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The Best, Must-Have Bike Accessories: Your Checklist for Getting Started

February 28, 2019

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The Best, Must-Have Bike Accessories: Your Checklist for Getting Started

With so many choices, buying the right cycling accessories can seem intimidating if you’re starting out. We’ll make the process easy by discussing must-haves, nice-to-haves, and parts that you can pick up later.


Cycling Essentials Are Just As Important As Your Bike

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If you’re new to cycling, you might be shocked to learn just how many bike accessories are available, as well as how quickly their cost can add up. In fact, it’s not difficult to spend more on aftermarket components than on your bike.

Furthermore, no single setup is ideal for every rider. Instead, the combination of parts and accessories that will maximize your cycling fun—and your bike’s lifespan—is unique based on your specific needs, personal preferences, riding habits, and so forth.

If you’re just getting started on your cycling journey, this article aims to help you cut through all the clutter and quickly choose which accessories you need. How? I’ll briefly discuss the basics, provide popular examples among Amazon customers, and sprinkle in some of my first-hand experience to offer personalized insight.

Let’s start by breaking must-have cycling accessories into categories.

Bike Gear for Safety & Security

Helmet ($50 – $150+)

Other than the bike itself, a helmet is the only other piece of equipment you absolutely can’t go without. Why? Here are a couple of key statistics from Helmet.org, a non-profit consumer-funded advocacy program founded in 1989:

  • Cyclists incur more head injuries as a group than any other popular sports or recreational activity, including football, baseball/softball, and basketball.
  • Among the roughly 50,000 traffic injuries involving cyclists each year, “helmet use has been estimated to reduce the odds of head injury by 50 percent, and the odds of head, face, or neck injury by 33 percent.”
  • Of the 835 cyclist deaths that occurred in 2016, more than half (51%) weren’t wearing helmets, which dropped to 16% for those with helmets (33% unknown).

Bottom line: If you’re pedaling your bike, you should have a helmet on your noggin’. Otherwise, you’re taking a hugely unnecessary risk with your health, and perhaps even your life.

There are literally hundreds of options to choose from, most of which are priced somewhere between $50 and $150, although you can certainly spend much more. Keep in mind that paying a higher price doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get better protection, although spendier models are often lighter and better ventilated.

Road bike helmets are frequently the lightest and most aerodynamic types, while mountain bike helmets boast greater head coverage and sun visors to help accommodate the more upright riding position.

Eye Protection ($10 – $200+)

Just like your brain, you only get one set of eyes. And as you’re cruising along enjoying your ride, you’ll quickly find out just how much debris wants to make its way inside them.

You’ll find a lot of premium label eyewear marketed toward cyclists, but if you tend to lose/break sunglasses rapidly (like me), I’ve found that a cheapo pair from a local pharmacy works well.

Pro tip: confirm that the lenses block 99% to 100% of both UVA and UVB radiation, which can permanently damage your eyes if left unchecked.

Lights ($40 – $200+)

Whether you ride at night, frequently bike long distances during the day, or simply want to maximize your visibility any time you’re spinning your wheels, front and rear lights are advisable.

I’ve had great luck with a Cygolite SL 50 and Light & Motion Urban 350 combo, although the latter is being phased out. The good news is that you can now purchase the more powerful Urban 500 model for the same price as the original.

Like many other cycling accessories, the sky’s the limit when it comes to lighting. But, don’t blow your budget right out of the gate, since you can always upgrade (spend more money) as you progress and require longer-lasting batteries or brighter bulbs.

Until then, lower-priced options like those above should get you through just fine as you’re starting, while also maximizing your safety, whether day or night.

Alerting Devices ($20 – $60)

Not only do you want to be seen while you’re cycling, but you also want to be heard, which is especially important when passing pedestrians or other cyclists.

Pro tip: Remember to also say, “On your left!”

One of the most popular methods of alerting others is a bell like Spurcycle, which is on the pricier side. I’ve had nothing but fantastic experiences with them, though, and online customers seem to report much of the same.

For added variety, here are three Spurcycle competitors found on Amazon, which come with similarly high marks from customers:

Bike Lock ($15 – $100+)

Whether you keep your bike in your garage, your basement, a shed, or attached to a street sign on the sidewalk, the fact of the matter is that no option is 100% secure. In other words, if someone wants your bike bad enough and has sufficient time, there’s really no stopping them.

Still, if you frequently ride in urban areas or keep your bike outside (covered, hopefully) when you’re not using it, you need to lock it down. From least to most secure, the most common types are cable locks ($15+), chain locks ($20+), and u-locks ($40+).

Yes, you can spend a pretty penny on a lock. However, keep in mind that it’s meant to protect your bike, which is probably an even bigger investment. Also, bike locks are long-term purchases, especially if they’re used infrequently.

In fact, I’ve owned (and still regularly use) my OnGuard Bulldog u-lock since 1999. It remained my only one until 2016, when I purchased a longer Kryptonite Evolution Series 4 New-U Heavy Duty model.

Emergency & Maintenance Essentials For Your Bike

You could only be a mile from home when something goes wrong, but it might as well be on the other side of the planet if you don’t have the essentials you need.

Remain Ready to Repair Flat Tires ($5 – $80+)

You’ll need tools to help you change out your tube in the event of a flat tire, which is guaranteed to happen eventually.

These consist of a pair of tire levers ($5 – $20), a spare tube ($7 – $20) or patch kit ($4 – $7), and a portable pump or other device ($20 – $80+) that allow you to reinflate your tube and tire once reinstalled.

I’ve had great luck with the Lezyne Sport Drive HP on my road/gravel bike, the Lezyne Micro Floor Pump on my mountain bike, and the Blackburn Airtower 2 for the workshop.

Related: Comprehensive Bike Pump Buying Guide

And, unless you plan on carrying all of this in a back jersey pocket or in a large hydration pack (more soon), you’ll also need a saddlebag ($10 – $50+). A multi-tool ($7 – $40+) is always a good idea as well, which provides quick access to often-used bicycle tools in a compact package.

Keeping Your Bike Up & Running ($8 – $22)

While you can’t always avoid getting holes in your inner tubes, you can help prevent experiencing a breakdown by picking up a few essentials that can go a long way toward ensuring your bike is in optimal working order.

Your bike’s drivetrain (the parts that allow it to move, such as the chain, chainrings, rear cassette, and so forth) is its most crucial system. And to keep it working in tip-top shape, you must regularly apply chain lube.

There are dozens of different formulas out there ranging in price between $8 and $15. We’ve used Boeshield T-9 for years and highly recommend it to other cyclists as well.

You’ll also need to regularly clean out all of the dirt and other gunk that can accumulate in the drivetrain. There are all kinds of specialized cleansers out there, although mild soap, water, and a soft cloth should work well as you’re starting out.

However, I’ve found that a small, rectangular, stiff-bristled brush works wonders, without expending a lot of elbow grease. Park Tool offers a brush as part of their complete set ($22), which can help you get into all of your bike’s hard-to-reach nooks and crannies.

WD-40’s degreaser ($12) has also saved me a lot of time and energy over the years.

Cycling Comfort & Apparel Essentials

Shorts, Shirts, & Gloves ($15 – $150+)

Among all the cycling ‘essentials’ listed here, shorts, shirts, and gloves are perhaps the least mandatory. In other words, you definitely don’t need them to start pedaling around town.

With this said, by significantly increasing comfort, these pieces of apparel can help you bike longer, farther, and faster. And if you continue cycling long enough, they’ll become must-haves.

For example, gloves feature padding in common contact points with handlebars. Shorts come with a chamois material that dramatically reduces pressure on your sit bones, and jerseys are crafted from moisture-wicking materials to keep you dry and aerated.

Again, the sky’s the limit when it comes to your choices, and the right options will almost wholly come down to personal preference. I’ve had great luck over the years with many of Pearl Izumi’s shorts (especially their bibs) and gloves, as well as Primal Wear jerseys.

Hydration & Nutrition ($8 – $40)

Even if you only cycle a couple of miles during the summer, you’ll quickly learn how important maintaining proper hydration is to having a good time.

The least expensive solution is purchasing bottle cages ($8+ each) and insulated water bottles ($10+) and attaching them to your bike, although hydration packs like the Camelbak Skyline LR 10 can add water capacity, along with storage space.

At between $40 and above, though, a hydration pack will also meaningfully increase your overall budget.

Another equally important—but also frequently overlooked—component to having a great ride is maintaining proper nutrition. Specifically, carbohydrate intake.

Pro tip: As a general rule of thumb, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends consuming 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates for every hour of cycling.

This amounts to about one energy bar, one to two gels, or a 16 oz sports drink. You can even pack easy-to-carry goodies like crackers or a peanut butter sandwich if you don’t want to spend extra money on dedicated sports nutrition products.

Misc. Cycling Comfort Must-Haves ($10 – $20)

Last, but certainly not least, as you progress in your cycling experience, you might find that some of the smallest, simplest solutions can make the biggest differences.

For example, you’ll want to wear appropriate sunscreen ($10 – $20) for the conditions, which can help prevent premature aging and skin cancer. Interviewed for a recent Men’s Health article, Dr. Y. Claire Chang, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist in NYC, recommends wearing a minimum SPF 30 a reapplying every two to three hours.

If you plan to spend some time on your saddle, you might also choose to buy an anti-chafe cream like Chamois Butt’r ($15), which I’ve had great experience with. There are also versions from popular competitors like Assos, Gooch Guard, and DZNuts.

The Bottom Line When it Comes to Essential Cycling Accessories

It takes a bit of planning (not to mention trial and error), but once you have a core accessory setup that meets your needs and preferences, you’ll maximize your cycling fun.

From there, the sky’s the limit. You can spend thousands on additional accessories and parts like shoes, computers, smartphone apps, tires, wheels, handlebar tape, apparel (jerseys, shorts, socks, hats, gloves, shoes, rain and wind jackets, etc.), pedals, seats, electric bike kits, repair stands, car racks—you name it, and you can almost certainly change it out.

To get you started on the right foot, here’s a summary of everything we’ve discussed:

  • Must-Haves: Helmet
  • Nice-to-Haves: Apparel (Shorts, Gloves, Jerseys), Eye Protection, Alerting Devices (Bells), Flat Kit (Pump, Inner Tube, Tire Levers), Water Bottles / Bottle Cages, Maintenance Accessories (Chain Lube, Brushes), Sunscreen
  • Can Wait: Lights, Locks, Chamois Cream, Hydration Pack

Keep rolling: Do E-Bikes Need Different Tires?

Derek is an avid cyclist with more than two decades of experience in the sport, and currently resides in Denver, Colorado. He enjoys all types, including road, MTB, cyclocross/gravel, commuting, and touring. When he's not writing reviews and guides related to bike accessories, parts, and gear for TreadBikely.com, he's riding, talking about cycling, or thinking about bikes he can't afford. #rolloutblissout
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