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Choosing the right gear

Kit is the fun bit. You always find that some buys make a permanent place for themselves in your life, whereas other stuff, which once seemed a good idea, is more trouble than it‘s worth.


Cycling is hard enough work without being thirsty as well. A litre an hour is often thrown about as a guideline, but you should increase this in hot weather. Water bottles on your frame are a great lowtech solution, but protect the drinking nozzle if your trails take you through farms – muddy bottles don‘t bother us, but we don‘t like the thought of drinking farmyard detritus.


Most people carry everything on their backs or round their waists. I like to make an exception for tools, which I think are best carried in a seatpack under your saddle. They‘re usually oily, so you don‘t want them knocking around in your bag with clothes and sandwiches. And if you fall off, the last thing you want to land on is your toolbag. For day rides, hydration systems with luggage capacity – as pioneered by CamelBak – are great. If you live somewhere wet, make sure you get something waterproof – no point in carrying an extra layer all day then having to wring it out before you put it on. For hot climates, concentrate on getting enough air circulating between bag and back to keep you as cool as possible. Larger bags take heavier loads, so look for wider breathable straps. Bags with lots of little pockets are more expensive, but it is worthwhile having different compartments so you can keep spare socks separate from sandwiches.


If you live somewhere dry and dusty, skip this section. It can be fun cycling in all those places that don‘t have mud, but for real cyclists who get dirty, a word about mudguards.

Full-length mudguards are tried and tested bits of kit for road bikes but for mountain bikes, there are a lot of options. We think that a front ‘crudguard‘ – a piece of plastic strapped securely to your downtube (or equivalent) – is an essential piece of kit. If you have eaten too many pieces of tyre-grated cowpie in your life already, and if not eating any more comes at the price of fixing an ugly piece of plastic to your bike, it‘s worth it. The guard also helps to stop bits of stuff from your front tyre getting flicked up into your eyes. Even if you wear glasses, the angle of approach from the back of your tyre is perfect to slip lumps of crud under the bottom of your glasses. Strap on a front guard today. If you can‘t bear to spend hard cash on a plastic moulding, cut a waterbottle in half, punch some holes in it and ziptie it on. Guards can also make great emergency shovels and, with a good wash, make a lovely camping plate too.

Back mudguards aren‘t quite so useful, but if it‘s cold as well as wet, they make the leap into the essential items basket. Spray from your back wheel hitting the gap at the top of your jacket collar, trickling cold rain down your back is really unpleasant. Again, it’s worth putting up with ugly plastic on your bike if it helps keep you warm and dry.

“Tools are best carried separately in a seatpack under your saddle – they’re usually oily”


We’re definitely in two minds about these. Many people go cycling to escape things like computers, so will only attach them to their bike reluctantly. On the other hand, they are very useful for map reading, allowing you to pace off distances and to estimate how far you have to go before looking for a turning. They can also be useful for structured training routines and all that kind of thing. The simpler models usually have everything you need. You can get models that will read your altitude and heart rate, but most people would rather not know about these things. It‘s up to you though – if it matters to you, you need one.


Night rides are fun. They bring on some kind of ancestral night vision that often lets you ride sections faster at night because all the extraneous information your brain normally processes is invisible. The faster you go, the more powerful you need your lights to be – you need to be able to see far enough ahead to have time to react to things that appear in your pool of light before you arrive at them. And here‘s a safety message – don‘t do anything dangerous. If you can‘t see there, don‘t go there!

With lights under 5W in power, you have to move fairly slowly, even if there‘s a bit of moon. All batteries also contain a heap of environmentally unpleasant stuff, and we use far too many of the disposable ones as it is, so treat yourself to at least 600 lumens of rechargeable units. Make sure they‘re strapped on securely.

See also bike maintenance tips, tricks and techniques “Shimano PD-M747 pedals”