Other than a bike, most new cyclists are going to need to buy a few bits and pieces to make their riding as comfortable and safe as possible. We’re going to talk you through each bit of essential kit.
Here's our shopping list:
- Helmet — road-specific (no peak), smallest comfortable size, with minimal side-to-side movement
- Sunglasses — cheap ones are best, but with a few lens options
- Jersey — short-sleeved for three seasons, long-sleeved in winter
- Bib shorts — close fitting is more comfortable and leave your pants at home!
- Warmers — for your arms and legs on cooler days
- Rain jacket — small, light and packable.
- Gloves — protection against cold, blisters and crashing; full-finger or fingerless, depending on the weather
- Socks — close fitting, breathable, wicking fabric
- Overshoes — for very cold and/or wet rides
- Clipless pedals and shoes — they don't need to be fancy to far outstrip flat pedals in terms of efficiency
- Multi-tool — to fit every bolt on your bike
- Spare inner tube — some punctures can't be repaired
- Mini pump — small enough for a jersey pocket or with a mount for your bike frame
- Tube patch kit — in case of multiple punctures
- Bottles and cages — stay hydrated
- Floor pump — leave it at home
Starting at the head and working down, the first thing you’re going to want is a helmet. There’s a lively debate about how necessary head protection is for cyclists, but we’re of the opinion that it’s safer to wear one than to not, so we’d class them as ‘essential’.
You’ll want a helmet with plenty of ventilation, and go for a road-bike specific model without a peak, as these will be optimised for the higher speeds that roadies tend to ride at.
Usually there will only be two or three highly adjustable sizes on offer, and you’ll want the smallest one that you can comfortably fit into. Make sure there’s not too much side-to-side play once you’ve adjusted for tightness, and try to find a model with no pressure points.
Sunglasses are great for keeping the glare, wind and insects out of your eyes. We’d suggest inexpensive ones that you don’t mind dropping on tarmac or shoving into a jersey pocket, but you’ll also want a few lens options for different conditions.
You might think Lycra is a dirty word, but there are good reasons most cyclists wear it. Chiefly, when you’re making repeated movements and working hard for hours at a time it’s much, much more comfortable than anything loose fitting. Your legs and sensitive parts wont chafe, and your sweat will wick and evaporate almost instantly.
If you’re concerned about self-consciousness, that’s totally normal, but once the wind is in your hair you’ll forget all about it.
In the summer, you’ll usually want to wear a short-sleeved jersey, which you can pair up with arm-warmers and a wicking baselayer on slightly cooler days. Again, go for something road-bike specific, with pockets at the back.
If you’ll be riding in the cold then a long-sleeved and thicker jersey is a good option to have in your arsenal. If you’re starting out in the spring or summer though, you’ll be okay with just the jersey and warmers.
Cycling shorts are also really important, and we’d suggest you opt for a pair with shoulder straps, known as ‘bibs’. Crucially, cycling shorts are designed for use without underwear and include a padded area to help cushion your sit-bones and… other bits from the saddle.
For winter riding you'll also want a full-length option known as ‘tights', but for most of the year bib shorts and legwarmers will probably do the trick.
A rain jacket is a great investment too, and should be carried on all rides where there’s any risk of rain. You’ll want this to be cut low at the rear, for coverage in a forward riding position, and light and packable enough to stuff into a jersey pocket.
Full-finger gloves keep your hands warm on cold days when your hands sit right at the front of the bike doing mostly nothing, but you might want fingerless ones even on hot days to fend off blisters and help you keep grip when sweaty. They also help protect you in the unlikely event of a crash, but try not to think about that too much!
Socks should be breathable and tight-fitting to avoid blisters, and are a peculiar roadie obsession. Don’t be afraid to pick brightly coloured ones that appeal to your personality.
In extremely cold and/or wet conditions you might also want some neoprene overshoes to be worn… over your shoes, which keep your feet warm wetsuit-style.
Pedals and shoes
Speaking of which, if you’ll be riding more than a few miles at a time then we’d strongly recommend investing in clipless pedals and compatible shoes. Confusingly named, these let you clip your feet to the bike for more efficient circular pedals strokes, and release with a simple twist of the heel.
If you’ll be using your bike mainly for commuting or urban riding, then you may want to consider mountain bike pedals and shoes instead of road ones. These usually offer more walking grip and the cleat is less exposed to the ground, so they don’t wear too fast. They’re also slightly easier to clip into, which is helpful pulling away from traffic lights. The trade-off is that they’re not quite as supportive on the foot when you’re putting down the power.
Okay, so that’s your clothes and shoes dealt with, but you’re also going to want to carry a few other essentials.
You’ll want a multi-tool for making adjustments and repairs. Make sure it has the right size and shaped drivers for every bolt on your bike, as well as a chain splitter tool.
A puncture repair kit with a spare inner tube, mini pump, tyre levers and patch kit. Don’t be tempted to skip the tube and rely on the patches because some punctures can’t be fixed. In any case, most roadies replace their tube on the first puncture, but carry patches in case they get any more.
The last thing you need to carry on your bike — literally bolted to it — is a couple of bottles with matching cages. Cycling is thirsty work, especially when you’re new to it, so consider filling up with an electrolyte drink instead of pure water.
Finally, one thing that you definitely need (but probably won't carry on rides) is a decent floor pump. Equipped with decently accurate gauges these let you inflate your tyres to high, specific pressures with very little effort.