Essential Bike Accessories
So, you’ve got a new bike and you’re ready to ride, right? Not so fast. Before you hit the road or the trail, it is important to learn about some of the cycling essentials -- small pieces of gear that make all the difference in the world.
The most common problem to have while riding is a flat tire. Luckily, most modern tires and tubes provide much better flat resistance than in the past. In the event of a flat (and they do happen, especially on rough roads or if you do not properly inflate your tires), tire irons allow you to remove the tire from the rim of the wheel.
As this process is nearly impossible without this special tool, tire levers are a must-have. They can be bought for less than five dollars. Look for sturdy, reinforced models that will last a long time.
Spare tube and patch kit
If you do get a flat, you will need a spare tube and/or patch kit to replace or repair the punctured tube. For long distance riders or people traveling in remote areas, it is prudent to carry two or more spare tubes in addition to a patch kit.
Look for high quality tubes with good construction, and make sure you match the tube size to your wheel size and the valve to your pump. There are two types of valves in common use: Presta and Schrader. As a rule of thumb, newer bikes -- especially road bikes -- use Presta valves, while some mountain bikes use Schrader.
Tire levers, spare tubes, and patch kits are useless is you can’t put air back in the tires, so it is important to carry a pump for all but the shortest rides. While small, compact pumps are available, it can be difficult to inflate your tires sufficiently with so little leverage. We recommend frame pumps, which are larger and made to nest snugly in the frame of your bicycle, held in place with a spring-loaded mechanism.
The best frame pumps are sturdy, lightweight, and can fill a tire quickly and without too much effort. Be sure to match your pump with your tubes – pumps are usually made to fit only one sort of valve (although some pumps are compatible with both Schrader and Presta, and adapters can be found).
If you ride at night or in dark, cloudy, or misty conditions, a headlight is one of the most important accessories to have. Most bike headlights are designed to make you visible to oncoming traffic and pedestrians. These lights should be waterproof, bright, and should have enough battery life to last for a few good rides.
In general, only more expensive headlights provide enough illumination for you to see the road clearly; it takes more expensive bulbs and higher battery power to put out that sort of light. Some high-end headlights use separate battery packs that can be stashed in a water-bottle cage, a pocket or a backpack, and models are even available that divert some of your pedaling power to the lights.
Bright, blinking red lights are a must-have for the back of your bike. Like brake lights on a car, a red light on the rear of your bike will keep you safe in dark conditions. If you ride at night, a bike taillight (or several) could save your neck. Luckily, these lights are very inexpensive -- some cost less than $10 -- and the batteries often last for over 100 hours of continuous use.
A good bike lock is one of the most important things you can carry with you on a ride. Even if you don’t plan to leave your bike, a lock allows you to stop for a snack or a drink without having to worry about someone snatching your prized cycle. Locks generally come in two different styles: cable locks, and U-locks.
Cable locks are easier to use due to their flexibility, but are easier for a determined thief to cut through using bolt cutters or other heavy tools. However, if you choose your parking spots carefully (well-lit, high traffic areas are safer than isolated areas), a cable lock should provide more than enough safety.
U-locks are made of metal bars instead of cables and are much more difficult to cut. However, U-locks are also bulkier and heavier, only secure one wheel of your bicycle along with the frame, and can be hard to position around some lockdown points like a large post or tree that would be used with cable locks. For maximum security, some riders bring one lock of each type and use them together.
While real breakdowns and mechanical failures are uncommon with reputable modern bicycles, occasional problems do arise. To be prepared, most riders who go more than a few miles should carry a basic set of tools to make simple repairs.
The most important tools are generally Allen wrenches (hex wrenches) in the 5 through 7 sizes, tire levers (already mentioned previously), and a spoke wrench. People who are touring or riding in remote areas may also wish to carry needle-nose pliers and an adjustable wrench.
Specially made bike multi-tools are available that provide a good set of basic tools in a compact, lightweight package. These can be invaluable for emergency repairs, but remember: a tool is useless if you don’t know how to use it. Learn about basic bike maintenance before relying on these tools.
Many riders have specific needs beyond these basic accessories. People riding to commute or touring need bike racks and pannier bags. Those who ride in heavy traffic may need rearview mirrors. All-weather cyclists swear by full-coverage fenders to keep rain and mud off them, and thirsty riders don’t leave home without water bottles mounted in their bottle cages.
The right accessories make the difference between a comfortable, happy ride and a bad time. As the saying goes, the right tools make the job easy. Don’t leave the house without them!