If you or your kids are heading back to school, you might be considering commuting by bike. Whether for practical, economic, environmental, or fitness reasons, we salute you!
To help you make that commute as easy as possible, we’re sharing our favorite accessories to turn whatever bike you’re riding into the ultimate back-to-school machine. From the best backpack for biking to a locking axle to prevent wheel theft, you’re covered whether you’re pedaling to the local elementary school or riding from the dorm room to the lab.
Note: Rather than our usual list of superlatives (‘best overall,’ and so on), we’ve just listed the accessories that we’re kitting out our kids (and ourselves) with as we get back to riding bikes to school.
Best Packs for Laptops and Books
With a roll-down top, a separate pouch for your laptop, and two water bottle holders on the side, Timbuk2’s Custom Prospect Laptop Backpack is perfect for every student, from second graders to Ph.D. candidates.
The Cordura canvas is weather resistant, and handles all but the lengthiest torrential downpours. The roll-top makes it easy to stuff your bag full if you have to run to the grocery store after class or bring a yoga mat to the gym, but you can also buckle it down if you’re late for class and need to get a bit more aero on the bike.
And it’s fun to design: Choose from thousands of colors and fabrics, adding reflective and rain-repellent accents as well as fun colors and patterns. Your backpack will be easy to spot in a crowd, and uniquely yours.
This editor has the smaller Custom Tuck Backpack ($99) that’s held up to eight years of carrying books, computers, groceries, and pretty much anything else you can think of, and it’s still in perfect condition. But we recommend this larger Prospect model because it adds a large, external front pocket and padded laptop sleeve inside.
For mini-commuters—i.e short kiddos—Timbuk2 has a mini-version of this pack. Adorable, especially if you and your youngster coordinate to make matching packs!
PROS: Fully customizable so you’re always unique (and reflective!), might outlast your college years
CONS: Back will get sweaty on hot rides
TOTE-STYLE PANNIER: Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic Panniers
The Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic Panniers transform from pannier to tote bag handily, but their best quality is just how waterproof they are. Unlike many other bags that are water-resistant, these can handle monsoon-level rains without getting a drop on your laptop.
The two-pack allows you to have one bag for books and school supplies, and another for gym clothes and lunch (or more books, if you have a hard class schedule). And Ortlieb’s packs are built to last: This editor has also used their waterproof backpack for more than a decade and it still looks new.
They securely click onto most standard bike racks (see below for our recommendation), then pull off easily to carry inside. And, they come in several bright colors – gray, yellow, red, blue, and orange!
PROS: 100% waterproof, durable, easy to carry on and off the bike
CONS: Expensive (but worth it)
BACKPACK-STYLE PANNIERS: Blackburn Wayside Backpack Pannier
We prefer panniers that convert into backpacks or totes, since you’ll be heading into school with these bags, not leaving them hooked on your bike. The Blackburn Wayside Backpack-slash-Pannier is a great stylish option for someone who prefers a more vintage style. The waxed canvas bag looks chic, but is conveniently water repellent, comfortable, and tucks onto your bike rack with ease.
PROS: Looks great as a backpack and works well as a pannier
CONS: Not a ton of storage space
Best Bike Accessories
EASY PANNIER RACK: Topeak Explorer
Less sweat while you ride to class is a good thing, and this simple aluminum rear rack is easy to install on your bike and lets you get those books off your back and into pannier bags on either side of your rear wheel.
The Topeak Explorer can hold 57 pounds of cargo—enough for even the densest course reading—and it has an integrated spring clip to help secure any extra cargo on top of the rack. You can also opt to add a rear basket if you want to stick with your regular backpack and skip getting panniers right away.
Available in a range of sizes, most bikes can use the basic version, which fits 26″, 27.5″ (650B), and 700C wheels. You’ll need to specify disc brake or non-disc brake version, though, and just make sure your bike has the necessary mounting points (see FAQ at bottom section for details).
PROS: Great to carry bags without getting sweaty, easy to use
CONS: Requires installation, won’t be able to use rear fender
EASY FENDER: SKS Rear Blade Fender
For those rainy days, a fender is going to make a big difference in your comfort in getting to class. The SKS Rear Blade Fender is easy to attach and detach from any size of bike—it snaps right onto the Seatpost. There’s not much to say about it other than that even on the bounciest of commutes, it stays in place and keeps your butt dry.
Admittedly, it’s not as protective as installing full fenders permanently, but for someone who doesn’t want full fenders or who’s bike doesn’t have the bosses required to install them, this is a durable option.
PROS: Super easy installation, takes seconds
CONS: Rear only
BIKE BELL: Spurcycle Compact Bell
The Spurcycle Compact Bell’s strength is in its size: It’s tiny and subtle. But don’t let the size fool you, it’s also loud as heck. A bike bell is a necessity when riding in crowded areas, like school parking lots and bike lanes. This bell ensures that you are warning pedestrians as you pass, but because of its small size, it’s less likely to get snatched off your bike if you leave it attached while in school.
PROS: Loud noise, a small bell
CONS: Pricey for a bell
BIKE LOCK: Abus Ivera 7210
The lightweight Abus Ivera 7210 chain lock is the ideal lock for students. It’s still a chain lock, so it’s quite secure, but unlike heftier options, this sub-three-pound chain won’t weigh down your backpack bringing it to school. And trust us, this is waaaaaay better than those cheap, plastic-covered combination locks sold at big box stores.
It uses a synthetic knit cover to protect your bike from the steel chain, and you can choose from several color options. At 38″, it should be able to secure your bike to almost any pole or post with plenty of room…and it easily slings over your shoulder for quick trips without a pack, too!
We love this one for most riders in friendly neighborhoods. But if you need something stronger for riskier areas, check out our top Bike Lock Buyer’s Guide for more options.
PROS: Lightweight for a high quality chain lock
CONS: Not “Sold Secure” rated
PRE-PACKED SADDLE BAG: Blackburn Local Ride Kit
Every rider should have the essentials to repair a flat tire or make quick adjustments to his or her bike. That means having a pump or CO2 cartridge plus inflator (preferably both), a good multitool, tire levers, a spare tube, patches for tubes, and somewhere to carry all of it.
This simple pre-packed saddle bag from Blackburn is just missing a tube and some patches, but otherwise, it’s ready to go. Of course, you can build your own, and we have recommendations for the best multitools and tire levers. But if you’re in a rush to get ready for back to school, this kit from Blackburn has a solid multitool, a great mini pump, and tire levers that will help fix a tricky flat… Plus a seat bag that stores them all.
PROS: Great starting point for new cyclists (or new solo cyclists)
CONS: Still need to add patches and tube
LOCKING WHEEL AXLES: Quick Release Axle Replacements
Ever seen a wheel-less bike frame still locked to a rack? If you’re leaving your bike locked outside of school, especially in higher crime areas, then you need a locking axle on the wheels if you want to keep them.
These replace your quick-release skewers and require a special key or tool (or both) to remove, and more time, all of which are very strong deterrents for would-be thieves. Left to right, here are our three favorite options:
Perhaps the sleekest, lightest, and coolest anti-theft wheel skewers out there, the Hexlox bolts use a proprietary plug-and-key system to effectively block access to the bolt. Meaning, you can’t insert an Allen wrench to loosen the axle until you’ve removed the plug…and you absolutely can not do that unless you have the key. You can even buy just the plug-and-key sets to secure your seatpost, saddle, stem, and almost any other part on your bike! MSRP is $70 for a complete set, available directly from Hexlox. Or just add the cap to your existing thru axle!
Pinhead Quick Release Skewers
Similar to Hexlox, except using a keyed pattern on a matching lever that acts as both key and tool to remove the bolt. Not quite as stealthy, but a little more affordable at $60 MSRP. Available through Amazon and Trek Bikes.
These work a bit differently in that you’ll need a thin 8mm wrench (like these) to remove your wheel, and the NutFix caps simply prevent access to that bolt while the bike is upright & locked to a rack. Meaning, you’ll need to lay your bike flat on the ground for the cap to lift and allow access to the bolt, and we doubt any thief will figure that out. MSRP is $70 for the set, available on Amazon. They also make larger versions for the bolt-on wheels commonly found on 20″ – 26″ kids’ bikes, must make sure you order the correct M8, M9 or M10 version to match the solid axle’s size!
All three of these brands also make locking seatpost bolts, too!
LIGHT SET: Knog Plugger Twinpack
Every commuter should have lights on their bike for safety, especially if your route has unprotected streets along the way. They’re not just so you can see where you’re going… a bright blinky light makes it easier for drivers to spot you, and helps keep you safe.
The Knog Plugger Twinpack with front and rear lights is the perfect budget-friendly option. They’re easy to charge with USB cables and have really long battery life in “flash” modes, and they attach with a simple silicone band that can be replaced if broken, so they’re ideal if you’re switching bikes, running late, or you don’t want to leave them on your bike while in class. (Looking for more options for lights? We have a whole roundup right here.)
PROS: Great price, easy to mount, sleek looks
CONS: Not the brightest for night riding
SEAT COVER: Delta Cycles hexAir Gel Cover
This silicone gel bike seat cover serves two purposes. First, it’s exceptionally squishy and comfortable without slipping or sliding around on the seat. Second, it’s 100% waterproof, so if it does rain while you’re in class, you can just peel it off and you’ll have a dry saddle for the ride home…that’s way better than the plastic bag you see stuck over some seats!
And, if you’re riding your road or mountain bike to class, this makes it way more comfy for commuting without padded bike shorts on. Then, just remove it for the weekend shred sessions and group rides! Check out our full review for more details.
PROS: Super comfortable, easy to use, keeps your saddle dry
CONS: None, really
HELMET: Specialized Align II
Your regular helmet is perfectly fine as a school helmet, but if you need one and are a broke college kid, we’d like to recommend the Specialized Align II. It scored the second highest safety rating on Virginia Tech’s STAR ranking—just behind a helmet 5x its price. At 355 grams, it’s not the lightest helmet on the market, but at $50, you can’t beat the price.
We love that it comes in seven colors—some basic, and some a bit more interesting—and three sizes. Colors include lavender, light purple, metallic blue, high vis yellow, black, white, and red.
PROS: Great color range for the price
CONS: Heavier than other helmets
RAIN WEAR: Chrome Storm Commuter Jacket & Pants
Rain is an inevitable part of commuting to school, but proper rain gear makes it tolerable…maybe even a little fun!.
The Chrome Industries Storm Salute Commuter Jacket is roomy enough for your regular clothes underneath, unlike a more standard cycling raincoat, but it also has features that make it bike-friendly.
A dropped back makes you less likely to end up with spray covering your bum, and it has interior pockets to keep your phone safe and dry. The zip is two-way, so if it starts to get warm, you can ventilate from top or bottom. Available in olive and black in men’s and women’s sizes in S to XL.
The Chrome Storm Rain Pant has a reinforced seat and 3-layer stretch material that’s breathable, yet totally waterproof. Gussetted ankle zips keep it snug while pedaling, but open wide so you can easily pull them on or off over your regular clothes. They also make a great wind shell in cold weather! Available direct and on Amazon. Men’s sizing listed, but the fit is unisex.
MSRP: Jacket $185 / Pants $125
PROS: Great fit for commuting, keeps you dry and comfortable
PANT CUFF: RockBros Pants Clip
If you ride bikes in pants, chances are really good (as in, basically 100%) that you’re going to get them caught between the chain and chainring at some point. Best case, you only get a little grease on them. Worst case? They rip a big chunk out of them. Yes, we’ve ruined more than a few pairs this way.
The RockBros Pants Clip Strap wraps around your pants leg opening to hold it close to your leg, Velcro’s shut, and has reflective elements all around it to help keep you safe at night, too. They’re sold as a two-pack, and you could even use them to strap something to your bike rack in a pinch.
PROS: Simple, effective, cheap
CONS: None, really
For the College Kids…
BOTTLE CAGE-FRIENDLY COFFEE: 18oz YETI Rambler
The leakproof Yeti Rambler is perfect for college kids heading to class after a big night of… training with the local cycling team followed by studying, of course. But seriously, if you need to caffeinate in class but don’t want to lose any coffee on your ride thanks to sloshing and spilling, invest in the YETI Rambler. Make sure you get the 18-ounce version though, as it’s the one that fits in the bottle cage on your bike.
You can fill it at the dining hall in the morning, and it will still be shockingly hot by mid-afternoon. Available in five colors. (You can also swap the cap it comes with for a chug cap, making drinking iced coffee easier—and gaining nine extra colors to choose from!)
PROS: Keeps drinks hot or cold all-day
CONS: None, really
LIGHTWEIGHT CHAMOIS: Club Ride June and Johnson Shorts
You may not need to wear bike shorts for your commute to school, but if you do have a few miles to go, or the weather is pretty hot and sweaty, a chamois is a good idea. But of course, not everyone wants to show up to class in full spandex. Thankfully, there’s a middle option: A chamois liner, which looks like underwear but offers a bit of padding and comfort under your jeans while you pedal.
The women’s version of the Club Ride shorts—the June—has a three-inch inseam and three-millimeter thick chamois. Just enough to make your ride to school more comfortable without adding bulk. It’s available in teal and black in XS to XL. The men’s Johnson version is similar, but with a slightly longer inseam. It’s available in blue and black in S to XL.
(Remember, you will want to bring a change of underwear to school with you and swap out of your chamois once you’re there!)
PROS: Keeps you comfortable for a longer ride
CONS: Need to change at school
DORM STORAGE RACK: Bike Nook Bicycle Stand
In a dorm room, you almost certainly won’t have space for a wall mount or for a full bike rack, so how can you get your bike out of the way? The Bike Nook Bicycle Stand lets you stand your bike up and off the floor, with no carpentry skills necessary.
This editor was originally skeptical whether on not this would be useful, but in a small apartment that’s maxed out on space, it was a great way to utilize storage space in small closets. And back in college, it would have led to a lot fewer space disputes with my roommate as my bikes slowly took over.
PROS: Gets bike up and out of the way in tight spots
CONS: Pricey for what it is
Frequently Asked Questions About Riding to School
What’s the best way to carry my books, laptop, and supplies on the bike?
Whatever feels comfortable for you! You’ll want to consider the length of your commute and what the weather is typically like during the school year. If it’s hot or you’re riding a longer way, consider installing a rear rack and opting for panniers rather than a backpack. We’ve included some pannier options that can be used as backpacks or tote bags so they’re easy to bring from the bike to the classroom. But plenty of bike-to-schoolers will use backpacks, and we’ve included our favorite option for that as well.
What should I bring with me?
Like any ride, a bike-to-school commute could require some tools along the way. Make sure you have what you need to fix a flat: A patch kit, a spare tube, a mini-pump, and tire levers. You’ll also want to have a multi-tool for making quick adjustments.
But you’ll also want to consider bringing a good lock if you’re leaving your bike outside, and a set of front and rear lights, especially if you sometimes head home after dark.
What kind of bike should I use to ride to school?
It depends on the type and duration of your commute, but generally, whatever bike you have currently is the best bike to ride to school! Just try it for a few days to see how it feels. You may realize that it’s a long ride to make on your old hybrid bike and a road bike or e-bike would be faster and easier.
Or you may find you’d prefer something more upright and comfortable, like a classic step-through commuter, if you’re wearing a stuffy school uniform and only pedaling a mile or two.
Either way, we’d say keep it simple. An alloy frame will hold up to rain better than steel, but a modern chromoly steel bike is fine, too. Just take care of it, and maybe slap a few stickers on the top tube to protect it from banging against the bike rack. We’d also recommend using a good wax-based chain lube as it’ll stay a LOT cleaner, making it less likely to leave a greasy mark on your pant leg.
How do I attach a Rack or Fenders to my bike?
If your bike has eyelets (aka Bosses, rack mounts, or fender mounts) near the dropouts on the frame and fork and some higher up near the seat post clamp or fork crown, chances are you can use the bolt-on style rack like the Topeak one we recommend here.
If not, you’ll want to look at universal racks like the Thule Tour Rack and its optional side frames if you want to add panniers. These strap onto the fork or seatstay tubes and fit almost any bike, but they generally have about half of the load capacity.
Any tips for commuting to school on a bike?
Try a “practice run” before school starts or on a weekend. Using the bike you’ll be riding, wearing the clothes you would wear to school, and carrying your books, take the route you’d normally go.
Riding normally, perhaps even extra casually, time yourself so you have an idea of how much time it really takes to get there. You don’t want to race there because you’ll get hot and sweaty…not a great look for the first period.
Find spots to lock your bike, or email the school principal or administrative assistant to see if there’s a spot inside where you can store your bike (you’ll still want to lock it up inside, though). And on your first day of riding to school, leave early enough that you have a buffer of 10 to 15 minutes so you have plenty of time to cool down, get your bike locked, and get to class.
What about tips for college kids riding to class?
Keep your head up and pay attention to your surroundings! This editor fractured her cheekbone in college when she got doored while riding to class (and running a little late).
College campuses are often packed with students in a hurry: Pedestrians will dart out in front of you, doors will swing open without the driver checking to see if anyone is coming, and buses sometimes aren’t paying close attention to what’s happening alongside them. Keep your headphones out and your phone away while you ride.