Cheap Essentials for Getting Back on Your Bike

The gym is still closed, warm weather is here, and everybody’s still giving public transit the side-eye—odds are good that your old bike has found its way out of storage. (And if you didn’t have a bike already, with any luck you were able to find one.) If the bike hasn’t seen daylight in a while, examine its essential parts with an ABC Quick Check (PDF). Then, if you’re missing any safety gear, we’ve made a list of inexpensive basics, based on years of research and testing, that should help get you on the road for the same price as a few trips on the bus or subway.

An inexpensive helmet

We’ve spent hundreds of hours wearing, riding with, and researching bike helmets, and if you’re looking for the cheapest possible good option, we like the Schwinn Thrasher. It isn’t our budget pick for helmets (more about why in a sec), but the Thrasher is the only helmet we’ve found in its price range that has an adjustable knob at the back so it can snugly wrap around your head. Typically the fit is hard to adjust on inexpensive helmets, and a helmet that doesn’t fit right can’t do its job.

Bright, cheap(ish) lights

We recommend spending a little more to get the Cygolite Hotrod 50 Rear Light instead. This 50-lumen taillight is visible from more angles under a wider variety of conditions than any other light we tried. It recharges via USB, it should last about a week of regular rides, and it attaches to your seat post with a flexy, rubber ring.

A lightweight water bottle

In spite of all the wonderful bottles in the world, nothing works better on a bike than a bike bottle. We recommend the CamelBak Podium. The Podium has a locking ring around the drink valve, so you can leave it open while you ride and then lock it when you arrive at your destination. It’s a great feature if you’re putting your bottle in a bag and want to safeguard against leaks.

Specialized Air Tool Sport SwitchHitter II

This pump is designed better than any of the budget options on Amazon, including the BV Floor Pump, the Vibrelli, and even the popular Topeak Joe Blow III. The hose is longer, the pump has more metal parts, the base is more stable, and the gauge is in a better position. It works with both Presta and Schrader, and it also pumps a tire up to 160 psi.

A Bike Lock

If you need a bike lock that’s more affordable than our favorite, the Kryptonite Evolution New-U Mini 7, we suggest the Kryptonite New-U Keeper Standard Lock. The Keeper is a medium-security U-lock, and the difference between this one and our top pick is the width of the hardened-steel shackle: It’s 12 mm on this lock, as opposed to the 13 mm on the higher-security Evolution New-U, and it’s made with a less robust steel.

Tire levers

For your flat-fixing kit, you need tire levers. Get Pedro’s Tire Levers. Their wide, indestructible tip won’t bend, break, or fly loose when you’re trying to pry a flat tire off the wheel’s rim. (REI has a good primer on how to fix a flat.) They’re sold in packs of two––that’s how many you need.

A portable pump

When you’re fixing a flat out on the road, you’ll need to inflate your new tube using a hand pump. (Don’t try to use this mini pump as your regular at-home floor pump too, though––there’s a lot of resistance when you’re using a hand pump, and you’re likely to end up with one super-buff arm and one skinny noodle arm.) An inexpensive option is the Lezyne Sport Drive HP. It has the same design as our favorite hand pump, the Lezyne Pressure Drive, but is less than half the price. It includes the same extendable hose, which we think is the defining feature of a good hand pump, and it can inflate both Presta and Schrader valves.


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