It may surprise North American bikers to learn that if you buy a bike in places like the Netherlands or Japan, it will usually come with a kickstand, a bell, a headlight, and a rack or basket.
When you buy a bike in America it doesn’t come with these items, which is a shame because accessories enhance a rider’s experience in several ways.
Although most people think of bike accessories from the primary perspective of improving rider safety, accessories can also improve a rider’s comfort, make riding more convenient, and even simply enhance a rider’s individuality and sense of style when out and about on their bike.
Today, we will explore the many different accessories available to riders across these categories. By focusing on the products in each realm that we know are the best in their category for improving your biking experience.
Table of Contents
- Reflective vests and tape
Since we feel that rider safety is of paramount importance, and because it is often the first thing people think of when considering the biking accessories they may need, we thought we would cover safety-based accessories first.
Of course, it should go without saying that accessories alone won’t make you safe (for non-accessory related tips on improving your safety on the road check out this article on this subject, which is aptly named: How to Not Get Hit by Cars.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the cool gear out now that we recommend and use ourselves that will at least improve, if not guarantee, your safety on the road.
LightsIt seems obvious that having a good quality bike light should be considered an essential must-have accessory, but many riders neglect to purchase one until they start biking at night or the seasons begin to change and the days get shorter.
This oversight is very dangerous as a biker at night without proper reflective gear and lights is all but invisible to passing cars, which vastly increases the chances a rider will be hit by the motorists they share the road with.
In fact, most cyclists who get killed are hit at night and most of them don’t have lights. If you’re looking for an article that will give you more details on lights specifically as well as explaining our favorite light options, please see our ‘Recommended Bike lights’ Page.
In many ways, the headlight you choose is potentially more important than your tail light. This is because you’re much more likely to get hit from the front (due to a car heading towards you making a left turn across your path), or from the side (due to a car pulling out of a driveway or side street and moving right to left across your path).
When cars approach you from behind, they approach you slower (because you’re riding away from them), and if you have reflectors that’s usually enough to ensure that you will be seen from the rear. Thus, the primary danger to a rider is usually from front and side collisions with vehicles.
The likelihood of these collisions can be reduced quite simply by simply purchasing a headlight. Additionally, it is important to note that, at least in the US, it against the law to ride at night without a headlight.
Regardless of which style and brand of light you choose, make sure to get an LED light, because the batteries last much, much longer in these lights than in conventional lights.
In terms of specific recommendations, we like the Cygolite Metro 400 & 500 models as they are great value.. We have also just reviewed the Metro Pro Metro 1100 which you can check out here.
Cyolite is a great company that has been making quality lights (made in California!) since 1991. They really make quality a priority, and if your looking for a light that will light up the road in front of you like using the high beams on your car – you’ve found it.
These lights are very powerful and at either 400, 500 or 1100 lumens, you can even use it during the day to increase your visibility on the road. Their lights have six different modes for maximum customization, as well as the ability to last for up to 30hours on one battery charge (on its most modest light setting of course).
Although we feel that bike shops in the states should now start installing red rear lights on all bikes as the cost is certainly not prohibitive, the reality is that this is still not the case for most Americans purchasing a bike. Luckily, some of the gear that you need to be safe as a cyclist is not necessarily expensive – with a good example of this being rear lights.
We feel that this is an item where it isn’t necessary to spend more than $5 -$10 for a red flasher that will satisfy your safety needs and run off of common AA batteries (for more information on batteries and our opinions of the best ones out there, please see this Guide to Batteries).
In addition to being economical, these flashers can be found at all bike shops as well as most large chain stores that sell bike supplies.
However, if you are looking for the best possible, high-quality rear light and you’re willing to spend a bit more money, we would recommend the Cygolite Hotshot Pro 150. (Amazon link)
This powerful light will give you up to 210 hours of battery life on a single charge, offers six different light modes from flashing to steady beam, and boasts a powerful 150-lumen light beam to really light up the road behind your bike on all sides.
MirrorsImagine driving or riding a motorcycle without mirrors, it is very unlikely that you would feel safe doing this as it is generally understood that mirrors help us gain a bigger and clearer picture of the road around us more frequently without actually requiring us to take our eyes off where we are going too frequently.
Really, all road users that are not pedestrians should be combining shoulder checks with mirror use to ensure their own and other road users’ safety. Plus, as a side note, your paranoia about potential accidents will plummet once you can see what’s behind you.
When it comes to mirrors, riders have a lot of choices. The most popular mirrors available, that we also like and use ourselves, are those that stick into your handlebar, such as the $14 Mirrcycle, because it’s easy to adjust and it doesn’t bounce around on bumpy roads.
If you would prefer a mirror that attaches to your helmet or sunglasses, rather then your bike, we have suggestions for that as well. If you want a large mirror that attaches to your helmet, doesn’t wobble around and is well constructed, then the EVT Safe Zone Bike Helmet Mirror is the best option for you. As an added bonus, this item is also made in the USA.
For a mirror that clips to your sunglasses, check out the Bike Peddler ‘Take a Look’ Cycling Mirror. This handy item can clip on the right or left side of your glasses, sunglasses, or helmet visor. It has three pivot points for maximum visibility and reviews note that it doesn’t vibrate or move around too much.
If you’re the type of person who likes to try out the latest and greatest bike tech, you’ll be excited to hear that the newest kind of mirror out now for cyclists is a tiny circle on a pivot that glues to the inside of your sunglasses!
We know that this item sounds a bit crazy, but we’ve tried it out, and it works well. Since this technology is still new, there are some kinks to work out (such as streamlining the mirror mounting process), but we are still impressed overall that it is even possible to make an item like this.
If style and appearance are as important as safety to you, this is an option that you should definitely check out.
HornsHorns are an important and often overlooked safety device. Many people think of horns on a bike as being a bit antiqued, but really, they are one of the best ways to alert car drivers, as well as slow pedestrians walking dogs and pushing strollers, of your presence far in advance of your arrival in a busy area of road or sidewalk.
Giving people around you a heads up of your whereabouts is essential to ensuring they have enough time to stop or move out of your way to avoid collisions and sudden swerves and forced stops on your part.
Although there are many brands and types of horns available, we feel that (having tested most of them between the various authors on this site) that the roughly $25 AirZound horn from Amazon is the way to go. It’s LOUD! If a car blasts you, you can blast them right back.
Now, of course, we shouldn’t let tensions escalate, and the main reason to have this horn is to warn other motorists who might otherwise not see you.
This horn mounts to your handlebars, and the air canister is shaped like a water bottle and fits in your water bottle cage on the frame. You refill it with a standard bike pump, and it’s good for about 20 good blasts between refills. I use it when I’m biking at night and there’s someone ahead of me on the right who’s about to pull out of a driveway or parking lot.
Never again do I need to worry that they can’t see me. Plus, the horn can also scare off some (but not all) dogs. Overall, we really feel like in the realm of horns, this is your best option.
HelmetsHelmets are certainly the number one thing that most people, even those outside the biking community, know are an essential accessory to ensure the safety of the rider should an accident happen.
As we have stressed in this article thus far, it is 100 times more important not to get hit in the first place. (More details on protecting your safety while out biking can be found by reading our article on learning how to not get hit.)
To that end, you can greatly improve your chances of not getting hit by not riding recklessly and by getting lights, a mirror, an AirZound horn. Owning these safety accessories, plus being aware of the main ways a car could potentially hit you are certainly your best 1st line of defense against getting hit in the first place.
Of course, helmets do afford some protection in the event of a crash, but don’t think that strapping on a helmet automatically makes you “safe”. Being knowledgeable, alert, and well-equipped will go a lot farther toward protecting your life than simply strapping a piece of styrofoam on your head. Here’s a good page about helmet facts & myths.
Now that we have mentioned these things as a disclaimer, let’s talk about a few options for helmets and show you some of our favorites since, even if you take every other precaution, you should be wearing a helmet every time you go biking. Since you have to wear a helmet so often, it is essential that you get one that is comfortable, breathable, and most importantly, fits your head well and is adjusted correctly.
It is worth stating this in bold: make sure you know how to adjust your helmet to fit properly. If you wear it wrong, it’ll come off in a crash and erase any safety benefit you might have gained.
Thrift stores like Goodwill have helmets for as little as $2. Used helmets may be less effective if they’ve been dropped or impacted in a collision, but if you’re pressed for funds, a cheap helmet beats no helmet at all.
A good helmet at a bike shop starts out at around $30, but the folks at a bike shop can also show you how to make sure it fits properly, which is important. Wearing a poorly-fitting helmet can be as bad as wearing no helmet at all.
Now that you know a bit more about helmets and what to look for in purchasing one, let us provide some suggestions on some of the brands and types of helmets that we like here at Bicycle Universe:
- Best economical helmet: the Bell Adrenaline.
- Best helmet for the urban commuter cyclist: the Nutcase Metroride
- Best helmet for maximum airflow to decrease sweating: the Giro Atmos II
If you want to take a much more in-depth at your helmet options, take a look at our article: The Top Five Bike Helmets Under $100.
Reflective GearCyclists seem to have divided opinions on this. Although this is an accessory that some feel is unnecessary of even tacky, others feel that if you live in an area that is either rural or experiences longer, harsher winters, then it may be unsafe not to consider reflective gear an essential addition to your set of safety accessories.
For this type of gear, you can visit your local bike shop or even a large chain store near you and likely find something that will work. The issue with these options is that sometimes reflective gear only comes in one size.
That often means that for many people the vest is either too large – and sliding around everywhere while they are biking – or too small and is tight and uncomfortable.
Additionally, many in-person shops don’t sell reflective gear that comes with arm and leg bands, and they don’t sell vests that are geared towards the way athletes move and bend on their bikes. If you fit the standard size and are mainly a biker who commutes to and from work without engaging in much (if any) strenuous biking, these vest options might work for you and save you a bit of money.
If you don’t mind spending a bit more money to purchase something that is engineered to cater to athletes, you should check out this option on Amazon.
This vest comes in 6 sizes, comes standard with 4 reflective bands that can be worn on your arms and legs (or wrapped around various parts of your bike) and offers a 100% money-back guarantee if you decide it’s not working for you.
Overall, if 85% of 1400 reviews gave this vest five stars, we feel that it’s a pretty sure thing that it’s worth the investment!
- Pants Clips
- Gadget Bottles
- Flat-Free Tires
LocksThe first thing we wanted to talk about in this section is locks. Although they are listed as a convivence item, much like helmets, they are also something the average cyclists wouldn’t generally consider a frivolous or unnecessary extra. In most cases, you should secure your bike with either a metal U-lock or a thick cable loop.
Standard cable locks are not a good idea in urban areas unless your bike is cheap, you’re not parking it in public overnight, and you’re not parking it at a college campus. Even then, you might still lose your bike with a cable-lock as bike theft is still quite common.
According to Sgt. William Van Horn of the University of Texas Police Department, 95% of the bikes reported stolen to UT police were locked with cable locks. (From Austin American-Statesman, 11-22-99).
Of course, no brand or type of lock, including U-locks, is 100% thief-proof. Additionally, it’s somewhat obvious that you will get what you pay for and that the cheaper U-locks are easier to break than the expensive ones – but the point is that a cheap U-lock still beats a thin cable any day.
Amazon has entry-level U-locks for $13 if you want an economical option, but you can also find higher quality U-locks at bike stores are generally $30 and up. If you are looking for a specific suggestion from us, we like Kryptonite brand locks for their durability and strong theft protection.
If your interested in learning more about this topic, we’d recommend reading this strange but interesting article where Bicycling Magazine had a retired bike thief try to break several brands of locks. Most of the locks proved quite easy for him to quickly destroy, but there were a few that stood up to the challenge of this seasoned lock picker.
Click the link to read the results of their tests. Plus, to further guarantee your protection, you should also check out our page on Bike Theft (prevention & recovery).
BasketsBaskets are incredibly useful and often allow you to use your bike as a replacement to a car. With large baskets and good rope or cord, you can haul anything except large appliances. We routinely carry four 1-gallon jugs of water (two jugs in each side, 30 lbs. total) home from the store.
We can fit up to $60 of groceries in our baskets – or a briefcase on one side and a guitar on the other (which we did when going to the airport to catch a plane to El Paso)! We even tied a four-foot stone pedestal to our baskets to haul it home – and hauled a two-drawer filing cabinet by tying it on securely.
If you want a bike basket that can carry up to 45lbs if it’s installed over the back tire, we’d definitely say that the Blackburn Local Basket is the way to go. One caveat about this basket though is that it is not that easy to install or take off. This type of basket would only really work well and be efficient for someone who commutes regularly and generally always wants to use the basket and keep it installed all of the time.
Most bike shops will not stock the largest baskets available – they’ll have to order them for you if you want the big ones like ours. The added weight is negligible as the stuff we haul in our baskets weighs much more than the baskets themselves!
We’ve biked around Austin almost every day for ten years with the largest baskets available. There are a lot of good baskets out there, but if you want to get one online, we like the Wald 157 Giant Bike Basket, which is slightly reminiscent of a 1950s paper route basket!
This basket can fit a lot of things and can also be installed and taken off in only about ten minutes with a good multi-tool (If you want to learn more about multi-tools by the way, including why we think the Crank brothers ones are the best, click here).
Plus, keep in mind that if you really crave the ability to go sleek when you’re not hauling anything, then you can get a rear rack, and get folding clip-on baskets, which you can fold or remove altogether when you’re not using them.
Finally, along the lines of carrying stuff, BOB trailers are very popular. They’re convenient, sturdy, and cost around $150. Most bike shops sell them or can order them for you.
Pants ClipA metal pants clip for your right ankle area can keep your pants from hitting your chain and getting greasy. There are a lot of options here from economical to expensive and what you choose depends a lot on how often you ride our bike and the general road conditions where you live.
On the cheaper end, you can also use rubber bands, of course. If you do want to purchase a pants clip, it’s a good idea to consider getting one that is reflective and Velcro as it will secure your pants and make you more visible at the same time. A good store-bought option that has both of these features may be these ones – you can see these from 750 feet away!
CamerasAlthough these are not in any way a necessity, if your someone who likes to take weekend bike trips or vacations, or even if you admire the sunset over the water as you cross the same bridge on your way home from work and always wish you could snap a photo of it (like me!) then you might want to at least consider adding a camera to your collection of bike gear.
Since this is a more technical and complicated topic, I’ll only mention cameras in passing here.
We suggest that if you are considering getting one, but you’re stuck on what the best one is for your needs, or which brands are good, then you should consider reading this article and/or this article that we wrote about different camera options for cyclists.
FendersFenders are probably more necessary then a lot of the other convenience accessories on this list besides locks – especially if you live in a wet and rainy place. Basically, fenders only have one real purpose and that is to keep rain and mud from splattering on you from your tires.
You can buy these at most large chain stores and certainly at a bike shop. To install them, you can either do it at home yourself or ask your local bike shop to install them for you, most fenders are compatible with most bikes.
This is an accessory that many people like to paint or customize since these are a bit of a stylistic add one in addition to serving their primary function, so you may want to look around yourself to find one that suits you.
However, if you are looking for a suggestion, you can check out these ones, since we have used these ones from Planet Bike and we like them because they flare out at the bottom of the fender, giving you extra mud and rain protection as compared to a regular fender.
Gadget Bottles/Cell Holders
An inventor has come up with a water bottle with a special cut-out that lets you easily attach things like a mobile phone or energy bars. It’s hard to verbally explain these, even though they are really cool.
Now that everyone is using a smartphone these days, folks need a place to keep them in easy reach, so one of these holders that fits to the handlebars is ideal.
Bike PumpsWe have some strong opinions on bike pumps. Although there are many bike pumps out there, there are a lot that really are not very good quality and leave you standing there, sometimes for what feels like an eternity, trying to fill up your tires when they’re low.
This is another subject, like cameras, where we could go much more in-depth – which is why we actually have already in another article, so if you are interested in learning more, click here.
However, if you’re just looking for a quick suggestion and you’re not really into reading another article about this, we will mention that we feel that out of the (many) bike pumps we have tried out, the Joe Blow Pro floor pump is probably the best.
If you need a smaller and more portable pump then the Joe Blow, then we’d say that a close second would be the Lezyne SportDrive HP is your best bet.
The last thing that we wanted to cover today is tires. There is a huge array of tires out there for cyclists to choose from. People who are into racing, people who mountain bike or people who use their bikes on city streets to commute to work are all going to have very different tire needs. With that in mind, we have a few suggestions for this section, depending on your needs.
We really like the Continental Gatoskin tire as a good all-around option.
We also have coverage about flat-free tires on a separate page. Finally, if your looking for information about tire options for mountain biking or racing on uneven terrain, we suggest taking a look at this article we wrote about puncture-resistant tires.
Well, that’s it for today, we hope you learned something about both the essential and nice-to-have gear that’s on the market today.
Let us know if you try out something we mentioned here and how it works out for you – happy cycling!