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.

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.

Here are a couple of our favorite commuter tires.  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.

Mount lights on the 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. Here a couple of our favorites at several price points:

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.  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.

A few good ones:

Throw on a rear rack and panniers.

ortlieb 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.

Check the drivetrain and brakes.

rear bicycle gears

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.

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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2 thoughts on “7 Upgrades to Convert any Bicycle to a Commuter Bike

  1. Great post! It’s so easy to make a big difference in comfort & function with just a bit of money & a few modifications, isn’t it? When I started biking to work about 20 years ago I had no idea how much customization I could do to my bike & I just got a whole new one, rather than modifying the old Raleigh I had.

    I’d probably add one thing to the list: a travel mug holder on the handlebars. So much easier to access than the bottle cages on the downtube & it’s nice to just have a relaxing hot cup of tea while pedalling to work or wherever. 🙂

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