Friday 13 December 2013

Essential gear for cycling and what type to get

Summary: Even for a minimalist some gear is essential for riding in all seasons and for various purposes. In this post I describe the essential gear you'll likely need and provide advice on what type to get. I also provide advice to utility cyclists on what not to get if they want to maximise use of their bike for transport.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by William

Related Posts:
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Reliable equipment reviews to help you choose what to buy

The Essentials:
1. A helmet
- Unfortunately, they are mandatory in Australia and it is the most common cause of police infringements for cyclists with the fine in Victoria being a ridiculous $190. > See Vic Roads page on fines

- That being the case, a helmet is necessary for regular cyclists in Australia but you have a lot more choice in style these days. I own a skate-style helmet that cost me $26 - it looks better than a sports helmet but creates more sweat in warm conditions.

- Hence, I recommend making fit and comfort a priority and choosing a helmet with sufficient air flow - particularly if you will ride with a helmet in warm conditions or for long periods (many stylish helmets have poor air flow).

- If you need a very cheap helmet you can buy Melbourne Bike Share helmets for $5.

2. A quality U lock or/and a heavy duty chain lock
- Do not bother getting any other type of lock as your main lock. All other locks except heavy duty chains (which are heavier than U locks) are virtually no protection against bike thieves and all but the most useless bikes are at significant risk of being stolen.

- See: > What type of bike lock should I buy? for full details. My current, value-for-money recommendations for bikes under $800 are the OnGuard Bulldog, Pitbull or Brute.

3. USB rechargeable front and rear lights
- Front and rear lights are legally required for riding on roads at night and are necessary for safety and courtesy to other road/path users. The rear light should be a red, flashing light. The front light should be a white light with both steady and flash modes. Reflectors are better than nothing but insufficient for safety.

- Most cyclists should only buy USB-rechargeable lights. The battery powered ones are a waste of money and not environmentally-friendly given the number of batteries you'll go through.

- For front lights there are 2 types: cheaper, less bright, "be seen" lights and more expensive, brighter "seeing" lights. If mostly riding in well lit urban areas a "be seen" light that flashes is often sufficient. However, if you can get a quality "seeing" light for not much more it is a good investment.

> The Sweet Home: The Best Commuter Bike Lights
2013 Top 60 lights for commuting

4. Rear and front mudguards (or fenders)
- If you want to ride regardless of the possibility of drizzle, rain or wet roads, then a rear mudguard is a necessity (except if you have a rack/basket that acts like one already). And a front mudguard is desirable too especially if riding at higher speeds in the wet.

- There are many rear mudguards that do not reach low enough or far back enough and are not adjustable enough. The type I finally settled on and that reliably works is the Zefal Swan. (Make sure you get the version that matches your rear tire size - road or mountain bike).

- To fit a full front mudguard or fender you will need a bike with sufficient frame clearance at the fork so check this if a full front guard is important. However, most of the problematic spray from the front tyre is only generated by the lower-rear quadrant of the tyre. Thus, make sure the front mudguard hangs low enough at the rear of the front tyre or had a mudflap attached.

- Alternatively, a flexible, lightweight option are purpose-built attachments for the downtube that are designed to block just the spray from the lower-rear quadrant.
Tate Labs Rain Fly Road Bike Front Fender Black

5. Water bottle & cage holder
- These often come with a new bike and virtually all bikes have screws on the frame triangle to attach them. I bought the Topeak Modular Ex adjustable cage - which can be adjusted to fit different bottle sizes (including beer/wine!).

6. Saddle bag
- These fit under the saddle and are really handy to keep your wallet, phone, keys and various other small objects. The cheap ones don't get stolen so you can leave it on your bike. Make sure you get one that you can attach the rear light you buy to via a strap. Your saddle bag will obscure the normal seat post area rear lights are attached to.

- As I typically ride without other storage, I prefer a large saddle bag with an expandable section. I use the saddle bag every day so durability is important (the zippers and material wear out). My value-for-money recommendation is: Topeak Aero Wedge Saddle Bag - Large

7. Long-fingered gloves
- In colder climates/seasons this is probably the only absolutely essential item of clothing. Your fingers can get really cold. Make sure you get long-fingered gloves not short-fingered ones, which don't provide protection from the cold.

8. Rack or/and basket
- A rear rack or/and a front basket are extremely useful if regularly carrying larger items.

9. Simple bike computer
- This obviously isn't essential but you can get cheap, wired ones for $15 that simply track speed and distance. Cheap ones don't get stolen so you don't need to take it off your bike. Keeping simple track of speed and distance is often very useful when navigating; it is also worthwhile knowing how many km you travel per year. > Bikeexchange wired bike computers

10. Rain jacket (with hood if no helmet)
- If you get one (especially one you can fold up, pocket or carry easily) it is much more likely you will ride when it's raining or when there's a chance of rain. Rain jackets make all the difference between getting your upper body soaked and staying quite dry.

11. Floor and mini pumps
- You'll need a floor pump to inflate your tyres efficiently to higher pressures. Mini pumps are useful for carrying with you on certain trips you might get a puncture or when you may wish to temporarily lower the pressure for better grip.

My single speed bike with essential equipment attached

12. Puncture resistant tyres
- Punctures can virtually be eliminated by using the best puncture resistant tyres. I use the most suitable Schwalbe SmartGuard tyre for my bike. For onroad cycling this is typically the Schwalbe Durano Plus (23mm to 28mm).

13. Kickstand (if carrying kids or loads)
- Generally, I don't have kickstands on my bikes as when parked I always lock them.

- But if carrying kids or loads (on a rack or trailer) a kickstand can be essential. I recommend getting one mounted near the rear wheel on the chainstay and seatstay. This keeps it out of the way of the pedals and also allows a trailer hitch to be attached to the rear wheel.
See: > How to Install a Kickstand on a Bicycle
E.g. Energie 26-700 Adjustable Chain/Seatstay Kick Stand

Things utility cyclists shouldn't typically use on their bikes or while cycling
1. Lycra or cycling-specific clothing
- If you want to embed a bike in your life as transport, when you hop off (after say riding to dinner or the movies) you won't want to worry about changing clothes and what to do with the cycling gear. So any cycling-specific clothing you can't easily pocket, re-purpose or hide detracts from your ability to use your bike as your main means of getting anywhere for any purpose. If you get used to being able to jump on your bike in most clothing and shoes you'll find there are few accessory impediments to using your bike for most urban trips.

- Lycra and cycling-specific clothing has its place in racing and longer recreational riding or commuting but, contrary to what you may observe in Australia/US/UK, most of the time it isn't needed. However, don't be an ideological purist. If you find that cycling-specific clothing is necessary to make certain types of cycling comfortable or feasible then you should use it. That may mean wearing it underneath other clothing or being able to switch/carry clothing when off the bike.

2. Specialist pedals and shoes (toeclips, "clipless", etc.)
- This is best left to racers and mountain bikers as it is not at all necessary. Flat "platform" pedals are perfectly efficient and can be used with almost all types of footwear.

- Once you change your pedals to suit clipping in or cycling shoes, you're no longer as likely to hop on your bike wearing any type of shoe. If you do buy specialist pedals make sure you get the double-sided ones that allow them to be ridden with normal shoes.

3. Expensive gear or parts
- To use your bike freely you need to be able to lock it up anywhere without worrying about gear or parts being stolen or having to detach and carry them with you. Many bike fittings are not intended to be left on unattended bikes, so don't use them if they get in the way of using your bike and locking it up anywhere.

Further Info:
Commuter Bike Center: Best Commuter Bike – Ultimate Buying Guide - Accessories