No Regrets: Good, Cheap, Bike Commuting Accessories

I used to buy really low-quality bike accessories for myself. I’d walk into a bike shop and I’d be that tragic combination of ignorance and sticker shock. So I would buy crap.

The tragedy is that back then I had more spending power than I do now — what with a mortgage and all that other grown-up nonsense.

Frank Sinatra - My Way
Regrets, I’ve had a few, but most of all, those cheap-ass headlights…

I still have a pair of cheap, wobbly, Novarra panniers from 1989 that I suspect I will never use again. They now have a garage-sale value of three dollars. (Sucker.)

I still have a small collection of crappy low-power bike headlights that I might hand out to the unlit Ninja wannabes I see all the time. Even though they’re crap, they’re better than nothing.

I still have a flimsy nylon handlebar bag that I bought from an army surplus store. Put anything at all in it and it bounces and dangles like a scrotum on a kangaroo.

Now that I know better, I can upgrade. But I find myself admiring these guys who say things like, “I’ve had these ‘Rollers for ten years and they’re good as new.”

Non, je ne regrette rien - Edith Piaf
Les paniers, sont payé, balayé, oublié… (click for a translation)

If I’d had that kind of foresight, I wouldn’t have to upgrade now — and I would have saved money over time.

Suppose you want to set up a newly-minted bike commuter with some quality equipment — even if that commuter is you. And suppose you were thinking of cost savings over time.

I took a look around the shop today and asked myself, What would I get if I was trying to save money but still get value and quality — and not just get the cheap stuff like I used to get out of ignorance and misguided thrift?

I’ve already done two Holiday Gift Guides for 2012 (the first one, and yet another one), and I have no intention of doing a third.

But this is kind of like a third one, and this is what I came up with:

Racktime Foldit Rear Rack

Racktime Foldit Rear RackThis rear rack is the worst of the best — the entry-level rack from Racktime, which makes some mighty fine racks at higher prices. It’s for running errands around town or for short bike tours. It’s not made of high-tech alloy, but it can carry 55 pounds and only weighs about 1.5 pounds. If or when you upgrade, it’ll be because you’ve become a snob, a weight weenie, or have a carrying need beyond the average bike commuter.

What I actually use: Racktime Addit Rear Rack — just a notch above the Foldit.

Vaude Roadmaster Rear Panniers

Vaude Roadmaster Rear PanniersThis, truthfully, is the product that got me thinking about writing this post. These are very, very, okay panniers. A few good pockets, and a shoulder strap for carrying them around off the bike. They come as a pair. They’re 100 times better than my old Novarras. They include raincovers. And unlike many low-cost panniers, they pop onto your rack in seconds with a QMR attachment system — which is so much nicer than standing on your knees dealing with hooks on the end of bungees.   God, I hate that.
$118.99 Currently on Sale for $84.99

What I actually use: Ortlieb Back Roller Classics Panniers

CygoLite Metro 300 / Hotshot 2W USB Rechargeable Light Kit

CygoLite Metro 300 / Hotshot 2W USB Rechargeable Light KitWith no accessory is my regret deeper than it is with cheap bike lights. If I could have back all the money I’ve spent on lousy lights and batteries, I’m sure I could buy this light set from Cygolite.

What I actually use: Light and Motion Urban 500 headlight, a Light and Motion Vis 180 Tail Light, a Busch & Müller Toplight Flat Senso Tail Light.

CygoLite Rack Mount Bracket for Hotshot

CygoLite Rack Mount Bracket for HotshotIf you are going to mount that Hotshot tail light to a rear rack, you will need this. And with the combo discount you basically get it for free when you buy it at the same time as the light set.

All that comes to just a hair over $200.

Carrying a Laptop with That?

If you want to put a cherry on top of that setup, consider a high-quality sleeve for your/their laptop or tablet. Any of these will fit inside of the Vaude Roadmaster, and they will protect that precious computer from any of the sharp, pointy, scratchy hazards you’ve put inside of the pannier.

Timbuk2 Full-Cycle Envelope iPad Sleeve

Timbuk2 Full-Cycle Envelope iPad Sleeve

For iPads and the like.

Chrome Tactical Laptop Sleeve

Chrome Tactical Laptop Sleeve

For small and medium laptops
Medium $29.99
Large $39.99

Timbuk2 Crater Sleeve

Timbuk2 Crater Sleeve

For small to large laptops.

What I actually use: an Ortlieb Notebook Insert

Disclosure: I picked stuff sold by my employer, because that’s what I know best — not that there’s not other good stuff out there.

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