Part 3: Bike Modifications

In the second to last instalment of our commuter advice blog we talk to havebike MD Nick Brown about what modifications he makes to his bike for commuting.

QUESTION: Hi Nick. Last time we talked about the different types of bikes you have commuted on. We’re keen to know accessories you bought for your bike(s) to make them more commuter friendly.

ANSWER: Morning Jon. I’m lucky to have been able to try out so many different types of bikes – the benefits of working in the bike industry! However, I appreciate our fans don’t always have the storage space or the cash to have multiple bikes. In fact, the first bike I commuted on was a full suspension mountain bike that I used for everything. With a few simple modifications you can make any bike commuter friendly:

Tyres: my first choice of modification, especially if you have a mountain bike with off road (knobbly) tyres. Invest in a good pair of commuter/road specific tread tyre. They can be inflated to a higher pressure and with a tread more specific to riding on tarmac, the tyres will roll much quicker. This means you’ll use less energy and will have a smoother ride into work.

When choosing your tyres also look for other features such as built in puncture protection and a high visibility strip. We recommend the Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tyre. We fit these to our emergency service clients’ bikes – the London Metropolitan Police, London Ambulance Service, London Fire Brigade and City of London Police all use them. You can’t get much better recommendation than that – let us know if you want us to fit a set on your next service!

QUESTION: We’ve heard about solid tyres which are completely puncture proof. Do you fit those?

ANSWER: We do see some benefits of solid tyres. One of our clients is Mobike, who are the world’s largest hire bike fleet operator. They fit solid tyres to their bikes so that from a maintenance perspective, we never have to worry about punctures.

There are downsides to solid tyres. They don’t offer the same level of grip or comfort as an air filled tyre. More significantly from a maintenance perspective, if you damage your wheel, for example break a spoke or buckle your wheel, you need to cut the solid tyre off the rim, meaning you will need to buy a new tyre.

Mudguards: I admit, from a fashion over function perspective, mudguards can spoil the clean lines of a bike. However, when cycling on wet roads, I am happy to have mudguards on my bike; riding home in cold weather with a wet rear end isn’t the greatest.

Full length mudguards will give you the best protection from the elements. They can be time consuming to fit and you may find that certain brands are not compatible with your bike. It’s best to check with your bike mechanic which brands will be best for you.

We offer free fitting on mudguards so don’t be afraid to ask our advice!

If you are fashion conscious you can always fit something like the ‘ass saver’ and enduro guard. Whilst very simple to fit and pretty cool, they only give limited protection against the elements.

There are also other clip on style mudguards such as the ‘Crud catcher style’. Again these are very simple to fit, however, depending on your bike, you may have issues fitting the front one due to the way gear cables are routed – the mudguard will interfere with your gears.

Pannier rack (and bag): We fit these as standard to our emergency services customers’ bikes. The reason being that they have to carry a lot of kit and equipment; our ambulance service clients’ pannier bags can weight around 30-50kg – they carry oxygen tanks and defibrillators!

It all depends on how much ‘kit’ you need to carry and whether prefer the comfort of not having to carry a rucksack on your back. For me personally, I have always used a large rucksack or messenger bag.

Kickstand: These don’t come as standard on bikes and again, like mudguards, people tend to see them as an ‘uncool’ addition to a bike. However, they are so practical. You don’t need to find somewhere to lean your bike against. We’ve learnt from working with the emergency services that rear mounted kickstands are far more stable than centre mounted kickstands, especially if you carry any weight on your bike.

Lights: Bike lights have progressed significantly since I started riding. Who can remember the Ever Ready lights whose batteries died after two trips? These days you can get USB chargeable batteries that are super bright and can last for a full week of commuting before you need to recharge them.

When it comes to bikes lights, I like to have at least two front and two rear lights on my bike, that way, I know I’m going to be very visible in the dark. It also means if one of the lights fails, I have a back up to get me home. I use the excellent USE Exposure Trace & Trace R. They may look small but they are really bright. I mix these with the Lezyne Zecto light set which act as my back up light set. Both light sets are USB rechargeable so I don’t need to buy batteries.

Top tip: it’s that time of year that the nights are getting darker. You should start thinking about fitting your lights. As well as being an important safety feature, if you are stopped by the police you can be issued with an on the spot fine for riding without lights at night!

Bell: By law, when a bike shop sells you a bike, they must supply a bell. These tend to be very cheap and not very durable so it’s best to invest in a decent bell – they’re not that expensive – about £5 -£10. They’re a great (and polite) way to warn pedestrians of your presence – especially when you’re in the cycle lane cycling inside a line of stationary traffic where pedestrians tend to walk (jump) out without looking.

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