You don’t need much more than two wheels to hit the city streets as a new cyclist.
But there are certain essential accessories—like helmets, locks, and lights—that will help you navigate the bike lanes and bridges safely and more efficiently, and figuring which ones are right for you can be pretty tricky for those who are more used to riding the subway (or a Flywheel bike).
We tapped two experts, Andrew Crooks, owner of city fave bike shop NYC Velo (with locations in the East Village and at Gotham West Market) and Schwinn senior global brand director Scott Rice, to bring you this guide to gearing up. —Lisa Elaine Held
(Photo: Flickr/NYC Velo)
First, it’s important to make sure you’re buying a bike helmet and not one made for another activity (like skiing or skateboarding), since there are specific standards for bike use that take into account speed and other factors, Crooks says. “Any helmet you find in a real bike shop is going to meet the safety standards.”
Then, it’s really just a matter of personal preference, and in general, higher prices will reflect increased comfort, not safety. “You’ll get one that’s lighter weight, a more sophisticated fit system—which means increased comfort—and better ventilation and air flow over your head,” he says. The one exception are higher-end helmets made with a new “brain protection system” called MIPS, a technology Crooks says will likely soon trickle down to less expensive models.
And you also need to make sure your helmet fits if you want full protection, which generally means its level (not tipping forward or back) and snug against your head all the way around; the Y side of the side straps are just below your ears; and it’s clipped snugly below your chin so that “when you open your mouth very wide you feel the helmet pull down a little bit,” says Rice. “When you’re done, your helmet should be level, feel solid on your head, and be comfortable. You should forget you’re wearing it most of the time, just like a seat belt or a good pair of shoes.”
If you haven’t heard this before, let me give it to you straight: A common refrain among New York cyclists is this—your bike WILL get stolen. “There’s a reality that any lock can be broken,” Crooks says. “The goal is you want to do what you can to make your bike unattractive to thieves by using a quality lock and locking it properly.”
A quality lock generally means either a heavy chain or a U-lock (and spending around $100). Chains can be much heavier than U-locks, but they allow you to lock your wheel along with the frame and are more flexible, making it easier to lock up anywhere. Many cyclists that use U-locks bring secondary cables to lock their wheels. Crooks also likes this foldable chain system made by Abus, but says it’s still pretty heavy.
“The really important thing is making sure that whatever you’re locking to isn’t going to go anywhere or can’t be defeated,” he says. Department of Transportation bike racks are very good, scaffolding is very bad.
There are two categories of lights: those made to illuminate you (so cars can see you) and those made to illuminate the road. If you’re riding in the five boroughs, you probably only need the first kind, since there are streetlights everywhere, says Crooks. (New York City law requires you to have a white headlight and a red taillight if you’re riding between dusk and dawn.) Good news: “These lights are typically battery powered and simple to install and use,” says Rice. They’re also cheap—Schwinn sells them for just $13 (and other brands tend to be about $15).
If you’re planning on riding on a seriously dark country road, though, you’ll need to invest in a more heavy duty light system.
“Having a floor pump at home is important for every cyclist,” says Crooks. “Every bike someone is riding has tires that will naturally lose their air over time.” Look for one in the $30 (and up) price range that works on any valve and has a clear and accurate gauge. Then, check the pressure on your tires every few rides (yes, really) and fill them based on the recommendation printed on the tire.
“Riding with correctly inflated tires not only produces a faster ride with smoother handling, but it also helps prevent punctures,” Rice adds.