Essential Accessories to Enhance the Riding Experience
Okay, so you’ve just bought your dream bike and you’re chomping at the bit to get out there and ride. But before rushing out the door for the trail or tarmac, there are a few more items you should have to make the overall cycling experience more enjoyable. Yes, these accessories will cost some more of those hard-earned dollars, but trust us, you’ll be glad you invested the extra coin once you have these essential accessories.
A Good Helmet
The absolute number one paramount item to have is a high quality helmet that looks good on you. Do not skimp on this one. There’s an old adage with helmets that goes, “how much is your head worth?” You might be able to pick up a clearance rack helmet for $25, but is that all your head is worth? The helmet will be something you wear every time you ride, and although all helmets regardless of the price will offer the same level of standardized protection, more expensive helmets will be lighter, ventilate better and look sleeker.
Having a high-end helmet that looks awesome also motivates you to wear it more. You’ll be less motivated to want to wear a cheap, low-end closeout helmet, so do yourself a favor and splurge a little extra on cool looking helmet that you’ll love wearing.
Within the past couple years a new helmet technology has emerged called MIPS (Multi Impact Protection System). MIPS features a thin shell inside the helmet that slips upon impact, dramatically reducing the chance of concussion. Higher end road and mountain bike helmets feature MIPS, and if you value your head, spend the little extra for a MIPS-equipped helmet. Traditional favorites include Giro, Bell, Specialized, POC and Smith.
Whether you’re a do-it-yourselfer or prefer to have your bike serviced at the local shop, having the right set of bike-specific tools can help you perform basic maintenance and learn a little more about your bike; valuable knowledge when out in the middle of nowhere and something goes wrong with your bike.
There are two types of tools to get – tools for the garage and tools for on the bike. For the garage, get a quality bike stand to make working on the bike far easier and get a basic tool set that includes a full range of Allen keys, Torx wrenches and bike-specific tools like a chain whip, cassette and bottom bracket wrenches, chain breaker, spoke wrenches and cable cutters.
While you might be able to get away without having bike-specific tools in the garage, there’s no excuse for not having at least a pocket sized multi-tool with an integrated chain breaker, tire levers, patch kit, a good quality frame pump and spare inner tubes. Every cyclist, whether on or off-road, should carry each one of these items either in a backpack, hip pack or saddle bag. Do not be “that guy” or “that gal” who goes out on a ride with friends completely unprepared. Part of being a cyclist is knowing how to perform basic tasks like changing a flat tire while having the right tools. Park Tool is a perennial favorite for garage tools, while Lezyne makes excellent frame pumps and on-bike tools.
Quality Cycling Shorts
Similar to a good helmet that protects your head, ventilates well and looks good, a quality pair of cycling shorts or bibs is essential for an enjoyable cycling experience. Your crotch is going to be spending a lot of time getting acquainted with the saddle, so spend a little extra coin on a nice pair of shorts with a comfortable chamois. For road cycling, bib shorts help prevent the shorts from riding down in the back, avoided the much dreaded and ridiculed “plumber’s crack”.
For mountain biking, there are numerous brands out there that offer a pair of baggy shorts with integrated liner. Although some of these liners are decent, some are most definitely not. Do your research and read online reviews on which liners to avoid. Another option is to look for a nice pair of road cycling shorts or bibs, then find a sleek fitting pair of baggies that can be worn over the cycling shorts. Don’t go too baggy with the baggies, as they can catch the saddle more easily when maneuvering. Make sure the baggies fit snug in the waist and crotch with enough leg coverage to go down to the knee when standing.
For those mountain bikers looking for the ultimate pair of lightweight baggies for both cross-country and all-mountain riding, check out the Gore Bike Wear Alp-X Pro 2 in 1 Shorts+, and award-winning design that integrates a quality, race-oriented bib cycling short with lightweight baggies for outstanding fit. These low-profile baggy shorts are so comfortable, lightweight and breathable they can even be worn for road rides, much to the chagrin of hardcore traditional roadies.
If you’re going to be spending any time riding early in the morning or after work near sundown, especially on the road, invest in your safety and buy a good set of lights for the front and rear of the bike. For those riding the road, all that’s needed is a small, lightweight and inexpensive LED light for both the front and back that’s bright enough to be easily seen from a distance. These kinds of lights are used less for seeing but are essential for being seen, which is much more important on the road.
For off-road use where being seen is less important than being able to see, having a set of bright lights will keep you from careening headlong into a hidden outcropping of rocks. For the absolute best performance and visibility, purchase a handlebar-mounted light and a helmet-mounted light, which provides a constant forward-looking beam of light while being able to see in and through corners. If you can only afford one light, buy a helmet-mounted light.
Modern bike lights can be incredibly bright and compact with long battery life, however, there is such a thing as too bright of a light that ends up flushing out visibility. Modern lights are measured in lumens, but there is no standard way for measuring actual brightness, as one light with higher lumen output might not provide as much usable light as a lower lumen output with a better design. Do your research and read up on light reviews. MTBR.com has a comprehensive bike light roundup each year that’s extremely helpful for those in the market for a bike light.
This one isn’t as much a “must” as it is a “nice-to-have”. Some cyclists just want to get out and ride and don’t necessarily care how far or fast they went. But for those cyclists out there wanting to track every mile ridden, where they were ridden and how fast they were ridden, a GPS device is a worthwhile investment.
For those with a more competitive nature, uploading rides to apps like Strava show your performance on specific “segments” of a ride compared to other riders who’ve done the same segment. It can be a handy training tool and a fun way to get out those competitive urges. Just don’t overdo it with Strava; being the one who is always chasing segments on group rides with friends can get irritating pretty quick and you’ll soon find yourself riding alone. Garmin and Polar are very popular options that also feature integrated heart rate monitors and cadence readouts.
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