ESSENTIAL GEAR

What’s the minimum gear needed? Here are the BikeGal.com essentials…

Helmet

Why do I need one? If you have an image of yourself cycling without a care in the world, hair blowing behind you and no helmet – then get rid of that image right now.  You need a helmet.  Final. Nothing more to be said.  And just accept helmet hair cos it’s a fact of cycling life.

A bicycle helmet works by absorbing the impact of a collision. In the simplest terms, a layer of foam inside the helmet crushes on impact so your skull doesn’t. Given bicycle helmets have been shown to reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 85 per cent and the risk of brain injury by as much as 88 percent, it became compulsory in Australia to wear a helmet in 1990 (and in Sydney there is a $66 fine if you are caught cycling without one).

Helmet size Buying a bike helmet in Australia will mean it already conforms to safety certification standards, so next is to make sure it fits comfortably and correctly. You want the helmet to stay on your head in a crash, so it must:

  • have a secure strap
  • sit snugly on your head rather than being tilted back or forward

What size helmet? Helmets come in a variety of different sizes, including women-specific designs, as well as a one-size-fits-all design.

Once you’ve determined your head size by measuring around your head just above the eyebrows, you’ll be ready to shop. Be aware, though, that sizes vary between manufacturers and all the measuring in the world won’t make up for trying a bicycle helmet on before you buy. Don’t be tempted to buy a helmet based purely on glowing reviews or recommendations from a friend. You want to make sure that a helmet fits right for your head shape.

Helmet fit The second key aspect to ensuring the correct fit is the retention system – or in more simple terms, the straps. A helmet with a custom fit adjustment enables you to easily make adjustments to the fit, often with just one hand, so you can even adjust the helmet while you’re riding.

The fit is critical. The helmet should fit flat across your head and not wobble. If it moves more than an inch in any direction, it doesn’t fit. Try a smaller size. If the smaller size pinches, use the next size up and attach the pads that come with the helmet to ensure it won’t slide around while riding. Also check the chin strap. It should fit snugly without choking you. It also shouldn’t be so loose that it slides off your chin or is easily unbuckled.

Once the helmet is fitted there should be no slack in the straps. Thinner straps are less likely to make you hot and are generally found on road bike helmets. Mountain bike helmets, however, should have thicker straps to ensure that the helmet stays in place no matter how rough and bumpy the terrain.

Helmet ventilation Ventilation is important in a helmet in order to keep your head cool during long bike rides. The more vents a helmet offers, the greater the airflow around your head, and the cooler it will be. However, it is important to remember that the more vents a helmet has, the more your head is left uncovered, and therefore unprotected.

Other features There are other features to look for on a bicycle helmet depending on your needs. Some offer a hair port at the back of the helmet to accommodate a ponytail. Other models come with removable snap on visors to shield your eyes against glare and to create more aerodynamic airflow. There is also the colour scheme of a bicycle helmet to consider, which isn’t just a matter of fashion – the brighter the bicycle helmet, the easier it is for cars and other cyclists to see you.

Other features such as washable wicking mesh or anti microbial fit pads make it easier to keep your helmet clean and fresh for every ride.

Just like finding the perfect pair of heels, a solid shopping plan for a bicycle helmet should include trying on a variety to ensure the correct fit and shopping around. Take a friend and make a day of it!

Front and rear lights

Believe it or not, by law you have to have at least one light fitted to the front and rear of your bike and (obviously) have them on if riding at dusk or in the dark.  Personally I have my lights on all the time (but I also drive with my lights on). I figure it can’t hurt?  Though by Australian law if you ride at night or in hazardous weather conditions, you must display all of the following:

  • A steady or flashing white light on the front of the bike that’s visible for at least 200 metres AND
  • A steady or flashing red light on the rear of the bike that is visible for at least 200 metres AND
  • A red reflector on the rear of the bike that is visible for at least 50 metres when illuminated by a vehicle’s headlight on low beam.

Types of bike lights For something as simple as a bike light, there are quite a few to choose from:

Standard lights Ideal for daytime use or when riding in conditions where the lighting is good. Make sure your chosen lights meet the standards set for Australia if you’re buying over the internet.

Flashing lights These lights flash constantly and allow for excellent visibility.  These are ideal especially for use on the rear of your bike for city cycling so you can attract attention.

Average run time: 30 hours constant, 50 hours flashing.

LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights LED’s are powerful lights visible up to a kilometre away and used in essential items such as traffic lights. Used on your bike they emit a wide beam of light that spans around you.  These lights can often be adjusted to offer various levels of lighting and can ‘blink’ for extra visibility.  Whilst LED lights come in a variety of colours, red and white are typically used for bikes.

Average run time: 120 hours

Low power LED lights Usually used on the bike’s rear, these are ideal for providing low levels of lighting but are not suitable for very poor weather, or low light conditions.

Battery based lights Whilst these lights are low cost and ideal for short trips unless they are rechargeable, battery based lights can be more costly in the long term. Be aware they are less powerful than LED lights, so will offer less visibility.

Dynamo lights Dynamo lights offering brightness levels from 2 to 3 watts, do not need recharging or any batteries, and are ideal if you ride frequently. These don’t fade on the go, so they’re ideal for long term usage.  They do however offer lower levels of brightness than a traditional LED.

LED dynamo lights LED Dynamo Lights are designed to combine the power of an LED light, on the battery free functionality of a dynamo.  However straight LED lights are still brighter, so a LED Dynamo light is best for the rear of the bike.

Bike light placement

Your lights need to be attached to the front and rear of your bike though you can also consider a helmet light and additional reflective triangles for extra visibility:

Handlebar mounted lights When you buy a front light it will include a one size fits all bracket to easily attach to the middle of your handlebars.  These lights specifically allow drivers to see you and your dimensions, such as your width on the road, as you turn. For daytime, consider a bright white, or white flashing light as these offer plenty of visibility, even in the sun.

Rear mounted lights Usually red in colour, rear lights mounted onto the rear of your bike seat have greater safety qualities if they’re flashing. (Many lights have a function where flashing, or ‘blinking’ can be turned off.) Blinking rear lights are ideal in the evening, whereas a standard reflective red light at the rear will suffice in the day.

Helmet mounted lights A light attached to your helmet gives you the advantage of almost being at eye level with car drivers as you ride. This can improve your overall visibility, and is particularly useful as you turn.

Safety triangles Attached to your bike, these are reflective and can improve your visibility, even during the day. Low priced, they are a simple, low weight attachment that can add extra visibility.

Spare bike tube, 3 tyre levers, hand pump

So technically this is not essential but if you have a flat tyre it will suddenly become very essential!

These are the basic essentials you will need to fix a flat tyre:

One or two spare tubes that fit the wheel of your bike Your bike tyre inner tube must correctly fit the wheel rim for the two components to be compatible. The dimensions of your inner tube are actually printed on your tyre. You can take these measurements to a bike shop to find an inner tube that will fit your rim. If the numbers on your tyre are not legible, you may have to work out the size of your inner tube yourself:

Step 1 Remove the wheel from the bicycle to make it easier to measure. Wheels have different release mechanisms depending on the bike’s manufacturer, so be sure to remove your tyre in accordance with the hardware of your bike.

Step 2 Lay the wheel flat on the ground and place your measuring tape on top of the wheel. Measure the distance from the outermost edge of the wheel to the outermost edge on the opposite end. Make sure your measuring tape passes through the center point of the wheel. Record this measurement in millimetres.

Step 3 Measure the width of the wheel between the two walls that contain the tyre inner tube. Ensure that your measurement is between the insides of the walls rather than the outsides.

Step 4 Typically, the size of an inner tube is expressed by the width of the wheel followed by a dash or an x and then the diameter of the wheel. For instance, a 23-700 inner tube will fit a wheel with a 700 mm diameter and a 23 mm width.

If you are not confident that you will measure accurately, bring the wheel or your old tube to a bike shop. They will be able to select an appropriately sized inner tube for you.

3 tyre levers to get the tyre off A tyre lever is a simple tool used to replace or remove tyres on wheel rims. Tyre levers need to be extremely strong and are often made from metal or thick plastic. There isn’t much to a tyre lever; it’s a pretty basic design.  It’s long and has a slightly curved, thick end and a straight, thin end which enable you to lever off the tyre and replace the tube.

Hand pump to inflate the new tube All cyclists are going to need a bicycle pump at some point in time. It’s just a fact of life that eventually tyres are going to either need to be re-inflated (all tyres slowly lose air over time) or they may get punctured and need to be repaired. Whatever the case, you are going to need a bike pump to inflate those bike tyres and it’s preferable the hand pump can attach to your bike (having a bigger, normal pump at home is also useful – as this is quicker than a hand pump and makes it easy to keep your tyres at the right air pressure all the time before setting out from home).

Before you get pumping there are a few things you need to figure out. First you need to know if the valve on your bike is Schrader or it is Presta. These are the two most common kinds of valves. Often bike pumps are made to suit both Schrader or Presta. A basic hand bicycle pump functions through a hand-operated piston. The piston draws air through a valve from the outside. The piston takes the air from the pump and it goes into the bike tyre.

To make life easier, consider buying a small saddle bag to put all these things into. Saddle bags are pretty small and strap in underneath your seat – so everything is there when you need it, but out of the way when you don’t.

Working bell or horn

Bicycle bells are a great tool for riders to let people know you’re there. Whether it be other riders, pedestrians or even cars, a bicycle bell will let them know you’re coming.

According to the New South Wales road rules ‘your bicycle must be fitted with at least one working bell or horn, or a similar warning device.’

Most new bikes will come with a bell already and will be attached to your handlebar.

Lock

If you don’t want your bike to get pinched, then a lock becomes pretty important.

When buying a lock or chain make sure it’s manufactured out of tool-hardened steel ensuring that cutting, sawing and drilling tools will not penetrate it.

Cheap locks use a brittle steel that can be broken by a car jack. So look for a flexible, shatterproof steel which will yield, rather than break, under stress. The varieties include:

U Locks U-shaped bar and shackle locks are a very effective device for securing your bike. Its design and construction make it impervious to pry bars, hammers, hacksaws, and bolt cutters. High quality U locks only have enough space to fit your frame and front wheel to a bike rack, so that there is no room to fit prying tools or car jacks inside.

O Locks O Locks offer very high protection for your bike. The adjustability makes them great for snugly securing the frame and a front wheel to a bike rack. This helps prevent thieves from getting a prying device into the lock. Their locking mechanisms are also difficult to pick.

Chain locks With chain locks, the chain should be a heavy duty thickness; otherwise it can be cut with simple wire cutters. It should also be covered with plastic or an inner tube to prevent pinching or frame scratches.

Inexpensive chains and padlocks will not stop a thief with proper cutting tools, so the chain has to be both thick and case hardened. Be sure that the chain links are welded together; otherwise the chain links can be pulled apart with a chain spreading tool. Chain locks can provide an added deterrent when used beside a solid U lock, but they are heavy and cannot be passed through the seat like a cable lock.

Cable locks These are lighter than other locks and therefore more convenient, but they offer no real protection. Most cables and padlocks can be cut with bolt cutters, and are “easy pickings” for thieves.

The best cable locks are the ones that have the lock built-in, rather than relying on a padlock. The padlock is the weak link, easily cut with bolt cutters, the tool of choice for most bike thieves.