My cycling motto is: Cycling – be prepared physically and equip yourself physically.
What I mean by this is that your performance will only get you so far, you need to be equipped with the right bike gear and bicycle accessories to keep you going. A surgeon can’t complete an operation without his tools so a rider can’t ride without the right bike gear. It’s not about buying the best bike gear with the biggest price tags, it’s finding the best cycling gear and buying it for your needs. I will try and provide the best products that are available to buy, however each product is suitable for different people.
Here I provide the best ways to determine what you need and want for your rides and what to look out for when buying your cycling equipment and accessories.
1. The First and Foremost – Choosing The Best Bike Helmet
Ok, for some, it can be as simple as buying a bicycle helmet just to protect your head. But for others, spending over 10 hours out on the road each week, buying a helmet for protection is a given, here are some ideas and other factors to help you determine how to buy the best cycling helmet for you:
Just like we need to keep our body temperatures under control, we need to ensure that our head is properly ventilated. Buying a cycling helmet that has large overhead holes allows for more air to pass over your head, this provides greater ventilation. Also look out for high quality internal ventilation system which ensures the air flowing in cooling the areas of the head which overheat the most.
I know this sounds obvious but it can some people just seem to skim right ensuring they buy the right helmet size and size can make all the difference to how comfortable your cycling helmet will be.
Over 70% of avid cyclists buy their cycling and bike gear online. And buying online is ok because there is standard fit system to ensure you get the right size bike helmet for you. So measure it! Get out a tape and measure your head – don’t assume that all brands are the same sizes and don’t assume you are the same size as 3 years ago, measure up!
Good supportive padding is also a must when it comes to purchasing a good bike helmet. Helmet padding provides the extra layer of protection but those higher priced helmets also include padding made from high quality padding materials which help reduce sweat smell and whisk away sweat, leaving your helmet not so soaked after a ride.
2. Choosing the Best Cycling Shoes
This is an oversight on many people’s behalf. Choosing the best cycling shoes for riding can be difficult and hard to follow, but there is a few things you should always consider.
Nothing Too Flat!
Flat shoes such as skater trainers and cheap plimsolls will cause you one big problem; this problem being complete lack of grip on your pedals. The last thing you want is to attempt a hard, standing push to power you up an incline and slip straight off the pedal. This won’t just be an “oops I slipped” Moment, it will be an “Oh crap, my leg is bent the wrong way, there’s pain in my groin, and I’m falling face first” moment, I mean it. Get sculptured, grip heavy shoes to ensure that you stick to your pedals. In the best case scenario you should use proper cycling shoes and cleats.
Other Types of Cycling Shoes
For beginners who typically steer away from buying proper cycling shoes, there are also two main types of cycling shoes to choose from: Triathlon shoes (road use) and mountain bike shoes (off road use). If you want to buy proper cycling shoes, my recommendation is that you buy good quality cycling shoes from the beginning.
For those who do not wish to buy proper cycling shoes, these shoes are a good alternative to begin with.
Triathlon shoes or road shoes are typically quite flat, and there main benefit is lightness and on road grip. These are perfect if you plan on doing some walking or running on top of your cycling.
The lighter the better, so if you have to shed out a little extra money on a pair that weighs less; you should! A few extra grams in weight can equate to less miles that you can run or cycle. It may not seem like a lot at first, but trust me, every little helps. Don’t assume that all cycling shoes are as light as each other, as this simply isn’t the case.
Mountain Bike / Mountain Touring Shoes
Mountain Bike Shoes or all terrain shoes have knobbly ridges and grip on them to ensure you can stay stuck to your pedals even in the dirtiest, moistest of environments.
Mountain bike shoes are great if you plan on cycling or walking through mountain ranges or on rough terrain; the grips will ensure that you don’t slip when you rest your feet on the ground. They are perfect for all-year round use and should see you fit on any form of terrain, no matter how muddy or slippy.
Making Your Choice
The choice is yours, but it should reflect on where and how you ride. If you ride on the road only, then triathlon shoes will ensure that you can get maximum mileage out of your ride. If you plan on riding on dirt paths, mountain terrain, or in extreme weather conditions, then mountain bikes shoes will make sure you don’t slip. Being an expert cyclist doesn’t mean you won’t slip on a muddy incline, so make sure that you know where you will be riding; and buy your cycling shoes accordingly!
Shape matters too, you should buy shoes that allow your feet to stretch out. A flat, stretched foot position ensures you don’t get any repetitive strain injuries, and allows you to put all of your power into the pedaling. Most shoes will show you a diagram of how your feet will be positioned, directly on the box, if they don’t; try before you buy is another one of my mottos! When you put the shoes on you should feel no pressure on the sides of your feet or your toes. If you do this indicates a restricted foot, which you don’t want as a cyclist.
3. Choosing Cleats For Your Bike Shoes
Cleats are a great way of ensuring you get maximum pedaling potential; they are small fittings that attach to the bottom of your shoes, they allow you to clip your feet onto the pedal ensuring that you don’t ever slip, and can put your full force into the pedaling action.
If you want to squeeze as much potential as you can out of your cycling then you should definitely grab some shoes with cleat fittings. Most cycling shoes come with these attachments, but not all do, so double check the shoes before you make a purchase. It may take hours to pick out the right shoes, but it’s well worth it in the end.
4. Stopping Power – Choosing The Best Bike Brakes
There are so many different braking systems to consider, it’s hard to keep track of them all. The difference between the ‘best’ and the ‘best value for money’ are very different, but there are a few things to consider regardless of what system you use.
Choosing Your Brake Lever Material
The brake lever attaches to your handle bars, pulling the lever tensions the cable which in turn pulls the brake calliper and pushes the pads onto the rim or disc, resulting in stopping power. The brake lever you choose doesn’t matter all too much, but bear in mind a few things: ABS (plastic) brake levers are effective enough for basic riding, but over time they tend to flex; which results in very inaccurate braking.
If you buy ABS levers you should replace them after every six months of heavy riding. The best idea is to buy aluminium or carbon fibre levers; these don’t flex over time meaning they always stay calibrated and finely tuned, and they last a long time. In the long run spending extra on aluminum or carbon fibre levers will save you money on replacing your levers after heavy riding.
There are 2 main types of commonly used braking methods; V brakes, and disc brakes. There are many other kinds but these are the two we’re going to focus on. V brakes take form as cantilevers that interconnect and have brake pads located directly over the rim. When the brake lever is pulled the cantilevers clamp the brake pads onto the rim, slowing your bike. They are generally good for all types of cycling but in the wet they can severely under perform.
V brakes should typically only be used for dry road cycling. If you plan on heavy duty mountain cycling or riding in the wet, then your best bet is going to be disc brakes. Disc brakes don’t clamp the rim; instead they clamp a disc that is attached to the rim. The small braking surface of the disc is designed exclusively for braking, unlike rims that also form the basic structure of the wheel. Disc brakes work great in the wet, they are very reliable and last a long time, they won’t flex under intense mountain biking either.
If you’re road cycling on fair days exclusively- Choose V brakes. If you’re mountain biking or riding in the wet then you should choose disc brakes.
5. Comfort is Key – Choose the Correct Saddle
Your saddle is undoubtedly the most important part of your bike; you’ll be spending most of your time sitting on it so it’s key that you find the right comfort. There are a few different types of saddle, each with different attributes; the two main types are gel and foam.
Gel saddles are filled with a malleable gel, they contort to the shape of your behind to provide fitting comfort, and the density of the gel ensures that you are supported. The great thing about gel saddles is that they are quite springy; they act as an extra pair of suspension to aid comfort. If you are going to be riding for long periods of time then a gel saddle is the best idea. Bear in mind though that for mountain biking purposes; the elasticity of a gel seat may make riding difficult as your seating position contours with every knock and bump.
Foam saddles are the most traditional form of saddle; they are simply filled with foam to provide padding and extra breathability. Foam seats are great it you plan on mountain biking as they don’t ‘bounce’ as much as gel. One thing to bear in mind though is that foam seats don’t offer as much padding as gel, and they wear out very quickly. If you’re going to be road cycling for long periods of time, don’t go for foam, you’ll be very uncomfortable after a few dozen miles.
Your seat is going to be supporting you for most of your ride, so it’s important that it can breathe. Gel seats don’t traditionally have any venting, but good quality ones have ventilation built into the outer sleave; usually in the form of padding foam. The more vents the better so if you have to spend a little extra for one with more breathability then you should.
Foam cycling saddles have natural ventilation properties; foam is very porous and can breathe easily. Some have additional pockets of foam or gel for extra ventilation too. A foam seat is very porous and soaks up sweat a bit more effectively than you may like, so bear in mind that after long rides you could end up with a smelly, moist saddle.
Making Your Choice
The best saddles have a combination of both gel, and foam. This means you get elastic padding properties, whilst also having the breath-ability of foam. Stay on the lookout for a good ‘hybrid’ saddle that combines the best of both worlds. Typically for long road rides you should choose a saddle with more gel than foam. For heavy mountain biking your saddle should comprise of more foam than gel. Size matters too; your saddle should be big enough to fit the majority of your behind, and the ‘nose’ should be small enough to stop your legs rubbing against it, but large enough to support your lower buttocks when resting.