There is a wealth of gadgets, gizmos and gear available that promotes itself as making life easier for cyclists.
None of which is essential but some is very useful.
At night lights are needed by law as is a red rear reflector.
(With decent lights the visibility of a reflector is questionable however).
L.E.D. lights are becoming more and more powerful and it’s worthwhile investing in a high quality set of these as they are cheaper to run than a traditional “bulb” light. Because LEDs use very little power the batteries last much longer, up to 20 times longer than normal lights.
They also have the advantage of being much lighter than conventional lighting systems.
LED lights also tend to be more visible than normal bulb lights although the majority of them don’t emit enough light to allow you to see where you are going. This isn’t a problem in urban areas with good street lighting but can be on unlit rural roads.
It is worth investigating how visible a light is from the side though as some LED lights only emit light in one direction.
By law you must have a white front light and red rear light on your bike.
The law in England has recently been changed so that you can have a flashing LED fitted to the bike, although it might be best to run one on constant beam.
Another red LED worn higher up (attached to a bag or at head level) helps to aid visibility, as does a white one worn at a similar height on the front.
LED head torches are very useful when riding in traffic at night as they can be seen above the level of cars and throw light out in the direction that you are looking, which is very useful at road junctions.
Dynamo lights used to be very popular and are coming back into fashion.
They have the advantage of never needing to be charged as they run from the motion of the bike.
They work by either having a roller running along the tyre or by a magnet attached inside the wheel hub.
Older ones tended to slow the bike down but modern dynamos cause very little drag.
It is worth investing in a dynamo that has a “stop light” built into it, as these keep the light illuminated when the bike comes to rest at road junctions.
These types of lights are expensive to buy but the running costs are very low.
Other types of light tend to rely on batteries; the most commonly available is the simple one that relies on disposable batteries.
These can be cheap to initially buy, but depending on the type of bulb being used these can use batteries very quickly, often lasting no more than 1 ½ hours, before needing to the replaced, so the long term running costs can be high.
There is another type which has a rechargeable battery pack, these tend to be more powerful some emitting an effective 40W light, or the option of a lower beam but longer run time. The initial cost is higher but the long term running costs are lower.
A list of all available lights is http://www.audax.uk.net/lights/index.htm
There are a whole host of other visibility aids available, including the common reflective/fluorescent vest.
There is split opinions in the cycling community over the effectiveness of these as they are now so commonplace that other road users often mistake a moving cyclist on the road for workmen and don’t accommodate the actions of a cyclist.
There is also a growing body of evidence to suggest that by wearing one some motorists assume the cyclist is not very confident on the bike and can be intimidated by bad driving.
“Scotchlite” (silver reflective material) is becoming more commonplace on all types of clothing and is especially effective on gloves/arms and shoes/legs where there is a lot of movement that can catch the attention of other road users.
Helmets are another area of controversy; some people insist all cyclists must wear them, where as others argue that they do very little good.
What a helmet doesn’t do is prevent an accident, this makes them different from all the other safety aids.
Research suggest that in countries where helmet wearing is compulsory, accident rates increased sharply whilst the number of cyclist decreased. Most of these countries have or are in the process of repealing these laws, instead recommending that cyclists wear helmets.
The common argument is that the chance of sustaining an injury whilst cycling is twenty times less than the risk of heart disease caused by not exercising, (this is an argument put forward for the British Medical Association) .
A helmet has been proven to be most effective during a rider caused fall, not involving a motor vehicle.
There is very little evidence to prove that wearing a helmet makes any difference to the survival rates of the cyclist during a collision with a motor vehicle.
The majority of experienced cyclists wear helmets when road conditions (in icy conditions is the most common) or off road where there is more chance of falling or making collision with a tree.
It is entirely down to the discretion of the rider whether to wear a helmet or not.
Clothing doesn’t have to mean the skin tight lycra worn by racing cyclists, it is perfectly possible to cycle in normal clothes.
Specialist gear that “breathes” (allows moisture to move out away from the body) is more comfortable when pedalling hard.
It has been calculated that the average cyclist only gets wet 6 times per year.
Riding in light rain and drizzle doesn’t affect the cyclist too much, but heavy rain does.
Waterproofs designed for high activity are very useful as they prevent you from getting wet with out getting too sweaty.
Cheap waterproofs tend to make you very sweaty, sometimes as wet as not wearing any! They are best used only in torrential rain.
Gloves worn even in summer can act as a safety aid, as they help prevent grazes to the hand in the case of a fall.
In the cold it worthwhile using gloves and a hat, toes can also suffer in very cold weather and extra layers of socks tend to work the best with the option of thicker boots on top.
Putting special cycling clothes on (maybe by leaving work clothes at work) does give a lot of commuter cyclists a psychological boost.
Toe Clips or “clipless” pedals.
Although some people feel these are dangerous, they when properly set up, aid safety by preventing feet from slipping off pedals.
The main reason for using them however is to make pedalling much more efficient.
Clipless pedals require special shoes which the pedal clips into the bottom of , these are very easy to get out of with a minimal amount of effort.
Bells and horns.
Despite the common complaint that cyclists don’t carry bells like they used to, they are fairly useless in modern conditions except on very quiet paths shared with pedestrians.
However it is much better to slow down and say a polite “excuse me” as this adds a much needed social element and is responded to much more positively than ringing an impersonal bell at some one.
In traffic it’s possible to shout as a bell won’t get heard above the traffic noise, there are powerful air horns available up to 120 decibels that can be clearly heard.
It’s a good idea to carry a toolkit with you when you’re more than a mile away from home, mainly because becomes very frustrating to push a bike further than that. It’s also a good idea to know who to use the stuff in it!
Cyclists tend to see themselves as a community, even if you never use your toolkit on your bike you maybe able to help someone else who doesn’t have on with them..
Some essentials should be
Puncture repair kit
Spare inner tube (to fit the tyre size on your bike)
Allen keys 4, 5 and 6 mm
Spanner 8 and 10mm
Bikes can be used not just to transport the cyclist.
There are a lot of ways of carrying things on the bike, it isn’t advisable to drape a couple of carrier bags full of shopping over the handlebars.
Panniers are bags (or cases) that mount onto frames and sit on either side of the bike. These can be detached and carried around. They are very popular, especially amongst touring cyclists, are capable of carrying considerable amounts, but require extra metal attached to the bike all the time and affect the handling of the bike.
Baskets, traditionally found on “shopper” bikes, and made from wicker, metal or plastic, these are okay for carrying light things short distances, but affect the steering of the bike and can be unstable.
Saddlebags are again a traditional way of carrying equipment; fastening behind the saddle/seat post they are best suited to carrying small items of equipment such as tool kit and waterproofs.
Rucksacks and backpacks are very common, they don’t require special fittings for the bike and can be taken anywhere, and they also can be very cheap.
They aren’t suitable for riding loaded with heavy items as it can cause back pain.
They also tend to prevent sweat from escaping causing a clammy back whilst riding strenuously.
Trailers can be attached behind the bike and are capable of carrying fairly heavy or bulky loads, including children and pets!
They do affect the handling of the bike when loaded fully, but not as much as carrying the weight on the bike.
The also add to the length of the bike affecting manoeuvrability.
Children can be transported on the bike in a variety of ways.
Child seats are fitted behind the saddle of the bike and can carry a child up to around 3 years of age.
These are cheap but the extra weight high up on the bike can affect the handling.
Trailers can be used to transport children around; these usually attach to the frame and follow behind the bike. They are expensive to buy but allow the child a high degree of comfort, and can be used for carrying other goods. There are some that can be converted into off road pushchairs. Some people feel they are not safe to use in heavy traffic, but the majority of users feel that it is safer pulling one than riding solo.
Trailer bikes are very useful when children become old enough to want to pedal but not able to control the bike very well. These attach to the back of the adult bike, and look like the rear section of a normal bike. There are also available as tandems or as tricycles. They are reasonably priced, (much cheaper than buying another bike) and tend to come in sizes that fit a wide age range.
Tandems are available in “kiddyback” sizes, suitable for fitting quite small children on; these have the advantage of being sociable and stable to ride. They can be expensive though to buy from new.