Or you might prefer this title: What one 4-season bike commuter carries every day to be ready for (almost) anything.
- written by BLU contributor, Elizabeth
“I’d love to ride my bike but…
“what if the weather changes while I’m at work?”
“what if I get a flat tire and there’s no bus?”
“what if the zombie apocalypse starts and I don’t have my full bug-out bag ready on the bike? I can’t even fit my favorite #10 can of baked beans into my pannier! How is this a reasonable form of commuting when I can’t bring my longsword and flamethrower???”
OK, that last one is maybe a bit outside the norm. But mechanical breakdowns and weather issues are legitimate worries for new riders, especially since bike riders don’t have AAA as a safety net the way drivers do.
Here’s the good news: you can predict a lot of minor emergencies ahead of time and stay on top of them with an inexpensive emergency kit - it’s basically the bike equivalent of carrying around a windshield scraper and a spare tire. Nobody knows exactly when their next flat tire is coming, but it’s going to happen at some point: if you’re always prepared, you can stop worrying about it and enjoy your ride.
As an all-weather bike commuter, here’s what I bring in my “just in case” bag to manage common, predictable biking problems.
I live in Chicago, where I bike commute about 10 miles in total every day (~5 miles each way). I also do all my other travel by bike - groceries, dry cleaning, social events, volunteer work, everything. In the summer, I like to throw a tent on the back of the bike and go bike camping downstate. I don’t know how to drive; I’ve been biking everywhere year-round since I graduated college in 2011.
My trusty steed:
Specialized Sirrus with a pizza rack in front and a back rack with Ortlieb back-roller panniers. On the bike in this picture: all my work stuff (breakfast, lunch, laptop, office clothes, flats, water bottle, etc.), a complete martial arts uniform, regular gym clothes and shoes, a bag full of random groceries, and my bag full of “just in case” emergency supplies (buried at the bottom of one of the big red bags).
My everyday “just in case” kit:
That’s a lot of stuff, so let’s break it down.
What I pack for my body:
+ Seasonally-appropriate spare socks, in case of rain (nobody wants to get wet on the way to work and then be stuck putting on their damp socks again to go home.)
+ Mini deodorant (if I’m going to work, I also have a regular-sized one in my toiletries bag; the mini is a backup)
+ Extremely basic first aid kit (antibiotic cream, band-aids, gauze, some kind of disposable wipes)
(winter special edition)
+ Spare (knockoff) Buff.
+ Hot Hands, for emergencies. I aim not to get into situations that require these.
+ Spare leggings (as an extra layer in case of temperature changes). These particular ones are Columbia Omni-Heat leggings, which I like because they’re warm but thin, so I can easily add 2-3 layers on top of them.
+ Spare merino wool shirt. This one has sleeves with thumbholes, so it also doubles as an extra booster for my gloves.
What I pack for my bike:
+ Mini tire pump and Presta-Schraeder valve converter (aka the magic tool that lets you fill your tires from gas station air pumps). I also carry a Presta-Schraeder converter around on my keychain at all times.
+ Fix-a-flat kit, and the knowledge of how to use it. My first year of bike commuting, I carried around one of these but had no idea how it worked. Maybe I thought it would be a kind of lucky charm against flats or something? Spoiler: it doesn’t!
+ Basic repair tools: multi-tool, lube, tire levers, pocket knife. I also throw some cheap plastic gloves in there because I have a professional job where I can’t have chain grease all over my hands.
+ Spare set of bike lights (sometimes I carry a couple sets so I can give some away to random folks riding without lights at night).
(Formerly, not pictured) Printed instructions for changing a tire, patching a flat, etc. I’m now comfortable with doing all these things from memory, but before I could do them confidently, I carried around reference instructions. Strongly recommended for new riders.
+ Big 1-gallon plastic bag to hold all that stuff, like this:
Reusable shopping bag
Portable phone charger (doubles as a bike light charger)
It looks like a lot of stuff, but it all packs up into the shopping bag pretty nicely and fits in the bottom ¼ of one pannier. And in the summer, it’s a lot physically smaller because there aren’t any bulky winter clothes.