Bike shops are always filled with an intriguing array of colorful clothing, accessories and tools, making it somewhat daunting to figure out exactly where to start and what you’ll need.
This is a list of items that I use regularly, and have found invaluable from the start.
1. First Aid Kit
Although we hope it will never be needed, it’s a good idea to carry a basic first aid kit just in case. The most common injuries will be cuts or grazes, so I would recommend a simple dressing and bandage kit and some antiseptic wipes. A large square bandage is useful as it can be folded into a triangle and used as a sling for those more serious impacts where arms, shoulders and collar bones tend to take the biggest punch.
The first and, needless to say, last ride I didn’t carry a first aid kit was during a MTB race earlier this year; I found myself flying toward a tree with my arm ahead of me in true Superman-style. I was extremely grateful for a fellow racer who found me soon afterwards and used his bandage to form a makeshift sling for my arm. Not so much like Superman after all!
Not much explanation needed here - in some areas it’s a legal requirement, but regardless, if I’m ever in an accident, I would prefer my helmet to take the impact rather than just my head. Most bike shops will let you try on helmets to ensure you get the right sizing, and help you adjust the straps to suit. Generally, the higher priced helmets will be lighter and designed for better comfort and air flow.
3. Puncture Kit: Tire levers and pump, puncture repair kit and spare inner tube
If you want to save space, C02 cartridges are a smaller, faster alternative to a hand pump, especially for road tires which can take some effort to pump to a higher air pressure. I squeeze the tools, spare tube and two cartridges into a saddle bag that I leave fixed to the bike - that way I can’t leave without them.
It’s easy to get caught in low light if the weather changes or you get caught out after dusk, so I recommend always having lights with you on every ride. It’s illegal in most places to be on the roads without front and rear lights, and don’t underestimate how difficult it can be to notice a cyclist on a cloudy day against a backdrop of grey roads, buildings and traffic.
If you’re cycling in well-lit city areas and can easily see where you’re going, lights will mainly provide visibility to traffic, other cyclists and pedestrians. If you’re cycling off-road, you’ll need something with a higher output in the front to light up any irregularities and obstacles in the trail well ahead of you. Off-road trails tend to appear much smoother than they actually are without adequate light to cast shadows.
5. Map or GPS Cycling Computer
These days, there are more smart phones than bikes, so most people will have access to a convenient, live-tracking applications which will incorporate maps and GPS location, as well as other ride data such as distance, maximum and average speeds, etc.
There are heaps of these applications, but my particular favorite at the moment is Strava Cycling. They all provide relatively similar features, but Strava is rapidly growing in popularity because it ranks you against all other riders who use the Strava application, on various user-created sections of trail or road. This allows riders to compete for various claims such as King/Queen of the Mountain and fastest times for particular sections.
Alternatively, you could opt for a GPS cycling computer or a standard map, but plan your trip and be properly prepared before any ride.
A correct kit includes padded pants, gloves, windbreaker or spray jacket, sunglasses and sunscreen.
Yes, I’ve sneakily squeezed just a few extras into my list of ten things, but believe it or not, we don’t ride around in skin tight lycra just for the wolf-whistles. More importantly, it’s functional.
Padded pants, or knicks, will provide a much more comfortable ride and help prevent chaffing from clothing seams and fabric.
Gloves provide padding for your palms, which will help to prevent blisters and vibrations, and will help protect your skin if you fall.
A jacket or arm warmers are useful to have for cooler weather, early morning rides, or mountain climbs, because riding into cold wind or rain can quickly lead to illness or hypothermia.
Sunglasses and sunscreen are a must - we all know the dangers of UV rays. Cycling tan lines, such as sunburn down just one side of each leg, are not a good look.
7. Multi-tool with Chain Tool and Removable Chain Link
Unless your chain has broken conveniently right out the front of a bike shop, there is no other way to fix a broken chain, and you would definitely be walking home. Learn some basic bike maintenance skills, such as fixing a broken chain, realigning a derailed chain, puncture repairs, and how to do regular maintenance and safety checks.
Check with your local bike shop for advice, as some even offer classes. There is also a great selection of books available with some very comprehensive maintenance guides.
Simple DIY maintenance and cleaning can help keep servicing costs down and lessen the risk of mechanical issues during the ride. For example, if you’ve been riding in the rain or if your bike is stored outside, chain lubricant is particularly useful to help prevent parts from rusting.
Fix a water bottle cage to your bike or wear a hydration pack for those longer rides, and remember to stay hydrated. Muesli or protein bars make convenient on-the-go snacks, and fruit such as bananas are rich in carbohydrates, making a fast and healthy energy source.
10. Track Pump
I’ve found my track pump to be one of the most used tools of my entire inventory. Running your tires at the recommended air pressure will minimize the risk of punctures, and a good quality track pump makes it fast and easy to check the pressure before every ride.