Pimp My Bike!
August 20, 2009 1:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm about to go on a bike accessory spending spree, and I wanted input on the most impenetrable locks, the most stylish helmets, and on everything from baskets to bells to headlights. I also would welcome any input on the best way to light a bike frame using electroluminescent wire.

HELMET: After considering Nutcase Helmets and this hilarious derby hat helmet and wishing the Yakkay helmets were available in the US, I'm almost decided on the Bern Watts. I can't shake the feeling that I'm missing something really cool in the thousands of helmets out there, though; have you ever seen a helmet that looks so cool you actually want to wear it?

LOCK: U-locks are still the gold standard, right? Does it matter if it's actually a Kryptonite?

HEADLIGHT AND TAILLIGHT: These are required by law and safety, but I still want them to look good, you know? Am I going to regret not getting some crazy expensive bulky high powered light when I'm squinting into the pitch or getting run over from behind? Chicago is pretty well-lit; do I really need a eye-scorching headlight if I never ride trails?

BASKETS, BELLS, HELL, MAYBE EVEN STREAMERS: These are just for fun, so if you've found anything particularly awesome or cute, hook it up.

It seems like most people trot this out only for Burning Man, but I honestly would like to keep something like this wrapped around my frame 24/7 and turn it on for night rides. Does anyone have any ideas of how to keep an inverter attached, dry, and preferably unpilfered? I would need to be able to detach it to replace the batteries and in case it started pouring. The best idea I've had so far is to velcro the inverter underneath my hollow banana seat, but I'm not sure how to keep it safe from the spray from my un-fendered back wheel; maybe a velcro-attached piece of vinyl? Shrink-wrap?

THE BASIC BACKGROUND: The most important things to me are one, safety, and two, style. I want things that will help me not get killed and look really slick while doing it. I am not athletic and the most competitive event I'm going to take part in on my bike are Eat, Drink, and Ride Bikes pub crawls. If I cared about speed or mileage or whatever people like Matt Haughey worry about, I would not be riding a single speed knock-off Schwinn Stingray from the 1960s with a cruiser brake. I ride my bike to have fun and get from Point A to Point B.
posted by Juliet Banana to Travel & Transportation (45 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Nothing really specific, but I recommend a rear-view mirror. I have one attached to the left handlebar tip and it is fantastic for riding in traffic.
posted by CathyG at 1:33 PM on August 20, 2009

Don't forget a spoke card too!
posted by bonehead at 1:35 PM on August 20, 2009

do I really need a eye-scorching headlight if I never ride trails?

No. Street lights are pretty bright all considered. For city riding the best thing is lights that blink as they make you more noticeable. The eye-scorchers are only a necessity for unlit trails.

when I biked back from fireworks on the 4th of july people on the trail were seriously freaked out - a few thought someone was driving a car down the trail behind them because my litez were so britez. They commented to me about it.
posted by GuyZero at 1:38 PM on August 20, 2009

A few thoughts:

Skateboard helmets like the Bern Watts have terrible ventilation. I used one of those for skating for a while, then switched to my bike helmet, because it was heavy and caused me to overheat. A cheap bike helmet, like any of the $35 Bells, weighs nearly nothing, has plenty of ventilation, and meets all industry safety standards. No helmet will look cool, per se, but looking like you don't want to end up a vegetable (read: smart) is pretty cool in my book.

U-locks are still the gold standard, right? Yes, as long as you spend more than $25 for a good one, and make sure you use it correctly (ie: don't just lock your front wheel, don't buy a U-lock at Wal-Mart).

Does it matter if it's actually a Kryptonite?
No. I use OnGuard, and there are other good brands.

Chicago is pretty well-lit; do I really need a eye-scorching headlight if I never ride trails? No -- but the brighter the light, the better the chance a driver will see you. Also, a blink setting is really nice for being seen at dusk.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 1:46 PM on August 20, 2009

Do you live in Portland?
posted by mecran01 at 1:48 PM on August 20, 2009

Response by poster: Do you live in Portland?

posted by Juliet Banana at 1:51 PM on August 20, 2009

Locks: it depends on where you are, and how much your bike is worth. Living in NYC, my bike is a perpetual target, and bike thieves will try andget awaywith whatever they can. I actually use three locks to lock up my bike. I use the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit lock for my rear wheel and my frame, and then two wire locks to lock my front tire to my frame and my seat to my frame.

Your back wheel is more valuable than your front, because it has the cog attached, so if you are going with a U-lock, put it through both the frame and the back tire. it's a a good idea to lock both tires to your bike if you have quick release wheels that allow you (and thieves to easily remove them.)

I'm somewhat over protective of my bike, to be sure, but I learned to be like this the hard way, and the $120 upfront investment on locks has served me well for the past two years or so, so it's worth it.
posted by orville sash at 1:52 PM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yes, as long as you spend more than $25 for a good one

How can you tell if it's a good one?
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:54 PM on August 20, 2009

Well, here is an example of a worthless one. And the OnGuards and Kryptonites start at $20 and up.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 1:59 PM on August 20, 2009

You want at least two lights: a white one front and a red one rear. A blinking rear light is very visible, very effective at warning cars that you're riding a bike.

When I ride on brightly-lit streets, all I'll carry are LED blinkies for front and rear. Planet Bike makes nice ones, and MEC has their ubiquitous turtle (front, rear, or hemet mounts).

Off-road or on unlit multi-use paths, you need something more substantial. Big lights aren't cheap. The sine qua non of bike lights is the SON front generator hub with a supernova lamp. If you aren't Scrooge McDuck, Planet Bike makes some really good higher power LED battery lights too.
posted by bonehead at 2:00 PM on August 20, 2009

Best answer: For the Cold Cathode/EL wire: the Down Low Glow.
posted by bonehead at 2:08 PM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Finally, the ultimate in wheel pimpitude has to be the Spoke POV light kit.
posted by bonehead at 2:11 PM on August 20, 2009

Post-finally: just because it's so geeky: the pedalite. No batteries required!
posted by bonehead at 2:15 PM on August 20, 2009

A good friend of mine once advised me to stick to bike helmets and not consider board helmets; apparently, insurance companies in the US get real picky about what the cyclist was wearing at the time when the car door reached out and tried to eat him or her. Go figure.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:32 PM on August 20, 2009

Best answer: Speaking as a driver who has nearly hit cyclists who come from behind me in the early evening/night, please have more than one light on the front of your bike. If I'm moving over to make a right turn, I check my mirrors of course, but your small headlight - and the rest of you with it - may well be completely washed out by the headlights of cars behind me, rendering you invisible. I have found that cyclists with a reasonably bright front headlamp + some sort of blinky light in front are much more visible when I do the mirror/over-the-shoulder check.
posted by rtha at 2:34 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

3M Reflective Tape on your posts.
posted by iamabot at 2:53 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

An option for locking your wheels is to use a locking skewer, instead of a quick-release skewer. Good options are Pitlock and Pinhead.

The advantage is that you have to carry a lot fewer locks/chains/cables/etc. The disadvantage is that it takes longer to remove your wheel should you get a flat. That's never been a problem for me, but it's something to consider.
posted by iwhitney at 2:55 PM on August 20, 2009

Some thoughts on locks:
You can lock your front wheel with a pitlock, then you'll only need to lock the back one with your D-lock, I have had good experiences with Abus locks, however the effectiveness of the cable lock against attack is disputed.You should bare in mind that all locks are breakable, the point of good lock is to make your bike more difficult to steal than other nearby bikes.
posted by munchbunch at 3:07 PM on August 20, 2009

If you're truly paranoid about theft, there's linked videos and a lot of discussion here.
posted by maudlin at 3:15 PM on August 20, 2009

Chicago is pretty well-lit

And yet I, as a driver in Chicago, still managed to be surprised by the odd cyclist who thought it prudent to wear dark clothing on a dark bike with minimal reflectors/lights at night. This is not something to be super stylish about. Particularly as you turn corners, or if you cut through alleys, this becomes a big issue, but really anytime your riding your bike at night it's something to take seriously. Of the several very common cars I've driven, all had a visibility problem in some area (the side pillars in the front are super-wide, or the rear window is too high or too small, etc.). A small reflective patch or faintly blinking light would be easy to miss if the light caught while you were in my blind spot.

Make yourself as visible as humanly possible.
posted by Meg_Murry at 3:27 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You should bare in mind that all locks are breakable, the point of good lock is to make your bike more difficult to steal than other nearby bikes.

This is very true. In fact, your best defense against theft is to lock up your bike near a much more expensive bike. No thief is going to bother to steal your cute-but-not-particularly-valuable knockoff Stingray if the bike next to it is a $2500 carbon-fiber roadie.
posted by dersins at 3:32 PM on August 20, 2009

Best answer: I think people are going a little overboard with the lock advice, here. You guys have looked at the bike, right? Its vintage appeal might make it attractive to thieves as an intact piece, but I don't think the chances of somebody finding it worthwhile to unbolt those (20-inch, too flimsy for BMX, non-quick-release) wheels and make off with one is very high at all.

Keep in mind, OP, that those multiple beefy locks are gonna have to attach to your frame somewhere and be carried around, interfering somewhat with style, your #2 priority (I note that ironclad security didn't make the list at all.) If I were you I'd probably just carry one U-lock long enough to go through the frame and rear wheel and be done with it.
posted by contraption at 3:33 PM on August 20, 2009

Helmets - I have a really cool Bell Citi helmet that has pinstripe on it. It's like business man goes to work. I also have the same type with fish on it. Very cute! The reason I like them is that they are round on the back. I'm just bombing around town, I don't need to be all aerodynamic the way most bike helmets are.
posted by Gor-ella at 3:46 PM on August 20, 2009

Best answer: As for the EL wire inverter, you could probably just buy a little metal cash box and mount it upside down on that nice wood block by means of a couple screws right through the sheet metal. Easy access for battery changes and a decent amount of weather protection. Paint it to match the bike and it shouldn't be too obtrusive.
posted by contraption at 4:01 PM on August 20, 2009

posted by prior at 4:12 PM on August 20, 2009

RE: Yakkay helmets - these guys sell online and ship internationally... FWIW
posted by MeatLightning at 4:23 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Having put a coffee cup holder on a stroller the issue is that there's more high-frequency vibration than you think and the coffee shakes all over the place. It's a fun idea but may not work very well.
posted by GuyZero at 4:31 PM on August 20, 2009

Cool bike, but I gotta know what that weird wooden block is for! Anyone know?
posted by orme at 5:05 PM on August 20, 2009

I'm about to go on a bike accessory spending spree...

I knew who posted this before even reading past that line. It's almost like stalking. Or Twitter.

Overarching advice: in Chicago, or any big city, any very cool blinky thing you can attach to your bike easily will also be removed from your bike when you turn your back, or go into the shop for coffee, or whatever. Your heart will break quickly, and often.

So whenever possible, opt for non-removable or built-in mods, rather than expensive doodads that will go walkies.

And good brain, focusing on a helmet. Too many of the fashion-conscious seem to think they're optional.
posted by rokusan at 5:19 PM on August 20, 2009

Helmet: they're not cool (and, as noted above, skate-style helmets are much less cool, temperature-wise anyway). Go to a shop that carries several brands (Giro, Bell, Specialized, etc.), then figure out which one fits your head best. A light color is good both for visibility and for hot weather.

Lock: Depends a lot on how much security you want, but, basically, a u-lock from a known brand (Kryptonite, OnGuard) is the standard operating procedure. Make sure you can get your wheel through it. Serious chain locks are okay too--depending on how you plan to carry it, one of these might be preferable.

Headlight and taillight: rear lights are easy. A red LED blinky light (I like the Planet Bike Blinky Superflash, though the Blackburn Mars lights, among others, are also good. If you get a chance to look at it before you buy, look for a good mounting bracket), ideally two (for when the one's batteries are dead). Front's a little more complicated. There are lights that let people see you, and lights that let people see. For better or worse, anything in the latter category will have rechargeable batteries or a serious, Euro-style generator, and it will be more complex and/or expensive than you have in mind (people will try to tell you that 4-AA lights fit into that latter category. Unless they're talking about a hopped-up flashlight-nerd light that burns through batteries like whoa, they're probably exaggerating.) For making people see you (especially from the front, where you can see 'em coming), the Knog lights will do the job. Again, it's probably good to get at least two. And take 'em with you when you go into the bar or whatever--the downside of that stretchy silicone is that Knog lights are popular targets for casual thieves.

EL: Do you know about these guys? Pricier than the DIY route, but might be worth it. Reflective tape comes in lotsa colors, too, and could be put on the frame and rims. Or on fenders, if you get 'em.

Spiffing-up: if your bike was my bike, I'd maybe put new grips on it (PDW or Rivendell or Velo Orange or something, or else BMX grips), maybe a Wald basket, and definitely a pair of Big Apples.
posted by box at 5:21 PM on August 20, 2009

Best answer: If you get yourself a bell (and I think you should: They're equal parts fun and power.) get one that's easy to trigger with your thumb and place it on your handlebars so that you don't need to move your hand to use it. I had an adorable turtle that was squeeze-triggered, like a dog toy. About the only time it got used was when my niece came to visit. It has since been replaced with another turtle who is much easier to ring.
posted by funkiwan at 5:45 PM on August 20, 2009

I used to have a set of these when I still ived in NYC and kept my bike on the street, and they were the best lock I've ever owned: ideal for locking your bike securely in a whole range of configurations and to a wide variety of solid objects. They also have more tumblers in the locking mechanism than any other bike lock on the market, including the famous Mother of All Locks which, while tough, is also heavy, cumbersome, and a pain to ride with (and I never really trusted Kryptonite again after the now-infamous bic pen episode). Their tight spacial structure means that it's hard to impossible for a thief to get a decent angle on them with a crowbar or any other kind of tool used to break locks.

And you'll get a lot of comments and bad jokes. Have a witty retort ready in case any of them are from cute fellow cyclists with whom you would like to go on a bike date.

Happy riding!
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 5:58 PM on August 20, 2009

Regarding the comments about your visibility by various Chicago drivers here -- I agree with them, of course, but wanted to throw out an extra note that you will have a much safer time of it if you assume that nobody in any of the cars around you can see you, period.

I say this as a driver, a bike rider, and a motorcyclist, by the way; when operating any of these three vehicle types, I only get into trouble when I trust everyone else. I have been accident-free for twenty years -- without having to ride on sidewalks or drive like a grandma -- and while some of that is absolutely luck and the skill of other vehicle operators, a lot of it is me simply thinking "that guy pulling out WILL hit me if I don't do something to get his attention" -- and that's the same thinking regardless of the vehicle I'm operating.

Anyway, I'm totally jealous of your accessory tricking-out, and fully expect to see a follow-up in which you post pix of the results. If I'm suitably inspired, maybe I'll go through with my plan to EL-up my old Honda Elite.
posted by davejay at 8:10 PM on August 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

in case it isn't obvious: I don't just think those things, I also act accordingly.
posted by davejay at 8:11 PM on August 20, 2009

Best answer: Planet Bike totally makes the most visible rear blinky (this one). Every time I can see another cyclist far ahead of me, it turns out that's what they have. I am upgrading to it as soon as the rainy season hits. Though I will keep my Blackburn Flea as a backup, since recharging it is so simple.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:37 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Prior's suggestion to get the adapter so you can put a cup/bottle holder on your handlebars for upright beverages is the best thing I ever did for city biking/commuting. It is great for coffee, soda cans, or whatever.
The guys at my local bike shop made fun of me wanting a latte holder but I love it.
posted by cushie at 9:42 PM on August 20, 2009


I like Knog lights. I have a Frog for the front (been meaning to add a second) and the Skink from your link for the rear. These lights have a body made of stretchy silicone that wraps around your handlebar, tube or post and connects with itself. They're really easy to put on and take off and there's no unsightly mounting bracket. Lots of fun colors too. Some people wrap the Frog model around their hubs, but then it's hard to put on and take off, but still easy to steal. One caveat: I had the Bullfrog model but its water resistance left a lot to be desired. It rusted and died after its first ride (granted it was 40 miles in wet snow, but still). The Frog is still going strong while the Skink is a more recent addition and hasn't been through a Chicago winter yet.

Knog has some other neat looking stuff. I want these gloves. (Here's why.)

Planet Bike lights are great too. rabbitrabbit is right, that SuperFlash is the Lighthouse of Alexandria of rear lights.


I have the Kryptonite Evolution Mini, which I love because it fits in my back pocket or the small front pocket of my messenger bag. I replaced my front wheel quick-release with a lock-down skewer, so I just use the lock on the rear wheel. You can lock just the rear wheel to something and not the frame directly as long as the lock is in the middle of the triangle formed by your seat tube, seat stay and chain stay. It seems odd, but a thief can't pull the wheel through that triangle. Sheldon Brown has a photo and some more good advice.

Sadly in Chicago we're losing our parking meter posts and you'll usually be looking for a street sign to lock up to. Don't fall for "sucker poles;" always check that the pole can't be pulled out of the ground or its base.
posted by hydrophonic at 9:46 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've a bike horn that looks cool and is great for scattering bankers as I trundle into work in the mornings.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 2:43 AM on August 21, 2009

this is of no use to you as you are US-based, but londoncyclechic.blogspot.com and Bobbins Bikes both have gorgeous accessories - a colleague has the panniers that look like wicker handbags, and I covet the Blossom ones. Maybe if you have a look you might find something cute that you can find over there too?

We get a lot of couriers in at work - spoke cards seem very fashionable. What are they exactly? I want to get spokey-dokies but Mr Mippy refuses to cycle with me if I do.
posted by mippy at 5:39 AM on August 21, 2009

Oh, this basket is beautiful. I would order the green one in a heartbeat if my Pashley didn't already come with a lovely wicker one.
posted by mippy at 5:43 AM on August 21, 2009

Basil has some pretty nice bags/baskets.

what a great and fun-looking bike. I'd invest in some new pedals eventually. You can get some nice grippy platform pedals like these cheaply enough (more at that site), or you can get fancy with some light-up pedals.
posted by mikepop at 7:04 AM on August 21, 2009

Response by poster: Oh my god. I have such a bike boner right now.

Regarding helmets; they are not legally required in Chicago (unless you're a messenger). Seriously, not even on motorcycles. I think I'm already sacrificing some style for safety, here; I'm going to wear one even if I can't get pulled over for not wearing one. However, I know if I get one of the swoopy bird-skull bike helmets with holes all over it in boring grey I'm never going to wear it, so I'm going to get one I think is cute because as long as a helmet meets the ASTM safety standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission* it doesn't really matter what it looks like, eh?

And if it's cute, I'll actually wear it.

Regarding the SpokePOVs and Monkeylectrics: y'all have seen Hokey Spokes, right? They're not QUITE as cool as Monkeylectrics but during the sale they're running through September you can get six (!!!) Hokey Spokes for the price of two Monkeylectrics; allowing you to fully trick out both wheels rather than just one. That being said, I obviously don't have them (...yet) so I can't give them a first-hand review. I think I'm going to go ghetto style with a $15 length of EL wire first (Contraption, the cash box idea is brill, hopefully I can find a geeky circuit bender to bribe into dremeling holes for wires and soldering the inverter/el wire together for me)

*for the record, NOT ALL HELMETS DO, and you might have to go to a bike helmet manufacturer's website to make sure they list the ASTM standards it passed the tests for; not all retail outlets bother putting that information in the description.

Also for the record, skate-style bike helmets like the Bern Watts I'm considering meet bike standards, but the difference in certifying skate and bike helmets is A) skate helmets only need to be dropped from 1 meter, not two, and B) skate helmets need to be able to handle multiple impacts.

posted by Juliet Banana at 7:31 AM on August 21, 2009

I'm late, but I think these are the cutest bike bells.
posted by daisyace at 4:52 AM on August 22, 2009

I strongly discourage you from buying a Bern helmet. They have TERRIBLE ventilation, easily the worst I've ever ridden. After 4 rides this summer, I stuck it in a closet. I literally was covered in sweat after riding to work. Terrible, terrible terrible. If you stop your ride to talk to a friend on the street you will be dripping sweat down your face unbelievably. And this is with the helmet that they say has their best circulation. Huge waste of money.

Also, I have a Knog Nerd computer and highly recommend it. I have their lights and they're good, but not as bright as the Planet Bike ones.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:29 AM on August 22, 2009

I am looking for info on bike locks and dipped into AskMe. I TOTALLY KNEW this was by you, Ms. Edible Fruit, as I read it! I feel like I know you or something now!

Anyway, tx fr asking this as it will guide me in my bike lock search. If whatever is reccommended is available in da-glo, I shall obtain it in your honor.
posted by mwhybark at 4:15 PM on September 5, 2009

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