Saturday 29 January 2011

Stuff You Don’t Realise You Need When You Start Cycling, But That You Do Need

(For Brow of Oscillation.)

Here’s a post which I hope will be handy to anyone thinking of buying a bike. One of the aspects of getting a bike which I hadn’t expected was that the buying of the bike is only the part. You need a whole load of stuff along with it. Well, okay, maybe you don’t need all of it, but you do need some of it, and the rest will make for a more pleasant cycling experience.

Be aware that much of this can be purchased quite cheaply, depending on what it is. The only areas where I have found that paying more money results in a difference I actually noticed is with cycling-related clothing, and even then only with clothing designed for cycling, like my jacket and overshoes. My standard cycling outfit consists of a base layer (available from fitness shops – less sweaty than a t-shirt, but optionl) and jacket on top, with optional layer in between for cold weather, fleecy tracksuit bottoms and knee-high socks from Primark, pair of old trainers, helmet from Argos and an old pair of thermal gloves. (Pants are involved too, I hasten to add.) The only clothes worth more than a tenner are the base layer and jacket.

1. Helmet
Controversial. Some people will argue you should never ride without one. Some will argue that they are ineffective, and some will argue you are actually safer without one. It’s up to you. Personally, I almost never ride without one, unless I’m on a long ride on a quiet country road and at risk of overheating if I wear it.

You do also have the consideration of where to store your helmet, which depends on where you’ll be locking up the bike. If it’s in the shed at work and you can keep the helmet in your desk drawer, this is somewhat less inconvenient than having to carry it with you if you’re doing the shopping on Northumberland Street – albeit a helmet will usually fit easily into a backpack and weighs very little. With some helmets, it’s possible to thread a cable lock (see below) through one of the ventilation holes in the helmet, and thus lock it onto the bike when you leave it. You can pay anything for your helmet, from £8 in Argos to £130 at a specialist bike shop. Whatever you decide, you need to consider the issue.

Something else no-one tells you when you start cycling. On many helmets, the thin plastic band inside the rim of the helmet (that holds it on your head), plus any strips of padding inside, are removable. (Mine stick on with Velcro.) This has the advantage that you can remove them and wash them, which is a good idea if you ever get a sweaty forehead during cycling – it avoids the dreaded “forehead break-out in spots” syndrome. You can machine-wash them, or just rinse them under the tap!

2. Lights

You can pay as much or as little as you like for your lights, but you do need them, even if you don’t plan to ride at night – they are important in bad weather during the daytime as well. Fortunately, these days good lights are easily available for a cheap price. You want LED lights which are not very big and which easily detach from the bike so that you can take them off if you are leaving the bike in a public place. Most LED lights come with a choice of “steady” or “flashing” settings.

3. Puncture repair kit, spare inner tube, pump, and a bag to carry them in.

There is, as far as I know, no cycling equivalent of the RAC. If your tyre goes flat on a lonely road in the rain, it’ll be you needing to fix it, unless you fancy pushing the bike all the way home. Fortunately, all of the above can be purchased for about £10 from Argos or Wilkinsons. If I had to give only one piece of advice to anyone buying a bike for the first time, it would be “Buy all of the above, get someone to show you how to change an inner tube / stick a patch on a puncture, then put the pump, spare tube and repair kit in the bag and attach it to the bike”. Do this and you will always be able to get yourself home.

With regard to the inner tube: you do need a spare, in case you can’t find or repair the puncture in the old one. Bikes come with two types of valve: Schraeda or Presta. It is not particularly important to remember which one is which, but it is important that a) your spare inner tube has the right type of valve for your bike and b) your pump will inflate a tube which uses this type of valve.

3a. Framebag or saddlebag.

Part of “3” above. These are the smallest types of bags that attach to bikes, either at the back of the saddle, or strapped onto the top tube / seatpost. Ideal for carrying around puncture repair supplies and spare batteries for your lights. (You might also like to chuck in some tissues / wet wipes / plasters.)

4. Chain oil

Available cheaply from Wilkinsons. Add a couple of drops to the chain each week.

5. Locks

Ideally you want two locks. One is a D-lock, which is a rigid metal hoop which can be used to lock the bike firmly onto a post / fence / cycle rack. The other is a chain or cable lock, which can be used a) in situations where the D-lock won’t fit round whatever you want to lock the bike onto, b) in conjunction with the D-lock, where you use the D-lock to lock the bike onto a post or whatever, then wrap the cable lock around the frame and through the wheels to immobilise the bike and make it impossible to nick the wheels.

Again, you can spend as much as you like on your locks. Some people recommend assuming that you should spend the equivalent of 10% of the bike’s value on them. Personally I use the El Cheapo locks from Argos, but then my bike is not massively valuable, except to me. If you don’t plan to ride with panniers or a luggage rack, you’ll need to either remember to pick the lock(s) up every time you get on the bike, or find some way of permanently clipping them to it. Many D-locks come with clips that attach to the frame for just this purpose. (Cable locks can be coiled around part of the bike’s frame to keep them out of the way when you’re riding. I’ve seen quite a few people keep their cable lock permanently coiled onto the bike.)
More in this vein soon!


  1. Brilliant, I feel wiser already, cheers!

  2. Very useful, thanks CD. On the helmet issue, I recommend to all my friends a good ozzie hat, preferably in a bright colour. This keeps the rain out (and the sun off), arguably protects your head nearly as well as a helmet, and most importantly gives the impression to nearby drivers that you are a complete idiot and to be steered well clear of.