Bike accessories buying guide
Bikes are perfect for getting you from A to B, helping you getting fit, or simply enjoying the great outdoors. There are a range of accessories available to make your cycling experience an even better one, from child seats and trailers so you can take your kids with you, through to computers to record your cycling statistics. To stay safe and visible, make sure you have adequate lighting, the correct-sized helmet and appropriate clothing before cycling. It's also advisable to secure your bike to protect it from theft.
Safety is very important when you cycle - please visit safe cycling pages on the Direct Gov site for more detailed advice.
Although they're not a legal requirement, the fact that almost every cyclist wears a cycle helmet indicates how essential they are. The correct fit is vital - get a helmet that sits on your head below the eyebrows and doesn't move when your head does. Look for ventilation holes to help keep your head cool in summer.
Wearing the right clothes is just as important as wearing a safety helmet. Reflective or light coloured clothing with a reflective accessory such as a belt ensures you are clearly visible to other road users, especially at night.
If you use your bike at night, or when visibility is poor, you must always ensure your bike is fitted with the correct reflectors and lights. This includes a white light at the front of the bike and a red light at the back. The front light should be placed up to 1500mm from the ground, while the back light should be between 350 and 1500mm from the ground. You can have either a constant beam or flashing lights at the front and rear, but a constant beam is advisable when cycling in areas poorly lit.
The most popular lights available today use LEDs. These have the advantage of being very bright, but they are also low powered, giving you a long battery life.
The traditional hand pump is cheap, easy to use and clips onto your bike with the minimum of effort. Dual action pumps are also available, which speed up inflation by pumping on both strokes. Track pumps are perhaps the easiest option of all, inflating up to eight times quicker than a basic hand pump. These are ideal if you have more than one bike in your household.
If you're going to leave your bike unattended anywhere other than in a secure space like a locked garage, a bike lock is absolutely essential. There are plenty of different varieties around; from shackle and cable locks for securing your bike against railings, to coil cable locks which can be wrapped around larger and unwieldy objects.
Child seats & trailers
If your child is too young to ride their own bike but you would like to take them out cycling with you, there are several options open to you.
To keep things simple, you can use a child seat that fixes onto your bike frame - either directly, or using a rack. Using a child seat has the added benefit of keeping your child close to you. Once they're strapped in and wearing a helmet, it's a fun, safe way to take you both wherever you need to travel.
A trailer offers an enclosed, waterproof environment for one or two children. With a five-point safety harness and windows under the rain cover, your children will stay safe and comfortable. For added convenience, there's usually practical storage space available behind the seats.
If your child is a little older, you can consider a trailer bike. These only have one wheel and attach to your bike using your seat post or a special rack. Your child has their own pedals, which they can use to help you, or they can take a break and just freewheel. You stay in control of the brakes and steering. Alternatively, tow bars are available linking your bike to your child's own bike by lifting their front wheel, effectively converting it into a trailer bike.
Using a trailer bike or tow bar, your child can travel with you on longer journeys than they might otherwise not manage on their own bike. Also, they may pick up valuable cycling skills and traffic sense. Once your child gets to around half of your bodyweight it's safer to let them ride their own bike.
Tyres and inner tubes
The right tyre depends on what sort of bike you have and what sort of cycling you do. Essentially, slick or semi-slick tyres (i.e. with little or no tread) are best for road use. If you enjoy cycling over rougher terrains, off-road tyres with a chunky tread are a must, giving extra grip just when you need it most.
There are a wide range of tyre tread choices for all types of bikes; the important thing is to match the size shown on the tyre sidewall. You can fit a different width tyre to your bike, but the diameter must always be the same. Remember to keep your tyres inflated to their recommended pressures to minimize the pedaling effort required.
As your main contact point with your bike, it's important that your saddle is comfortable and suited to your weight and riding style - a racing saddle is very different to one made for general recreational use.
To maximize comfort, look for a saddle that's soft, but supportive and not too small. Cutaways at the rear can help reduce pressure on your spine. You'll appreciate having gel or foam padding during a longer journey, and you can get a gel cover to go over your existing saddle to avoid having to replace it completely.
Bike computers tell you your speed (current, maximum, average), distance travelled and time elapsed. Having these facts at your fingertips is not only interesting, but can be a good motivator when used to compare and track your performance when cycling regularly.
More advanced features can include pedaling rpm (cadence), altitude, temperature, lap times, or even heart rate. Some models can be connected to your computer when you get back home to store and analyse the data collected.
For general information and advice about cycling, or to get involved with events in your area, the website for British Cycling is a useful place to start.