15 Fun and Functional Must-Have Mountain Biking Accessories
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This article is not about upgrading your components, which requires removing one “thing” and replacing it with a “better thing.”
Instead, this article has as its focus, stuff that didn’t come with your bike, but which you may find useful to the way you ride.
There are a gobs of people out there ready to sell you their stuff, each claiming to have just the “thing” you need. And convinced that you “need” it, you’ll soon want it.
My task here is to help you locate the must-have mountain biking accessories. I’ll tell you what I’ve bought so far, how well it works for me, and what I still want. Before doing that, I’ll tell you where I found the items.
Take the recommendations of other riders only if they ride like you do, where you do. For instance, the rider who recommends the self-sealing tube (which is heavy) may never have to carry the bike. You get the idea. Now, let’s go accessory shopping.
- 1 Which Must Have Bike Accessories Are Out There?
- 1.1 Must-Have Accessories for Bicycle Riders
- 1.2 1. Water bottle and Cage
- 1.3 2. Bike Computer
- 1.4 3. Bar Ends
- 1.5 4. Bike Seat
- 1.6 5. Headlights
- 1.7 6. Taillight
- 1.8 7. Bike Lock
- 1.9 8. MTB Bike Pumps
- 1.10 9. PATCH KITS
- 1.11 10. SPARE TUBE
- 1.12 11. HELMET
- 1.13 12. HELMET REAR-VIEW MIRROR
- 1.14 13. GLOVES
- 1.15 14. Cycling Sunglasses
- 1.16 15. LYCRA
- 2 Where Do You Get Your MTB Bike Accessories
Which Must Have Bike Accessories Are Out There?
The best way to keep up with the new stuff is to browse the ads in the latest issue of a mountain biking magazine. You can find them in drugstores, supermarkets, and on newsstands. There’s no need to buy all of them because the advertisers do that for you.
The magazine’s pesky blow-in and tear-out cards will springboard you into the world of mail-order bicycle catalogs. Every-other- month I receive catalogs from the three biggest direct-mail companies.
Although I prefer to support my local retailer whenever possible, I have ordered from these companies. All are reputable, deliver what they promise and stand behind their products. One of them has overnight deliveries on Saturday at no extra charge. More about online ordering later in this chapter.
Another way to see must-have bike accessories are available, is to visit your local bike shop and take inventory (browse). Pull yourself away from the bikes and check out the walls, display cases, pegboards, nooks and crannies.
A final suggestion in the “what’s-out-there?” department is to attend a Fat Tire Festival and look at the bikes and people congregated there. You’ll find both bicycle accessories and the people who bought them. Why they bought an accessory, how much it costs, how they use it, and whether they’d buy the same accessory again are all fair questions. It’s one of the camaraderie things that makes those gatherings fun. Remember, the only dumb question is the un-asked one.
Must-Have Accessories for Bicycle Riders
If you’re like most people, you’ve spent more buying your bike than you had planned and are, therefore, in a cash-flow pinch. Buying accessories now is tough.
If you haven’t coerced your dealer into selling you the bike at cost, you may be able to get a free goodie or two thrown into the sale. Don’t get greedy. You’ll know where you stand bargain-wise.
And so, here starts my list.
Before we get to the add-on’s, here are a couple of things you may want to subtract from your new bike. Think these comments over carefully before acting, and don’t blame me if either of these actions result in inconvenience or injury. In other words, you’re on your own here as a consenting adult.
Kickstands are not allowed on bicycles participating in sanctioned mountain bike races because they’re dangerous to both the bike owner and fellow racers. In a crash, they can be jostled from the stowed position and stab or impale someone. Kickstands are also excess baggage on a lean and lightweight bike. Mine, is history.
Many dealers put kickstands on bikes merely to manage the display. Imagine a showroom full of bikes without kickstands and you’ll understand the reasoning. Dealers display more expensive, kickstand-less bikes either suspended from walls, racks, or the ceiling, on stands, or parked in a rear-wheel bike rack of some kind.
So how do you manage a bike with no kickstand? Here’s how: Find something to lean the rear tire against and the bike will magically stay upright. Otherwise, gently lay it down on the side that doesn’t contain the rear derailleur.
One more thing.
If your bike came with a kickstand, the bottom of the chainstay will be scratched and gouged where the offending critter was affixed. After removing the thing, you steel bikesters should clear-coat the scratches with polyurethane varnish before rust sets in.
What’s wrong with reflectors?
They’re bulky, weighty, made from stamped metal that rusts, never point in the right direction, protrude in awkward ways to snag both skin and clothes in a fall, litter the trail when they come loose and fall off, do nothing to fend off bears and rattlesnakes, and make an otherwise off-road specialty machine look like it took a wrong turn somewhere.
Reflectors also save lives. It’s against the law to sell a bike without reflectors installed front, rear, on the pedals and in the spokes. Anyone who has driven a car at night knows the value of reflectors. By all means, if you ride your bike on the streets at night, and/or don’t have both headlights and tail-lights, leave them on!
You off-road-only folks, and those with a set of battery operated lights that are actually used might want to remove the reflectors yourself. Don’t ask your dealer to do it for you. They’ll probably give you a lecture before saying no.
My bike is reflectorless. I also own proper and removable lighting equipment both front and rear and there are nice reflectors on my helmet, fanny pack and seat-pack. I realize the danger and never venture into the street after dark without lights with which to be seen. There are even inexpensive lights that let you see to some degree as well. I’ll cover those in this chapter.
The reflectorized tape that has recently appeared on the bike scene is a much better idea than the current reflector crop. Some of it is even nearly invisible during daylight.
Now for some things you might want to consider adding to your bike.
People who exercise need fluids. According to the exercise gurus you’re supposed to drink before you get thirsty.
Either way, it’s a good idea to have some liquid within reach at all times. A water bottle and cage fills the bill. As for the cage, nearly all bikes now have at least one set of cage bolts on the down-tube.
Many have a second set on the seat-tube. Rear suspension bikes have them wherever there’s room on the frame. I like the aluminum cage which is available in black, silver, and nearly any other color. They’re light-weight and can be coaxed into a tighter or looser fit with a little bending.
A bottle cage purchased for the seat-tube will probably have to bolt over the front derailleur collar. Make sure the cage mounts allow for that or you will be returning it to the store. Better yet, ride your bike to the bike store. They should let you bring it in and try the fit.
Many bottles are give-away items silk-screened with someone’s logo. Even sports drinks like Gatorade and Power- Ade are now selling their products in bottles that fit into bottle cages. You can get them at most convenience stores.
Nonetheless, a real water bottle will seal well and not leak. It will be easy to squeeze even when cold and will deliver a good volume of liquid. It should have a torpedo- shaped bottom so it goes in and out of your cage easily without having to look at it. The top should unscrew to let ice cubes and washrags in. A clear color will let you see how much remains and a no-slip grip would be nice, too. Specialized makes just such a bottle for about $7 retail.
Remember, full water bottle(s) add weight to your bike. If that bothers you, investigate the bottle-toting fanny packs available.
More serious, long-distance riders who have $50 or so bucks to spend will buy a bladder-style watering device worn like a backpack. It has a tube attached which routes over the rider’s shoulder and a mouthpiece which, when clenched in the teeth will open to deliver liquid. The company making them is Camelback.
Think of a cycling computer as the speedometer of the ’90’s. It’s not only fun, it gives you lots of useful information. Even inexpensive models ($20) will tell lots more than just how fast you’re going. These little gems also tell you how long you’ve been riding, what your maximum speed was, your average speed for the trip, how long the trip was, how many miles you’ve accumulated on your bike, and what time it is.
For a few dollars more, the computer will display your cadence (RPM of your pedals), your present altitude, your total altitude gain/loss, and your heart rate. Not only that, but by pre-setting the limits of your desired heart- rate training zone, you can see how much pedaling time was spent below, in, or above your target heart rate. Pretty slick.
I’ll be frank. Cateye makes killer computers. I like their smallness, lightness, the way they “click” in and out of the handlebar mount, and the way the magnet affixes to the spokes. Vetta misses those marks.
Add a computer to your mountain bike and try to resist the temptation to stare at it instead of where you are or are going. Computers are fun.
If your bike didn’t come with bar-ends already in place, consider buying a pair. Although principally designed for additional leverage while climbing, the bar-ends give you numerous places to grasp the handlebar when hand and wrist fatigue begin to set in.
Of course, when my hands are on the bar-ends instead of the handlebar grips, I can’t reach the brakes, so I don’t use them in traffic or when the trail gets tricky. Choices include all sorts of colors, shapes, and the lightness (and expense) of exotic metals.
4. Bike Seat
It’s a fact. The most comfortable seat is probably in your living room in front of your TV set and not on your bike. Another fact. You will get used to your bike seat even though it may be the hardest thing you’ve ever sat upon.
After your first ride, you may be tempted to purchase one of the new “gel” seats. Try to resist. In the first place, a mountain bike seat is not for sitting on in the traditional sense. Instead, the seat offers support for your exercising tush while your arms carry some of the weight.
Furthermore, riding the challenging singletrack of most forests requires frequent position changes which your seat should permit not prevent. Think of the seat as a butt-grasp and you’ll better understand and appreciate its spartan design. Seat designers are not as stupid as you might think and the very seat you wish to trash was intentionally contrived.
You should be spending at least some of your time out of the saddle either to cruise over bumps, cruise downhill, or stand and pedal. If you do none of these things, expect a little soreness in the beginning.
The best MTB headlights come in two flavors: the kind that let you be seen, and those that let you see. In this arena, you clearly get what you pay for.
If you’re just riding around your neighborhood, an inexpensive light will do fine. Actually, the street lights do most of the work, and your light is just to “be seen.” The crop of $20 bike headlights doesn’t do a great job of illuminating hazards like broken glass when you’re pedalling fast.
If you’re hoping to ride fast through the woods at night, you’ll need more than the $20 headlight. You’re going to need one of the more serious lighting systems. These can range in price from about $60 to better than $250.
I opted for a mixture of lighting systems. For trail stuff, I have a helmet-mounted 15 watt Night Rider Sport, which boasts the same tiny but efficient headlamp unit as its more expensive brothers but without the rechargeable batteries. The Sport comes with a battery-holder, into which you put “D” cells (Ray-O-Vac Renewals work fine and recharge as a bonus).
In addition, I carry an inexpensive CATEYE HYPER Halogen on the handlebars. This is a wonderful low-cost light. Cateye incorporates a strobe on this light, reasoning that it extends battery life–and it does. The strobing (like all household incandescent light bulbs) is invisible.
Why both lights?
The helmet-mounted light lets me see where I’m looking, not just where the handlebars are pointed. Unfortunately, a head-lamp doesn’t paint those helpful shadows that tell you how tall obstacles are–that’s what the handlebar light is for. It’s a good combination.
Before leaving headlights, I would like to remind you to evaluate a light’s run-time on full batteries. The information is published in most catalogs and on the light’s packaging. Oh, I also recommend removing the lights when they’re not in use. All worthwhile lights can be removed from their mounting brackets leaving the bracket attached to your bike for the next midnight ride.
Without a rear reflector, you must have a taillight to ride at or after dusk. You want something small, bright, lightweight, and visible from the sides as well as the rear.
At present, VISTALITE delivers on all those points with their VL200 quick-release (about $15). It mounts firmly on the seatpost with a non-slip strap/buckle arrangement and will either glow steadily or flash depending on how you affix the lens. Its 5 LED’s will last 200 hours on two AAA batteries and its weight (with batteries) is a manageable 53 grams. This light was voted “Best in Category” by Bicycling Magazine. My previous light was a helmet-mounted one, scraped off by an errant tree branch somewhere in the woods, where, I guess, it “winked” to death, never to be seen again by the sucker who bought it–me.
7. Bike Lock
We all know what locks do but before buying yours, ask yourself these questions: Do I really want to add that weight to my bike? Am I really going to ride it to the store, mall, show, and other un-attended places? Could I carry the lock in a backpack instead of affixed to the bike? Can I take it into the store, office, my friends apartment, etc.?
Good locks are both expensive and heavy. No lock will save your bike from a determined thief. Any lock is a burden to carry, and most will scrape off your paint. If you have a bike with quick-release wheels, be prepared to lock them. If you have a quick-releast seat, include it in the lock scheme too.
If you must use a bike for basic errand-running, consider investing in a “klunker,” and a cheap lock, which may be cheaper than a good lock alone. Bike theives know a good bike when they see it.
Gotta have one. Start with a good trail pump. Get a light- weight one in the under $20 range. Blackburn makes a great one (MT-1). Affix it to your bike if you want to show it off to friends and thieves and pick it up whenever you lift your bike. Putting it in a fanny-pack is perhaps a better idea. The small pumps will require about 200 strokes to bring a fat tire from zero to safely rideable. Not a pretty number, but better than walking out of the woods.
As soon as you can, get a decent floor-pump for your house, apartment, garage or shed. Zero to 40 pounds in about 20 strokes.
Why a floor pump?
The only no-leak tire I’ve seen is made of solid rubber. All tires with tubes leak. The air goes through the microscopic holes in the tube over time. I check inflation frequently with at least a tire-pinch before every ride.
Also, sadly, if you’re serious about riding off-road, you should expect flat tires and learn how to fix them on-the- trail. Thorns, briars, sharp rocks, roots, and rough riding all contribute. If someone experienced doesn’t show you the tire-fix tricks, you’ll have to learn them yourself through trial and error. Ask someone to show you the tricks. If they offer to change your tire for you, watch them do it and ask questions. All this neatly leads to the next item: Patch kits.
Forget about traditional, patch, scraper, tube-of-glue patch kits. There’s something newer and better called the “glueless” patch.
The principal reason traditional patch kits have fallen out of favor with me is related to a simple truth: The stupid glue-tube becomes rock-hard and worthless after one patch no matter how tight you screw the lid back on. Putting more than one patch in the kit only fools you into thinking you’re prepared for the next flat. Manufacturers of these kits must think that flat tires are spaced only 15-minutes apart.
Glueless patches not only take up less space in your tooklit, they weigh less, and as an extra benefit, they actually work. I like those made by the Park Tool people. If you hold one of their patches up to the light, you can see the magic sticky-word “3M” embossed on the patch.
Someday, when it’s least convenient, you’ll snakebite a tube on a poorly bunny-hopped rock, or granite curbstone. Properly done, the tube will be history. Patches won’t help.
This is where the spare tube is worth the trouble. I keep mine in the under-seat pouch–which is the only extra my bike carrys as part of its anatomy.
A final argument for the spare tube: Often, leaks are hard to find while seated among the ferns or rocks of critter and insectdom. Better to check the tire for the culprit, remove it, mount up the spare tube, pack up the leaky one and fix it when you get home (or get a second flat and have to).
I learned the value of this lesson the hard way.
Get the best MTB helmet that money can buy. Make sure it doesn’t rattle on your head over bumpy terrain, and, by all means, wear it!
Without a helmet, you risk the worst kind of injury–head injury. Consider this: When you bang your head hard enough, you bruise your brain. When you bruise your brain, it swells up. Your skull can’t expand to make room for your swollen brain, and the result is life-threatening brain damage. A coma. A brain hemorrhage. Death. Head injuries can turn a minor crash into a major problem. You won’t enter a sanctioned event or even a leisure club ride, without one.
Helmets, unfortunately, can also be bothersome and hot–no matter what the manufacturer says. Nonetheless, helmets are good medicine. I bought a white one to fend off some of the heat. What I can’t stand, is a helmet so tight that the chin-strap chokes you if you raise your head. A helmet that rattles around on your head every time you hit a bump is just as bad.
What I have done here, is justify the expense of the new breed of helmet that locks behind your head to prevent rattling. Currently, Specialized and Gyro both make them in the $100 range. The cost may be more painful than the rattling.
My helmet is a $30 cheapie but it affords the protection I need in a fall. My present helmet is too big, even with the largest adjusting sponges installed, so I often wear a baseball cap under it, with the “bill” turned rearward.
Young immortals may campaign to repeal helmet laws. I would rather survive an otherwise manageable crash to mend my broken bones and ride again with my senses intact.
This is an off-road publication. If you regularly ride on the highway, get one and use it. As dumb as it may be, a helmet mirror works and on the road, it could save your life.
In the woods, the mirror will get ripped off by the first branch and cease being a problem.
Mountain bike handlebar grips aren’t real comfy because there’s often a need to hold-on-tight when the going gets tricky. Spongy handlebar grips don’t equate with being in control.
An inexpensive pair of padded cycling gloves will do wonders for your ride. Not only will you feel more powerful wearing them, you will also benefit from the extra padding. In addition, most gloves include a terrycloth thumb which is great for wiping the sweat from your brow or the Gatorade from your chin.
Gloves come padded with many different substances, some more expensive than others. If you’ve never worn bike gloves, my advice is to try an inexpensive but comfortable pair first. If you like what they do for your hands, wrists, and arms, get a better pair when your first ones wear out.
A hidden advantage to gloves is they make you look like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t.
Here’s another item that can make you look like you know what you’re doing, and like sneakers, they’re a fashion statement. Actually, at a hundred-fifty bucks a pop they’re more a statement of what’s in your bank account.
Clearly, eye protection while mountain biking is a good thing. Not only do the good ones block invisible UV’s, they also block things thrown up by mountain bike tires, both your own, and the rider(s) in front of you.
But alas, what good is eye-protection if it makes you look like a geek. For this reason, a handful of manufacturers have succeeded in creating a Madison Avenue “aura” around their sports spectacles. In other words, if yours sport an unrecognizable name on the temples, you too become unrecognizable to all but your real friends. Enough said.
Now you might think that skin-tight Lycra cycling apparel is great. Functionality aside, you may even think it’s alluring, sexy, fashionable, or just plain attractive. Many find it disgustingly revealing. Whatever the personal appeal or dislike for the appropriateness of Lycra in a given cycling environment, one fact remains: it’s functional. In other words, there are reasons for both its design and popularity.
First, Lycra cycling shorts fit snugly enough not to rub against your skin while you peddle. For the men, that means that lycra won’t rub the hair off your legs. Lycra also won’t chafe your thighs or crotch.
Perhaps most important, Lycra cycling shorts contain padding in the crotch and buttocks areas where it’s most welcomed. Not only that, the crotch padding material is space-age designed to absorb moisture and “wick” it away. As a final design consideration, many better padded Lycra cycling shorts are treated against the growth of nasty bacteria.
So, let’s summarize: Lycra cycling shorts won’t get snagged on branches or your saddle’s nose when you dismount or get dismounted. They offer some extra padding for your tush and genitalia. They contain anti-bacterial treatment, offer evaporative advantages for sweat, are lightweight, and make you look like a serious cyclist.
The problem is that you may not want to look like a ballet dancer as you peddle through the more macho parts of town. Insofar as the advantages well outweigh the disadvantages, you might consider wearing cycling Lycra beneath some more fashionably acceptable shorts. If it’s attention you want, by all means wear Lycra in any of the neon colors easily available. By all means too, if yours is a youthful hardbody, Lycra will call attention to your anatomy almost faster than riding in the buff. Underwear is not worn under the stuff, and if its not skin-tight, it’s not Lycra.
If you’re practical, you’ll have some Lycra. Whether or not you let people see it is a more personal choice.
Where Do You Get Your MTB Bike Accessories
The Local Bike Accessory Shops
On the National scale, these people are your friends and neighbors. They buy things wholesale, sell at retail, and hope to be able to pay the rent, keep the lights on, buy insurance, and pay employees. They also want and appreciate your business.
I enjoy a wonderful relationship with my local Bike Shop. Sure, I go there to buy cycling accessories, but sometimes I go there because it’s too rainy to ride, or I have a question, or I want to see what has recently been added to the shelves.
If you would like to get to know the people at your local bike accessories shop, go when they’re not busy. Learn things by listening to them answer other people’s questions. You may even be able to help by letting your enthusiasm for the sport convince a wavering customer that it really is fun. If you’ve been well treated, let other customers know that too.
If you play your cards right, you may be able to assist during a busy time, help keep bikes from being stolen during a rush, learn from their mechanics–and be rewarded with a discount the next time you buy something.
Online Bike Stores
Whether you order online or not, a collection of current online bike stores is good. The online stores help you learn which MTB accessories are a good value, and what other options exist. By reading the spec’s on things, you better understand what makes one thing good, another better.
Here is my list of pro’s for online bike stores:
Online bike stores offer a wide selection of products. But to be fair, you need several catalogs because not all houses carry the same brands. A local store would go broke trying to mount such steep inventory options.
Online ordering is just one step behind the latest magazine ad. If you see it in print, chances are it’s in stock and ready to ship. Exceptions: popular items are sometimes sold-out or back-ordered and a magazine’s review of a prototype may beat the production run and therefore delivery to the seller. New catalogs are released several times a year but you can order from old ones (sometimes at the old price).
Sales Tax Break
If you live in a State other than that of the online bike store place, you probably won’t pay tax. I say “probably” because if there’s also an online bike retail store in your state, you will pay tax. On $50 and over items, the savings can be worthwhile providing it’s not gobbled up in shipping.
Ease of Ordering
I like the ability to order virtually 24-hours a day into a free 800-number. You might be surprised to discover that many of those phone-operators are pretty sharp when it comes to answering technical questions too. For those who don’t have credit cards or don’t want to use them for whatever reason, Performance mail- order now takes checks-by-phone even for next-day delivery–a brilliant move.
Next Day Deliveries
What an impulsive bunch we have become. Not only do we want something, we want it now and are willing to pay for the service.
Frankly, I think this is where the online bike accessory companies makes some extra money. Shipping is computed on the cost rather than the weight of an item. That’s not how it works when I send packages.
Be cautioned that most online bike stores have time-of-day cut-offs for next-day delivery (usually 3 to 4 P.M. the day of order). Pleading and begging sometimes works if it’s not busy in the shipping department.
When I was a kid, I just couldn’t wait for the mailman to bring the toy ordered from Kelloggs. Some of that joyful anticipation returns as I wait for my Amazon Prime express package.
Here’s what I don’t like about mail-order:
At a glance, an online bike store is the cheapest thing going. A local dealer couldn’t possibly match the price and survive without the volume. But watch out: the price listed can be just the tip of the iceberg. It’s easy to collect a list of items, total them up, and get sticker shocked by the shipping and handling.
Although return policies vary from company to company, most are no-questions-asked refunds or credits–your call. Still, wouldn’t it be easier to just drive across town with the dud item and return or exchange it?
Luckily, in my limited experience, I haven’t had to return anything yet but I did have an overnight delivery fouled up by Performance. They cut me a check for the expedite charge and sent it within a week. Nonetheless, I didn’t have the part for a planned weekend ride. Not a happy situation.
A year of buying online bike accessories gets you nothing more. No ticket, no laundry, if you catch my drift. A local merchant, like the old bank teller, will get to know and trust you. These, are the ’90’s. Bike shops are good things and if we don’t use them, we’ll lose them. Find a balance in your purchasing.
Don’t order anything from an online bike store that doesn’t publish its phone number, no matter how sweet the deal. If you do, there’s a chance you will be mailing “HEY! WHERE’S MY THING?” inquiries to the same mailbox that sucked up your check. But you knew that.
A final but important note: Try to resist the temptation to buy the first “something” you see in the store. Research the possible existence of similar other “something’s” before getting out your wallet. Online bike stores will discount an item to purge their inventory just before offering the new, improved, cheaper version. It’s like “Insider Trading” and a cheap-shot but I see it often.