7 Upgrades to Convert Any Bicycle To A Commuter Bike

The best commuter bike is often the bike you already have. Maybe it’s an old mountain bike with flat tires sitting in the back of the garage. Or it might be a road bike that gets more use around town than it does on the race course.

Whatever kind of bike it is, you can turn into an awesome commuter bike with a few, or all 7, of our suggested upgrades.

commuter bike upgrades

Add some new tires.

The best bang for your bike is generally a new pair of tires. The best commuter tires are sturdier than regular road-bike tires and slicker than mountain bike tires. They should be able to roll fast on pavement and handle a little dirt or gravel in case you want to incorporate a rail-trail or canal path to your commute.

Before buying, make sure to know what diameter your wheels are (26″, 700cc, etc) and buy tires that match that wheel size. 

If you’re not sure, most wheels will have the diameter listed on the rim, or your current tires might have the size listed (i.e. 26×2.0, 700cx35).  The first number refers to the wheel diameter and the second number refers to the width of the tire.

townie go tires

Mount lights front and rear.

Whether or not you plan on riding in the dark, you should add some commuter lights to your bike. Eventually, the day will come where you end up staying later at work than intended or you’ll spend more time than you planned at happy hour.

Even if you are riding around sunrise or sunset, lights can help in low-light conditions. You want both a bright, front headlight and a bright, flashing rear light.

The best commuter lights are BRIGHT, affordable, and have long battery life.

thousand head light

Screw on some fenders.

If you live somewhere with rainy (or snowy) conditions, fenders are a must. Also known as “mudguards”, they will help keep you from getting wet and muddy on your commute and make things much more enjoyable.

If your bike has eyelets on the frame, you can install sturdy, traditional-style full fenders.  These will provide the most protection and coverage but are a little heavier and more expensive. 

rear-rack-and-fender

For bikes without eyelets, you can use clip-on fenders.  These won’t keep you quite as clean and dry but are better than nothing.  They’re also cheap, lightweight, and can be added in a jiffy.

Throw on a rear rack and panniers.

Most newbie commuters wear a backpack, which is fine. But when your shoulders start to ache, you’re sick of having a sweaty back, or you want to carry bigger, heavier loads, switch to a rear rack and panniers (or trunk bag) instead. Good panniers are waterproof and can carry everything you might need for your work day: a laptop, spare clothes, and even a gallon of milk on the way home.

Again, the type of rack you can install is largely dependent on whether or not your bicycle frame has eyelets.  If it does, you can buy a traditional frame-mounted rack and install it to the eyelets.  If not, you’ll need a rack that clamps onto your seatpost.

bike with panniers

Check the drivetrain and brakes.

If your bike has been sitting in the garage for a while, make sure to check both the drivetrain and brakes. (If you don’t know how to do that, take it to the shop or watch some YouTube videos). Riding long distances to work and thru traffic will be both safer and more enjoyable if your bike is in good working order.

rear bicycle gears

Have more fun with a bell.

A bell not only looks cute and provides a little fun, it’s also super helpful if you are riding in congested areas such as on bike paths. Ring your bell to let pedestrians and slower riders know that you want to pass on the left.

Upgrade your saddle.

7 saddles

If your saddle (bike seat) isn’t comfortable, this should be one of the first things to be replaced. You’d be amazed how much more enjoyable your work commute is if you saddle fits YOU. Either head to a good shop that can let you test some out, or pick one off our list of our favorite women’s saddles.

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About The Author

kristen bonkoski

Kristen Bonkoski is the founder and owner of Femme Cyclist.

An avid cyclist for a few decades now, she took to cycling during her late teen years — a time when she needed something to help boost her self-esteem and confidence.

Mission accomplished, the sport has become an important part of her life.  Kristen’s favorite disciplines are mountain biking and bike commuting, although you can also find her cranking out a century on her road bike and touring with her husband and son.  If it has to do with two wheels, she enjoys doing it.

Kristen is a certified USA Cycling coach, and she runs Rascal Rides, a website about biking with kids.

IG: @femme_cyclist

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