Since moving to our new home earlier this year, one gear system has changed how we enjoy Moab. We get exercise, enjoy the red rock scenery of our high desert town, run errands, join friends for dinner or commute easily, minimize our driving during the week, and overall make our daily life much more enjoyable here in Moab.
This wonderful piece of gear?
A bicycle, or, more specifically, our bike kit in total. Biking’s efficient, it’s great exercise, we get immersed in the outdoors almost daily, get a dopamine fix, and it’s fun.
Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride. – John F. Kennedy
Somehow biking in the gold ole USA got perceived as the past time of affluent, spandex-clad, aggro people who zip up a road to get stats for their Strava. Or bros crushing a gnarly single track for their GoPro video on YouTube. Or something for children. Or, as perceived, people with multiple DUIs who can’t drive legally.
Yet, in most of the world, it’s transportation, not recreation or desperation. A way to get to a friend’s house, pick up groceries, go to the job, and travel in a way that’s more enjoyable and often quicker than driving.
Think of the time as a young child when you used a bike this way. And how enjoyable you found the simple act of biking.
But around 16, for most Americans, you ditched the bike, bought a car, and made your life revolve around the auto.
But it does not have to be this way, and biking for transportation, if you are in a position to do so, can make the life quality much more enjoyable.
As mentioned, we bike for transportation rather than recreation. Biking makes for both enjoyable and practical transportation, and our bikes reflect that utility.
We use hybrid bikes, which makes good “townie” bikes. If a road bike with its light frame, thin tires, and form that allows for speed (at the expense of cargo-hauling ability) is a sports car, then a hybrid bike is a cross-over SUV or a Subaru wagon. It is not as made for rugged terrain with its thinner tires and other attributes as a mountain bike and lacks suspension; it engenders more speed than its close-looking kin.
In short, a hybrid bike works as a daily commuter when you mix speed, ruggedness, comfort, and balance attributes.
I would not want to mountain bike the Whole Enchilada with my hybrid or enter a road bike race. Still, for getting groceries, commuting to work on a bike path, or meeting friends in town, the hybrid bike provides an economical, reliable, and practical form of daily bike transportation.
Among hybrid bikes, there’s a spectrum, with some more on the mountain bike side of the equation and others leaning more toward the road bike side.
Joan went with an REI Co-Cop City Bike that shows more of a mountain bike setup, whereas I went with one of the many “build your bike” kits, particularly a Vilano Diverse 3.0, which leans more towards a road bike.
Both of these bikes make for mid-range purchases (for a hybrid, which tends to run less expensive vs. other options) with their disc brakes, gear selection, dependability, and other features vs. a hardware store Huffy or the many more expensive options available to us in Moab (fewer options and most of the options available are higher-end road bikes or mountain bikes aimed at affluent tourists.). We bike no more than thirty minutes at a time, and these options work well for us. And these mid-range bikes make a less attractive option for crimes of opportunity, too!
Another option available in larger metro areas is the 1990s or early 2000s mountain bikes. Many community bike co-ops sell them for a reasonable price. Their durable frame, lack of suspension (lighter weight), simplicity, and ability to swap on different tires make them an attractive and affordable option for those looking for a daily commuter.
More options may work better for your particular situation as well.
Bike Commuter Hero produced an excellent video about the options available. As a side note, I love his practical takes on bike commuting, with an unmistakable joy for the activity.
As mentioned, we bike for transportation and not recreation. We enjoy our daily biking, and it’s telling that we get disappointed when we can’t bike in town during the week. But on the weekend are off backpacking instead. (Though I can see us bike-packing to the edge of wilderness areas in the future. But that’s another topic!)
We are merely commuters and not real cyclists. 🙂
Like any activity, some accessories get suggested to make your bike riding safer, easier, and more efficient.
Remember that we live where it’s (mainly) dry; if cold sometimes, we commute up to thirty minutes, bike at night, and on pavement or paved bike paths. Your area, biking style, or needs may warrant different accessories (such as fenders)
Here are the accessories I find work well for us:
- Purchase a bike helmet as your first accessory. Yes, you’ll get funky hair, and it looks dorky. But someone distracted by their phone and hitting you can happen. And even an inexpensive helmet will help prevent potentially catastrophic events.
- Saying “On your left!” when passing other bicyclists, walkers, or people hanging out can get annoying—and often not heard clearly. A simple bell makes an easy way to get heard and is typically appreciated by many.
- Once I started biking in Moab, I found that a mirror makes life easier on the road and for safer riding. I found the Meachow mirror affordable at $20 with good quality, effective coverage, and easily adjustable.
- Courtesy of Joan, I agree that a kickstand makes bike commuting much more manageable. The kickstand helps balance a loaded bike with panniers or a trailer, even on a bike rack. The sub-$20 Top Cabin kickstand added to my bike quickly and provided a sturdy base.
- I find a cargo rack/pannier (saddle bags) combo works best for daily loads vs. a pack. A pack makes the back sweaty, throws off the center of balance, and gets tiring after a while. We’ve effectively used the Sportneer cargo rack and panniers for the past year. I’ve found the panniers carry enough for a daily load (change of clothes, laptop, additional clothing, a bag’s worth of groceries, etc.). Each pannier holds an inexpensive reusable tote bag which facilitates staging the gear/clothing the night before. Additionally, I like a foldable and lightweight pack for when I go into the store or if I need to bungie down something on the rack for more cargo space.
- A lock helps prevent the bike from getting stolen. As my Dad says, “locks keep honest people honest.” Or, perhaps more accurately, avoid crimes of opportunity. I realize cable locks can get snipped with a bolt cutter in ten minutes or less, but we do not leave our bikes out overnight or for extended periods in public areas. A combo lock means one less key to lose or keep track of overall. If we lived and biked in areas with more traffic and, frankly, less expensive bikes, we’d get better and more futzy locks. Our mid-range commuter bikes do not make an effective target when people routinely bike around town and have them at coffee shops with their $2000, $3000, or more bicycles. I’m not exaggerating.
- If you bike at night or in lower light conditions, be sure to have lights. At a minimum, a light in front and back. But more lights “gooder”! In addition to the front and rear lights, I repurposed an older Petzl-Tikka-like USB headlamp for my helmet and purchased simple USB-rechargeable lights for the side of the panniers and the back of the helmet. At $18 for a six-pack, we have enough lights for both of us. We use white lights for the front and red lights for the sides and back. If you do not have an old headlamp, many purpose-made helmet headlamps work well. We do not travel long at night or dusk and are not interested in dynamo lights presently. Charging the USB lights ~once a week serves our needs.
We each purchased a small front cargo bag kit for $32 with a front and rear light, an emergency pump, a lock, a bell, and other accessories. The mirror’s garbage, and I’d ditch it. And I don’t use the water bottle holder.
Otherwise, the other accessories work well for our needs and the price. Depending on the bike tires, you may want to purchase some very inexpensive bike stem adapters to use a standard bike pump. Set it and forget it! The founder of the excellent Moab Community Bicycles gave us this helpful tip.
In addition to the emergency pump, I keep a small tube of “green slime” with me. With the pervasive goat heads in Moab, pre-emptively adding it to the tire helps. And a good idea to keep it in the kit for an emergency. Since our overall traveling distance is relatively small from our home, the emergency pump (which I’ve used) and the green slime work well enough, considering the time-to-repair ratio. If we biked further, we’d want a spare tube, tire lever, and perhaps a more comprehensive tool kit.
The previously mentioned community bike group also offers spot check inspection of bikes or fuller maintenance such as tune-ups once a month for a donation while instructing. Again, we are fortunate to have this great group in town.
Overall, the keys to bike commuting are staging the gear the night before, having it ready and accessible, and ensuring everything is in working order.
No different than how we get on so many outdoor trips every year – Have the gear ready and in its place!
Though we can haul things with our bikes, I found quickly that a children’s bike trailer allows, relatively easily, the transporting of groceries, items from the hardware store, or other items.
We only use it once a week or so for light duty and do not need anything expensive. A $300+ Burley trailer is overkill for our needs. Instead, we went for a lighter-duty knock-off version that works well enough for our needs. It can haul two kids up to 80 lbs. Or a week’s worth of groceries, some items from the nearby hardware store, and some fuel canisters from the outdoor store also nearby.
Clothing for our bike commute gives us challenges in terms of extremes. Though we live in a desert, it’s a high desert with temperatures typically in the mid to high teens for winter and over 100F in the summer.
Various clothing and layers get mixed and matched depending on the conditions. Luckily, we do not have to contend with constant rain or cold and wet conditions that I find among the hardest overall. For cold weather, dressing like ski tours works particularly well with the breezes.
We like visibility and tend to “Dress like a traffic cone.” With many distracted tourists not used to the area, and street-legal UTVs, decking ourselves out in hi-vis colors gives us a measure of safety and lets us stand out.
Here’s what we tend to use. Joan and I dress similarly, with differences noted below.
- Wicking t-shirts are inexpensive and work well. For cooling purposes, Joan likes polycotton blend construction shirts that she’ll wet about halfway from Arches at the local park on the bike path.
- Standard gym shorts do the trick for the bottoms.
- I find long-sleeve hi-vis shirts effective for cooler weather or as a base in cold weather. The inexpensive Hanes shirts work well if a baggy fit. Otherwise, the still-budget-minded A4 shirt gives a more fitted feel.
- We find the MVP of our system is the sub-$30 Outto Windbreaker. Reflective, hi-vis, water resistant, reasonably breathable, handy pockets, and versatile for all four seasons. The sleeves remove so you can turn them into a vest, too.
- The Utah-based Squak Mountain Co grid fleece comes in bright orange, is comfortable, and makes a versatile layer combined with the windbreaker above.
- Some mesh-lined wind pants also make a versatile layer. Much like grid fleece, the mesh allows some breathability and helps trap in warmth. I love them for ski tours, and they work well for biking. Somewhat hard to find but still available on Amazon for under $25.
- Mixing everyday pants, thermal bottoms, or polyester running pants as needed also works.
- For headwear, the Squak’s hood, a runner’s skull cap, a light buff, or a heavier buff also lets us mix and match various levels of coverage on the head, neck, and face.
- The hands, again, mirror my setup for ski tour conditions. The classic liner glove / mid-layer/shell mitten combo serves equally well for biking needs. Joan prefers heavier ski gloves with liners for more dexterity, however.
- For our feet, nothing special. However, I did use some “Bagtex” on a frigid and windy day.
- Finally, I quickly learned that glasses are necessary when going faster consistently or when it is cold and windy vs. stop-and-go traffic in town. Clear safety glasses make a valuable item during low light or night riding.
The main takeaway is always to be mindful of your surroundings, don’t shortcut the traffic laws, and even if you have the right of way, best to confirm visually or with hand motions before proceeding.
The simple pleasure of bike riding from our home for errands, work, or social engagements improved our quality of life this past year. No question why our bike kit is our “Gear Pick of the Year” for 2022.
As long as we call Moab home, I suspect we’ll enjoy biking around town for years to come.