Growing up through commuting

So about 10 years ago when I started to commute to my jobs I was really into the whole idea of less is more. This meant that my bike was a fixed gear with one brake, messenger bag and small blinky lights. Each year that progressed I noticed I found that the things I thought were “goofy” at one point, were grabbing my attention.

Let’s take for example rear racks and panniers. I used to think they were for “old people.” Well, as I got older I see that they are way more practical than I had ever imagine. But before I got into the pannier thing, I actually ditched the messenger bag for backpacks. I figured it was better for my shoulders and there were a ton of companies that made some great bags. But that too went by the wayside as I didn’t like showing up to places with a wet back and sore shoulders.

Now that I’m 10 years older I’d like to tell you what I now prefer when it comes to bike commuting. Ready for this?

-multi-geared bike
-rack with at least 2 panniers
-big lights! Minimum of at least 600 lumens on the headlight and 2 blinkers in the back. I like to place them on two different spots for added visibility.
-T-shirts. I used to commute with only cycling clothing. Now I just grab t-shirts and regular shorts.
-I stopped riding fixed gears…arthritic knees.

Perhaps its with time that I started seeing things differently as I did when I was younger. But one thing I’m grateful for is the choices available that the bicycle industry makes for its consumers. Let’s face it, each company has to cater to it’s various demographics to remain competitive and that’s good for us, young and seasoned riders.

What about you? Were there things you’ve changed through out your commuting career? Do you now do things that you didn’t think of when you were younger? It’s like a young married man saying “I’ll never get a mini-van.” Only to find himself at the dealer a few years later falling in love with a new van with built-in DVD player for the kids.


  1. Michael

    For me, there has not been that many changes in equipment in over twenty years of commuting. Only two changes stand out:

    – conversion from flat bars to drop bars. For me, the multiple hand positions offered by drop bars makes them so compelling. Also, for me climbing (my route has hills) is much more comfortable with drop bars.
    – wide tires. Since I started using 26 inch wheels bikes for commuting, the wider tires have been great. I seem to (maybe just perception) get better traction in rain and the ride feels a lot smoother over rough pavement.

    Beyond equipment, the main changes for me have been in how I ride:

    – I almost never pass vehicles on the right (unless I have a separate lane). I especially avoid leap frogging with other vehicles.
    – I come to a complete stop at all stop signs and red lights. I always wait for the green before crossing the intersection (sadly, this angers other cyclists).

    I am getting old afterall.


  2. bigbenaugust

    Once we sold our second car (mine) in ’07 after years of underutilizing it, I always figured we’d need another as soon as we had kids… well… we had two kids and then moved cross-country and it never happened. πŸ™‚

  3. Paul Emerson

    I’ve just started my fifteenth year of bike commuting and are two things I would like to go back in time and tell myself:

    1) Buy a good saddle.

    2) Always wear High Viz Safety Green or High Viz Safety Orange t-shirts: You’d be surprised how much more road respect you get.

  4. Paul Emerson

    I’ve just started my fifteenth year of bike commuting and here are two things I would like to go back in time and tell myself:

    1) Buy a good saddle.

    2) Always wear High Viz Safety Green or High Viz Safety Orange t-shirts: You’d be surprised how much more road respect you get.

  5. morlamweb

    My evolution as a bike commuter mirrors the original poster’s except that I started with a 21-speed bike and I have fewer years in the saddle. If I could go back to my earlier self I’d stress the importance of good tires. I used the department-store specials back in the day and had many flat tires as a result. Ever since I switched to good, very-puncture-resistant tires, flats have been a distant memory. Rear rack, trunk bag + panniers, fenders, bright lights, and a good rain coat are also good things that I either didn’t know about or appreciate back in the day.

  6. Motivated Seller

    I never wanted to be that guy with the neon shorts and matching top. I’m still not that guy, but I have learned that high visibility (+ helmet) is the one that that will save your life on the road.

  7. Idaho Spud

    2015 is my 30th anniversary of transportation cycling. I’ll concur with other commenters:
    1) TIRES – early on, I liked the skinny tires for less rolling resistance. 25s, sometimes even 23s. And the cheapest. Now I ride a 32 on the rear and a 28 on the front, and pay a bit more for the puncture-resistant belt. (My favorite tires are Vittoria Randonneurs – excellent, but still a lot less $ than top-of-the-line tires.)
    2) SADDLE – I rode a torture-rack for years, not knowing any better. Now I ride a “leather suspension” saddle – actually 2. Brooks Imperial, Selle AnAtomica. Sah-weeeet! The Gluteus Maximus thanks me every day!
    3) VISIBILITY – nobody will deliberately run into you, if they see you. If they don’t… all bets are off. For the past 8 or 10 years I’ve worn a high-viz reflective vest, day and night. Plenty of lighting at night. I don’t care what I look like – I won’t win any fashion contests. If people are judgmental about my choice of attire… at least they’re seeing it.

    I’m fortunate that I don’t have to carry a lot of stuff. 90% of the time, all I need is a fanny pack and my “flat bag” hanging under the saddle.

    If I’d spend a half-hour a week cleaning and adjusting, the quality of my commute would be better, and my gear would last longer. I know that now, but I still don’t put it into practice.

  8. Idaho Spud

    Oh – one other thing.

    I ALWAYS wear a helmet… and for 25 years or so I’ve had a rearview mirror mounted on it. I’d NEVER go without either one, now. It’s a safety/survival/awareness thing.

  9. Willy C

    Tried the backpack thing at first, but I switched to a rack and pannier for the same reason as RL…hate the sweaty back. Added heavy duty waterproof panniers when I moved to Portland, and have to carry a massive 17″ laptop back and forth. I noticed that as time goes on, my commute wardrobe looks more and more like a bag of skittles; hi-vis for sure!

  10. Ken Sturrock

    I can’t say that I have changed my cycling preferences a whole lot over the last ten years. Once I decided that I wanted to be a practical cyclist as well as a fun cyclist, I embraced that style. I am blessed, however, that I can have both a practical bicycle as well as a “toy” road bicycle so I’m not tempted to create some sort of hybrid.

    Cycling has reinforced my findings in other parts of my life: I have never once regretted buying something that was expensive and high quality but my shed is littered with “cheap & crappy” failures.

    As for backpacks and bags, sure, I’ll use one every once in a while if I decide to ride my “click shoe bike” on an errand but otherwise, I’ve always used panniers. I prefer to let the bicycle do the heavy lifting.

    Long Live Fred!

  11. Mir.I.Am

    RL, this is so true! I never thought that I would see myself with a waterproof Ortlieb pannier bag and fenders on an upright city bike here in snow country in Somerville MA. But here I am! Long gone are the days of less is more Hawaii commuting: spandex, road bike without mounts for racks, and clipper shoes!

  12. carlos lasanta

    I’m 66 now, free of cars. How much I love my bikes and bike commuting to work. You all know it, we see and appreciate things during the ride. It feels so good to be a kid again…so good. Bikes, gadgets, other cyclists; if they would only knew; how liberating…such freedom…priceless. If we would be given the
    choice (a crowd of commuters) of checking a high end car dealership, or the next door bike shop…well; you make the choice…

  13. Decky

    I’ve been commuting with bike since 2009 until now. Had a experience using many type of bikes. 20″ folding bike, 26″ MTB, Road Bike, Fixed Gear/Single Speed, and Hybrid. I have using a different type of clothes and bags too.

    What i can tell you, every type of bike, bags and clothes had a advantages and disadvantage. Choose properly and it will bring fun in every ride.

    For example, i rode with messenger bag and fixed gear if just need a ride less than 10 km and doesn’t bring a heavy and large things. But i will run with my fully rack hybrid bike if carry a heavy things and ride more than 10 km.

    Sorry for my bad english.

  14. Dell Wilson

    i guess I’m the newbie (at 6 six years bike commuting) and the odd man out. I’m the opposite of this post. I started with panniers and street clothes on my heavy commuter bike, but I’ve evolved to messenger bag and road cycling clothing over the years. The reason for the change in clothing is the heat and humidity. If I’m going to sweat, and I’m definitely going to here most of the year, then I much prefer to be in road kit. And more often than not when the weather is good and the daylight long, I’ll go out for a long ride after work, hence the messenger bag that I can carry on any of my hikes. When it’s cold, I don’t mind wearing street clothes.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *