I remember my first real rookie cycling mistake. I had just bought a Schwinn road bike at Salvation Army, and my mom gave me a little cash for my birthday. I spent hours looking up cycling gear on eBay, and was determined to get all set up to ride like a real cyclist with a limited amount of money.
I assumed I would need sweet cycling shoes–but what I did not understand all those years ago was that I couldn’t just hit the road as is–on old standard strap pedals. I slipped and slid along the surface of the flat pedals in my brand new pair of hard-soled Diadora’s (cue excessive pointing and laughing).
At one point, I nearly crashed when my foot slipped straight to the ground as I stood out of the saddle. I got off the bike wondering how the heck people were supposed to go faster in those stupid shoes–only later did I realize that I needed special clipless pedals and cleats to go along with my fancy Diadora’s.
Today, it’s still pretty dang hilarious. Embarrassing, but hilarious.
A story like that isn’t in your future because you’re learning from my mistakes. Here’s a list of gear and tools that every cyclist needs to get started without wasting time, money, or dignity.
8 PIECES OF GEAR EVERY BEGINNER CYCLIST NEEDS
A DECENT KIT
A good cycling kit (jersey and shorts) is essential to keeping you feeling good on the bike. If you cheap out on all the other things, try not to cheap out here. High quality bib shorts, especially, will help you to stay comfortable on the bike.
The Castelli Free Aero Race bib shorts and Velocissimo jersey shown to the left cost a bit more, but we’ve tested them out, and both the men’s and women’s versions are comfortable and high quality. Plus, the color of the bibs are neutral enough to go with various jersey colors while still making you look like you know what you’re doing.
Oh, and, yes, you’ll want bib shorts. These are like magic to make muffin-top non-existent, and the sleek feel is proven to make you more awesome. If you’re not digging the Castelli kit above, check out Voler’s collection of kits. I highly recommend the Caliber and Black Label collections.
But if you’re wanting to spend a little less on a kit that’s still pretty darn good, check out the Jet collection. Voler also offers a really cool Voler Bucks promotion that gives you a free $10 to spend.
Keep yourself safe. Protect your head! But don’t get talked into buying a $250, carbon reinforced, spiffy team-colored, feather-light helmet. These helmets, while cool, are really just about cutting weight for riders who want the advantage, and they don’t necessarily offer any greater protection than a cheaper version.
But you should be on the lookout for a few specific options in a helmet:
- Don’t bother with a visor–if a helmet comes with it, just make sure it’s removable, and pull it off before you ride with it–easily solved. These visors are meant for mountain bike riders, and on the road it’ll just basically become a wind-catcher. Plus, the coolness factor goes down.
- Don’t buy a used helmet, or one that’s older than three years–this includes that one your Dad left in the garage in 1982. As far as used helmets, you’re never sure that it hasn’t been damaged. After three years, according to manufacturers, the foam breaks down and is not as effective.
- Go to your local shop, try a few helmets on, get a color you really like, and make sure you think it looks good on you. If you like it, you’ll be more likely to wear it.
- Know that head shape makes a difference! Giro, for example, fits a more oval-shaped head while Specialized or Lazer fit rounder shapes. Try them on, ratchet and buckle them down, and make sure they’re comfortable on your particular head.
- Go for something in the $30-$75 range. The Kali Chakra Plus, for instance, is a versatile helmet that keeps mushroom head at bay for just over $50. In fact, a look through the $25-75 helmet range at Jenson USA shows off plenty of inexpensive yet good-looking options.
Avoid gloves and you’ll likely find out after a long ride that your hands are suffering from the road vibration. Or take a tumble, and you’ll be grateful your gloves took the beating and not your delicate palms. It’s best to go to a bike shop and try a few pair on–or catch Voler’s bargain bin for some cheap ones to try out.
You should be able to find a good pair in the $10-20 range that will fit well and work well.
Personal preference really comes into play here, so it’s up to you to find ones you like and that fit well. Do remember that most gloves will stretch a little, but you don’t want them so tight that they cut off your circulation. I ride Castelli Secondapelle RC Glove because they’re minimal, super comfy, and they look awesome with any kit. But they’re a bit on the expensive side.
Perhaps the next most important piece of safety equipment you should never ride without (besides a helmet is a RoadID. I have the Wrist Elite version, and it’s almost become a fashion statement with me. Choose a color, type, and tag line for an extremely personalized identification system.
In the event that you have a crash (hopefully you won’t, but it’s best to be prepared), your RoadID will offer fellow cyclists, who probably don’t know your contacts list, or emergency personnel with allergy information, blood type, important phone numbers, and more. If you’re unconscious, have a concussion, or worse, your RoadID could save your life. I, for instance, have a serious penicillin allergy–carrying that info on my wrist could be vitally important.
Get a RoadID. Especially if you ride alone or with groups who don’t know your family well. They’re relatively cheap, and sort of seriously awesome.
You can’t get around it, you’ll eventually get a flat out on the road. And you’ll need a repair kit that includes an extra tube, patch kit, tire levers, and pump. Lezyne, a company that’s local for us here and makes serious quality gear, has a repair kit with pretty much everything to get you started.
The Lezyne M-Caddy C02 Repair Kit come complete with pump, multi-tool (which you’ll definitely need), tire levers, saddlebag, and glueless patches (these are a little tricky to use, but we’ve got an article for that).
YOU HAVE CHOICES
Kits like the one above basically have everything to get you started, but you might find that you’d rather make your own choices or spend a little less. You can pick from all sorts of saddlebags–or if you fall on the “I’m too cool for saddlebags” side of the debate, you might opt for a tool wrap. Tool wraps fit in a jersey pocket or on saddle rails, your choice.
One word of advice: if you to decide to ride with a saddlebag, make sure that it’s snugged up tight to your saddle, and it’s not too big. You don’t want to take your whole house with you on every ride. You’ll only need enough space for a flat fixing and maybe a little cash/ID.
PUMPS . . . MORE CHOICES
As for pumps, while I prefer the portability and ease of the C02 pumps, they do have a few downsides–you’re limiting the amount of air you have, and they can be slightly tricky–though they fill your tire super fast and with ease.
Mini-pumps, on the other hand, are a little easier to deal with at times despite adding some bulk to your bike. If you go for a mini-pump, make sure you get a type with a flexible hose, like the Lezyne Alloy Drive Hand Pump, otherwise you’ll have to be careful not to bend the stem of the tube as you fill it with air.
In addition to a portable one, you’ll also need a floor pump to check and fill your tires before each ride–otherwise you’ll be trying to keep your tires inflated to the proper psi with a mini-pump and a lot of extra cardio.
No matter what, make sure the pump works with Presta valves (the skinny kind). And since this is something you’ll use often, it’s not a bad idea to spend a bit more on a high quality floor pump that should last you for several years. Again, I’d go with Lezyne’s Sport Floor Drive if it were my choice.
WATER BOTTLES AND CAGES
Unless the shop that sells you your bike is kinda lame, you should get a free pair of bottle cages with your bike. But if you don’t, first make sure that whatever bike you buy has pre-installed screws for two cages (one on the seat tube, and one on the down tube e.g. the vertical bar and the lower sloping bar of the main frame).
Assuming it does, get two simple, metal bottle cages. Don’t worry about fancy, carbon cages yet. If you want to spend a little extra, you can get some cages that will grow with your bike and ability, but only if you feel like spending $36 or so on a pair of them. Either of the following will be great on your sweet road bike:
As for bottles, get two (or several because you’ll be using them a lot) matching ones from your local shop like these Camelbak Purist ones.
While we’re on the subject, don’t bother buying a hydration pack. This is something I did as a newbie, and while it seems like a good idea at the time, you’ll really just find that it’s annoying to carry a pack while you’re riding–you can’t get to your pockets, and it’s kind of uncool in road riding (but then, who needs to be cool, right? Well, I do. Desperately.).
Every cyclist (yes, every cyclist) needs to carry a multi-tool with them. These are perfect for adjusting your saddle on the fly, or making sure your brakes are working just right. I carry a very simple V5-tool with, you guessed right, 5 allen keys on it. It’s super small, so it doesn’t take up much room in a pocket or saddle bag.
It’s really your call on how many features you want to carry around with you–because remember, they can get heavy. But as a beginner, it will probably be nice to have a decent set that will let you adjust several things on your bike as needed. Here’s a link to several over at Jenson USA that should give you an idea on your options.
You won’t get too far on your bike before you’ll find yourself wanting to know how awesome you are at it. You’ll want to know your speed, distance traveled, calories burned, heart rate, power outp…well eventually you probably will. But for now, you have a choice.
You can splurge a bit and go for a nice computer that will grow with you as a cyclist and aid in your training, or you can get an inexpensive computer that will tell you all the basics like speed and distance.
I personally use a Wahoo ELEMNT, and I love it. It has tons of features, plus you can upload your ride or track all your coolness on social media–wirelessly. But it’s rather a steep price at over $300.
The good news is that really high functioning GPS computers are a heck of a lot cheaper these days than they used to be. Lezyne (I know I keep throwing their name around), for instance has a range of computers that top out at $150 with features like text alerts, maps, power meter connectivity and more. Bryton is also helping to bring prices down with their $100 or so range computers.
If you have the extra cash, you’ll certainly use a nice computer for several years. If you’re just out for a get-by version, that’s fine too. And used is always an option. Whatever you do, though, at least get one with cadence. Trust me.
3 THINGS YOU DON’T NEED YET
Although a well-fitting saddle is crucial to keeping you on the bike, the seat that comes with your bike will probably do just fine in the beginning. You’ll eventually want to swap it out, but you’ll probably also want to spend a decent amount of time getting one that fits you just right. Don’t fork over any extra money for now–wait till you know exactly what you want.
When you’re ready to get a new saddle, check out our Ultimate Guide to Finding a Comfortable Saddle. It’ll make sure you find the right shape for you.
SHOES AND CLIPLESS PEDALS
Although you’ll eventually want to go clipless (the pedals that your shoes clip in to) because it offers a great deal more power transfer, you can start out just fine with sneakers and strap pedals. Once you get more comfortable on the bike, shoes and pedals will probably be your next purchase.
LOADS AND LOADS OF GEAR
Cycling can be an expensive sport–especially if you waste money on things you think you’ll use, but end up disliking. If you stick to the list above, you’ll get yourself started in style, and it should take you a long way (pun intended).
Get informed before you buy something, and make sure it’s something you really need. Make friends at your LBS (heck, they’ll sometimes offer discounts for good customers), ask us questions, read our articles, and DON’T BE AFRAID! We were all newbies once–painfully so in my case.
OK, that’s my advice. The real key here is to spend your money wisely on things that you know you’ll use for a while. Buy used whenever you want to (our “budget cycling” section has got your back), look for discount codes and coupons, but don’t be afraid to spend a little more for a good quality piece of kit that you know you’ll end up loving.