It's about the ways you use your bike.

A wish list for a new cyclist

In Washington DC on 13 December 2010 at 10:35 pm

Dear Santa,

I’m writing this list for a friend. Her parents just got her a brand-new-to-her-bike, which, as you may know, is only the beginning. To get her up and riding she’s going to need a few accessories. That’s where you and your elves come in. I’ve thought about it, and this is a list of things I think should come with a first bike.

Safety is first, so…
1. A helmet. The most important thing to know about buying your first helmet is that price does not matter. In the US, all bicycle helmets sold must meet the same US Consumer Product Safety Commission standards, so look for the CSPC sticker. If it’s got that sticker (and it should!), you can pay $20 or $200 and your brains will be just as safe.

The second most important issue is fit, and that’s not regulated by anyone but you. Try the helmet on. It should sit level on the top of your head, with enough helmet to cover 80% of your forehead and all of the back. The straps should form a Y shape over each ear and fasten under your chin (not to the side of your face). Once it’s on, try vigorously to tear it off of your head. If it moves in any direction more than an inch, it doesn’t fit. Adjust the straps or the rear fit adjuster. If it still moves, try another helmet.

Last, consider visibility. To be safe, be seen. Don’t get a grey or black helmet. Opt for white, yellow, red or some other bright, highly visible color. Some helmets come with reflective paint or flashers built in. That can be kind of handy.

For more info on buying your first helmet, check out this post from the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute. They’re full of great info, so look around.

2. Lights. Again, to be safe, be seen. Municipal laws vary on this somewhat, but most cities require cyclists to have at least one forward facing white light, and one rear facing red light. And those are your only color options that matter. Some flashers that weren’t designed with bikes in mind come in different colors like blue or green, but you only need red and white.

Many municipal codes also state that the lights must be steady, not flashing. I disagree. We can get into it if you like, but I think flashing lights are more visible than steady ones, and that’s what it’s really about. Complicated flash patterns are largely a marketing gimmick, so go for simple.

If you’re riding in the city and locking up for hours at a time (at work, for instance), get lights that you can easily remove from the frame or clip to your person and take inside with you. In my experience, if you leave your lights attached to the frame, they’ll get stolen.

Also consider where you’ll be riding and what you need the light to do. If you ride mostly in cities with well-lit streets, you may only need an LED flasher in front and back for visibility purposes. If you often find yourself on secondary roads or off-road, you may want a proper head lamp to illuminate the road in front of you. Personally, even in DC I prefer stupid bright lights. I ride with the NiteRider MiNewt 350 LED lamp.

Cateye, NiteRider, Knog and PlanetBike make some really good lights. For more details, see this post.

leg bands aka pant straps aka cuff clips

3. Pant leg straps. These are just Velcro straps that keep your pant legs from getting caught up in the chain. They can prevent an accident, and ruined clothing. Get ones with reflective material.

4. A lock. The best lock to get is unquestionably a U-Lock. Do not try some piece of chain and padlock operation. There are easier ways than that to give away your bike. Get one that’s just big enough to fit around your frame and a post. If it’s too large, thieves can use that extra room and leverage to break the lock. Too small and you won’t be able to lock up to larger diameter posts.

Kryptonite Evolution Mini

I highly recommend locks made by Kryptonite–particularly the Evolution series. I have and am very happy with the Evolution Mini. They’re the best in the industry. You can register your keys with the company in case you lose them, and they will refund you the cost of the lock and your bike if a thief makes it through their product.

UPDATE: OnGuard makes excellent locks as well, and offers similar guarantees. I am very happy with my X4 Power, but the body and lock housing are rather hefty, and I’m not convinced it increases security, which makes it somewhat unjustifiably cumbersome in a bag. Still, I highly recommend it too.

I also lock up with a cable. It allows me to secure the wheels and seat to the frame and rack. If you wanna be super secure, get a cable with a built in combo lock. That way a thief has two locks to break. And go for a thick one. Those little ones are for locking your seat down and are pretty flimsy. For tips on locking up, see this post.

5. An emergency flat kit. Any local bike shop carries these. Your kit should include:

Tire Levers

  • a set of tire levers
  • a couple of patches in a couple of sizes
  • rubber adhesive
  • sand paper (usually)
  • a portable pump — Lezyne makes the best. They’re awesome and come highly recommended by me! I use this one.
  • at least one spare tube
  • a small bag to keep it all in

6. Gloves. You can get bike-specific ones or something fashionable, but in temperatures below 50 degrees F, the wind can really get to your hands and a good pair of gloves can be a lifesaver. Look for something thin and windproof, not thick and cozy. You still need to be able to move your hands and fingers easily, as well as grip the bars.

Lezyne multi-tool seen on

7. A multi tool. Any bike shop sells these too. Look at your bike and get one that has the tools that fit your bike (e.g. don’t get SAE if your bike has metric adjustables). It should have a few allen wrenches, a flat head and a phillip’s screw driver. Some come with low profile box wrenches too. Just make sure you get one with tools that match your bike.

8. Tri-Flo. It’s the best bicycle lubricant. It’s like WD-40 for bikes (incidentally, don’t ever use WD-40 on your bike, especially your chain. It tends to attract debris and dirty your chain). Every couple of weeks, drop a little of this on your chain and run through all the gears. It’ll keep things running smoothly.

And that’s about all I can think of. If I come up with more I’ll let you know.



Let me know in the comments if you think of anything a new cyclist could use.

  1. Yeah, the list is never ending isn’t it? But it is so much fun. I’ll be sure to pass this information along to my friend @santabikes over on Twitter.


  2. i love the little computer on my bike! there is something inspiring about knowing how fast i’m going and how far i’ve gone. also watching the rpms is a good habit to develop early on in one’s cycling career.

  3. TRIP COMPUTER! That one’s golden; how did we both forget it? I’ve never had one with a cadence meter (like Allie said, it measures how fast your legs are pedalling, in addition to the speedometer measuring how fast your bike is actually going) but I understand they can be incredibly handy and a very useful training tool. I’d love to hear more ideas for great cycling gifts.

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