Bike accessories, without going overboard?
January 1, 2008 1:58 PM   Subscribe

After seven years without a bike, and a year of wanting to ride every few days, I finally gave in and bought a bike. I have a helmet, but now I need some suggestions as far as accessories go.

I picked up a 2008 Specialized Rockhopper Disc about a week ago and I'm trying to figure out which other bits would be useful with it, without going overboard.

I live in Southeast Michigan, with pretty good access to loads of converted railways (Rails-to-Trails type stuff), dirt trails, paved paths, and bikeable sidewalks (suburban, barely used by pedestrians). Most of my riding will probably be on dirt, gravel, and rough pavement, with no in-road stuff (riding in roads scares me, as I've had too many local friends hit by inattentive drivers). I can see myself easily doing 25 - 50 miles in a go once the weather turns nicer. (For now I'm sticking with 5 - 10 miles, just because I'm getting familiar with riding again, and the cold isn't that comfortable.)

Thus far I have a helmet, water bottle, and cage for holding the bottle and a mount for my GPS (an old Garmin eTrex Legend) is en route. I plan on getting a bell (Incredibell), and I'd like to get a bike computer, but I would like some suggestions as to which one to get. Wireless sounds nice, and I figure that basic things like time, odometer(s), speed, average speed, and maybe ambient temperature would be good. I don't think I have a need for cadence.

I plan on getting Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance, and while I've got plenty of tools here at home, I figure some small tools to take with would be a good thing. The CrankBrothers multi-17 tool has been recommended to me, along with some manner of plastic tire tool.

I imagine a small bag for my ID, phone, some money, the tools, and such is needed, but what sort do you suggest? What about a pump, rear lights (blinking red) or anything else?

While I don't want to say that cost isn't an issue, for small accessories I'd rather get the nicer tool or item up front, especially if the

Also, do you have any recommendations for online shops for these sort of accessories? The bike was purchased at a nice local shop, but for these sort of accessories I imagine there would be a much wider selection available online.
posted by c0nsumer to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (34 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also, what about some more pavement-specific tired, for times when I know I'll just be riding on that? Something like IRC Tire's Fiesterra?
posted by c0nsumer at 2:02 PM on January 1, 2008

Yes, get a pump, yes, get tire irons, yes, get taillights if you'll ride around cars, at dusk, or at night, pretty much any saddlebag will be able to hold a spare tire or patch kit and your id, etc, and a bike computer is gravy on top. There's not much else you'll need.

You should read bicycle safety which recommends (as I do) that you not bike on the sidewalk.
posted by beerbajay at 2:10 PM on January 1, 2008

I bike here in San Francisco all year round. I'd suggest as a minimum you get a nice loud bell and good lights. A back red blinky that's bright is needed, more bikers cheap out on the front light. I'd suggest getting something small but bright.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 2:13 PM on January 1, 2008

Carry a pump, at least one spare tube, tire levers, and a multi-tool. I don't have any trouble fitting that and the essential contents of my wallet in a bag that fits under the seat. If you are going to be riding more than an hour at a time, I'd recommend putting on two water bottle cages. If you are getting into longer rides, the best investment you can make is in a pair or two of very comfy bike shorts.
posted by ssg at 2:18 PM on January 1, 2008

Spare everything. And, the most powerful front light you can afford.

Frequently doing 50 miles in a go, you'll no doubt encounter many a puncher, the occasional chain snap, and go through the odd tyre. Tool yourself up to the hilt. (I change my chain every few months. Some might call that overkill, but considering what I spent replacing the entire drive chain, it's best done often.)

Camelbak's are favoured by many a thirsty cyclist.

A decent first-aid kit.

A rack and a couple of panniers -- rucksacks will kill your back.

Maps and a compass.
posted by popcassady at 2:18 PM on January 1, 2008

If you're going to handlebar mount your ETrex then I don't think you'll need an additional cycle computer, it does all the things you mentioned, apart from temperature. In addition it will also allow you to log your routes so you can admire them in google earth later.

As for tires, if you're going on road then the smoother the better, the Metro II from the range you linked to would offer you a far faster, easier ride than the Fiesterra.

Lights are absolutely essential even if you don't plan to ride at night. You never know when you might get caught out there.
posted by Olli at 2:19 PM on January 1, 2008

...and one of those unfashionable dayglo bibs. Cyclists are always invisible to motorists, but wear a bib and you're half as much as you would be without.
posted by popcassady at 2:22 PM on January 1, 2008

Get a set of fenders or mud guards so you avoid getting (as) splattered by road crap.

(My link goes to Canadian supplier MEC; REI appears to be approximately the U.S. equivalent, in terms of selection and price.)
posted by hangashore at 2:27 PM on January 1, 2008

Get a high-visibility garment. I wear a full vest which has reflectors front, back and to the side. If it's a dark or murky night, the high-vis cuffs go on ankles and wrists (for signaling). But the vest is on day and night. It dramatically increases how visible you are, and therefore how safe you are. I can never believe how many people I see whizzing around with helmets on, wearing all black, like they're trying to be invisible. Even off road - if something should happen to you, better that you can be seen.

Plus, they're incredibly cheap, and stow away easily. You only look like a dork when you're actually cycling.
posted by tiny crocodile at 2:37 PM on January 1, 2008

Saddle packs stay out of your way and most have enough room for a multi-tool, a spare tube, tire levers, a patch kit, and a couple of power bars. Some come with tools already, but I'd pass on that except for levers. I keep a small first-aid kit in mine--it's nice to have ibuprofen and NewSkin handy.

I don't have a brand to recommend except for Planet Bike, whom I admire for their advocacy work. They contribute to organizations that make roads less scary for cyclists.

Forget about the bell. Use your voice instead. When people hear a bell they expect there's a child slowly pedaling up behind them. Or the ice cream truck. Use a cheery "Coming up on your left" if needed when passing. (Do this well in advance, because if you surprise someone they'll just as likely jump to the left.) Be ready to scream "Yo heads up!" if you ever get in a really hairy situation.
posted by hydrophonic at 2:41 PM on January 1, 2008

I also recommend a rear-view mirror, either handlebar-mounted or helmet-mounted. I have both and don't ride without them. Reason? Some cars -- like my Camry -- are so quiet, they're nearly past before you realize one's there. I do not like to be snuck up upon. (I'm also somewhat hard of hearing, so there's another reason for mirrors.)

Also, pack a smallish roll of duct tape. Works wonders in weird situations. Don't forget the bananas and peanut butter, either.

And -- one of my most important, if not THE most important -- "tools" I take on all bike rides (even just down the block) is an "IN CASE OF EMERGENCY" card. I made one each for Mr. Smalltown Girl and me; they include phone numbers for our siblings and parents. Printed on day-glow paper and laminated them. Would not be caught, um, undead without these cards.
posted by Smalltown Girl at 2:43 PM on January 1, 2008

I didn't see them listed anywhere above. If you take a fall the first thing that's going to make contact with the ground is one of your hands.
posted by X4ster at 2:53 PM on January 1, 2008

The best tool I ever bought for my bike was my Park Tool repair stand. It's a bit of an investment but it makes maintenance and self-repair so much easier. You'll definitely enjoy working on your bike a whole lot more with a stand.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:56 PM on January 1, 2008

To clean your bike after riding, you might purchase some small nylon brushes from Kragen auto parts (designed to clean chrome auto rims), a chain cleaner, and chain lube suitable for conditions in Michigan.

Off-road riding can wear out the drive train, especially in the rain.

See the beginner's forum at for good information on what to pack on a ride and how to clean and maintain your bike.

Happy Trails!
posted by doncoyote at 3:54 PM on January 1, 2008

Does your GPS not support speed, etc? The Garmin Edge is worth investigating. I have a forerunner 205 which I use for walking, and it's also perfect for cycling, and far more accurate than the last two trip computers I used. The Garmin Edge is designed specifically for cyclists, and you can do stuff with it like import your trip into Google Earth and so on.
posted by tomble at 4:09 PM on January 1, 2008

Don't neglect comfortable, good quality clothing. Everybody's taste is different but I've been very happy with everything I've bought from Swobo.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 4:18 PM on January 1, 2008

Do get a bike computer. If you know how far you're going, it's really nice to know when you're halfway there. If you don't know where you're going and you wind up in a nice spot, it's nice to know how far away it is from where you started. It's nice to know how much biking you're doing in a given day, week, month, or year, too. Join the MeFi Bike Challenge (which isn't so much a challenge as a distributed group ride... or something like that) and track yourself over time.

I have a cheap wireless cyclometer that meets my needs just fine. It's a Topeak 130, and it's been reliable for years. It doesn't do temperature, but it's $13. The only advantage I see in wireless is that you don't have to zip-tie the sensor wire down your fork, so your bike looks cleaner. The disadvantage is that wireless cost more and are sometimes really screwed with by RF interference. You may not encounter sources if interference when on the trail , but if what you want is reliable data, you're probably best going wired.

A rear rack is good, but by itself it's not worth much. It's pretty much a platform for mounting panniers, baskets, a milk crate, or a rack-mount bag to. Since you're not going to be commuting / grocery shopping / touring, I reckon a trunk bag is what you'd want, to carry a lunch maybe some spare clothes, tools, etc. Something like this with the beam rack to mount it on? I'm a city cyclist, though, so take my suggestions with a grain or two of salt.

And yeah, lights lights lights, visibility visibility visibility. Be seen. 3M ScotchLite tape is available in loads of colors which look normal by day and reflect freakishly white at night. Apply it strategically to your bike, if you're inclined to be safe.
posted by mumkin at 4:25 PM on January 1, 2008

I have a rear rack for my bike, and a trunk bag to fit -- but I also have a much much smaller bikebag that I can wear around my waist. This has been very helpful for the times when I want to have a more minimal ride and not haul stuff around.

I always recommend the Python cable lock so you can lock your bike to almost anything.

You might want to carry a powergel/clifshot/energy-gel packet (small and lightweight) just in case of a blood sugar crash or a headache (several brands have caffeinated varieties!)

Check out too.
posted by oldtimey at 5:29 PM on January 1, 2008

ssg: Carry a pump, at least one spare tube, tire levers, and a multi-tool.

I've used a Planet Bike CO2 inflater twice, and it is pretty cool. I wish there was some less disposable option, but filling up manually while I'm trying to get somewhere just isn't very practical. I would definitely go for the pressure controlled model, if I had it to do again though (mostly because connecting a refillable CO2 bottle might be possible - such a bottle on the model I have might cause over inflation problems).

Anybody have more information on possible high pressure gas bottle filling of tires on the road? (I found this discussion for car tires, that suggests that CO2 isn't a particularly good idea, here is an updated link to the technical information referenced).

I've only once come close to needing a tire on the road, and that was because somebody stuck a knife in it while I was in a store. I'm sure it is a good idea under certain circumstances (touring, off road?), but not really a necessity.
posted by Chuckles at 5:47 PM on January 1, 2008

I think beamracks are bad. I suspect it contributed to my second broken seatpost.. That said, I have a used one for sale if you want it :)
posted by Chuckles at 5:49 PM on January 1, 2008

Start with comfort. Thin, yet padded, gloves are necessary. Same with shorts. Spend some money here to get a good comfy pad, again, not too thick - you don't want to feel like you are wearing a diaper. If you have a gut, get bib shorts, otherwise they are nice but regular shorts work fine. If you will ride on the road, get something bright, lights for night, the brighter the better, and something neon yellow or similar to let you stand out like a sore thumb. You also want to carry a spare tube (patching a tube on the trail is too much of a pain) and tools to get you home, and of course a cell phone (and perhaps a plastic bag to keep it dry) for when these fail you. If you are going to do some long rides always carry some carbs and plenty of fluid in case you bonk. These are the basics. After that it is all about niceties.
posted by caddis at 5:53 PM on January 1, 2008

My little Topeak under-saddle zippered bag has been awesome, single best bike accessory ever. I have a cheapy battery-powered hi-intensity LED taillight that clips onto the back of it.

Inside I keep a few quarters, some band-aids, a little tool kit with allen wrenches, screwdrivers, a chain tool, and tire levers, a self-vulcanizing patch kit (these need regular replacement), a little thingus that lets you fill up a Presta tire from a Schrader pump, and a waterproof/mudproof cover for the Topeak bag itself. I also put my wallet, keys and cellphone in that bag when riding.

I also have a Topeak frame pump, a rear rack with a bungie net, and a water bottle holder.

I use the bag and water bottle holder every ride. It's nice having the pump but I've never really needed it, although I have used it with the tire lever and the patch kit to help road-bike riders, and once a woman with a stroller who got a flat. I've never used the chain tool, and I use the rear rack to carry packages with the bungie net much less frequently than I thought I would. The rear rack is, however, good because it acts as a rear fender/mudguard. (I figure I've been lucky; I'd never set out on a long ride without my chaintool and patch kit, because those things can prevent you from having to carry your bike home.)

I'm very fond of this book as an alternative to Zinn, which is also excellent. I believe it's out in a newer edition. This book plus a little practice got me riding comfortably on roads in heavy traffic; road riding is not as bad as it first seems and I'd encourage you not to give up before you try it.

I do like my Shimano Flight Deck cyclocomputer and I've found the cadence feature useful. However, if it wasn't integrated into my brake levers/shifters, it'd be just like any other cyclocomputer. Cat Eye makes decent cyclocomputers and decent night lighting.

I have a North Face backpack that has a little transparent window in the back for another little cheapy high-intensity LED. It also has a chest and a hip strap to stop the bag flopping around. It's great for longer rides.

Things I've wished I had occasionally but still haven't gotten around to getting were better reflectors/lights, a small tube of grease, a little antibiotic ointment, gauze and tape. Since my front brakes recently got adjusted to be quiet (they used to let out an ear-shattering squeal I used to announce my impending arrival) I also need to pick up a bell.

The bike locks I've bought have been useless. I don't carry these 10-lb boatanchors around any more; I just keep my bike with me.

I promised myself I'd never buy from Performance Bike again, but I can't exactly remember why - my discount points expired, or I didn't get the promised free shipping and then they didn't make good, or something. Bike Nashbar and Colorado Cyclist are places that others have recommended to me. There's a lot of good bike related stuff on Amazon, REI, and ebay too.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:55 PM on January 1, 2008

this book, this book - please put the title in, unless you are embarrassed to be promoting a book from BuyCycling Mag. (they are both really good books by the way, really quite good, so this is not a call out as much as a niggle on style.) I recommend that if you are going to do maintenance that you get at least two or three books because there will be nuances to every job that one or more books just fail to consider. When books fail you, check out Sheldon's ouvre.
posted by caddis at 8:00 PM on January 1, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions, everyone. After reading all of this over and talking to a friend for a few hours, I ended up ordering the following:

- Two Forté Fast City ST/K MTB Tires for times when I'll only be riding on smooth pavement.
- One spare tube for my current tires, and a total of three tubes for the new tires.
- Crank Brothers mutli-17 Tool and Speed Lever
- Tube Patching Kit
- Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance
- Blackburn Shorty Mountain Bike Pump
- Mirrycle Incredibell Original Bicycle Bell (Black)
- Cateye CC-RD300W Strada Wireless Bicycle Computer

Once everything arrives I'll see what else needs to be packed in (Clif bar, etc), then get a nice underseat bag for holding it. Then on to some padded shorts, etc...

Thanks very much. :) This was incredibly helpful.
posted by c0nsumer at 8:02 PM on January 1, 2008

Two Forté Fast City ST/K MTB Tires for times when I'll only be riding on smooth pavement.

I assume these are slicks or something like it. Excellent idea. Knobbies suck balls on the pavement, but you get more exercise.
posted by caddis at 8:05 PM on January 1, 2008

Response by poster: caddis: Pretty much... They still have some texture to the rubber, though. My friend has been using them for a couple years and really likes them, and at $13/tire I figured I'd toss them in with the existing order and just see how things go.
posted by c0nsumer at 8:26 PM on January 1, 2008

Water is a given. One or two bottles for me, depending on the length of the ride, the weather, and whether I'll be able to top off my bottle(s) en route.

On and in my seat post bag I carry:
  • mini pump
  • minimalist CO2 inflater and cylinder
  • two tire levers
  • patch kit
  • spare tube
  • bike multitool
  • blinking taillight and pair of reflective wrist straps for dusk or rain
  • Presta/Schrader adapter so that in a pump-failure pinch I can add air at the gas station (be really careful not to over-inflate if you ever have to do this).
  • small, flat first aid kit
  • my ID, a little cash, and a cell phone in case of emergency, stuffed into plastic bags to keep them dry.
  • at least one key, to the house or car I'll be returning to after my ride
It's a tight fit.

I have a cyclocomputer on my handlebars, and after riding a while I added a bell, which was actually required in the state where I was living. I figured I'd rather not have to argue about it with someone's auto insurer if the matter of liability came up.

If I expect to be out close to dusk I also carry a headlight which quick-mounts to the bar. Mine's a little $20 number; if I were commuting I'd get something more powerful, as this thing has trouble picking out potholes after dark.

When I've gone on organized rides longer than 50 miles I've sometimes carried additional supplies in a trunk-style rack bag. This includes various edibles, an ultralight rain shell, a second CO2 cylinder and maybe a second spare tube. If it's colder I might wear knee and arm warmers until I get heated up, at which point I have to stow these. On shorter rides, though, I just use my pockets.
posted by Songdog at 8:33 PM on January 1, 2008

It looks like you have all the basics covered. I usually carry a small rag as a towel. I'm about to order one of these Go! Towels 'cause they're just so damned cute. Another item I find really useful is a side view mirror mounted to the helmet. It makes seeing what's behind me so much easier when I'm in the drops on my road bike. An extra bottle cage is handy so one bottle can be water and the other Brawndo. Even if you don't plan on drinking it, the water comes in really handy if you have a spill and need to wash gravel or glass off your skin.

Also, I'm seconding the remarks about using reflective materials and seconding Smalltown Girl's comment about the all-in-one emergency information card. If I hadn't regained consciousness after I tangled with a car, I dread to think what would have happened. I, too, carry an "In Case of Emergency" statement with my name, address, emergency contact name & number, insurance info, and organ donor stuff. Mine's just an index card in a small Zip-Loc, but I'm going to find a local print shop that makes ID badges and get one made. I always try to carry this information on my person in case I am separated from my bike in an accident.
posted by bonobo at 9:00 PM on January 1, 2008

I'm dumping my toe clips next season and trying Power Grips.
posted by nicwolff at 9:01 PM on January 1, 2008

Helmet mounted mirrors are WAY better than handlebar mounted mirrors. I can think of three reasons:
- less vibration
- you can aim it easily (look around)
- no whacking it into things

Downside: slight Borg look. Otherwise, they're great.
posted by intermod at 9:59 PM on January 1, 2008

Truly, truly gloves are a must. Get yourself some cheapos with cut-off fingers. Basically any bike place sells them. The first time you crash (and you WILL crash, it's inevitable) you will kiss those gloves for keeping your hands from getting torn up. I have some cheap Cannondales with leather palms. They are padded, but not extremely. They've saved my skin once or twice. Worth the twelve-dollar investment.

Also, I highly recommend the Blackburn Mars 3.0 blinky light for the back, whether on your pack or on your bike itself. This sucker is bright as hell, has three modes (on, flash and chase) and has amber lights at the sides. If you do any street riding at all and especially at night, you need this thing. Be sure you have a tiny Phillips screwdriver to change the batteries if you get it. Google the name and you'll find any number of places to order it.
posted by seancake at 2:59 AM on January 2, 2008

Yes, gloves! (I have a gnarly story.) Also, in my state a headlight is required for riding after dark. And fenders are a must in any rain at all.

In addition to many of the things mentioned here, I carry a local bike map, a lock, and a screwdriver in a little bag on my handlebar. (A converted travel case, IIRC.) I have "oyster bucket" style panniers, which are common around here, but I don't know how available elsewhere. I'm probably going to buy a different style this year, but the ones I have were dirt cheap and much nicer to ride with than a backpack.
posted by epersonae at 8:53 AM on January 2, 2008

Looks like most of the basics have been covered here. I just wanted to add that you're sure to receive great support from your LBS and you can also look to the Michigan Mountain Biking Association forums for some more local support, group rides, etc..

Good luck!
posted by CorporateHippy at 9:44 AM on January 2, 2008

unless you are embarrassed to be promoting a book from BuyCycling Mag.

Well yeah, actually I was. Thanks for clearing that up for me.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:11 PM on January 3, 2008

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