Essential bike accessories and gadgets to get you started

Essential bike accessories and gadgets
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It’s been a great year for cyclists and tech enthusiasts. There are so many helpful bike accessories and gadgets available now that give you more metrics, keep you safer, and make your ride all the more enjoyable.

If you’re an Apple Watch user, the recent WatchOS 10 update drastically improved the cycling experience. It’s easier to see data at a glance, and you can integrate even more devices, such as a power meter. Regardless of whether you use a fitness watch or not, these bike accessories help you get more from each bike ride.

Technically, beyond a working bike, a helmet, and lights, you don’t need anything to have fun riding. But where’s the fun in that? Half the culture around cycling is finding little gadgets you enjoy and using them with your bike.

Essential bike accessories and gadgets

Bike lights

The biggest tech essential on any bike is lights, and there are a lot of choices.

For riders on a budget, Knog Lights are a great way to start. They look cool, they’re small, and they’re easy to put on and off when you charge them. The Bike Plus Light Twin Pack is just $55, has a front and back light, and is really easy to install and use. It’s not the brightest available, so they’re not great for day riding or illuminating dark paths, but they’re good for being seen at night.

For nighttime riding on dark paths on a budget, I prefer the Knog Plus Bike Light Twin Pack. The front light is a very bright 250 lumens (LM) with some side visibility, though the rear light is just 10LM. They’re still easy to install and charge. At $80, they’re a good thing to have in your arsenal.

Bike accessories - Knog Light
Knog bike light. Image: Alice Clarke.

But for general riding, it’s hard to go past the $199 Bontrager Ion Comp R/Flare R City Bike Light Set. Having daytime running lights is important to be as visible as possible. Hopefully, visible enough so that someone on their phone in a 4WD might see you before running you over. The front light is a powerful 700LM, which isn’t the brightest available but is still extremely bright. The rear light is 35LM, and I’ve found it to be quite visible from a decent distance.

If you’re really concerned about safety, the $699 Garmin Varia RCT715 automatically records incidents on the built-in camera. It also acts as a radar to let you know when someone is approaching behind you. Think of it like a dashcam, a rear light, and a radar in one, with a six-hour battery life and up to 65LM for daytime riding. It’s an incredibly impressive piece of kit and a must-have for people who do a lot of riding in dangerous areas. I’ve been incredibly impressed by it in all my tests.

Locks and anti-theft bike accessories

There are a couple of different ways to track down your bike if it gets stolen.

One is to put an Apple AirTag on it somewhere, maybe stuffed in the tube, depending on your bike.

My preferred method is the Knog Scout Bike Alarm and Finder. It fits neatly under your drink bottle cage, with an alarm to act as a deterrent, plus Apple Find My integration to help you find your bike if stolen. Most thieves now know to look for an AirTag, so something like this nestled between the frame and bottle cage is a bit more subtle. If you want to be less subtle, though, it also comes with a neon cover.

The Knog isn’t perfect – I did accidentally break mine somehow when I switched phones (I wiped it and now it just won’t connect to anything ever again for an unknown reason). In my opinion, it’s still worth it, particularly if you don’t switch phones as often as I do.

In terms of prevention, a bike lock is a given. The level of lock fanciness you need depends on what kind of bike you have. I have an older ABUS folding lock for my commuter bike because it’s really hard to saw through, but still easy to transport. It cost about $80, and became worth every penny the moment I saw a thief give up on trying to steal my bike because it was too hard.

I do not ever lock up my road bike anywhere, and only ever leave it next to me or in my apartment, because no lock is foolproof.

Phone mounts

I’m never going to go past the Quad Lock for a phone mount. It changed my life. I have already written a love letter to them before, so I won’t go over all of it again. But this year I discovered the versatility of the Out Front Mount Pro, and it’s a game changer. Made from a more premium-looking aluminium, it looks so sleek on your cockpit, and you can get a camera/light adapter for it so you can mount a light or a GoPro to the bottom. An absolute must-have for anyone who wants to cycle with their phone.

Quad Lock Out Front mount
Image: Quad Lock.

Bike Computers

I will be the first to admit that my experience with bike computers is limited, but I’ve been spoiled with the $879 Garmin 840 Solar. It’s basically everything I would want out of a bike computer. It has a nice, small screen, so it doesn’t look too messy on my handlebars with everything else I’ve shoved on there. Despite this, it’s still easy and clear to read all the information I need. It can create training plans, connect to heart rate monitors and power meters, and tell you your tempo, intensity, and speed.

Garmin Edge bike GPS
Garmin Edge 840 Solar. Image: Alice Clarke.

It also charges a bit with solar power while you ride to give you more juice if the battery’s 32 hours isn’t enough. Packed with a lot of sensors, safety and tracking features, it also connects with other Garmin bike accessories (such as the Varia Radar light) to tie everything together neatly. Plus, you can also set it to sync with Strava to keep everything neat. I’m in love.

Power meter

As the name suggests, a power meter provides in-depth information about how powerful your pedal strokes are, measured in watts. It’s helpful data for athletes or serious cyclists but probably not necessary for the everyday rider.

If you want to take your cycling to the next level, a power meter might do the trick. However, before buying one, you need to consider various factors. It’s explained in more detail in our look at the power meter Apple Watch integration but boils down to the type of bike and pedals you use. They’re also not cheap, starting at roughly $400 for some models, and $800 for others. Some of the brands to look for include SRAMShimano and Wahoo Fitness.

Headphones

Whether you find having music to be a focusing tool or a distraction depends on who you are as a person, but the most important thing is that if you do want music, that you don’t block your ears while you ride.

There are really two choices of good headphones for this purpose:

One is Shokz Open Run (and the Pro version). These are bone conduction headphones, which leave the ears free and vibrate the music through your jawbone.

Shokz OpenFit bike headphones
Shokz OpenFit. Image: Alice Clarke.

The other is the Shokz OpenFit, which are true wireless headphones that also don’t block your ears. These are my pick for city riding because they’re more comfortable and sound better. They’re also great for just general use, like taking calls thanks to the surprisingly clear microphone.

Helmets

Picking the right helmet can seem really difficult when there are so many choices. Technically, you’ll be fine with any helmet sold in Australia that has the little sticker confirming it conforms with the minimum Australian safety standards. Unless the helmet has extra features, all standard helmets will give you much the same level of protection. But, if you want a little more protection, there are MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) and Wavecel helmets.

MIPS protects your brain from rotational forces, while Wavecel protects from linear and rotational forces. There’s more to it than that, of course, but that’s a whole separate article.

MIPS has an extra, low-friction layer inside the helmet (often Velcro-ed red fabric tabs) which stops your head moving around a little more in case of an accident. MIPS is the most common type of “premium” helmet, and you can get them for around $80. I have two MIPS helmets, an older-style Bontrager Velocis MIPS Road Bike helmet that came free with my bike, and a newer, fancier Trek Velocis MIPS Road Bike helmet.

Wavecel helmets are a bit harder to come by and a lot more expensive, because it’s a newer technology. It uses a kind of spongy-ish material instead of the traditional foam to protect your head from moving in more directions. You’ll generally find them for $200 and up, and they’ll likely be a lot more common and more affordable in the future.

Remember that your brain is the most important thing that you have, so it’s worth protecting. Also, helmets are single-use, in that as soon as you have a fall or crash, or you drop your helmet from a reasonable distance, it’s now done its job and it’s time to get a new one. It’s not worth risking it. A lot of brands will offer free crash replacement within a certain timeframe (usually a year).

Clothes

When you first start riding, you vow to yourself to never be that person in lycra, or at least I did, and then the longer you ride, the more you understand why other cyclists dress like that. Padded shorts or pants are a must once you start riding for longer than 45 minutes. Then, once you have the pants, you don’t have any pants pockets. By now, you may as well go to the cycling jersey so you have the rear pockets, and suddenly you’re wearing a full cycling kit.

I have tried a lot of cycling clothes over the years, and find that the cycling shorts are great in autumn/spring (even though my skin dries out a bit from the wind), but I burn far too easily in the sun, so summer weight cycling bib tights were always my holy grail. Last year MAAP introduced a pair of padded cycling tights, which were great, but as with all compression tights, I found that they bit into my hip tendons too much and they caused pain.

So, this year, when MAAP finally introduced proper summer-weight cycling bib tights, I was immediately in love. They are expensive, but they are completely worth it.

Whenever you see cycling kit refer to “bib knicks” or “bib shorts”, the bib part means that the shorts/tights are held up using inbuilt suspenders/bracers. This takes the pressure off your hip tendons, helps the padding stay in place, and is generally more comfortable. Plus, they have the added bonus of making you look like an old-timey strongman in a circus before you put your jersey on over it.

I’ve spent four hours in the saddle in 30-degree weather in these MAAP bib tights and been far more comfortable than I had any right to be. Aside from perhaps my MAAP winter-weight cycling bib tights (which mean I can still ride on even the coldest Melbourne days), the MAAP summer-weight bib tights are probably my favourite item of clothing in my wardrobe. I cannot recommend them enough.

Breathing trainer

Another gadget that’s slightly out of left field is the Welcare Breatheasy Breathing Trainers. They are deeply weird devices that help you train to increase your lung capacity. Asthmatics and people who have had major surgery will be familiar with similar devices that measure how hard you breathe out, but the Breatheasy Breathing Trainers make it hard to breathe in, theoretically making your lungs work harder.

It’s an interesting idea and one that I’ve noticed results from. I’m still going to the gym 3-4 times a week in an N95 mask, so I was unknowingly doing (and noticing the benefits from) this kind of training. But I think it has helped increase my lung capacity. It’s definitely not for everyone, but handy for the curious.

Other essential bike accessories

Some other must-have bike accessories are:

Good clipless shoes (if you decide to make the leap to clipless pedals). If you’re just starting out, I recommend trying some mountain bike shoes, because you can still walk around in them relatively comfortably. I use the Bontrager Rally Mountain Bike shoes as my main pair at the moment (though I also have a fancier road pair that I’m building up to using more).

A good bell. This isn’t something to skimp out on. Make sure you listen to all the bells in your local bike store and find the one you enjoy using the most. It’s an essential safety tool, but also fun.

A good local bike store. This depends on where you live. But I have found a beautiful community of friends (and a lot of helpful advice) at my local store. Knowing your local mechanic is important if you lack the skills, time and/or confidence to maintain your own bike.

An Apple Watch. If you want to take advantage of the Apple Watch Cycling Workouts I talked about above, an Apple Watch is kinda key for that.

A place to find good cycling trails in your area. If you’re in Victoria, I highly recommend checking out Melbourne Cycle Loops, but I’m sure there are similar sites for your area. Also check out your local bicycle users’ group, cycling clubs, and advocacy groups. The best part about riding bikes, aside from the actual riding of the bikes, is exploring places you might never have gone otherwise, and finding a community along the way.

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