- Guidelines for Buying an Errand or Commute Bicycle
Tips for beginners
- Gear Shifter
- Frame Material
- Style of Bike
- Rear Rack
- Chain Guard
- Shock Absorbers
Future Enhancements for Your Commute Bike
Doing your own Maintenance
The following are general guidelines, not hard rules. Use your own judgment. Whatever bike you get,
test-ride it to see if it "feels"
right for you. As you would expect, prices on new bicycles are indicative of quality.
If you are frugal, shop the used market (classifieds, garage sales, etc.); good quality at half the price is common.
Generally speaking, electric kits work fine on $89 bicycles.
Tires - medium width (1.5 - 1.95"), 26" diameter is standard
- somewhat "knobby" on the sides for better traction and handling
- smooth down the center of the rear for efficient, quiet rolling
- Flat Prevention:
- avoidance: learn where the most common causes of flats occur and how to know them when you see them.
The Puncture Vine
is the usual culprit for flat tires for most commuters.
Click for a good pictorial article on this common tube-killer.
- put Slime in your tubes (see SLIME below).
Because Slime is somewhat messy and dries out after a couple of years, I use it after I get a flat:
squeeze the Slime in, pump up the tire, spin it around both directions a while to coat the inside of the leak,
go for a muli-mile ride. Slime seals small punctures.
- better at flat-prevention are tire liners. Mr. Tuffy and Slime are commonly available.
For twice the price, you can get twice the puncture resistance and half the weight from Spin Skins from
- better still is a combination of tire liners and thorn-resistant tubes.
- The ultimate solution is no air!
Flat-free tubes and tires are semi-solid rubber, with no air, so they can't go flat.
You can get either an air-free tire, which replaces the whole tube & tire
or an air-free tube, which fits inside your existing tire
Hutchinson's new Serenity™ line).
Here's a rundown on products:
Shifter - index shifting has been standard for years.
You can get the more pricey twin-lever "Rapid-shift" or the "grip shifter" type (pictured).
Gears - generally speaking, a 6 or 7 speed model works fine on even the steepest hills when combined with an electric assist.
(Cut down on maintenance with a Nexus 7-speed internal hub.)
Brakes - look for cantilevered or "V-brakes" for better braking.
Frame - Cro-Moly is good, but steel will do since you'll have an electric assist.
Exotic materials and unusual designs may make installation of an electric-drive kit difficult (or impossible).
- look for wide tires and upright seating; comfort and cruiser bikes are good, road bikes are not.
- the plush feel of a cruiser -wide handlebars & soft seat- may "feel" best.
are luxurious - and they're safer.
Quick seat-height adjustment makes your electric bike the right size for everyone. But if you are not likely to share the bike with others, you might go with a bolt instead of the quick-release.
Lately there have been a rash of thefts by flipping the seatpost quick-release and walking off with the seat and post. Various security measures (i.e. locks) are available from bike shops.
- get the brightest you can afford.
- Safety Tip: Although the old-school 4-AA/halogen types of lights are quite visible to drivers approaching from ahead,
drivers on your right and left can't see them as well. Also, they aren't very economical.
Since they are basically heaters that emit light as a by-product, they go through batteries in a matter of hours.
- The latest LED lights are getting very bright and use very little battery power for their light output.
New improved models almost seem to come out monthly.
- You can make your own affordably from Malibu garden lights.
Malibu offers an "outdoor heavy duty floodlight" with 20-watt, 12-volt Halogen bulb (model # CL507).
If you are running 24 Volts, wire two in series with an XLR connector at the end of a 6-foot wire
so you can plug into your battery's charging port.
the standard bike taillight with flashing LEDs works well enough.
If you really want to be seen, Xenon strobes are much more visible -
in the daytime and in low visibility conditions such as rain or fog.
Xenon strobes are much less directional, with visibility over a 180 degree range.
Among other places, available for $40 at:
Kickstand - Handy for parking. Look for one that attaches near the rear axle to allow easy backwards rolling. That is, the pedal doesn't back up into a
center-mounted kickstand. (See photos at top of page.)
Center stands are even better for balancing the extra weight of an electric drive system.
- get a rack: it's the support for your small cargo loads.
- bungee cords for holding cargo on the rear rack.
Wald folding basket(s) - designed to hold paper grocery bags perfectly and fold up out of the way when not in use.
They mount on an existing rear rack. Basket mounting hardware comes included, but we suggest using three 7" or 9" zip ties (cable ties) wrapped
around the bike rack and the upper edge of the rack at least two times. Use another zip tie to tie the side of the basket to the rack support at a
(See photos at right and top of page.)
(See also the comment on courier bags below).
Fenders - extend your riding opportunities and prevent surprise wettings from water that oversprayed the grass and landed on the street.
Chain guard - bikes with a single front sprocket often have a chainguard
so you won't need to band your right pants leg to prevent oil marks.
Shocks - test-ride a bike with front shocks; the ride may be worth the price.
But if you will be running a high-power front-mounted hub motor,
it could have too much torque for the shock fork to handle.
In such a case, a non-shock steel fork is a better choice.
Helmet - legally required for electric-bike riders. Safety Tip: Your best safety investment.
Cheap insurance for anyone with a brain.
Sunglasses - wrap-around style to keep dust and chilly air out of your eyes.
Mirror - for handlebar end (left side) or clip-on to glasses frame.
Locks - come in a wide variety. Generally speaking more dollars = heavier = more secure. Visit you local bike shop for advice.
Articles for beginner cyclists
It is best to get frame size and specific adjustments that can be made to obtain a good fit
based on the riders height, proportions, bike style and riding style at a knowlegeable bike shop.
If you are forced to look online because of a lack of nearby skilled bike shops,
there are a number of online bike-fit guides, like:
or try an online search with keywords such as "bike fit guide".
Future Enhancements for Your Commute Bikes
As you determine your uses of this vehicle, add appropriate accessories:
- a trailer for big shopping trips ($200)
- a kiddie trailer for hauling children (Burley - $400)
- rain gear (one option is
- rear pannier that doubles as a briefcase
- brightly colored jacket so you're obvious to drivers
- anything else you feel will make your ride safer or more comfortable
- The Urban Bikers' Tricks and Tips by Dave Glowacz from Wordspace Press, 1-800-888-4741 $15.
Plan to commute by bike?
Learn the ins and outs at:
"Top Ten Commuting 101 Articles" and over 50 others at:
BikeToWork is dedicated to bicycle commuters - those that are and those that will be.
The League of American Bicyclists offers these resources:
An alternative to baskets or briefcases is a courier bag. Timbuk2 designs offer a line with high marks:
User Quote: I pack for all weather contingencies, carry shoes, breakfast, lunch, shower supplies
and all manner of other junk that no other sane commuter would carry,
and I just throw it all in there willy-nilly.
There are 3 sizes - in my opinion only the largest (think it's the "dee-dog") is the real article.
Even fully loaded up it rides well.
ICEBIKE web site is dedicated to winter cyclists - those who brave ice, snow and wind so they can ride on through winter for transportation, recreation, or competition.
Doing your own maintenance?
- The Third Hand, 1-541-488-4800 (OR), sells a video called "Fundamentals of Bicycle Maintenance" -
55 minutes of instruction for $20.
- Bicycling Magazine's Complete Guide to Bicycle Maintenance and Repair, Rodale Books, $19;
- Online guide to basic maintenance: Do-It-Yourself:
SLIME: Slime is green goop you squeeze into your tire. Here's how it works:
As the air leaks out of a punctured tire, it draws the tiny fibers in the Slime toward the hole where, like a beaver dam, they jam together to slow and eventually stop the leak. Completing the process is the scabbing-over on the outside of the tube that occurs with liquid that does escape.
Slime works for about two years before drying up. An eight-ounce container is enough for two tubes and is available at most stores.
Flat-Attack is reportedly a better product that is available at bike shops.