I have been commuting by bike for about seven years now and I was recently thinking about some of the products I rely on for my commute - products that are not necessarily "bike" products. Sure I carry bike specific products like a hand pump, inner tubes, a multi-tool, a lock, etc. each and every day, however there are some other products not specific to cycling that greatly enhance my commute.
Seven products that I rely on every day are described below. I would be interested in what readers might have to say as well so if you have non-bike products you rely on for your commute, feel free to comment or send us an email.
1. Lip Balm
This one is pretty simple - I hate dry lips and one of the best ways to dry your lips out is to commute by bike. Your face takes the brunt of wind when you ride your bike and it does not take long for dryness and cracking to set in.
I actually relied upon lip balm on a daily basis long before I started to commute by bike - dry lips have been a huge pet peeve of mine for a long, long time. I think I've tried every lip balm on the market. Burts Bee's, Carmex, Blistex, and a host of others have been in my pocket at one time or another but I always find myself returning to Chapstick.
Maybe it's because of those great Suzy Chapstick commercials from the 1970s - there, I dated myself.
2. Baby (or similar) Powder
Another "body product" I use each and every day is baby powder, or some version of powder. We received a product from those over at Anti Monkey Butt and I still must complete a review of the powder they sent (in short, it's good stuff - and they have a woman specific powder as well).
The obvious use of powder is to help keep shoe stank at bay. Even though most bike shoes have some sort of mesh or built in airflow to help keep you feet from overheating, if you commute in a climate that features rain or snow, shoes can get wet and start to stink. A daily splash of powder helps to make sure my commuter bike shoe (a pair of Shimano SH-MT21 MTBs that I have had for about four years) do not scare off people who visit my office at work.
Cycling shorts also have a way of heating up your private parts and I never ride without a healthy splash of powder "down there." I keep a bottle of some sort of powder at home and at work and it serves the dual purpose of keeping me comfortable as well as not upsetting the olfactory glands of anyone around me.
Bandanas for me are an essential item for me for two reasons. First is protection - from my helmet. It might sound funny, but I never let a bike helmet touch my head. This may seem especially weird since I will wear a merino wool shirt multiple times before washing it, however the thought of helmet pads that have been subject to daily doses of sweat and heat touching my head, hair, or forehead freaks me out. It probably has something to do with the fact that helmet pads rarely, if ever, get washed.
My solution in temperate weather is to put a bandana on my head to separate my head from my helmet. In cooler weather either a balaclava or hat serves the same purpose.
The second purpose of bandans is for use as a towel. Every morning when I get to work I take a commuter shower. I do not have access to full shower facilities so I have to get creative in the bathroom at work. After a few commuter showers I felt very guilty because I was using copious amounts of paper towels. I thought about trying to cut down on paper towel usage and a bandana was the perfect solution.
Bandanas are light, dry quickly, and are easy to wash. I am partial to the color orange and I have like 30 pretty much identical bandanas that will get me through a few weeks of commuting.
4. Battery Charger
Most of the year my evening commute takes place in the dark and I do everything possible to make it impossible for a car to not see me. Taking all my lights into account, I use 10 AAA batteries and 6 AA batteries. My bike resembles a space ship and my set up is probably overkill, but I like it. I ride with -
1. A headlight (features steady and flash modes)
2. Two rear blinkie lights (multiple flashing patterns)
4. A Flashbak
With the light show I put on there is no way I want to keep purchasing disposable batteries and thus a charger is an essential product for me.
5. Army Surplus Storage Vest
I covered this in another post but it fits in well with this list. Long ago I grew tired of how I was going to carry stuff - like lip balm, batteries, and bandandas among other things - on a daily basis. The moment of enlightenment for me came in an army surplus store. I saw of bunch of different vests. I had been thinking for a while about trying to find a shirt with a bunch of pockets for the same purpose but could not find one I liked.
In the surplus store I stumbled upon a vest section that had all sorts of options. I was able to find one that was light weight and featured tons of pockets. I immediately bought two of them and now I commute with one and also use one for travel. It's a great way to keep all of your valuables on you without having to use a separate bag. A button up shirt or light coat covers it up so you do not look like a someone embarking on a fishing trip.
6. Podcasts (NPR Preferred)
I am a total honk for NPR. I love their programming and listen to Podcasts on a daily basis while I commute. While this is not a physcial product, it is a service that makes my commute more enjoyable. If case you are wondering, yes, I have responded to pledge drives so do not sick Ira Glass on Bike Hacks.
My favorite Pocast is Marketplace but there are lots of offerings to choose from. I like to be educated while I commute and NPR keeps me in touch with the world. A directory of NPR Podcasts can be found here.
While I certainly enjoy listening to NPR podcasts on the way to work, I also enjoy staying out of emergency rooms. Some of you might have flinched when I said I listen to news while I ride, but there is a caveat - I always have one ear free to listen to what is going on around me.
I received my worst grade every in my high school physics class and I cannot tell you scientifically why it is not good for a cyclist to run into a car - but simply speaking cars weigh more than I do - by several tons. Thus it is wise that I avoid them as well as joggers, dogs off their leash, children, bouncing balls, Frisbees, blowing trash, etc.
As it happens, I had a set of ear buds but one bud stopped working so I just chopped it off. Alternatively you can just leave one bud out and store it in an extra pocket.
What non-bike specific products are essential to your commute? Comment or email us.