Beginner Bike Commuting Gear Essentials for Women

I recently started bike commuting a few days a week, especially since the weather has become nicer. I bike about five miles each way and I love it. Bike commuting is a nice supplement to my half marathon training on rest days and enables me to further develop my cardio endurance. Plus, I don't have to battle traffic and I get my blood pumping in the morning, and it only adds about 10-15 minutes to my commute.

However, there's one thing I've noticed during my morning and evening bike commutes: There are hardly any women bike commuters. I'm not sure why this is the case, but if you're a woman and live within biking distance to your job, I would highly suggest trying out a few days of bike commuting. (Pro Tip: If you live in the D.C.-metro area, May 19 is the best day to try out your first bike commute because it's Bike to Work Day!)

Bike Commuting Gear Essentials

If you're interested in bike commuting, it's helpful to have the right gear. Below is my list of my 7 beginner bike commuting gear essentials for women:

1. A Good Bike: I know this is obvious, but I wanted to provide my two cents about choosing the right bike. For bike commuting, your options are a road bike, a hybrid bike or a cruiser of some sort. After a lot of researching, I chose a hybrid bike with hydraulic disk brakes (which handle wet pavement and quick stops better). I chose a hybrid bike because I can sit upright (versus leaning forward on a road bike), while still benefiting from different gears so I can adjust my speed and effort on hills and flat terrain as needed. Because I don't plan on racing my bike and I am using my bike primarily for commuting and leisurely riding on the weekends, a hybrid bike works great for me. I specifically purchased the REI Co-op Cycles CTY 2.1 Step-Thru Women's Bike. I love the REI Co-op cycle brand, which is a mid-range priced bike and less likely to be stolen than a more expensive bike.

If you are bike commuting a shorter distance (between 5 - 10 miles each way) and not planning on becoming a hardcore cyclist, a hybrid bike will work well. Besides the REI Co-op brand, I would recommend the Diamondback Hanjenn Metro or the Cannondale Quick 3 Disc. If you are commuting more than 10 miles each way, I would store clothes and makeup at work and ride a road bike because they are faster than hybrid bikes. Of course, purchasing a used or cheaper bike is always an option, just make sure to take a test ride and get a tuneup.

2. A Good Backpack or Pannier: If you're like me and need to transport clothes, makeup and freshen-up supplies, a good backpack is essential to a successful and comfortable bike commute. After trying on several backpacks, I chose the Osprey Radial 26 in a small. This backpack is big enough to fit all of my stuff, comes with a built-in rain cover and doesn't move around when I ride my bike. I would actually recommend any of the Osprey cycling backpacks because they are really well-designed for comfortable cycling. If you don't want to carry a pack on your back, you can use a pannier which is a saddle bag that attaches to a rear bike rack, is another good option.

3. A Solid Lock and Chain: Unless you want to kiss your bike goodbye, invest in a heavy-duty lock and chain. I love Kryptonite locks because they ares some of the toughest locks around and you get theft reimbursement if you purchase their maximum security locks. My security combo is the Kryptonite New York Standard Lock and the KryptoFlex 410 Double Loop Cable. Also, please watch a few tutorials about how to properly lock up your bike.

4. Proper Clothing: A lot of the bike commuters I encounter are decked out in full cyclist uniforms, but I'm here to tell you I'm completely not one of those people. I'll wear padded cycling shorts sometimes, but I primarily just wear workout clothes. Typically, I'll wear either running shorts or leggings, a sport bra, a t-shirt/tank or long sleeve shirt depending upon the weather and Nike Free Flynits, which are my favorite shoes for bike commuting because my feet never slip off the pedals. I also have a wind-resistant rain jacket from REI and biking gloves if it gets cold.

5. A Helmet: This is another no-brainer, but it's important to always wear a helmet. I chose a basic Giro helmet with MIPS, which is an additional protective layer within the helmet in case of a bad spill. I would recommend purchasing a helmet with MIPS no matter what because it's worth the extra cost to protect your head in the case of an accident.

6. Reflective Gear: It's important to be seen, especially at night. I personally don't commute when it's dark outside, but if you are commuting when it's dark I would invest in a really bright front bike light, a rear bike light, a reflective vest and wheel lights. You can never be too visible when biking at night, so make sure you look like a rolling light show when you're biking in the dark.

7. Repair Tools: In the event that you get a flat, it's good to have the right tools to fix your bike so you can make it home. I would recommend carrying a small bike pump, bike tire tubes, a bike multi-tool, tire levers and a patch kit.

Additional Bike Commuting Tips for Women

As women, we need to be a little more aware when we're bike commuting alone because that's just the world we live in. I haven't had any trouble thus far, but I'm always prepared. Here are some additional tips for female bike commuters (and really any bike commuter):

  • Do not wear headphones: At least not in both ears, and it's better just to ditch them completely. This applies to biking alone and running alone. It's important to be fully aware of your surroundings, which include cars, other cyclists and shady characters.
  • Pass on the left: As a bike commuter, your new favorite phrase will become "on your left!" unless you have a bike bell. Always pass walkers, runners and other bikers on the left and let them know in advance that you're passing them.
  • Know your arm signals: I know biking etiquette says that you need to make an upside down "L" with your arm when you're turning right, but most cars don't know biker arm signal rules so just stick out your arm whichever direction you're turning. Also, when I'm rolling up to a stop sign or stop light on a road where cars are traveling, I'll usually just stick my arm straight up so cars see me stopping. 
  • Tell people where you're going: I always let my husband know the route I'm taking to work when I'm leaving for my commute, when I arrive at my office, when I leave my office and when I get home. He didn't ask me to do this, I just do it for my own personal safety. If you're single, I would recommend letting a friend or roommate know your bike commute route and the times you're biking.
  • Carry protection: I carry mace with me, which is a good way to fend off bad people and dogs (but make sure that you know how to properly use it). Another biker also mentioned keeping your U-lock handy, which is a great defense weapon and is perfect if mace is not legal to carry in your area.
  • Don't be afraid: Initially, I was kind of freaked out to bike commute into work. However, after a few months I'm so happy I pushed past my fear and became a bike commuter. I have to ride on one scary road, but typically cars are courteous and my commute is really enjoyable.

Have any other bike commuting tips for lady riders? Include them in the comments below!