When I was a child I grabbed whatever cycle accessories I could afford and that really wasn’t very many. I remember attaching straws to my bicycle spokes and convincing my dad that in order to fully realise my bike’s Banana theme his fitting of a bright yellow chain was most definately a 'must do'. Why my bike had a Banana theme still beats me but hey. I imagined that one day I'd be rich, Id go into the world's biggest bike shop and buy one of everything. Life has changed and I’ve become much more obsessive about the accessories I do and don’t buy (oh and I haven't become rich). This post assumes we’ve got past the stage of choosing what technically works/fits but are still in the arena of choice. I’ll admit that I don’t always get it right (in fact I feel like I get it wrong more than I get it right) but have gathered five golden rules from those who appear to have developed a pretty definitive methodology to always selecting the right kit.
1: You ride your bike and your bike belongs to you
Spending as much time as I can as close as possible to the sea is a desire which motivates much of the preparations for my next summer break. However, for now at least, I actually live and work in Birmingham and that means that my daily life operates in a geographical area at least 105 miles from the nearest ocean and much, much further from the remotest sign of surf. Thus; however cool the surfers look it would be unwise for me to spend my entire clothing budget on surf wear for it is much less conducive to urban life; nor should I go to extreme lengths to cause the same level of hair damage which naturally occurs when surfing every day, such things, while clearly evidenced in some, would in fact be tragic. Occasionally finding Sex Wax in the kitchen draw is a nice reminder of a great summer, but walking round in boardies just shows I need professional help. We are where we are and a rich life values the earth beneath its feet.
When accessorising your ride it’s important to be sure that the accessories you choose are a good reflection of you, your bike, your ride.
Every consumer choice involves compromise but if we pay undue focus to the occasional aspirations rather than the lived reality then the implications can be costly, enduring and frankly awful. If 92% of your cycling happens in the city there is little point in purchasing accessories deliberately designed for the hardcore MTBer. You might dream of living in a small wooden hut on the cragside but if it isn’t actually where you live then accesorising as if it is is just dumb.
Focusing on what works for you, your size, your location and your ride will leave you much closer to a ride you consistently enjoy. Remember, even the guy in the bike shop is not you, only you are you. Be honest with those whose job it is to help you make wise choices or they’ll end up making some very dubious recommendations.
A good bike shop will be keen to hear your story and make suggestions based on that narrative. If they haven’t got time or aren’t interested move on, there’s plenty out there who are.
2: Some things just have to match
According to the guys at Velominati rule 8 dictates that bar tape, saddles and tyres must match. I’ve never been convinced by the formula and especially the inclusion of tyres but I do absolutely agree that this level of detailing really matters. Get it wrong and. . . well you’ve got it wrong. I would much rather pay attention to the three elements of bar tape/grips, saddle and brake cabling all of which should share one dominant colour and that colour should contrast your frame. Add a bottle cage to this equation and life is looking a whole lot brighter. Add a bag or basket of the same colour and you’re almost certainly being excessive. Stray too far from this rule and your bike’s aesthetic quality quickly resembles the jumbled mess of a middle aged mind.
3: Need and desire are not equal
Unless hypothermia is something you long for then good breathable clothing is the best friend of every urban cyclist, unless you enjoy trench foot the next few months will mean you either invest in good Merino socks, water proof overshoes or a very good change routine, for those who cycle in the dark hours a decent set of lights ought not to be considered as an optional extra. Conversely whether or not you wear a helmet is, at least for now, a choice or should I say a hundred choices, depending on style, fit, brand, ventilation requirements, budget etc. If its integral to the function of cycling it’s a need, if it adds to that function then it’s almost certainly a like. Be clear with yourself about the things which you need and the things you’d like, beat yourself up about one but not the other.
4: Avoid compromise it’s nearly always a lazy mans myth
Some say that when you choose the right kit you’ll need to compromise between style and substance, some talk rubbish. Cycling has always been influenced by those who relentlessly pursue both, those who want to travel well and in style, those who reject the necessity of compromise.
I remember once needing a traditional shaped pump but being reluctant to settle for the plastic low pressure crap that adorns budget bike shops. For months it looked as though all of the better quality pumps I could find had long since moved away from the traditional shape and had zero aesthetic value and then a PDW Big Silver Road Pump dropped through the door and my hunt was over.
The alternative to compromise is not rigidity but rather an appreciation that sometimes the long way is the best way.
5: Have a long term plan and don’t stick to it
A friend of mine runs a rather curious mens fashion blog. The premise of his blog is simple, ‘it takes time’, five years to be precise.
Most of us do not have the resources to create our perfect riding experience with immediate effect. A not too deep recess in the mind of every cyclist contains the ‘things I wish I owned’ folder. At first we think of this list as evidence of our hardship, “If only we were able to get it all and get it all now”. But what most of us actually know is that there’s a real virtue in taking our time, planning, reflecting and re-planning, parting with our hard earned cash only when we are sufficiently convicted of the solution before us. Sure, that’ll mean the occasional imperfect ride but I suspect that what really makes for the perfect ride has little to do with our kit and everything to do with our state of mind. All the gear, no idea is not a world I wish to pursue.
If your years of cycling experience have left you formulating your own rules then we’d love to hear them. Do share!