Cycling's on the up in the UK, no doubt about it. Kids have always relished the freedom that comes from being able to get quite far away from home for free and on an occasionally dangerous mode of transport that belongs entirely to them -- now adults are taking it seriously too, on the hunt for the best bike gear to show off their MAMIL physiques.
It's not hard to see why. It keeps you fit and burns off those discount supermarket doughnuts. Bikes are cool things to own and tinker with. Cars are expensive and need insurance, tax, and the living nightmare that is parking near anywhere you might want to be. Commuting on public transport is the hell of stupid other people looking at their stupid phones and not being as good at games as you.
Bikes are better and free to run. At least, they're free to run until you get on the modern accessories train and start buying the new pedals, clothes, bags and scarves that new-gen cycling experts say you need to look and ride right. But you don’t actually need any of them. All you need are the basics and the right mindset. And, maybe, a few of our picks from the best bike gear to get you roadworthy.
I was once told not to bother buying an expensive bike for commuting in London by a kind lady in a bike shop, because I told her I'd be chaining it up outside tube station every day. "Get a cheap secondhand one" was her advice, as she heroically dissuaded me from splurging £500 on a fancy yet entirely inappropriate Marin model, probably earning herself a written warning from the manager.
So I got a cheap secondhand one and it was stolen a few months later. I had a flexible wire lock, but I stupidly put the lock around the bike frame and completely missed the railing. So someone rode off with it. So get a lock and, if you're prone to doing silly things, get a really obvious one that fixes on properly and also acts as a visual deterrent to any casual thief that’s eyeballing property.
Yes, a big one like the Onguard Pitbull weighs you down, but not having a bike any more will be a worse psychological drain. (£22.49, Tredz)
A helmet isn't compulsory. There's no law about it and people who are seriously into cycling may argue in the comments bit down there that helmets make you more likely to take risks and hurt yourself while also signalling to car drivers that you’d survive a bump. But, if you're commuting at peak angry man time of day, a helmet makes sense.
They’re a good idea primarily so people don’t tell you all the time that you should bloody well be wearing one. Ventilation is key if you're not really into helmets, as a sweaty head will put you off riding after two miles. The Mavic Espoir has 24 vents. It’s more vent than helmet. (£25.99, Chain Reaction)
Let's make the hardcore cyclists angry by saying clipless pedals are silly for commuting in. Unless you're hammering it 45 miles down the A30 to work and back each day and slipstreaming grandads in their Ford Kas, attaching your feet to your bike is a bit unnecessary.
Clipping in and out endlessly while riding through town will drive you mad, plus no one wants to die from collapsing sideways at 0mph into the path of a lorry -- the ever present risk faced by the clipped-in rider. Vaguely waterproof trainers with a sticky, rigid sole are all you need. You've probably already got some of those. Just never ride in Air Maxes or anything too soft and padded, as they let your feet flex too much and lead to fatigue.
A Water Bottle
Forget supplements. You don't need energy drinks and special juices if you're just going to work on a 12-mile run. Water is fine for an emergency drink. There's free tea when you get there. They're £3 a pop on eBay and there's no need to spend £99 on a carbon fibre one as they're easily lost.
No one likes the lycra. People who wear it do, sure, but if you're only doing a few miles baggy cycling shorts are all you need to keep your thighs sweat free. Altura do some superb snug-fit shorts with zipped pockets to keep your phone in, smart shorts you can wear around town without people thinking you're an overly accessorised lunatic who's fallen for all the hype or seeing the outline of your genitals. (£29.99, Tredz)
While it's nice to browse the £140 Muxu section, the high-fashion cycling jackets are for the posing fixie coffee shop-and-back riders only. What you need is low weight and flexibility, plus something that doesn't make a rustling sound when you move as that really grates after a few miles. Budget supermarket Aldi sells some bargain bike gear, like the Mountain Bike Waterproof Jacket -- yours for just £25.
If it's raining so much you think waterproof trousers might be needed, chances are it'll be an extremely miserable ride -- so treat yourself to the train, the bus, the car or something with a roof instead. Activity tracking apps don't give you any credit for needlessly suffering.
Puncture Repair Kit
It's a bit of a fuss fixing a puncture by the roadside as car drivers laugh at you and your stupid broken bike from their superior heated mobile armchairs with a bag of Mini Eggs on the passenger seat, but the alternative is pushing eight miles or leaving your bike and walking. A small repair kit -- plus tyre levers -- weighs virtually nothing and could save hours of your life in a tube breach disaster scenario. (£2.99, Wiggle)
A Compact Pump
Mini pumps are much more portable that the full-size versions. The downside is they're harder work to compress and get your tyres up to maximum efficiency rock-hard state, but it's only for emergencies and pumping is good for your upper body. Don’t fix it to the frame, it’ll get stolen and this isn’t the 1980s. The Lezyne Tech Drive fits the bill, plus it has a hose -- which is much easier to use than the clip-on models. (£22.99, Halfords)
Unlike helmets, there are laws about bike lights. At night you need front and rear lights in the UK, along with a rear reflector. It's best to get an LED model, as they stay alive for much longer than lights that used previous generation incandescent bulbs. Dynamo-driven ones are best left attached to the Choppers of the 1970s. Don't spend much, as they'll be nicked. People turn into magpies around fancy bike lights. CatEye make some affordable beauties, like the Nima series. (£5.99, Tredz)
Also, cycling enthusiasts will point out that all pedals should have reflectors fitted to them too when out at night. Most clipless pedals don't have them, so are in fact, technically, wrong to ride with in the dark.
The hardcore MAMIL may not want an extra 25 grams weighing him down as he battles the Strava times of his peers, but... bells are handy. You can ding-a-ling at oblivious pedestrians, warning them you're coming so they stay on the pavement. They can also be used to say thanks, hello, and take care of many other greetings and acknowledgments for you when you’re struggling to breathe. £1.69 gets you one with a “loud ding dong” and retro style. (£1.69, eBay)
A Helmet Camera
Because one day, if you're doing everything right, you might get punched in the head by an angry van driver who's annoyed that you're going faster than him and, even though the police will probably tell you to bugger off with your HD evidence, your clip might "go viral" on YouTube. The resulting ad revenue could pay for slightly enhanced models of all of the above.
You don’t have to go GoPro -- cheaper models like the Buyee 720p Actioncam do the job for much less. (£32.99, Amazon)
For if your chain falls off and you get oil over everything putting it back on again, or if you get snotty when exerting yourself, or if there’s a van driver and blood. Put a little disposable pack in your bag or pocket and let’s say no more about it.
You don't want to commute with a laptop and tablet in a rucksack. But sadly, if you've had to take the company's 17-inch 2002 Dell behemoth home to do some extra curricular Excel work, you're going to need one. Satchels and courier bags are wobbly and annoying. You want a balanced, central load, that only a rucksack delivers. European backpackers know this. SealLine make some lovely compact waterproof packs -- just check you can fit your stupidly enormous phone in a 16 litre bag before buying. (£79.99, Always Riding)
Seat Post Pack
Most bike accessory companies sell little bags to fit in the gaps of the frame. One beneath the seat, big enough to fit some loose change, a multitool and your mobile phone, can free you from the misery of having to carry a separate bag altogether. Riding unencumbered by bags and stuff in your pockets turns a daily grind into a daily fun cruise. No, you can't have a pump in there, but hey. Take risks some times. That's why biking's fun. (£15.98, Tredz)
Failing That, Go Dutch
They do it in suits and work shoes, with laptops, children and shopping balanced on the handlebars of clunky old bikes that aren't weighed in grams or built with assistance from someone who used to work at McLaren, and seem happy enough because they don't have to turn everything into a bloody race.