UNTIL I STARTED COMMUTING by bike, I was a recreational mountain biker. When I decided to commute to work about 7 years ago, I was totally clueless about the essential gear that makes commuting and practical cycling much easier. This short list of cycling stuff is the gift guide that I wished I would’ve read 7 years ago. Had I known then what I know now about the basics, I would’ve saved a bunch of money and frustration.
Most of the components and gear on this list are what I consider the “best in class.” You can buy cheaper or different versions of this stuff, but I’ve learned that doing so is really a false savings over the long run. This gear is suited to touring, commuting, and other practical-cycling endeavors. If you have cyclists like this on your holiday list, you’ll be scoring big points if you pick up any of this stuff for them.
THE LBS GIFT CERTIFICATE
First things first. If none of the stuff in this column is interesting to you or if you’re doing the last minute thing: go to your local bike shop and get a gift certificate. It’s not as satisfying as seeing your cyclist open the perfect bike gift, but an LBS gift certificate is a slam dunk gift for any cyclist.
Panniers are the bags that attach to racks on a bike. The attributes you want in good panniers: waterproof, repairable, durable. It’s also important to have a well-designed attachment system so that you can pop the panniers off the bike in a flash and put them back on quickly. The attachment system should also keep the panniers on the rack, even over the roughest, bumpiest, dirt (or Spokane) roads. I don’t know of any other pannier that nails all of these criteria like Ortlieb panniers.
TUBUS FLY REAR RACK
“Tubus” is the manufacturer; “Fly” is the model. Tubus makes a bunch of racks; they are all light-weight tubular steel and they are all super well-made and durable. But the Fly is the best suited for daily driving. It’s light, simple, and is rated to 44 pounds. The Fly assumes you are using panniers, so if your cyclist uses a pack that is designed to sit on top of the rack, then you should go with a Tubus Cargo, which is rated for 90 pounds and looks it. The Fly on the other hand, is simple and I think, elegant.
PLANET BIKE SUPERFLASH REAR LIGHT
The Superflash is just an insanely bright rear blinky red light. I have spent a mint on rear lights over the years, so for $30, the Superflash is a great deal. The mounting hardware could be better, but once you get it mounted you can ziptie the light to the bracket to make sure it stays put. It’s inevitable that when you pick up this little dinky light, you’ll turn it on to see how bright it really is, and you will get blinded when it blinks. Buy a couple: one for the bike and one for clothing or a back pack.
NITERIDER MINEWT MINI-USB FRONT LIGHT
The MiNewt Mini is another amazing feat of technological wizardry. The late great alpha bike nerd of all time, Sheldon Brown, often remarked that the greatest technical strides in the cycling industry in the 20th century was in the development of LED bike lighting. The MiNewt Mini proves this claim. The light comes in just under $100. It runs for 3 hours. It throws a huge, but focused, bright beam. It takes four-and-a-half hours to recharge. It can recharge in a normal wall outlet, or you can plug it into your USB port on your computer. And the whole package—light and battery pack—fits in the palm of your hand. Genius!
MOBILE TOOL KIT ESSENTIALS
While there’s not really a best-in-class product here, I’m amazed at how many daily cyclists ride without a basic tool kit. I think this tool kit would make a great gift for any cyclist that doesn’t carry a kit. I’m not a fan of multi-tools. They are difficult to use, have a bunch of stuff you don’t need, and they really don’t save any bulk or weight. I think you can also build up a tool kit cheaper by buying just the tools you need.
I have a small tool kit tucked under the saddle on each of my bikes:
- Hex wrench set: 2 mm-8 mm
- Open-end wrench: 8 mm/10 mm
- Spoke wrench
- Chain tool (Park CT-5)
- Fiberfix emergency spoke
- 2 links of chain
- 1 Pedros tire lever
- Spare tube
- Patch kit
Different bikes may require some other specialty tools, but this kit is a good starter for any daily cyclist.
I also carry a frame pump on my bike. A frame pump is a long pump that fits under the length of the top tube on your bike. I prefer frame pumps to mini pumps because they fill a tire much quicker and are just generally less fussy to use.
John Speare grew up and lives in Spokane. He rides his bike everywhere. Check out his blog athttp://cyclingspokane.blogspot.com.