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Top 10 Accessories for the Beginning Cyclist

By: Rana Williamson

Bicycle helmets may appear sleek, cool, and futuristic, but high-quality units like those manufactured by Catlike, are critical to protect the rider's head from impact and to insure a clear field of vision. In some areas the lightweight, ventilated helmets are required by law, but surprisingly, research indicates about 90% of cycling helmets don't fit properly.

When the helmet is sitting on the head there should only be two fingers width between the brim and the eyebrow, with the strap sitting at the back of the bottom jaw and against the throat. The helmet should not move around on the head. Expect to pay from approximately 75? to 120?. ($146 to $233 USD)

Padded Shorts

Anyone who has spent any time on a bicycle will assure you that padded shorts, like the comfortable bib shorts made by Gore, are absolutely essential. Even professional cyclists have been known to drop out of long-distance races due to the pain of "saddle sores," a condition that can be avoided (or at least made bearable) with proper clothing and a proper bike saddle. While it may be stating the obvious, men and women are built differently. Be sure to buy shorts designed for your gender. Expect to spend between 50? and 60? per pair for bibbed shorts (approximately $97 USD), less for the regular at-the-waist variety.

Waterproof Jacket

In addition to padded shorts, remember that when you are out adventuring on your road bikes, you're open to the elements. A lightweight waterproof jacket, preferably one that can be easily folded into a saddle bag, is essential, especially in climates where unexpected rainstorms are common. Prices vary widely for such garments and can range from around 23? ($45 USD) to as high as 77? ($150). The important thing is to find something serviceable that will efficiently deflect moisture. (A jacket with a hood is an excellent choice.)

Proper Saddle

Not all bicycle saddles are made equal. Well-known saddle manufacturers, like Arione, shape the saddle to conform more accurately to the body of a male or female rider. Like bike clothing, saddles are quite gender specific. Many women find they cannot ride long distances without a woman's saddle, which generally features a cut-out in the center to avoid the most obvious discomfort. Additionally, the saddles are designed to ensure that the rider uses his "sitting bones" rather than shifting too far forward. All good saddles are well-padded, often with high-tech gel, and are available from 70? and up. ($136 USD)

Hydration

One universal problem among beginning cyclists is failure to stay well-hydrated. Exercise and fitness experts recommend drinking water every 20 minutes. There are a variety of ways to carry water with you while you ride, from bottle racks attached to the frame to hydration packs worn on the cyclist's back. In the latter case, tubing from the pack is positioned near the riders mouth so he can drink without having to slow or stop his ride. Bottle racks start as low as 3.5? ($6.99 USD), while hydration packs are available from 20.5? ($40 USD) and up.

Ride Computer

Modern cycling puts impressive tools in the rider's hands to gauge not only distance, but also position and calories expended. (For example, the excellent Garmin GPS units from 225? [$440 USD] or the Cycle Ops Power Tap SL 2.4 for 850? [$1600 USD].) Some include training programs for racing against a virtual competitor and are outfitted with removable memory cards so data can be downloaded and analyzed on a PC. Ride computers are, for the cyclist, the equivalent of a personal trainer sitting on the handlebars recording data and encouraging you to improve.

Lighting

Busy schedules often mean cycling at odd hours. In order to see and be seen in any light, dress in reflective clothing and use a headlamp. (Many lights come in combination with a taillight.) The small light units attach to the handlebars with a Gimbal style mount and utilize powerful, long-lasting LED bulbs. Lenses on the light's face maximize and focus the beam to the front and sides. Most of these headlights are powered by small flashlight batteries although some can be plugged into an electrical outlet for recharging. Prices ranges from 12.31? ($24 USD) to 76? ($150 USD).

Maintenance/Emergency Tools

Like any vehicle, a bicycle will require repairs from time to time and tire punctures are not uncommon on long trips. At the very least you will want to pack a repair kit including a pump when you are out. Small kits that include a pump or CO2 based inflator and tire levers are designed to be packed away in a seat or saddle bag. Most run in a range from 5? ($10 USD) to 7? ($15 USD). Instant sealant products are also available, but you may want to check with your bike shop before opting for this route.

Mirrors

A major part cycling safety lies in making yourself visible and staying aware of your surroundings. When a cyclist turns his head to look over his shoulder, his attention is temporarily diverted. A better solution is to use mirrors like those on automobiles. Traditional mirrors attach to the handlebars and retail for approximately 5? and up ($10 USD).

Another form of mirror, a "third eye," attaches to the helmet or to the driver's sunglasses or spectacles. This placement allows the driver to constantly monitor what's behind him with a quick glance. These units also retail for 5? and up. (Some clip on while others are permanently attached.)

Unfortunately in our modern world, thievery is a real issue of concern. If your bike is going to be out of your sight, it should be properly secured to a rack or some immovable object. There are numerous reputable lock makers including Kryptonite and OnGuard. You may pay as little as 7? ($15 USD) and as much 41? ($80 USD). Be sure to get a lock that is adequately secure for the areas where you will be leaving your bike. Both combination and keyed locks are readily available.

For the Future

As a rider becomes more experienced and more adventuresome other bike accessories like repair and maintenance tools, locks, pumps, and under the seat bags for carrying gear will no doubt be added to their arsenal. Cycling isn't just about exercise, but also about outings with family and friends. With the right accessories, you'll never find yourself unprepared on the road.

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