Complete Guide to Bike Commuting

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Strictly speaking, bike commuting is using a bicycle to get to and from work or school on a regular basis. However, we created this guide to apply to other situations when you may be using your bicycle for transportation or other practical use, in place of other conveyances, such as a car, transit, ride share or walking.

Practical biking differs somewhat from recreational, fitness or other non-utilitarian cycling trips. If you use your bike to get to and from work, or for running specific errands, your starting and ending points are strictly defined. You may be able to adjust your route to suit your preferences, but chances are you won’t be able to rely entirely on bike trails, and will have to share the roads with motorized traffic. You probably also have to arrive at a specific time, or fit your errands into an available time window, and you may find yourself biking during the heaviest points of rush hour. Even though it may seem that covering the distance by bike would take longer than driving, you are much more likely to be able to set a consistent pace on a bike, regardless of traffic.

As a commuting or transportation cyclist, you will likely have to leave your bike unattended while you go to work or run errands, you may have to carry a change of clothing, gear needed for work or other items or packages, and —if your bike is your primary mode of travel on any given day— you may have to be prepared to ride in less than ideal weather. And to get you where you need to go at the time you need to be there, your bike needs to be completely reliable.

This guide is divided into four sections, with articles that will address those, and many other finer points of getting started, and getting good at, bicycle commuting and transportation.

Get Ready

  • Get in the right mindset. The benefits of using a bike to get around the city are numerous. It’s sustainable, non-polluting and economical. It will improve your health and fitness,, and help manage stress. It can save you time and improve your quality of life. It can make our neighborhoods more livable, and boost local economies. However, here’s the most important reason to do it.

  • Don’t set yourself up for failure. Some people are good at jumping in with both feet, but for others it may be better to start small and build on early successes. And though some people embrace an entirely car-free lifestyle, biking doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. If you drive or get on the bus today, it doesn't mean you can't bike tomorrow. You are free to use your bike when it makes sense to you.

Get Set

  • The Bike:

  • Other Equipment:

    • Essential commuting gear

    • Everything you need to know about locking your bike

    • Invest in the best puncture-resistant tires you can afford, but do carry a flat repair kit (and know how to use it)

    • Clothing

      • For shorter commutes and jobs with a more relaxed dress code, simply ride in your work clothes.

      • If you must change, carry your spare clothes in a waterproof bag, or keep a set at work if space permits.

      • If you opt to ride through any weather, investigate foul weather jackets and pants. Don’t believe the marketing messages: there’s no such thing as truly waterproof-breathable attire. A good rain suit will keep you from getting soaked through, but on wet days you should have provisions for a dry change of clothes and shoes at your destination.

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Go

Repeat

  • Revisit your goals. They may become more ambitious as biking becomes a greater part of your life, and perhaps even a habit. But if you’re finding it challenging to bike as often as you thought you were going to, cut yourself some slack. Here are some words of wisdom from Grant Peterson, a person who certainly knows a thing or two about bikes:

    • “No ride is too short. Five minutes of riding after a day of sitting or standing is a great way to unwind.”

    • “If you must keep score or set goals, set the requirements so you can win.”

    • “Counting days is best of all because it’s easiest. When you count a day, you check it off whether you ride five minutes of five hours. I rode my bike today! Count things that add up fast, come easy and encourage you.”

  • Have a maintenance plan in place.

  • Keep all your bike gear in one place. It’s easier to choose to bike on a moment’s notice when your bike, helmet, lock, lights and bags are in the same place, and your bike pump is available in case the tires feel a little soft.

  • Be only as pure as you want to be. Some of us whole-heartedly embrace a car-free lifestyle. Many of us don’t. Don’t feel like you’ve given up on biking you spent the past rainy week stuck in traffic in your car. Simply pick up your bike the next time it makes sense to you, start pedaling, and have fun. Follow your own reasons, not those of other people.

  • Be ready to grow. What are you going to try next? A century ride? Bike touring? Bikepacking?

Complete Guide To Buying a New Bicycle

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If you’re in the market for a new bike, the available choices can be quite bewildering. This is especially true if you’re new to biking or have not bought a bike in a long time. The new widely available bike categories are proliferating so fast, we’re running out of ideas for what to call them: Hybrid? City? Urban? Asphalt? Cross? Gravel? Adventure? Whatever you call them, most contemporary bikes offer off-the-shelf utility and a versatile range at a reasonable price.

But the question "what is the best bike?" is still best answered by "it's the one that's best for you." Therefore, this guide is less about giving you advice on which type of bike to buy, and more about arming you with information so that you can make the best choice for you.

What this guide is NOT

This guide is not going to help you if you’re looking for a highly specialized bike to use for any kind of racing, competition or endurance event. Rather it is a no-nonsense compilation of our many years’ experience of helping customers find the right bike for their needs. We hope it will help you too find a lifestyle bike that you may want to use around Chicago for transportation, recreation, adventures or riding with your family.

Should you buy a new bike?

Bicycles are quite durable, so if you already own a bike, you may be trying to decide if you should really be getting a new one, or if it makes sense to keep the old one going a little longer. We have these conversations with customers all the time, and we’ve compiled the salient points into this summary:

Fix the Old or Buy the New?

Lifestyle and use considerations

Try to anticipate where and how often you will be using your bike. Think about how the bike will be used. Some questions that may help you along:

  • Will it be a dedicated urban bike, or will it double your vacation or adventure companion? If it’s a bike that has to serve multiple uses, you probably want something more versatile than a single-speed.

  • Will you ride strictly on pavement, or on unpaved trails as well? Choose a bike with tires that are suitable for a variety of surfaces.

  • Will you wear a skirt or carry children? You may consider a step-though frame that won’t force you do swing your leg over the bike to get on and off.

  • Do you plan to ride in inclement weather, or need to wear professional clothes? Consider a bike with internal gears, a chainguard, and fenders.

  • Will you have to store your bike in a small space or carry it up the stairs? Will you be combining biking with public transit? A folding bike can work very well in these situations.

Types of Bikes

Below we highlight various types of popular bikes with some insight into their best intended use. But don’t get too bogged down with bike categories. These days there is a lot of crossover between different types of bikes, and —with few exceptions— most bikes adapt very well to a variety of uses. Don't be too concerned about the brand either. Within a given price range, most manufacturers of mainstream lifestyle bikes offer comparable value, as far as the quality of the frame and components (This may not apply to specialty manufacturers of higher level, and custom bikes, but that’s not what this guide is about.)

Comfort & Fit

We’ve put together a common sense Guide to Bicycle Fit to help you understand what to look for when test-riding new bikes, and request modifications on a bike you may want to purchase.

How much will it cost?

In an era when most of our purchases are either completely disposable, or expected to become obsolete after a season of use, a quality bicycle is remarkable for its longevity. We’ve talked a lot about the relationship between bicycle price and bicycle value, and we hope these articles will give you some perspective on bike pricing, and how much you should reasonably expect to spend on a bicycle you may enjoy for decades to come.

Deciding to buy

We believe that a successful bicycle purchase is not the end, but the beginning of a relationship.

Complete Guide To Bicycle Maintenance

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There’s something solid and reassuring about the phrase “bicycle maintenance”. It maybe because, unlike most things in our increasingly digital world, bicycles remain stubbornly analog. You don’t need an engineering degree; with a little time, effort and learning, almost anyone can learn to do basic care on their bicycle regularly and well.

And then, there are a few things that are better left to a pro, with the right tools, know-how, and time to do the job well.

We’ve compiled this handy guide to help you keep track of timely maintenance tasks, get the most out of bringing your bike to a shop for repairs, and show you some simple yet vital repairs you can do at home to keep your bike running smoothly throughout the year.

Timing of recommended bicycle maintenance services:
Articles in this section will help you determine the timeframe for different types of regular bike maintenance services. Keep in mind that these are suggested intervals based on the average rider. If you’re a daily commuter, or use your bike heavily for other reasons, you’ll need to adjust the frequency or repairs to match your needs.

Hire a Pro
There are situations when it’s best to put yourself and your bike in the hands of a competent mechanic. Below are descriptions of certain services commonly requested (but often misunderstood), and suggestions for finding an great mechanic you can trust.

DIY
Here is an outline of basic bike maintenance you can do on your own to address common issues that can come up regularly, and to help you determine when it might be time to bring your bike into the shop for repairs.

5 Questions You Must Ask Before Getting a Bicycle Tune-Up

Most conversations about bicycle tune-up start with: “How much does it cost”? While this seems like a valid question, it’s actually completely meaningless until you’ve established what is included in the cost. And that’s difficult to do, because there’s no standardization whatsoever in tune-up offerings among different bicycle repair shops.

This may be a good place to emphasize that, though some still consider a bicycle to be essentially a “toy”, it is in fact a vehicle capable of carrying you with considerable speed. Therefore, it is crucial for your safety that all of its systems are working properly, can hold up to the forces they will be subjected to, and that the whole thing can stop securely, dependably and safely.

A $150 tune-up turns a beloved old bike into a dependable vehicle.

A $150 tune-up turns a beloved old bike into a dependable vehicle.

A $300 overhaul breathes new life into a commuter bike.

A $300 overhaul breathes new life into a commuter bike.

A $700 service before a 5000 mile trek through SE Asia.

A $700 service before a 5000 mile trek through SE Asia.

A $1600 restoration of a prized vintage Schwinn.

A $1600 restoration of a prized vintage Schwinn.

So before you consider the price tag of the bicycle tune-up, here are some questions you should be asking:

  1. What is included in the bicycle tune-up?
    It can be shocking to hear that a bike tune-up costs upwards of $150, especially if someone down the street is offering it for $29.99. But what one shop may call an “$29.99 Tune-Up” to get you in the door, another shop may literally offer for free as a complimentary “Air & Oil Service”. Shops may offer different tiers of tune-ups, so when you’re comparison-shopping, make sure you’re comparing services that are really comparable. At Cosmic Bikes, our tune-up prices range from $80 to $220 (here’s a link to the full menu). The specific tune-up we recommend is not based on personal preference (ours or yours), but rather dictated by the condition of the bike when it is brought to us for service. For instance, our Basic Tune-Up may not adequately address the needs of a bike that’s been ridden extensively, left outdoors, or neglected for several seasons, and offering anything other than the top-level service will not result in a safely operating vehicle, or your satisfaction.

  2. Will I know the complete cost of the repair in advance?
    Tune-up prices usually reflect only the cost of the labor. More often than not, doing a tune-up requires replacing worn or damaged parts, and these can easily add up to as much, or even more, than the tune-up labor itself. A professional bicycle repair shop should be able to provide you with a complete itemized quote based on a physical inspection of your bike before you authorize any repairs.
    If the quote exceeds your budget or expectations, it may be possible to scale back from the optimal level or service. However, keep in mind that bicycle parts work together in concert, and holding off on replacing certain parts may affect the performance of others. For example, replacing a worn chain without replacing the gear cluster may result in gears skipping; adjusting rim brakes is impossible without truing the wheels, etc.
    Of course, there are always unforeseen circumstances, or problems that emerge only after the mechanic has gotten into a project. In such cases, you should expect to be notified of any additional charges needed to complete the repair.

  3. What can I expect after the tune-up is completed?
    If you agreed to a level of service appropriate to the condition of your bicycle, you should expect it to function like new, or better. You should also expect to need some additional adjustments after a comprehensive tune-up, especially if many parts have been replaced. Any full-service tune-up should include a guarantee period during which such corrections or adjustments related to the original service can be performed free of charge.

  4. Can the repair be tailored to my specific needs?
    A tune-up can be a terrific opportunity to upgrade components on your bike, or to modify its fit or functionality to your current needs. For example, at Cosmic Bikes, our tune-ups include the labor on installation of a broad range of accessories (eg. racks, fenders, cycle computers, etc) or components to improve your comfort on a bike (eg. saddles, handlebars and grips). A mechanic should ask whether the bike is serving your current needs and comfort requirements. Attending to these modifications during a tune-up can save you very significant labor dollars.

  5. What is the level of experience of the person who’ll be repairing my bike?
    At Cosmic Bikes, we do not hire home mechanics without extensive training first in bicycle assembly, and then less complex repairs, before graduating them to complete tune-ups. While anyone can grasp the basics of bicycle repair, true expertise in this field, as in any highly specialized trade, comes only through years of work and hands-on experience. An experienced professional bicycle technician should be able to hear your concerns, recommend the most complete solution based on the consultation with you, and the physical inspection of the bike, and then perform the work with expertise and attention to detail. Whether the person performing the service is an experienced veteran or a properly trained younger mechanic, the completed repair should be double checked by a second mechanic, and signed off by a senior mechanic who oversees the service department.

Shop Talk Workshops

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Shop Talk is an informal monthly series hosted by Cosmic Bikes at our NW Side Chicago location, during which we’ll go into a selected topic at some depth in a relaxed, social atmosphere. It’s a great way to hang out with other people who share your interests, or want to learn about certain aspects of biking, in a laid-back setting, where the aim is to share information and not sell you stuff.

Below is a preliminary schedule of Shop Talk topics for the year, although many details are yet to be ironed out. Shop Talk will usually take place on the first or second Friday of the month, except May, when we’re pulling out all the stops. May is our aniversary month (we’ll be 3 this year!!), and we will do a Shop Talk EVERY WEEK.

Shop Talks will be held on Fridays from 6pm to 8:30pm. Light noshes and beverages will be on hand, but please feel free to BYOB.

So, here’s what we have planned:

  • March 8: WOMEN’S CYCLING WORKSHOP., in which a panel of women cyclists will lead a discussion on a variety of issues such as bike fit, safety, motivation, training and more. Details and FREE registration here.

  • April 5: CRAFT BUILDS: SETTING UP A BIKE FROM THE FRAME UP, in which we’ll explore the intricacies of a personalized bike build.

  • May SHOP TALK BONANZA

    • May 3: BICYCLE FIT & SELECTION

    • May 10: GETTING STARTED WITH URBAN BIKE COMMUTING

    • May 17: TOOLS—SETTING UP YOUR HOME REPAIR STAND OR TOOL BAG

    • May 24: LIVE LARGE PACK SMALL—ALL ABOUT BROMPTONS AND COMPACT ADVENTURES

    • May 31: BIKE TOURING ESSENTIALS

  • June 7: LOCAL BIKING ADVENTURES

  • July 5: OUTDOOR COOKING & EQUIPMENT (outdoor cookout included!!)

  • August 9: LAZY SUMMER MOVIE & BEER

  • September 13: BIKE SECURITY

  • October 10: TRANSITIONING TO AN INDOOR TRAINER

  • November 8: WINTER BIKING

  • December 13: SPECIAL GUEST TBA

We’re looking forward to these evening, and hope you will come out and join us. And if you have ideas about topics, or questions you’d like to see answered, please let us know.

Essential Brompton Buying Guide

A Brompton folding bike is one of the most amazing personal transportation tools ever invented. It’s equally useful in your daily multi-modal commute in Chicago, or any large city, international air travel, and even self-supported, pedal-powered globetrotting.

Although the folding mechanism of each Brompton is identical, the bikes are fully customizable and highly adaptable to a variety of applications, and are designed to integrate seamlessly with diverse lifestyles. You can personalize everything on a Brompton from handlebars, gearing, cargo carrying, lighting, tires, to colors, accessories and extras. Best of all, these options —like the bikes themselves— are well and thoughtfully designed to complement your Brompton experience.

However, it can be a little overwhelming to make sense of all the choices. Our staff at Cosmic Bikes have many years’ experience helping customers build and modify their Brompton bikes, and we’ve put together what we think is a pretty comprehensive guide to help you make the right selection. Above all, we encourage you to stop in and test-ride one of our demo models for first-hand experience. We think you’ll be hooked!

Cosmic Bikes Essential Brompton Buying Guide

NEED A REASON?

NEED A REASON?

SADDLES, TIRES & LIGHTING

SADDLES, TIRES & LIGHTING

HANDLEBARS

HANDLEBARS

COLORS & LUGGAGE

COLORS & LUGGAGE

GEARING OPTIONS

GEARING OPTIONS

COMING SOON!

COMING SOON!

FENDERS & RACK

FENDERS & RACK

COMING SOON!

COMING SOON!

Making the Brompton Your Own: Colors, Luggage & Extras

You’ve chosen your Brompton essentials for optimum functioning and fit. Now comes the fun part.

Colors

For many people, color selection is the most delightful (and frustrating!) aspect of building a custom Brompton. So many choices!

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Each year, Brompton offers a few premium finishes. The ever-popular trademark Raw Lacquer is a clear-coat over the metal frame, which shows off the the quality and craftsmanship of the hand-built frame. Each bike made with the Raw Lacquer finish has a unique appearance due to variations in the surface coloration of the metalwork and brazing. It doesn’t aim to look “flawless”, aiming instead for a more industrial finish. The Lacquer finish uses the same powder coating process as the other frame color options (with the plastic powder having no pigment), and it gives identical durability and protection from corrosion. The steel frame parts on all Brompton bicycles will age and a patina will form over time; the purpose of the raw lacquer finish is to allow the natural aging and altering of the bicycles appearance to be visible, and this will happen differently for every example. The phosphate treatment the Brompton steel undergoes prevents any cosmetic corrosion from becoming structural. For 2019, Brompton has added two gorgeous premium color options: Flame Lacquer, which is a clear-coat with a vivid, glossy copper tone, and Purple Metallic with a three-dimensional effect which seems to shift between purple, blue and even greenish hues depending on the light.

Several powder-coat colors are included as standard options without an additional charge. For 2019, these are Papyrus White, Hot Pink, Red, Racing Green, Lime Green, Lagoon Blue, Tempest Blue and Black. To make choosing even more fun, the standard colors can be combined for a two-tone effect. You can select one standard color for the main frame of the bike, and a contrasting or complementary color for the extremities (rear triangle, fork and steering column). If you are purchasing a Superlight Brompton, you will choose a single color for the main frame and steering column, with titanium extremities.

Luggage

Brompton Carrier Block with trigger release

Brompton Carrier Block with trigger release

On a Brompton, the preferred way to carry luggage is up front. All of the bikes we stock come with the optional front carrier block attached to the head tube. This carrier block can be added to any Brompton. It will allow you to carry any of the Brompton bags, and to switch easily between them, literally with a push of a button. You can choose from a wide selection of bags depending on your needs:

  • Smaller bags: waterproof Mini O-Bag, Tote Bag, Shoulder Bag, and adjustable Roll-Top Bag. These are excellent options for carrying light-weight essentials.

  • Office bags: waterproof O-Bag, S-bag with replaceable front flap, and C-Bag (not suitable for S-type handlebar). These briefcase-style bags have laptop sleeves and interior organizers, and are large enough to accommodate files, spare clothing, lunch, etc. They also come with exterior pockets that face the rider for easy access to a water bottle and other essential items.

  • The T-Bag stands alone as the largest bag that can be used for touring or carrying bigger loads. It has an adjustable roll-top closure, and those same rear-facing exterior pockets (not suitable for S-type handlebar).

  • Brompton basket is an open-top cordura bag designed for grocery shopping.

Note that the bags are mounted to the frame of the bike rather than the steering column, therefore the don’t affect the steering or balance of the bike on turns. Many of the non-waterproof bags include a high-visibility rain cover tucked into a concealed pocket.

All the bags are attractive and well-designed, and function equally well on and off the bike as lifestyle bags. With the exception of the Ortlieb-made O-bags, the Brompton bags include a removable aluminum frame, which allows each bag to attach to the mounting block and gives the bag rigidity. Although removing the frame with each use may not be practical, it is a nice option if you ever plan to use the bag off the bike for an extended period, and prefer a soft-sided shoulder bag. The bag frames come in a few sizes, and may be purchased separately. We find that some customers use that option to create their own luggage by incorporating the frame into duffels, crates or even pet carriers.

Fine-Tuning Your Custom Brompton: Saddle, Tires & Lighting

After you’ve chosen you preferred handlebar, gearing and rack/fender options, there are more decisions to be made:

  • Select your saddle and seat post height and saddle for best fit and comfort

  • Choose tires and lighting for the desired performance and functionality

SADDLE

Few things are as personal as the choice of saddle on a bicycle. Brompton offers a choice of two widths on their standard saddle: 147mm and 167mm. The wider option will work well for both men and women with the H-hadlebar option, where most of the rider’s weight is distributed to the sit-bones. Women in general may find a more favorable fit with the wider saddle, although many men do as well. With the S-handlebar, most men would likely find the narrower saddle more appropriate.

Fortunately, Brompton offers an upgrade to the Brooks B17 Special saddle, which is a gorgeous piece of craftsmanship in Antique Brown leather with copper finished rails and rivets. The same saddle is offered in men’s and women’s version, and it will conform to your unique contours with use over time, just like a pair of leather boots. It is a worthwhile and highly recommended upgrade.

A Brompton will also easily accept any other saddle you may have in mind.

Seatpost height

  1. Standard seat post will suit riders with an inseam up to 32-33”.

  2. Extended seat post is two inches longer and will accommodate inseams from 33-35”. However, the the folded configuration, this seat post will protrude two inches beyond the frame. This is fine for daily commuting and storing the bike, but it does not work well for packing the Brompton in a travel case. If you require that functionality, and have a long inseam, choose the next option.

  3. Telescopic seat post will also accommodate inseams up to 35”, but this $60 upgrade gives you the ability to completely collapse the telescoping seat post extension into the main tube of the seat post, making the bike as packable as the standard one.

Tires

Our preferred choice, and the one we order for all of our stock bikes, is the $35 Schwalbe Marathon upgrade for its time-tested durability and puncture resistance. Schwalbe Kojaks are a lightweight option that some Brompton owners prefer who are accustomed to more of a road-bike feel. The Kojaks are lighter and work well on superlight bikes if you want to save additional weight.

The standard used by Brompton in the Schwalbe Marathon Racer, which is a fine compromise, and does not add extra cost.

Although Brompton does not offer this option, we do stock Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded tires at Cosmic Bikes for customers who intend to use the bike in all conditions throughout Chicago winter.

Lighting

You can purchase a Brompton with just a reflector set, and use lights you already own or purchase a set you like. Any light set will mount on a Brompton as on any other bike. However, you may find that you have to remove the lights or move them out of the way when the bike is being folded.

If you prefer more streamlined lights, Brompton offers two options:

  • A USB rechargeable battery set, consisting of a Cateye 400 lumen front LED headlight and a rear blinker. These differ from after-market lights in that they come with mounting brackets custom-made for the Brompton, and do not interfere with the folding functionality of the bike. They can easily be removed when not needed, and can be conveniently charged wherever you happen to be.

  • Integrated front and rear lights powered by Shutter Precision Dynamo Hub. This is a fantastic option for commuters, which eliminates the problem of forgetting your lights at home or running out of charge. The LED lamps go on when you start pedaling, and feature a small capacitor that allows the lights to stay on when you pull up to a red light, so that you are always visible on your Brompton.