1) Start with a backpack. Particularly one that is of a bright and distinguishable color or style, and pocket/sections for storage. Think outside of the JanSport box. You'll want something that can also tolerate potential wet, sludge, and dirt.
2) Get a good lock (or two). And make sure to keep the keys handy. With a cable lock and u-shaped lock you can secure your wheels and frame as needed for any pit-stop.
3) Fingerless gloves. Try riding with then without bike gloves, and you will feel the difference. Comfort is key, even on the shortest of rides.
4) Head and rear lights. With it being wintertime, sunset steadily approaches at 4:50 pm these days, and you don't want to be caught in the dark. Having a head light not only will help you see, but along with the corresponding rear light you will up your chances of being seen. The brighter, the better.
5) Invest in reusable bags. This works on days when you know you're going to hit the farmer's market or grocery store, but also on days that you don't. If not already equipped with panniers or something else to cart home your goods, I personally prefer a canvas bag since, with a backpack, it can be lifted on the shoulder with little fuss. If your ride is more than five miles, however, I suggest investing not only in reusable bags (just for the heck of it) but in a rack and panniers, which can be found at a variety of online bike stores like Bike Nashbar for relatively cheap.
So to recap - a basic carrier with sections for your gloves, lights, locks, and extra bags just in case. Simple, but practical, yes?
Also suggested on to keep in your bag on your basic ride is:
- -your wallet (ID, and if you need to make a purchase, paper and/or plastic)
-cell phone (for emergencies or pit-stops)
-Vaseline or lotion (for dry skin)
-a patch kit and extra inner tube for changing your tire (of course, your cell phone will come in handy for your friend to pick you up/keep you company if you don't know how to do so, but try to avoid this maneuver)
-water (this should be obvious, although this should go on your bike; to be discussed later)
-and for comfort, a small snack (think fruit)
Do you have a bag set aside for your travels, local or far? What do you keep in your basic bag?