Every cyclist loves gear. Some indulge themselves more than others, but deep down inside, we all get giddy over new goods.
But when it’s gift-giving time, where do you begin?
I’m going to share some general tips and caveats you might not have thought of, followed by six gifts that most of my fellow commuters should appreciate…and two that may not work out as well as you’d hope.
Here’s how to choose a gift for a bike commuter
As a gift, most bike commuters appreciate upgraded versions to apparel or accessories they already use. If in doubt, a gift certificate to their favorite bike shop is always a good idea. Books and lifestyle items are also fun to get, but it’s hard for non-cyclists to know which ones are relevant.
Avoid anything that requires non-obvious sizing (like a saddle) or that serves an extremely limited purpose (like tools) unless they’ve requested something specific.
Keep in mind that “bike commuting” entails everything from sprinting to work in Lycra on a road racing bike, to cruising in business-casual attire on a Dutch bike. Shopping is easier when you know where the recipient falls on that spectrum, since that’s a huge range of people, gear, and tastes.
And, of course, it’s easier yet if you can get them to drop some hints.
But if not, then below are some things that most bike commuters should find useful, thoughtful, clever, or all the above.
1. Showers Pass Crosspoint Knit Waterproof Gloves ($45)
The waterproof-versus-comfortable conundrum is a continual struggle. While the focus is usually on rain jackets, it’s also important to find gloves that block the elements without bulky fabric that makes it hard to feel the handlebars and brakes.
Enter the Crosspoint gloves from rainwear stalwart Showers Pass.
With a soft, knit synthetic fabric on both sides of a stretchy, waterproof membrane, they look just like casual gloves, perform like high-end rain gear, and are supremely comfortable to wear both on and off the bike.
And this is one product I can wholeheartedly recommend from personal use. Mine are in fantastic shape even after two years of nearly constant use (hey, it’s Seattle!). They’re ideal for temperatures around the low 40s and up, so most of us still need heavier gloves for midwinter commutes.
They’ll probably like it if: They ride in the rain and have complained about bulky or hot gloves. These gloves are useful for riding any type of bike.
2. Cleverhood Classic Rain Cape ($249)
Cycling ponchos (a.k.a. rain capes) are the best rainwear for most urban commuters. They’re not ideal for long exposure to strong winds, but in normal rainy weather, they’re supremely breezy yet protective.
And if you’re shopping for someone who’s already on the rain cape bandwagon, or at least open to trying, then the Cleverhood Classic line is the best around.
Behind the hefty price tag is a made-in-the-USA garment with incredible attention to detail. Little things like wind tabs (to cinch in the sides) and thoughtfully stretchy thumb loops set it apart from cheaper alternatives. But the coolest feature by far is the woven-in reflective threading that stands out on those low-visibility nights.
They’ll probably like it if: They usually commute in casual clothes, and are generally the sort who values practicality over speed on the bike. The fit is simple and unisex, with just three self-explanatory sizes.
3. Jogalite Reflective Triangle (check price)
Inexpensive safety accessories aren’t glamorous gifts for momentous occasions.
But they’re cheap insurance.
And among them all, the classic Jogalite reflective triangle has got to be the most effective and versatile. I’m continually amazed that all bike commuters don’t use one!
Originally made for joggers, as its name suggests, the triangle has a waist strap (which can also loop through saddle rails) to add high-viz colors by day and serious reflectivity by night.
We’d all rather receive a gift of city-wide Dutch-style bike lanes that render safety accessories moot…but this isn’t a bad back-up plan.
They’ll probably like it if: They have low expectations. Just kidding…kind of. Let’s be frank: a reflective triangle isn’t the height of novel, artisanal design for a momentous occasion. But for someone who commutes in high-visibility clothing yet hasn’t strapped one of these on their bike, they might find it a thoughtful stocking stuffer.
4. Crane E-Ne Bell (check price)
Artisanal Japanese bicycle bells?
I’ll grant that a metal dome with a little spring-loaded striker thingy doesn’t sound worthy of big bucks. But to anyone who wants to alert pedestrians (and other cyclists) without frightening them, a quality bell makes all the difference.
Unlike the cheap-o department-store bells, this one uses a thick, solid brass sheet (or aluminum for certain colors) for resonance and clarity.
The sound is a clear, pleasant, and sustained. It leans more “beg your pardon” than “OUTTA MY WAY!” which is just the ticket for a commute that mingles with pedestrians.
Larger and louder bells are available, but the E-Ne’s compact size makes it easy to mount on any handlebars, with any brake level configuration, amid any other accessories.
And it just plain looks nice.
They’ll probably like it if: They have a dinky, plasticky bell you can barely hear, or their bell looks just plain bad on an otherwise stylish bike.
5. Bike Snob by Eben Weiss (check price)
It’s impossible to spend time on a bicycle without developing an opinion or two about how our world works—or ought to.
From the blissful to the infuriating, and the utilitarian to the competitive, Eben Weiss (a.k.a. BikeSnobNYC) writes about cycling in a way that can’t not resonate with you.
It’s a fun, funny, and surprisingly thought-provoking read for newbie and lifelong bike commuters alike.
They’ll probably like it if: They don’t take themselves—or their cycling hobby—too seriously. Weiss is good-natured but irreverent toward the carbon fiber-and-spandex crowd (among others), so someone who falls in that category might find his writing less endearing than I do.
6. A New Bike
It’s beyond obvious that an everyday cyclist might enjoy, you know, a bike.
And if you’ve got the cash to buy them one, then it’s the end-all, be-all of bike commuter gifts.
How much cash, exactly? Roughly $400 is the bare minimum for one worth owning (so skip the Target bikes!), and $500-$800 is more reasonable. Check out this article for a closer look at what that money buys, and why it matters.
There are some terrific hybrid and folding bikes toward the lower end of that range. Very well-equipped city bikes or authentic Dutch imports will cost a bit more, but are well worth it for some commuters.
There are hundreds of options, each in several sizes, so it’s best if they choose for themselves. That does make it hard to pull off a total surprise, but it ensures they’ll enjoy such a thoughtful and generous gift.
Two gifts not to give
Skip the saddle (it’s personal)
As a not-so-regular cyclist, you might quite reasonably assume that a new saddle—just like a new sofa or office chair—would be an instant upgrade.
That’s not entirely wrong, since the right saddle makes a world of difference.
The problem is saddles are less universal than you’d think. Rather, they’re personal in two ways:
Saddle width needs to be wide enough to support the sit bones (ischial tuberosity) but no more. The thing is, you can’t accurately predict sizing from someone’s height or build, so it requires trial and error.
Saddle shape refers to not just the overall length and width of the saddle, but its contours as well. A flatter or rounder top will totally change the feel of an otherwise identical saddle. That, too, is hard to predict at a glance.
Bottom line? Unless your recipient has asked for a precise model of saddle (in a precise size, if applicable), then stick with one of the more universal items.
Pass on tools
Everyone who likes or needs to work on their bike has adequate tools to do so. Unlike, say, kitchen gadgets in late-night informercials, there are very few novel bike tools at all, let alone ones worth buying.
If the cyclist on your list does need tools, they’re likelier to be something single-purpose, like a bottom bracket pin spanner or headset wrench, which you’d never predict in a million years.
And even those come in a few varieties, so unless they’ve given you an exact request, they’re likelier to appreciate a Park Tool gift certificate instead.