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Useful Bicycle Accessories

You've just bought a new bike. Now what do you do? Just climb aboard and ride away?

Maybe, but a little preparation can go along way toward making that first ride, and subsequent ones, everything they should be.

Few things can ruin a ride faster than a flat tire you're not prepared to handle. Or a weather change that leaves you cold and wet. Or any number of little problems you're not ready for.

That's where some knowledge and a few useful bike accessories come into play. Anyone can buy a bike and hack around on it, but if you want to be a safer and self-reliant rider, part of the sport is learning to meet the challenges of riding with a certain style and grace.

Bike equipment is available to address the problems you'll face on the road or trail. If you're like most riders, you'll opt for the necessities, and a few toys that catch your eye. Some riders happily get by with very little equipment, while others want only the best, and a lot of it. Either type is served well by a healthy bicycle industry which supports a lot of product variety and innovation. These products are offered nationwide through a fine network of bicycle retailers, 6,800-strong, who will help you learn the basics, as well as the nuances, of cycling.

Let's start by looking at some of the basics. For the purposes of discussion, let's call these necessities, though some of them aren't. They're the kinds of things a reasonably well-prepared and at least semi-committed cyclist should have. It's not a complete list, but it's meant as a primer for those who are starting out. They apply whether you're a city rider, a mountain rider, an extended tourer, or a day tourer.

Heading the List

Starting literally at the top, and at the top of this list, are helmets. Wear a helmet every time you ride. It's that simple. The increased availability and quality of good helmets is probably the greatest innovation in cycling in the last 15 years.

Experienced riders know that if you ride a lot, you'll probably fall off sooner or later. The time will come, especially if you've been riding for a lot of miles, when fatigue clouds your judgment. You forget to pull your foot out of the pedal at a stop. A car cuts you off, and you react incorrectly by hitting only the front brake. A cat runs under your wheels and you instinctively bail off to save kitty. You hit a loose spot on a trail. You just fall off. It happens.

It's smart to prepare accordingly. Today's bicycle helmets are not infallible, but they work awfully well. You owe it to yourself.

Pick a helmet that's comfortable. Your bike shop is the place to try different models and styles, and where you can find a helmet which fits properly. Remember -- helmet fit is critical! A too-loose helmet may not protect you. A too-tight helmet can hurt. All decent helmets come with built-in vents. Most of them are pretty light. And most offer aerodynamic advantages over a hairy head.

Wear a helmet with an expanded polystyrene liner -- that's what absorbs the shock of a blow. Expect to spend $40 to $100 for a good helmet. As they say, it's cheap insurance.

Fix It

Next comes the "fix it" category. You don't need to carry a complete repair shop on the road, but you need enough little doodads to make some simple repairs.

Buy a small saddlebag to carry this assorted stuff. There are excellent bags which attach under the saddle. The bag should have enough room to carry, say, your identification, house key, some money, and coins for using a pay phone.

You'll also need some things to allow you to fix a flat tire. If you're new to this game, ask your bike dealer to show you how it's done. Check out books and magazines for tips. Then, practice at home a few times so you won't be frustrated far from home.

Basically, you'll need a patch kit. It will have in it, appropriately, patches, to plug any holes in a tube. It'll also have some glue, and some sandpaper for roughing up the surface so the patch will stick. Get a set of tire levers so you can pry the tire away from the rim (if you have tubular "one-piece" tires, ask your dealer for advice on fixing them). And, if you don't have quick-release hubs, you'll need a wrench for taking the wheel off. A lot of riders also carry an extra tube, just in case the one you're using is totally shredded. It also gives you the choice of fixing the puncture later, and quickly replacing the leaky tube with a good one while on the road.

You'll also need a pump for the bike. They're light and come in a lot of styles. Your dealer can also sell you a neat little compressed air gizmo which pumps its own carbon dioxide gas, which saves you the trouble of pumping.

If you've got tubular tires, carry along a pre-stretched and pre-glued tire as a spare. That saves all sorts of potential headaches.

And, buy a good lock if you plan to leave your bike parked out of your sight.

Drink Up

The next essential is a water bottle, with a cage for holding it on your bike. If you ride with much gusto, it's easy to go through a full water bottle or more each hour. Your body's the engine. It needs liquid lubrication. Not only does perspiration cause fluid loss, but a lot of moisture is exhaled as you roll along. A lot of racers use large bottles, and carry two or more bottles on their bikes. There are even water-carrying systems which can be carried on your back. Your dealer can help you decide what is best.

The general rule is to drink before you're thirsty. By the time your body is telling you to drink, your engine may already be a quart or more low.

A lot of good bikes have braze-ons to accept bottle cages. If yours doesn't, they're available with clamps which fit around your tubes.

Ride With Sole

Shoes are next on the list. If you've started riding in running shoes, general athletic shoes, or something along those lines, you'll be amazed at how much better true cycling shoes are. It's a matter of too much flexibility at the front of the shoe. General-purpose shoes have it. Cycling shoes don't. When you're spinning circles with a pedal, a flexible sole doesn't do much for you, except make your foot tired.

There are a couple of ways to go with shoes. Some attach to "clipless" pedals -- a little like ski bindings. Some work with toe-clips or platform pedals. Some way of attaching your foot to the pedal is good, because you can press down as well as pull up, you can crank pretty hard without worrying about the shoe coming off the pedal, and it keeps your foot properly positioned.

Decide going in whether you want shoes which you can also walk in. That's important if you might want to stroll around a park a bit, or stop by a market. Some racing shoes have cleats which protrude from the bottom of the shoe, and making walking tough.

The key to buying a good shoe is fairly straightforward. Pick the type you want. Then, make sure it fits you well. The fit is critical! Our apologies to the fashion-oriented, but it would be better to buy an ugly shoe that fits, than a gorgeous one that doesn't. Looks are important, but blisters and other assorted foot problems are a very high price to pay. You should be able to easily find shoes which are attractive and comfortable both.

Stuff to Wear

You can wear most anything to ride a bike. But, clothes especially designed for riding are a wonder. In terms of comfort and function, top-quality bicycle apparel is incredibly well-matched to the task of riding.

In order of priority, apparel-related purchases could be a helmet and shoes (which we've already discussed), gloves, and some sort of eye protection. The helmet and gloves top the list, because they help to protect you from the ground in case of a fall. Eye protection, such as goggles, keeps bugs and dirt out of your eyes, which also has safety implications. Shoes are so darned practical that they can't be ignored either. Beyond that, there's a whole world of dazzling clothes that can help make you a more efficient, more comfortable, and safer rider.

Why choose cycling-specific clothes beyond this? There can be a lot of wind out there in the world. Loose-fitting clothing flaps around, makes lots of noise, traps a lot of air, and makes you feel clammy from the perspiration. Shirts can ride up in the back. There usually aren't enough pockets in the right places. Drab colors may have looked more normal to a conservative eye, but they don't do a thing for visibility in traffic.

So, for city riding, consider bright clothes. For cutting through wind, look at reasonably tight jerseys with high-tech fabrics for comfort. There's a lot to pick from. The issue is function.

That also means wearing riding shorts with padding. You can get casual-style or racing-style shorts --somewhat traditional looking, or very tight.

As far as shirts go, a lot of people still wear cotton t-shirts, and that's okay, but not ideal. Jerseys, on the other hand, fit tighter, are longer in the back, don't hold too much moisture, and come in designs for improved visibility.

For colder weather, there are specialized jackets, tights and pants, heavier gloves -- a whole variety of great stuff.

All the Rest

You'll also need a few other little essentials around the house. One would be a floor pump and a tire pressure gauge. If your pump doesn't have a gauge built in, there are separate gauges available for not too much money. Proper tire inflation lets you know you're rolling along efficiently, without excessive drag. It also lets you know you haven't pumped the tires up way beyond their rated level, risking a blowout in the process. A gauge can also warn you of slow leaks. Most experienced riders check their tire pressure every time they ride, along with tightness of key bolts.

A good chain lubricant is another basic. Chain wear, and the related wear on your sprockets, has a lot to do with how a chain is maintained. There's no big mystery about this. Keep the surface of the chain wiped off. Lubricate it with something designed for bicycle chains (no 3-in-1 oil, for example). Don't let it dry out or rust. Don't blast it with water from a high-pressure hose. A squeaky bike is a tell-tale sign that you don't know what you're doing. The chain should last thousands of miles, with proper care.

If you want to occasionally clean the chain more thoroughly, there are chain cleaners available which remove grime (as well as the lubricant) with a solvent. These are especially useful for off-road riding, where the chain (and everything else) can get caked with crud.

The lubricant can also do double-duty in keeping your other moving parts moving. Things like brake cables and derailleurs do better if they get a dab of lubricant from time to time.

You might also want to use something to keep the frame clean and waxed, and to discourage corrosion. You want something that's easy to spray on, and wipe off.

Equipment Checklist:

Things You'll Need - "For All Kinds of Riding"

  • Helmet
  • Bike Bag
  • Patch Kit
  • Spare Tube
  • Minimum Tools
  • Pump
  • Tire Pressure Gauge
  • Water Bottle and Cage
  • Cycling Shoes
  • Cycling Gloves
  • Goggles/Glasses
  • Cycling Shorts
  • Cycling Jersey
  • Cycling Jacket
  • Lubricant
  • Lock

"Some Neat Extras"

  • Bicycle Computer
  • Magazine Subscription
  • Books, Videos
  • Indoor Trainer
  • Lighting System
  • Sunscreen
  • Bike Rack for Car

"For the City"

  • Rear-View Mirror
  • Lock

"For the Mountains"

  • Extra Water Bottles
  • Maps
  • Fanny Pack
  • Compass

"For Extended Touring"

  • Racks, Packs
  • Camping Equipment 


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