There are essential items without which you are going to struggle to enjoy your cycling, and discretionary purchases that are nice to have but are by no means essential.
With this in mind, I’ve split my suggestions as to which cycling accessories you need into two groups: the must-haves, and the nice-to-haves.
Essential items for cycling
These are the bare essentials that I think you’ll need to get the most out of your new bicycle. I haven’t given specific recommendations because people’s pockets and tastes vary, but a visit to somewhere like Halfords or Evans Cycles will give you a good feel for what’s available and what might suit your budget and tastes.
I’ve used both outlets in the past, and have found they’re staffed with bike enthusiasts who have taken the time and trouble to listen to me before making a recommendation.
Of course, if you’ve got a local, independent bike shop then it’s worth cultivating a relationship with them, even if they can’t beat the online prices of some of the competition; if and when you have a problem, being able to pop in and speak to a friendly face about it is worth paying a couple of pounds more for your safety helmet or bike lock now!
A helmet should be the first thing you buy; in fact, you should buy it at the same time as you buy your bike - and you’ll sometimes even find that the retailer will give you a discount if you buy the two items together.
Those of you who have ridden motorcycles will know that helmets from different manufacturers tend to fit different heads. For example, I find that Giro and Bell helmets fit me best, so it’s worth spending some time trying different brands and models on to find the one that feels the most comfortable.
Brands to look out for include the aforementioned Bella and Giro, plus Boardman, Specialized, Scott, and many others. If in doubt, stick with a name you’ve heard of and please do make sure that the helmet you buy meets either European (CEN), Australian (ASTM) or American (CSPC) safety standards: the latter two are considered to be the most stringent, which is something to bear in mind if you are struggling to choose between two different helmets.
Oh, and Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) is a new technology that is starting to become better known and more widely available. MIPS is designed to help prevent injuries caused by rotational forces caused by angled impacts when you come off your bicycle. Helmets that have MIPS technology are marked with a small yellow logo.
Price range: £15 to £200 and more. I’d budget to spend about £50-75, which will be more than enough to get you a quality helmet from a reputable manufacturer.
What sort of bike should I get?
If a helmet is the first accessory you buy, then a decent cycle lock - along with a comprehensive cycle insurance policy - should be the second.
The main problem with cycle locks is that you don’t only get what you pay for; the best locks, and therefore the hardest for a thief to crack, tend to weigh an awful lot.
While there are a variety of different styles available, the two main variations are the flexible cable lock and the rigid D-shaped shackle lock. I’ve got the latter, supplemented by the former, and while the combination of the two different locks weighs an enormous amount, I think it’s worth it as my bike cost an enormous amount, too!
Lightweight titanium bike locks have been about for a while, but I’d rather play it safe and accept the weight penalty of good, old-fashioned steel. Of course, a wiser person than me would also buy a simple, lightweight lock for those low-risk situations where you are just going to pop into a pub in the middle of nowhere to order a pint before sitting outside with your bike.
Price range: £5 will buy you a simple, lightweight lock that will do nothing more than momentarily inconvenience a thief, while £55 will buy you a Kryptonite New York D-lock that comes with a bracket to mount it on your frame and a £2,500 insurance policy should your bike get stolen.
Spare inner tube and puncture kit
A spare inner tube and a puncture repair kit can prevent a flat tyre ruining your day - and you will get a puncture, that I can promise you. You should probably read the instructions before you need it, but then we’ve all changed an inner tube and used a puncture repair kit at some point in our lives, haven’t we? (I would advise you to practice in the comfort of your own home before you get a flat tyre, but no-one is actually going to do that, are they?)
Price range: don’t be tempted to over-complicate it; just ask the sales assistant to recommend one that includes tyre levers and you should have change from £15 for the two.
You’ll need a bike pump, too. I’ve got a nifty little thing that is only about six inches long and develops more than enough puff to pump up my tyres in double-quick time.
Despite that, I’ve also got a small inflator that uses tiny CO2 cartridges because I’m lazy and a bit of a gadget freak. They’re heavy and expensive at about £1 a cartridge, but they’re super-easy to use and very convenient.
Price range: anything from £5 upwards, while £20 should be enough to buy a quality pump that’ll last for years.
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A decent multi-tool will enable you to tighten loose bolts and nuts, true a wonky wheel, and open your lunchtime beer without breaking the bank. Names to look out for include Topeak, Specialized, Crank Brothers, and Park Tools.
You’re looking for something that is small enough to pop in your pocket or saddle bag but is comprehensive enough to deal with the most common problems. Again, speak to the sales assistant and take their advice.
Price range: anything from £10 all the way £30 or more. I bought one from Park Tool for £13 that does everything I need it to do and then some.
A small saddle or frame bag will hold your multi-tool, spare inner tube, puncture repair kit, and bike pump.
Just pick the one you like the look and price of and remember that if it’s quick-release, or at least easy to remove, you’re more likely to take it with you when you park your bike up, depriving a thief of the opportunity to steal your tools!
Price range: £5 upwards.
Legally, you don’t need lights if you’re not going to be riding at night but I’d recommend that you buy a set anyway for two reasons. The first is that you never know when you’re going to get caught out and be forced to ride in the dark, and the second is because a pair of bike lights make you more visible, even during the daytime, especially if they’re the flashing sort, which are now legal to buy and use.
The LED variety are very bright, fairly small, and have a remarkable battery life. Rechargeable versions are widely available and will save you a fortune over the years, and again, if you choose ones that are easy to remove you’ll thank yourself every single time you park your bike and take them with you.
Price range: from £10 a pair for cheap, own-brand lights, all the way to £200 and more for a set of extra high-power lights suitable for extensive off-road riding in the dark. The middle ground, at about £30-50 for a pair, is the sweet spot for most people.
The Trigger Bell is a very clever way of being able to sound a warning while still keeping both hands on your handlebars.
Essentially a old-fashioned bicycle bell with an ingenious mounting system that fits all handlebars, the best bit is that you can use it without taking your hands off the ‘bars. This means you can steer, brake and sound your bike bell simultaneously, which should give you time to take evasive action while still be able to warn wayward pedestrians of your approach.
Available from Amazon, the Trigger Bell costs £9.99 including free postage with Amazon Prime. They’re so cheap, unobtrusive and light that I’ve fitted two, one on each side, for ambidextrous use.
Accessories that are nice to have
Now that you’ve spent about £200 on essential accessories, your wallet might like to take a break for a while.
However, as your bank balance replenishes and your enthusiasm grows, you might like to consider one or more of the following.
If you love tools, then the world of cycling opens up a whole new dimension; I’m currently in love with Park Tools, and not just because they’re all made in a matching shade of blue and look fabulous on a pegboard in my garage…
Seriously though, while you might already have most of the tools you’ll need like spanners, Allen keys, wire cutters, and pliers there are other tools like spoke nipple keys, pedal and headset spanners, chain link removers, and crank removal tools that no-one bar the dedicated cyclist has in their tool box.
Of course, you could pay your local cycle shop to do the work for you but I prefer to invest the money I would have had to spend on labour fees on buying the tool for the job and then doing it myself. While it’s often cheaper - and much more satisfying - to do it yourself, I do it because I then know that it’s been done properly.
As ever, YouTube is great for free video tutorials on jobs you’ve probably never tackled before.
Price range: anything from £5 upwards depending on the tool and the job that needs doing.
Your bottom will thank you for buying a dedicated pair of cycling shorts or trousers with a padded, chamois leather lining.
Front and rear luggage racks
Front and/or rear luggage racks and waterproof panniers will help extend the versatility of your bike, whether it’s popping down to the shops for some groceries or cycling around Iceland. (And that’s not as daft as its sounds if you’ve got a month free in the summer…)
Almost all adventure and mountain bikes will already have the appropriate mounts for a rear luggage rack brazed onto the frame, and touring bikes will have the front ones on the forks, too. Brands to look for when you’re choosing a luggage rack include Blackburn, Topeak, and Bontrager.
Panniers are a matter of personal choice; some people like brightly coloured ones because they make you more visible to other road users, while others prefer something a bit more subdued. The issue of whether or not to buy waterproof panniers splits the cycling community, too; advocates of waterproof panniers and bags insist that you need them to keep your stuff dry, while those who say that they aren’t necessary argue that using waterproof stuff sacks inside the panniers is a better way of keeping your kit dry, so there is no need to spend the extra on buying waterproof panniers.
Regular readers will know that I’m a belt-and-braces type of bloke, so I’ve got waterproof panniers in which I use waterproof stuff sacks. There’s a small weight penalty but at least I know that my sleeping bag and clothing are going to be dry no matter how foul the weather gets.
Brands to look out for include Ortlieb, Altura, and Topeak.
Price range: a decent front or rear pannier is going to cost you anything between £25 and £100, depending on the quality and brand. Panniers are going to cost between £50 and £150 a pair, depending on their size and whether they are waterproof or not.
Few things are more dispiriting on a long ride than a wet bum. So, while I’d be the first to admit that mudguards on your bicycle do nothing to improve its aesthetics, they’re bloomin’ useful things to have.
Most people go for bolt-on mudguards that are permanently fitted in place but there are some very clever clip-on versions that look terrific and need only be used when you are expecting rain or mud.
Price range: mudguards are cheap too, at around £25 - £50 a pair, depending on quality and the type of bike they’re being fitted to.
Some bikes will come with water bottle cages as standard but almost all will have the bottle cage threads on the down- and seat-tube, ready for you to bolt on the cage of your choice.
You can buy plastic, steel, alloy, and even titanium bottle cages, depending on your budget and how sad you are. Water bottles also come in metal or plastic, but you are almost certainly going to lose them from time-to-time, so just buy the cheapest you can find.
Price range: I’m usually a bit of a cheapskate but couldn’t resist the lure of titanium water bottle cages. You’re probably made of sterner, more sensible stuff so need not pay more than £5 for a bottle cage, and another £5 per water bottle.
Just as we can fit winter tyres to our cars, we can fit winter tyres to our bicycles too. Plus dedicated mud tyres, slick road tyres, and anything in between. This might seem like madness at the moment, but I bet you’ll have at least one extra set of tyres within a year…
Price range: anything from £10 upwards.
While you’ve got your portable bicycle pump for emergency use, it’s a bit small to use on a regular basis, which is where a track pump comes in.
A track pump is a vertical bike pump with a broad base; you stand on the base to keep it steady and lean down and pump up-and-down on it with your hands and upper body. It’s long-stroke design enables you to pump up even thick mountain bike tyres in short order.
Price range: a decent track pump will set you back upwards of £20.
Cycle Turbo Trainer
I know that you’re as tough as old boots when it comes to the winter weather, but I can be a bit of a lightweight. While I love the rain and the snow, a windy winter day is enough to see me scuttling back indoors; frankly, I think life is too short to fight a headwind when you don’t have to.
But, I like to keep fit which is where a Turbo Trainer comes in. You sit your bike on top of it and can then cycle along indoors to your heart’s content. You can even listen to music, watch TV, or chat to your loved one as you’re racking up the miles and burning off the calories.
Some of them replace your rear wheel, while others rely on your rear tyre riding on a second wheel. In almost all cases the resistance can be varied, providing anything from a gentle ride out through to a hard-core mountain climb.
Price range: a simple model might cost you as little as £100, while an all-singing, all-dancing, top-of-the-range version will cost four figures. The sweet spot seems to be between £200 and £300, and Evans Cycles has a wide range to choose from.