Getting into cycling is not like taking up other sports, you have to get a lot of equipment before you begin and some of it is head-spinningly expensive. We decided to make a list of the actual essentials you need to get out their and enjoying your bike and highlighted a few areas where some newbies end up paying for things they don’t need.
Helmets: How to Choose
The debate about cycle safety has raged for as long as there have been bicycles, but – whether you’re a cyclist, a driver, both or neither – there are some basics that we all agree on. One of these inarguable facts is that there are a lot of idiots out there, and just because you know your road safety, doesn’t mean everyone around you does. One of the best ways to protect yourself from the errors of others is to get yourself a cycling helmet.
There’s a huge range of variety in bike helmets, but when you’re choosing yours there’s really only one thing you have to remember – all helmets are made to a minimum safety standard and one at the bottom of the price spectrum is going to protect you just as well as one at the top end, give or take. If you’re very concerned with styling and looks then top-end helmets do tend to look a little bit sharper, but for most purposes a bargain basement one is just as good. It’s not like you’ll be posing for your family Christmas card in the thing anyway.
Top tip: absolutely nobody below semi-professional level actually needs an aero helmet!
A Decent Hand Pump
When I got into cycling I bought a pretty poor quality hand pump. If I could go back and do one thing differently throughout my life on two wheels it would be throwing that thing away about two years earlier than I eventually did. A good hand pump can make the difference between being able to fix a flat roadside before finishing your ride and having to take a very expensive taxi/train ride back to your starting point.
Some bike snobs may look sideways at a frame with a bike pump holder attached, but realistically it’s a good practical option for those who don’t want to have their jersey or jacket pockets stuffed with miscellaneous mechanical items.
Top tip: CO2 pumps offer a nice alternative to the traditional hand pump – they’re usually comprised of a small canister of compressed air with a detachable dispenser. You throw away the canisters and keep the dispenser. Honestly, they’re more of a nice-to-have than an essential.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to invest in the tools needed to fix a broken rear derailleur or replace the bearings in one of your wheel hubs – but a basic multi-tool and a couple of spare inner tubes could really save your life when you’re stuck on the side of the road miles from the nearest mechanic.
Most bike shops will sell at least one cycling-specific multi-tool, which will include a selection of hex keys (also known as Allen keys) and a couple of screwdriver heads. Better quality multi-tools will also come with a chain-link extractor – if you feel confident in your mechanical ability I’d recommend getting one of these and a spare chain link.
Fixing punctures and replacing inner tubes is a skill every cyclist should have, if only to avoid the exorbitant prices some less-ethical mechanics charge to fix a flat. It’s a good idea to always carry two spare tubes with you, as well as a set of tyre levers. If you’re riding solo for more than three or four hours, you might want to think about taking a third spare.
Top tip: plastic tyre levers are much better for your rims (and often cheaper) than their metal equivalents.
Recommended Read: 20 Essential Bike Repair Tools
Cycling requires lots of different types of clothing, so when you’re beginning it’s good to go for things that are versatile. A lightweight waterproof jacket is absolutely essential – any experienced cyclist will be able to tell you at least one story where they left home in blazing sunshine without rain protection, only for the heavens to open and drench them to the bone. There are lots of cycling-specific coats and jackets, but a packable hiking or running jacket is also a good option.
Obviously, you don’t need to be dressed head-to-toe in lycra to go for a bike ride, but it’s advisable to have at least some shorts made of the lightweight material for rides longer than a couple of hours. This is to avoid discomfort and chafing created by prolonged friction between your skin and your clothes. Bib shorts (the ones with the full straps that come over the shoulders are better still, as they’ll stay in place better).
Hardened roadies will try and tell you that you have to have clip-in shoes and pedals, but this simply isn’t true. It’s fair to say that clip-in shoes are more efficient when it comes to power transfer, but for those starting out the idea of being physically attached to the bike is a little bit daunting. Over time you’ll develop confidence on the bike and may feel more happy switching to clip-in pedals, but for now focus on getting familiar with the feel of riding a bike for long periods of time.
Top tip: in winter you will need gloves – find the thickest ones you can, then ask the guy in the bike store if they have anything warmer. Then do the same with overshoes!
I’ll never forget riding through London the first time at night on my new road bike. A pedestrian yelled the words, ‘Lights, dickhead!’ at me. I remember thinking it was such a uniquely British thing to express concern for someone’s safety and insult them at the same time. I went and bought some lights the next day.
While helmets are all pretty much the same (as mentioned above), lights are a whole different story. I’d strongly recommend skipping the first few price brackets and getting something in the middle-to-high price range. The difference in the amount of visibility and light they produce is remarkable and could very easily be the difference between a serious incident and a safe cycling experience for many years.
Good lights can also last a very long time, so over the years it’s going to save you money. Better lights also tend to be USB chargeable, rather than running off AA or AAA batteries – another cost savings right there.
Top tip: a light on the front and back of your bike are essential, but an additional helmet-mounted light will add an extra layer of visibility.
Recommended Read: Best Road Bike Lights
What type of cycling equipment do you feel is essential out there on the road? What cycling essentials did we miss?