Essential Bike Equipment

One of the biggest barriers to getting into the sport of cycling would have to be the exorbitant costs of bicycles and equipment. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Today I will be sharing some of my cost-cutting measures regarding the essential equipment for beginners and when to buy it.
What follows is a short list of essential equipment for a serious beginner to intermediate cyclist who is sure that they enjoy the sport. Ideally the following list will all be bought at the same time to make the riding process as comfortable and enjoyable as possible:

  • Bike
  • Helmet
  • Front/Rear Light (inexpensive ones just to improve your visibility)
  • “Clipless” Pedals and Shoes
  • 1 Cycling “Kit:”
  • 1 Pair of Cycling Shorts (Preferably Bibs)
  • 1 Jersey
  • 1 Pair of Cycling Socks
  • 1 Pair of Full or Half Finger Gloves
  • Sport Style Sunglasses
  • Saddle Bag with the following inside:
    Spare Inner tube and Patch Kit
    Tire Levers
    Multi-Tool (with Chain Tool)
    Mini Tire Pump (either in bag or on frame)
  • Bike Tire Pump
  • 3 Spare Inner Tubes (on top of the one in your saddle bag)

The Bike:

Just like what disgraced former professional cyclist Lance Armstrong said: “it’s not about the bike.” For the first three years that I raced, I did so on a bike costing less than half of what my competitors were using. I rode that same bike to solid results at Under-19 Nationals, International events, as well as a multitude of regional wins. The two most important things to consider when buying a bike are the type of bike and the size. If you want to ride or race on the road, then you need a road bike. Similarly, if the mountain calls your name, then a nobbily-tired bike will be in your future. The next part is bike size – if your bike doesn’t fit properly, then you will not enjoy the sport, as injuries can result from a poorly fitting bike.
Now, let’s look at where to buy your bike and what to look for. If cost is a major issue, look for a nice used bike at your local bike shop. Simply call around to all the bike shops within a 50 mile radius and find all the bikes that will fit both your physical size and your price range. As a first time buyer it is important to buy the bike in person so you have the opportunity to ride it around and check the bike fit. However, once you are a more seasoned rider, eBay becomes an option.
The best deals for road and mountain bikes will generally be found from late fall to early spring, during off peak times. Most bike shops have little income during these times and may be willing to negotiate on a model year old or used bike. If they do come down in price, though, make sure to buy some other essentials from them as a thank you!

Helmets and Lights:

Helmets are incredibly important for cycling, but do not be wooed by the expensive models! Most all helmets will offer similar levels of protection as they are all held to pretty stringent minimum safety standards. Therefore, find one that fits you the best, is within your price range, and looks good! A piece of equipment that will help you from needing your helmet is the humble bike light. A helmet will protect you in case of a crash, but lights will help prevent crashes from happening in the first place! A red flashing LED light is perfect to clip on to your saddle bag and a white version is ideal for your handlebars. These are exceedingly cheap to purchase, and could prove invaluable if you ride in low-light frequently.

Clipless Pedals and Shoes:

Clipless Pedals will offer the largest performance gain of anything on this list. This technology, developed by Look in the mid 1980’s, allows you to push down on the pedals as well as pull up during the upstroke. Shimano SPD style pedals are ideal for beginners as the compatible shoes have rubberized soles to alloy easier walking. Again, make sure to buy the shoes in person to guarantee a correct fit. Another thing to be aware of is the issue of tipping over. You will likely tip over at stop signs in your first few rides, but unclipping gets much easier with some practice!

Cycling Clothing:

Arguably the second largest barrier to entry, behind cost, is the aesthetics of cycling clothing. However, there are infinite reasons why we wear cycling specific clothing. Cycling shorts will help ward off butt pain, jerseys offer pockets to stow food or a phone, and sunglasses will decrease your chance of taking a bee to the eye; just to name a few benefits!

Australian Pro Rider CJ Suttton stung by a bee while training back in 2008. Photo courtesy slipstreamsports.com

Australian Pro Rider CJ Suttton stung by a bee while training back in 2008. Photo courtesy slipstreamsports.com

Saddle Bag, Tire pump, and Inner Tubes:

A saddle bag, and its contents, is all about getting back home! You don’t need the fanciest tools, but you do need the most reliable ones. Everything outlined in the list above, plus a cell phone and an “on-call” friend or family member, is necessary every time you ride. It is worth mentioning that a small pump is preferable over CO2 cartridges, for beginners, as a pump has limitless amounts of air while CO2 is decidedly limited! Like the saddle bag tools, a tire pump does not need to be the fanciest model available, just utilitarian! All you need is something that can inflate your tires. And speaking of tires, a small supply of inner tubes is a necessity, as you will not go far on flat tires!

So if you are getting into the sport of cycling, it is important to remember to have fun while picking out necessary equipment. If money is an issue, scour websites like eBay, Amazon, Nashbar, Performance Bike, and Excel Sports for the best deals! As a rule, buy off of peak season and a model year old. This little change will keep you a little behind the “cutting edge,” but will be vastly cheaper than constantly pursuing the newest equipment. Above all else, though, listen to the recommendations of fellow cyclists and buy equipment that you trust!