While part of the joy of cycling is the freedom from all the technology and stuff in our modern world, there are some basic things you need to have with you to ensure you have a good experience and aren’t stranded or forced to ride in dangerous situations. Some of these items may already be installed on your bike. If not, your local bike shop (LBS) should be able to get you set up.
Here is a list of must haves, should haves, and could haves. Please don’t let the lack of the right stuff stop you from riding (except maybe for the first category.) Cyclist tend to be kind of gear obsessive and at times snobby about which gear you should or should not have. Do what works for you. I do think many of these things will help you have a better experience and increase your confidence leading to more riding.
Must Haves: Things you should always have with you
Something to carry stuff in
Whether it is a backpack, messenger bag, pannier, or basket, if you are using you bike for transportation, you’re going to need to carry things. Experiment with what works best for you. I use a messenger bag, Marcus uses panniers, his wife uses a milk crate on a rear rack, my wife uses collapsible rear baskets. If you plan on doing shopping on your bike, definitely go the rack/basket route.
Want your bike to still be there when you get back? I thought so. U-locks are a good choice or heavy chain locks. Avoid thin cable locks that can be easily cut with bolt cutters.
Someday your going to get a flat. Both glue and glueless kits are cheap (less than $5), small, and light. Throw one in your bag. You’ll be glad you did.
Sometimes you just can’t fix the hole in your tube with your patch kit. Pack an extra tube in a zip lock bag just in case.
Once you get that flat fixed, you’re going to need air. You can get a frame pump that will stay on your frame with the pressure of the handle or a mini pump that can be put in a bag or attached with the parts they come with. Usually the frame pumps will fill your tire with fewer pumps. Make sure the pump head matches your valve type or get one with a universal head.
You don’t want to be limited by only riding in the day. Riding at night especially in the summer is a blast and shouldn’t be missed. Sooner or later your are going to be riding at night, and you’re going to need lights. I tend to run them flashing unless I need the light to see as I think you are more noticeable to drivers that way. Battery operated lights are easy to find, and you can get a decent front/rear set for less than $25. They can be mounted to your frame, handlebars, helmet or in the rear your bag and sometimes fenders. You can also look at dynamo lights, which are powered by your pedaling. If you go this route, try to get LED lights that will continue to flash once you’ve stopped so you are still visible.
I never ride without a helmet. It will not save me from death and injury in all crashes, but it can’t hurt and they have saved the lives of many. I highly recommend them, but don’t let not having a helmet prevent you from riding. When picking a helmet, I pick the one that is the 1) coolest looking, 2) with the most vents, 3) within my budget. Keep in mind all helmets must meet the same safety standards so a $20 helmet should be as safe as a $150 helmet. The extra you are paying is for the extra features and brand name. I like to remain as cool as possible (both in looks and temperature). Helmets in the $100 range meet this convergence for me. My wife has a very cute helmet that works for her that was $40. I’d get the one you like best within your budget. The helmet manufacturers recommend a new helmet every 2-3 years as the materials start to degrade over time limiting the protection. This may be a way to sell more helmets, but I follow it anyway.
Should haves: Things you ought to have
Staying clean on the bike starts with fenders. If your bike has frame and fork eyelets, go with as full a fender as you can get with some sort of mud flap at the bottom. This will give you the most protection. If you are riding a more performance oriented bike without these frame features, Planet Bike and SKS now make fullish fenders that will work on your frame. Avoid mountain bike style fenders like the SKS Mud Max as they provide little coverage.
Mini first aid kit
Scrapes happen and it’s nice to have a bandage when you need one. You can pack a store bought kit or do what I do and put a couple bandages of different sizes, antibiotic ointment, and a travel tube of acetaminophen (Tylenol) in a ziplock bag.
Basic toiletry kit
A comb, deodorant, maybe hairspray/gel, a small towel. Go for travel versions of these for space. Not totally necessary but nice to have if you get a little sweaty.
These are to get freshened up or to get bike grease or dirt off your hands. Get a small travel pack from the baby aisle at the grocery store.
This piece of metal or plastic covers your chain crank and chain and prevents your clothes from getting dirty or caught in the chain. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of good options available after market in North American right now.
If you ever wear pants and you don’t have a chain guard, you’re going to need one of these (or risk rolling up you right pant leg to show your legs.) These straps are velcro and wrap around your leg to keep your pants away from the chain and crank.
Spare batteries for light
This is less necessary if your lights take standard batteries. If so, you can stop at most convenience stores. However, some lights take small round watch style batteries, so it’s good to have an extra.
Getting hit in the eye at 15 MPH by a bug is not a pleasant experience. Any glasses will do, but I’d go with wrap around or large lenses. Also, many of the performance oriented glasses come with swappable lenses so you can wear clear glasses at night.
These are either jaunty or dorky depending on your style and head shape. Cycling caps are however really good at keeping your head warm and keeping rain out of your face while riding. They will also fit your head under a bike helmet.
Your fenders help with the road spray, but what about the stuff from the sky? You can get full commuter jackets and pant sets with all kinds of zippers for vents, but a short poncho can work as well if you are sitting more upright.
These tools have a variety of hex wrench and other tools in a Swiss army knife design. They are very useful especially when you are just getting started to do minor adjustments on the fly. In fact, the first couple of years I rode I used one of these as my only tool for working on my bike. I highly recommend the Crank Brothers Multi-17 to cover all your bases.
Just in case you need to catch the bus or get a soda/snack.
Water bottle & bottle mounts/cages
This is pretty much a necessity in Florida. If you don’t have a water bottle mount on your bike you can get a basic metal one for around $5. If you don’t have bosses on your frame for a water bottle, there are also water bottle cages you can get to go on your handle bars. As for bottles, any will do, but I really like the insulated Polar bottles for our Florida heat. These bottle keep your water colder longer than traditional bottle.
Wrench for bolted wheels
If you do not have quick release wheel skewers, you are going to need a wrench to get your wheel off if you get a flat. A small crescent wrench is the most versatile option to have.
Could Haves: Things you might want to have depending on how you roll
While the cool roadies and fixie freaks have an aversion to these, a good kick stand can’t be beat when you need to keep your bike upright while loading and there is no wall available. If you load heavy stuff a lot, look for a double foot stand as they’ll be way more stable.
While charming in sound, bells only do a marginally job of alerting pedestrian of your approach.
Good for lane changes, mirrors are available to mount on your handlebars, helmet, or road bar bar-ends.
Your bike will probably have reflectors already on them, but like the lights why not add more! Reflective strips and vests are available for not a lot at your LBS.
Because you might get hungry.
Pedals with aggressive tread
If you are wearing regular shoes, pedals with metal treads are good for secure, hard pedaling without the worry of your feet slipping off. The down side is pedaling barefoot hurts on these.
You do not need special pedals and shoes to bike, but if you bike longer distances or do club rides, these are not a bad idea as you’ll get better transfer of power to the pedals. Working like ski binds, your cleat equipped shoe locks into the pedal. When you want out, you just twist your foot and the bind pops lose. I recommend SPD style pedals because you can get shoes with recessed cleats that are fairly comfortable to walk in. The downside is that these pedals aren’t much fun to use if you aren’t wearing cycling shoes. For the ultimate in versatility, Shimano makes a pedal that has SPD on one side and is a metal platform pedal on the other.
If you like to ride fast, long, or have a latent addiction to lycra, go for it. Cycling shorts have padding (called a chamois) that help make longer riding more comfortable. Cycling jerseys are great for sticking miscellaneous stuff in the various back pockets. I would skip the normal looking shorts with a hidden chamois. These are not going to be comfortable or sanitary for all day wearing. Instead, wear standard cycling shorts and change when you get where you are going.
Change of clothes
Necessary if you wear cycling clothes or it rains.
Zipper pouch bags are good for keeping wet and sweaty clothes from contaminating your entire bag.
Shower supplies - shampoo, soap, towel, etc
If you are lucky enough to have a shower at work or a nearby health club, pat yourself on the back.
Light weight sweater
When the weather turns cool, I like to pack a light weight wool sweater or fleece, which fold up fairly small. Gloves
I’d skip the cycling specific gloves with the cut off fingers and gel padding. Unless you have a long ride, you won’t need them. I would pack some full finger gloves when the weather gets cold. You’ll be miserable without them when it gets below 50 degrees.