Becoming a Cyclist: Gearing Up

Right now my bike is propped up in a closet, a frame without a front tire or pedals, hidden from a curious cat. The bike came in a box “partially assembled” with “all necessary tools,” but the instructions are clearly designed for someone who has put bikes together before (or at least knows what a bike is supposed to look like). In the last week I’ve found myself eyeballing bikes on the street. “So that’s what side the handlebars go on.” “Ok I did have the brakes facing the right direction.” My plan is to put it together as best I can, then pedal to a shop where more knowledgeable folks can correct my errors.

Assembly instructions

Less than helpful.

The last time I owned a bike, I had two pieces of equipment: a helmet and a pump. The game has changed since I rode my fixed-gear Schwinn around the neighborhood. For starters, I know I need lights. A helpful REI employee clued me in to all the hot new bike light tech: multiple flashing modes, numerous lumens, laser-lit lane function, and slides to slip the lights off whenever you park. That last feature took me by surprise; purchasing lights isn’t just about safety, but also security.

Evidently thieves will make off with every bike component that isn’t nailed down, and in a college town a lock is more important than a helmet. I need removable lights, a special seat clamp, a couple new wheel axles, several chains, and possibly some kind of alarm system or invisibility spray. Two major deterrence strategies are raising the theft difficulty level (multiple locks, special screws) and lowering the apparent value (making your bike look old and cheap). Like running from a bear, you just want your bike to be less attractive than your neighbor’s.

In addition to safety and security, my mind is spinning with the variety of storage options. I have driven myself insane reading and rereading The Wirecutter’s article on baskets, racks, and panniers. I am returning the front basket I bought because I’ve gathered they are dangerous/uncool. I don’t know how much difference $10 makes in the quality of a rack. Do I need a front bag? Should I just carry my backpack? Will I really use any of this stuff? Time will tell, and I’m wrestling with myself to not spend too much money before time lets me know.

I might eventually put my bike together, but knowing what side of the tire faces front does me no good if a bandit makes off with my wheel. My close scrutiny of strangers’ bikes is definitely going to get me in trouble with the authorities. To beat the thieves I need to think like a thief, and to go grocery shopping I need $100 in storage gear. Needless to say I’m completely overwhelmed by every aspect of bicycle gear, and my bike didn’t even come with a kickstand.


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