The basics are pretty simple - you just need a bike and a helmet. These are basic items, but it's very important to make the right selection. Take some time to consider your budget and what type of riding you'll be doing.
Selecting Your Bike
Whether you're renting for the day or buying a bike, the first thing to consider when picking out your bike is what type of riding you'll be doing. Are you using the bike as a commuter on strictly pavement? Are you doing some mixed-terrain riding for fun? What about if you're a beginning mountain biker and want to learn how to ride aggressive single-track trails? Determining the type of terrain is the first step in selecting the right bike.
If you're just taking short, fun rides, cruisers are extremely easy and relaxing to ride. However, if you're riding for fitness or commuting, a city bike is your best bet. It's the most efficient bike for transferring your energy to bike movement on pavement.
Go with a mountain bike if you're looking to tackle some tough terrain. There are also hybrids out there, which are a great option if you do a mix of light trails and casual riding. If you need to pick one versatile bike, we recommend a hybrid bike that can handles pavement and some basic non-paved terrain.
Like most things, you get what you pay for in a bike. You can spend a couple hundred bucks, or you can spend thousands. With higher cost comes better features. With price, you can opt for lightweight frames and wheels, disc brakes, better suspension and smoother shifting between gears. Above all, you want to ensure you're safe and the bike you're riding can handle the terrain you're putting it up against.
Even if you're just renting for the day, make sure to test drive the bike and make sure it's a good, comfortable fit. Check overall size of the bike and height of seat. Then make sure to get a feel for how the bike shifts. Then take some tight turns. Finally, hit the brakes to simulate an emergency stop when testing a bike out.
No matter what kind of riding you're doing or how advanced you are, you should have a helmet on. A helmet protects your brain from falls of all kinds, as well as cars on the street.
Fit and quality are the two critical components to consider when selecting a helmet. You want something that fits snugly on your head and won't shift during a fall or crash. It also needs to be comfortable so you don't mind wearing it all day.
When looking for a helmet, you'll find new versions equipped with MIPS, which stands for Multi-Directional Impact Protection. The technology is being added to helmets for all kinds of activities. It essentially helps protect against brain and head damage from rotational forces. The technology was developed by brain surgeons and experts and is worth the investment.
Selecting the right clothing ensures you're comfortable while riding. The right clothing will help you push longer if you're going for fitness. If you're just riding for leisure, it will ensure you can focus on the fun stuff rather than how uncomfortable you are from your clothing.
You don't need to dress like the hardcore bikers in a spandex suit to be comfortable, either. That's definitely an option if you're serious. However, with a little thought and preparation you can probably find everything you need in your closet already.
You can grab a biking jersey, or look for any athletic shirt in your closet. Anything that's athletic material, has some stretch to it and wicks sweat will work great for warmer weather. Make sure the seams of the shirt won't rub on you and cause discomfort after several hours on your bike.
If you're riding in colder weather, go with a compression fit base layer with some heat retention properties. From there, put multiple layers on top so you can add or remove layers as your body temperature and the weather outside fluctuates.
When selecting shorts, you really have two options. You can go with a general athletic short or a biking-specific short. If you're riding casually, or for less than a couple hours, just go with a regular short. For those doing some more serious riding, a biking short is a worthwhile consideration.
You can also avoid the traditional spandex look by grabbing mountain biking shorts, sometimes referred to as "baggies." These shorts have a looser outer short on top of the spandex layer.
Biking shorts usually have a compression fit, allowing for sweat wicking and free movement without your clothing bunching up. These shorts also have some padding in them to cushion your seat. The padding in these shorts goes a long way. Your backside will become uncomfortable after several hours of riding if you don't have good shorts. Shorts make as big of a difference as your actual saddle does when it comes to seating comfort.
Similar to shorts and shirt above, let the intensity and length of your ride determine whether you need a biking-specific jacket. For many of us, a windbreaker jacket that is waterproof and built for the rain will do the trick. Take a look at the forecast. If there's anything more than a 20% chance of rain, it's worth it to come prepared.
Essentials to Pack
The things you pack in your bag should receive a lot of careful consideration. When biking, you always want to keep the weight in your pack to a minimum. It's also important to be prepared for unexpected situations. The below items are the things that go in our pack for almost any ride we take.
Make sure to get at least a 15 or 30 SPF, depending on how fair your skin is and how easily you burn. Your sunscreen should water resistant and sweat-proof. It should also be broad spectrum so it protects you from UVB and UVA rays. Apply before you leave and pack a small container in your bag so you can reapply throughout the day.
Sunglasses are a must-have for any sort of biking trip. Sunglasses protect your eyes from the sun, debris and dust. Sunglasses also make a major difference when it comes to comfort. Squinting all day when you're trying to enjoy the sights is no fun.
Depending on how serious of a rider you are, you may want to opt for a biking-specific or simply a sport-style pair of sunglasses. Athletic style sunglasses will have frames and lenses that fit more tightly to your face. The tight frame reduces sunlight and glare that creeps in on the edges of the frame. Athletic frames will also sit tight on your face, no matter how much moving you're doing. These sunglasses also tend to be more comfortable when worn under a helmet.
If you're just doing some casual riding on pavement or light terrain, any pair that's polarized, comfortable and won't slip on your face will work just fine.
Food to Refuel
Food is your source of energy when you're out riding. For rides that entail more than some riding around town, you'll want some food to restore energy. When you're riding or exercising, your glycogen levels start to deplete after about 90 minutes. Glycogen is the stuff that keeps you going and you'll need some healthy, slow-burning carbohydrates to replenish your levels.
For those who are low-carb, you can afford some more carbs in your diet when exercising hard and depleting your glycogen. If you're ketogenic or just hardcore about your carbs, make sure you have healthy fats and consider some essential amino acids to replenish your energy. Caffeine can help with energy, but it's not the fuel your body needs long-term.
You get what you pay for when it comes to a bike lock. The value of your bike should be the first thing you consider when selecting a lock. Don't spend $1,000 on your bike and $40 on a lock. You'll regret skimping on the lock if your bike gets stolen one afternoon. Many bike locks have some sort of rating system on them to let you know how secure your bike will be.
The next consideration is your location. If you're in New York or another big city, you need the best of the best because bike theft is extremely common and thieves are pros at what they do. You can opt for something a bit more simple if your bike will either be in your house or garage, or on the trail with you.
U-locks are named because of their shape and generally offer some of the best protection available. You can mount many of them right on the frame of your bike, which helps for packing because these locks aren't the most compact. Cable locks offer much less protection. However, cable locksbut are generally lightweight and pack more easily in a bag. If you're just hitting the trails for a day, a cable lock may be all you need.
Bike Repair Items
If you get a flat while out on a trail, or simply on the street, you'll need a tube to ensure you're not walking your bike to your destination. Make sure you check the size of your tire by checking its sidewall. The standard for mountain bikes was traditionally 26 inches. However, many mountain bikes are now either have a 27.5-inch or 29-inch tire.
Bike Tire Lever
Patch kits are compact and will get you out of a pinch if you happen to forget to pack tubes, or simply run out. If you do mostly citing riding, a patch kit is a simple thing to always have in your bag for that emergency.
Always check your tire pressure before every trip, but packing a mini-pump will help you make any small adjustments that you'll need.
Make sure you understand what type of valve your tire tubes use, and your pump can accommodate. The two types of valves are Presta and Schrader. Most often, road bikes will use Presta valves and mountain bikes will have a Schrader valve. A Presta is a long, skinny valve that requires you to loosen the head cap before filling. Once filled, tighten that valve back up. Schrader valves are the kind your bike had as a kid, just connect your pump and fill.
A multi-tool made for bikes will help you do everything from tighten your chain to adjusting your seat height. Look for a multi-tool that has a phillips and flat head screwdriver, hex wrenches (3 to 6 mm) and Torx wrenches (specifically a T-25).
Mountain Biking Safety
Biking gloves will prevent your hands from slipping on the handlebars when you get sweaty and will also give you quite a bit of added safety. We all took some spills on a bike as kids when we were first learning. We also remember the feeling of scuffed up hands from putting our palms out in front of us as we hit the pavement.
Gloves protect against scuffing up your hands from falls, as well as from branches that may be overhanging as you're winding through a tight trail.
Knee and Elbow Pads
Aside from your hands, your knees and elbows will oftentimes take the most beating when you take a fall off your bike. Let your experience and comfortability on your bike, as well as the type of terrain you're riding, guide your choice on knee and elbow pads. There are pads out there that are very slim and allow for full-movement, and also thick pads with a lot of protection.
Knee and elbow pads can also be very warm, so consider a fabric that is breathable to keep you cool, and won't smell after a couple hours of riding.
You'll find riders split on the necessity and value in back protection. Many riders feel back protectors are awkward and limit their movement too much. Others have taken a bad spill on the back and know the value.
Back protectors blunt the impact of a tree root, stump or rock if you happen to flip over your handlebars or simply land on your backside.