Road Biking Shopping List
Planning on buying yourself a road bike? Great idea-- you can
have a ton of fun (and healthy exercise) on it! Here's a
(regrettably long!) list of things you might also want to consider
buying to go with it. You certainly don't have to buy all (or any) of these
things, but they're all things you should consider (if only to reject
Although this list is aimed at novice roadies, much of it can apply to
newbies purchasing some other kind of bike, of course.
Two places that anyone can buy bike gear from online (or through their
catalogs) are Performance
Bike and Bike Nashbar.
These guys have big selections and cheap prices. In addition to
their virtual presence, Performance also has some real brick-and-mortar
stores, and I buy a lot of stuff from their store in Redwood City (in
the Bay Area). In San Francisco, Sports Basement sells lots
of sporting stuff (including cycling goods) for great prices; you can
also buy from them online.
So...what's on my shopping list?
- A bike helmet. It should fit and be reasonably modern--
don't use one from the 1970's. You can sometimes get a great deal
a helmet at a store if you're willing to put up with the fashions from
last year or the year before.
- Lights. If you're going to bike when it's dark, you should
- a red blinking LED light mounted on the back of your bike or
your back or somewhere like that
- an uncolored light for the front of your bike (or your
helmet). A cheap blinking white LED light will suffice to let
others see you. If you also need light so that you can see where
you're going, you should get something more expensive that's up to the
Things to wear
A lot of cycling duds are expensive. That's all the warning I'm
going to give you about that.
- I'll mention a helmet again, although I'm really considering it
to be "safety stuff" rather than a "thing to wear".
- The most important thing to wear for comfort when biking more
than a mile or three is a good
pair of bicycle shorts. They should have padding in the crotch,
and no matter which gender you identify with, you wear them
"commando"-- in other words, you don't wear anything under 'em. I
almost (but not quite) exclusively wear the Performance
Men's Elite Multi-L Shorts, which are reasonably comfortable and
obtainable at a great price. I don't have any personal experience
wearing them, but I assume the women's
analog of these are good shorts, too. I do have a single pair
of Louis Garneau shorts,
and I have to say that they're awesome. Finally, if you're
spend some more bucks on this (and I promise you that it's worth doing
what you can to keep your ass and other sundry parts happy), I hear
rave reviews for the shorts from Castelli
and Assos. Whatever bike
shorts you get, make sure they fit! If they're too small, they
will hurt you when you go on a long ride.
- A pair of bike gloves. Not mandatory, but helpful for
keeping a good grip on your handlebar (sweat can make things slick!)
for protecting you from road vibration and the ravages of weather
(cold, wet, sun, ...).
- A bike jersey. These are typically constructed of some kind
of highly wicking
polyester, and have pockets on the back for easy access to stuff (e.g., food, wallet, cell
phone). You can get them
with short/long/no sleeves, hoods, ... If you're, say, a runner,
and you figure that you'll just make do with cotton T-shirts like you
do for running, you can do
that, but it can be less than ideal. You could run an experiment:
get a single jersey (buying one
probably won't break the bank!) and see
if it's enough of an improvement over T-shirts that you want to buy
more of them. Because I'm a cheapskate, most of my jerseys are
plain (instead of patterned) jerseys from Performance.
- Bike socks. Not so critical, in my book, although I have
(and use) plenty of 'em.
General-purpose athletic socks usually work fine. For cold
weather, I have to admit that I have some special-purpose
windproof/waterproof socks, but your mileage may vary.
- Bike shoes. If you're going to use pedals that you clip
into, you'll need to have a pair of these. Even if you're not
going to use pedals that you
you might consider getting a pair of bike shoes-- they have stiff soles
that work well for transferring power to the pedals. I and lots
of folks I know are wearing SIDI
shoes these days (pricey, but comfortable and effective!).
See here for more information on pedals/shoes.
- A cycling jacket that's appropriate for the weather is a great
thing to have.
Your mileage (and your desires and the climate where you ride) may
vary, but for me,
a great cycling jacket:
A lot of people like their cycling jacket to have zip-off
sleeves so that it can convert into a vest. I don't, because I
don't like wearing vests.
- is windproof and breathable (Gore's
and Windtex are the two best (?) materials for this). If it's
going to be wet, make your jacket waterproof, too-- Gore-Tex
XCR is the best material I know of for this. I myself don't
like riding in the rain, not so much because it's uncomfortable (it
certainly can be!), but more because it's tough on my bike. Since
I don't generally ride in the rain, I don't really need waterproof
- has pockets on the back (pockets in front can be nice, too, and
might make the jacket more versatile)
- can squish up into a little bundle and be stuffed into a jersey
pocket (this often conflicts with the desire to be windproof,
breathable, and maybe waterproof-- these fancy fabrics don't always
squish up so compactly)
- Cycling tights and/or
full-leg cycling pants, for
colder and/or wet weather. Some tights have padding cooked in;
some are meant to be worn over cycling shorts.
- Armwarmers and/or legwarmers can also be handy-- in fact, you
might find that you get more mileage out of a pair of armwarmers than
out of a jacket. You can start a bike ride wearing them and take
them off and stash them once
you (or the weather) warm up. Instead of stashing them, you can
also just kind of roll them up your arm or leg and leave them there.
- Sunglasses. These protect your eyes from the sun (duh!)
(make sure your lenses offer 100% protection from UV light), and they
also protect them from stuff in the air-- such as a cloud of small
insects (yecch!). Even if the air doesn't have any nasties in it,
if you're going fast, the wind is going to make it tough to keep your
eyes open and functioning, and glasses help with that.
There are three main ways you can go about pedaling your bike:
If you're planning on doing a nontrivial amount of biking, then I
strongly suggest that you get clipless pedals and bike shoes.
They'll make it
more efficient for you to transfer power to the pedals. In
of course, bike shoes are designed to be good for biking. The
downside is that pedals and shoes cost money (especially for really
good ones!), and you won't be able to reasonably ride your bike without your bike shoes.
(There are exceptions to this last problem-- you can buy pedals that
are platform pedals on one side, but let you clip in on the other
side. See here
for an example.)
- "Regular" platform pedals, which are just a flat surface that
your feet rest on.
- Platform pedals with toe clips on them. The toe clips are
metal or plastic thingies that hold your feet on the pedals and enable
you to apply some power to them while you're raising them. Often
one can add toe clips onto platform pedals after the fact.
- "Clipless" pedals, which ironically are pedals that your
[cycling] shoes clip into. (They're called "clipless" because
don't have toe clips.) When you buy a pair of clipless pedals,
you'll find that they come with a pair of cleats that you need to affix
to the bottom of your bike shoes so that the shoes can actually clip in.
For road bikes, SPD and Look are the most popular types of
pedals/cleats. There are lots of others, though. An
up-and-comer is Shimano's [relatively] new SPD-SL style, which is what
I have on my "good" bike (um, and that's the kind that that Lance
fellow rides, too). Note
that a given pair of bike shoes is not necessarily able to mount the
every possible type of pedal that you might want to use! Talk to
your bike shop when
deciding on your pedals and bike shoes.
Your bike might or might not come with pedals right out of
the shop. In fact, ironically enough, the more money you spend on
your bike, the less likely it is that it comes with pedals.
Ç'est la vie.
The visit to the bike shop when you buy your bike is a
good time to buy your bike pedals and shoes, too.
Fix-it supplies to carry with you
- Flat tires aren't necessarily frequent
occurrences, but they're certainly an occasional fact of life for most
cyclists. To deal with them, you should have (and you should know
how to use!):
- a spare inner tube (I actually like to carry two spares at all
times). Make sure it's the right kind of tube-- it has to be the
right size and have the right type of air valve
- a portable pump. Make sure it can handle the valves on
your inner tubes. Most portable pumps come with some hardware to
mount them on your frame. An alternative is a CO2 cartridge
system that can inflate your tube quickly without much work on your part
- a patch kit
- two tire levers
- If you find that you get a lot of flats, you can purchase some
bulletproof tires (e.g., Specialized Armadillos)
and/or self-sealing inner tubes and/or kevlar liners
to put in your tires, and that should help you out.
- A cycling multi-tool of some sort. I like the Topeak Alien
and the Crank Brothers Multi-17;
they both have pretty much everything
you'd be likely to need on the road. The Alien even has two
built-in tire levers, although I prefer to use standalones.
- I also carry a spare kevlar spoke
with me. Hardly anyone I
know does this, though.
- You could also carry
boots in case you make a rip in your tire (tire, not tube).
Back to Ray's tips
- Most bicycle frames have room to mount two water bottles (you can
mount more bottles using slightly more specialized-- but still readily
Assuming your frame is like that, I
recommend getting two cages (cage = water bottle holder) and two water
bottles and mounting them on there. Biking becomes a lot less fun
when you run out of water! Unsurprisingly, I'm not a fan of the
bottles, either-- get the big ones!
- You could also get a Camelbak
or similar pack to carry fluids
(and maybe other stuff) on your back. These are nice when you're
biking a long way and are unable or unwilling to refill your water
supplies. They also let you drink pretty much any time with very
- If you listened to some of my advice about things to bring along,
you'll likely want an "under the seat" bag to stash stuff. I like
a nice big bag under my seat so I have room for lots of stuff, but it's
possible that you
might not feel the need to haul around absolutely everything you own on
trips. Even if you don't carry tools, etc., around, it's a good idea to
put some cash and some ID (such as a copy of your driver license) in
- A cyclocomputer. Until you have a cyclocomputer, you
probably won't realize how nice they are to have! These are
helpful for navigating ("Um, I'm supposed to take a right turn after
five miles. How far have I gone?"). More often, though,
they provide invaluable information about your cycling that can make
you a better cyclist, and they are a source of tremendous inspiration
("OK, I'm going to try to keep my speed above 25mph until I get to the
traffic light.") You can get a basic cyclocomputer without
spending very much money these days; additional money will get you
additional features. I recommend buying a computer that displays
your cadence (the number of times per minute that you're turning your
pedals)-- this is useful for improving your cycling.
- Get some good lube for your chain and other moving
parts. If you have no idea how often you should lube your chain,
then you probably don't lube it often enough! And if your chain
is ever making
chirping noises, lube it immediately! After you lube your chain,
let it sit for a minute or two, and then wipe it off with a paper towel
or rag to prevent excess build-up of gunk on there. Boeshield is the stuff that
everyone seems to like these days.
- A good floor pump-- preferably with a pressure gauge-- is nice to
have. Pump your tires up to
full pressure (tires list their recommended pressure somewhere on the
side) right before going riding-- this will make your ride more
enjoyable by reducing the odds of your getting a flat and by letting
you go faster more comfortably with less effort.