If you buy a bike in places like the Netherlands or Japan, it’ll 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 squat. That’s a shame, because a few accessories make your bike lots safer and lots more fun to ride. Get a few of these and you won’t regret it.
Lights, Mirrors, Horns, Helmets
Accessories alone won’t make you safe. You also need to know How to Not Get Hit by Cars. Stock up on accessories, sure, but also make sure you learn how to not get hit!
Lights. Maybe it’s obvious that bikes need lights at night, but if it’s so obvious then why do most night-time riders tool around in the dark, almost completely invisible to motorists? Most cyclists who get killed are hit at night, and most of them don’t have lights.
A headlight is actually more important than a tail light. That’s because you’re much more likely to get hit from the front (car heading towards you making a left turn across your path), or from the side (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 sufficient to be seen from the rear. From the front and the side it’s another story. Get a headlight. It’s against the law to ride at night without one anyway. Make sure to get an LED light, because the batteries last about ten times longer than in a conventional light.
For a rearlight, get a cheap ($5-15) red flasher, which runs off two AA or AAA batteries that will last for months (up to 200 hours of use). This is a cheap way to keep you from being invisible. Get these at any bike shop or online, although Wal-Mart and many grocery stores have them too. (And you can check out our Guide to Batteries to see which batteries work best.) Red flashers are cheap and effective. This is a no-brainer. Get one.
(By the way, it’s long past time that bicycle shops started including a red rear flasher with every bike they sell. They can either raise the price of the bike slightly, or eat the whopping $5 wholesale cost. Suggest this to your local bike retailer.)
A mirror is more important than you think. Your paranoia will plummet once you can see what’s behind you. The most popular are those that stick into your handlebar, and of these the best is the $14 Mirrcycle, because it’s easy to adjust and it doesn’t bounce around on bumpy roads. You can also get one that attaches to your helmet or sunglasses. The ones that go on your sunglasses make you look like a Borg, which can be a good or a bad thing depending on your personal style. The newest kind of mirror is a tiny circle on a pivot that glues to the inside of your sunglasses! It sounds crazy, but it works great.
Horns. Another handy device is the $25 AirZound horn. 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.
The horn mounts to your handlebars, and the air cannister 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. The horn can also scare off some (but not all) dogs. This one is sooo worth it.
Helmets. Don’t confuse wearing a helmet with bicycle safety. It’s 100 times more important not to get hit in the first place. (Learn how to not get hit.) To that end, you can greatly improve your chances of not getting hit by getting lights, a mirror, and an AirZound horn. By not riding recklessly, and by being aware of the main ways a car can nail you. A helmet may afford some protection in the event of a crash, but don’t think that strapping on a helmet automatically makes you “safe” – being knowledgable, alert, and well-equipped will go alot farther toward protecting your life than simply strapping a piece of styrofoam on your head. Here’s a good page about helmet facts & myths.
Make sure you know how to adjust your helmet to fit properly. If you wear it wrong it’ll come off in a crash, erasing 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. 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 is often like wearing no helmet at all.
- Pants Clips
- Gadget Bottles
- Flat-Free Tires
Locks. In most cases you should secure your bike with either a metal U-lock or a thick cable loop. Standard cable locks are not acceptable in urban areas, unless (1) Your bike is cheap, (2) you’re not parking it in public overnight, and (3) you’re not parking it at a college campus. Even then, you might still lose your bike with a cablelock. 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 cables. (From Austin American-Statesman, 11-22-99)
Sure, U-locks are not 100% thief-proof, and the cheaper U-locks are easier to break than the expensive ones, but a cheap U-lock beats a thin cable any day. Amazon has entry-level U-locks for $13. Quality U-locks at bike stores are generally $30 and up.
Bicycling Magazine had a retired bike thief try to break several brands of locks. Most he destroyed within seconds. Click the link to read the results of their tests.
Check out our page on Bike Theft (prevention & recovery).
Baskets 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 in one side and a guitar in 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.
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 – the stuff we haul in our baskets weighs a hell of a lot more than the baskets themselves! We’ve biked around Austin almost every day for ten years with the largest baskets available.
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.
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 Clip. A metal pants clip for your right ankle area can keep your pants from hitting your chain and getting greasy. You can also use rubberbands, of course. And a reflective Velcro pants clip secures your pants and makes you more visible at the same time.
Fenders keep rain and mud from splattering on you from your tires. A bike shop can add them to most bikes.
Gadget Bottles. An inventor has come up with a water bottle with a special cutout that lets you easily attach things like a mobile phone or energy bars. See GadgetBottle.com.
Flat-FreeTires. We have coverage about flat-free tires on a separate page.