carry a multi-tool with Allen keys and assorted screwdriver heads, as well as a small wrench that fits various nuts on the bike. This allows me to tighten any components (e.g. mirrors, bells, pedals, derailleurs, brakes) and is needed when I’m changing a tire. I usually have a rag that can be used to wipe the grease off my hands if the chain comes off and has to be remounted.

All of my other equipment is for changing tires. I carry a small bike pump, a replacement tire tube, and three plastic clamps that allow me to pull back the tire from the wheel to get at the tube. I don’t carry a patch kit as I don’t have the time to find and patch a hole on the road, I can do that at home. Generally you can remove whatever punctured the tube from the tire and just replace the punctured tube. The plastic clamps are a must have, they wedge under the tire and clamp to a spoke, pulling the tire off the wheel. You place one, then run another between the wheel and the tire and clamp it further down. At this point the tire is starting to come off the wheel. A third clamp, slid along further, usually gets the tire off completely. I have done it with two clamps before, and even during very cold weather with one. It is quite simply very difficult to get a tire off without some sort of lever to put between the tire and the wheel. It is almost impossible to do with your fingers.

I don’t see the need for any other repair equipment as anything more elaborate and I wouldn’t have the time to fix it anyway. And this is urban cycling, not deep woods or abandoned country road cycling, so other transport options (cabs, buses, a helpful friend with a car) exist. Changing a tire takes about 15 minutes tops for a rear tire that is a bit more complex as you have to reposition the gear system and derailleur. Front tires can be done in less than 10 minutes. You could carry more tubes if you are more concerned, and you can also carry air cartridges that inflate tires quickly, and pressure gauges if you are worried about getting accurate air pressure.

As a point of interest you should always keep your tires near the top end of their pressure values. All tires are labeled with a range of acceptable pressures, keeping to the top range is important as underinflated tires can sag and pinch and even shear off the inflation nozzle as they move during cycling. This happened to me repeatedly one season until I figured out that I was underinflating my tires. Because you are commuting a long distance weight matters, and I wouldn't recommend anything I didn't think was important. A bike pump, a tire tube, a multi-tool and a few clamps adds a pound and a bit to your ride, and it adds up. Still this minimum package of equipment will see you through many smaller road impediments.

They don’t look particularly sexy, but fenders are a good idea for regular long distance cycling. Being on the road a long time just amplifies the impact of smaller factors like water from the road. Getting sprayed for a short time while riding on a wet road is no big deal, being on the bike for an hour and getting sprayed is altogether different. As an additional benefit when you ride over loose rocky soil fenders will keep you from being pelted with stones as you ride.

Compass and Map
Yes, I know, you have a GPS in your phone so there is no need for a compass and map. Good enough, however, phone batteries die, data connections go down, data coverage is not complete in all areas of the city… there are plenty of reasons why your phone may not always be a reliable guide. Think of it this way, if you commute every day, you are bound to have a day when your phone is not working or not charged. This is why an old school map and compass combination is never a bad idea. I have a compass/bell on my handlebars (thanks Dave and Victoria!) that works quite well, and I always keep a cycling map stuffed in the back of my pannier. I used to keep it in a clear map sleeve on a handlebar mounted case, but I gave up the case a while back.

So why should you always carry a map and compass? Well, part of the enjoyment associated with cycling long distances in the city is that you quite often end up “exploring” alternate routes. Sometimes your favorite route is blocked due to construction; sometimes you just want to switch it up. I have taken detours when I have found a bike trail entrance I was unaware of, or seen a connecting street that might save me a busy main route or a difficult hill. Side streets are the secret weapon of the safety conscious cyclist, and a map and compass can allow you to explore your options.

But even without the map a compass can help you get your bearings. For example, when I have become, ahem, misdirected in the past I have often simply pointed myself in the right general direction and cycled until I hit a road or trail I recognized. I work in the Northwest corner of the city, but I live South/central, some days I simply ride South and East in whatever combination suits me until I get close enough to home to join up with my regular route. This works particularly well when there are construction related detours. As long as you have a compass and a map you are never lost for long.

Panniers and Cases
There are any number of different kinds of bags (when you hang a bag off a bike it’s called a pannier) that you can use on your bicycle. For most of these you will need to have a rack mounted on the bike over the back wheel. Some panniers are bags, some are collapsible cages that can be opened to form baskets. You can also get panniers for the front wheel, but they often come without a rack and bolt on directly to the wheel hub or the bike fork. You can also get cases that hang off the front of your handlebars (many have a clear sleeve on top for maps), cases that stretch between the crossbars of your bike, cases that fit under the seat, etc.

The number, size and combination of bags, cases or cages you use is of course up to your personal preference. I for example do not like panniers that hang off the side of a rack as they have the potential to unbalance your ride unless you ensure that the panniers on both sides are equally filled. As a result I have a top mounted bag on my back wheel rack. I have also used a handlebar case to hold miscellaneous objects and mount my map. 

When you are cycling long distance your goal should be to minimize the load you carry. Over the long distance commute every pound counts, and after years of regular commuting I can feel the difference in my bike that even a book makes. I’m so ruthless about minimizing my load that I eliminated my front case from the bike last season as it forced me to cut down on the load I bring back and forth. Still, as you are commuting there will often be work related materials going back and forth. Whatever you choose to carry, I would recommend letting the bike take the load. Long distance cycling while wearing a backpack can be more taxing than it looks. I once rode to work with a colleague who was doing the ride for the first time. He had his laptop in a backpack, and I had suggested beforehand to put everything on the bike. About 20 minutes into the ride he started to complain about the weight, and we weren’t even half way there.

This point may seem counterintuitive, you can see bike couriers on the road all the time with backpacks, but trust me, any load you carry on your body can become a pain. Panniers allow you to transfer the weight to the bike and keep your body free from restraint. And depending on the loads you carry, it is better to have a heavy load lower (on the bike rather than on  your back) for balance purposes.

I don’t generally lock up my bike, I’m not confident that a lock will prevent a determined thief. I keep my bike in my office and in my garage. I always carry a light, small cable lock on the bike when I’m riding. It’s not that strong, but it will do for a quick one minute run into a store. For the most part I rarely lock up the bike. Still, there are times that I have to run errands on the way home, or I may be going out to meet friends in a bar or restaurant and I decide to take my bike.

There is no way of stopping a determined thief, but you can improve your odds. First, carry at least two locks of different kinds, bike thieves are less likely to have the equipment needed to break two kinds of locks. There are kryptonite or “U” locks, cable locks, chain locks, whatever varieties you choose make sure they are big enough to give you greater freedom in where you can lock up the bike. Short locks can be a hassle when there are a lot of other bikes sharing a lock area (e.g. at a bike rack). When locking your bike, interlace your locks so they are not just locked to the post but to each other. None of this will make theft impossible, but the point is to make removal more complicated so the thief will go for an easier mark.

Location is also important when locking the bike. You want a public location, with lots of traffic. I like to lock the bike outside of a banking machine or near a gas station where there is likely to be video surveillance of some kind. You should also “strip” the bike of all easily removed accessories. I leave my mirrors on as they are bolted in and would take some work with a tool to remove. I take off my cycle computer and lights as they are easily removed. One of my locks is a long cable lock, and I lace it through the posts under my seat. A determined thief might be able to detach the seat to get the cable out if they had the right kind of tool (in my case a wrench), but again, it’s all about slowing them down and making it more complicated.

Bicycle Computers
Several years back I picked up a cycle computer as I was curious about my cycling performance, specifically I wanted to quantify my riding a bit more. The computer told me the time, my maximum speed, my average speed and the distance I travelled. At first I was interested in my average speed, which hovered around 14 miles per hour for most long distance trips. I later became interested in keeping track of how many miles I was riding per season, and the computer helped me to keep track of that (particularly when I went on new routes and detours and needed to get information on how long these routes and detours were).

I’m a big believer in gathering statistics on any activity; I believe you can see things by collecting this sort of information that would normally pass your notice. For example, on a series of rides I tried to increase my riding speed to speed up the trips. I noticed over time that my average speed was staying about the same, implying that despite my periodic bursts of speed my overall trip time was about the same.

At this point in my riding experience I don’t bother with the computer any more. I ride regular routes and I know how long they take and how fast I am going. Pretty much the only thing I use the computer for is the clock. In general I would recommend a cycling computer to new commuters so you can keep track of the parameters of different routes and make more informed decisions as to which routes are best. For example, it is often hard to quantify how far you have travelled when your route varies from week to week (before you have settled on a route) and the cycle computer can take your subjective experience of the ride and give you some objective data on how far the route in question actually is. This is useful as some routes, when mapped out, look unduely complicated, but when you have had the opportunity to ride them and determine distances they can turn out to be shorter options.

When you are in the car a windshield protects you from the air that blows into your face and from any objects that might hit your eyes. When you are on a motorcycle a helmet visor (for those who use helmets) serves the same function. On a bike you have no such protection. This is a significant issue, as an object striking you in the eyes (even something small like an insect) can cause you to lose control of the bike while in traffic. Not only that, but on windier days (particularly in the cold weather) your eyes can water quite a bit, which impairs visibility. Thus some form of eye protection is important.

I wear prescription glasses so I always have something in front of my eyes, for those who don’t wear glasses, sunglasses are the obvious solution. If you are riding on particularly overcast days or at night it is possible to obtain “shooting glasses”, yellow tinted glasses that are supposed to highlight your visual field. When I wore contact lenses many years ago I tried a pair of these shooting glasses and found them to be as advertised, e.g. they did make my field of vision crisper and clearer.

These are the major accessories that I would suggest thinking about for urban cycle commuting. Some I haven’t mentioned as I will discuss them later when I talk about weather conditions and day and night riding. Others, though useful, are not necessary and are more up to the individual rider.



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