When the COVID pandemic hit, I decided to start cycling myself and since then I’ve been testing different products. It includes cycling apparel, accessories, equipment and apps that make my riding experience safer and more enjoyable. Please note that I have not exhaustively tested these product categories, but the list below is a good sampling of my personal top picks. I update this article regularly throughout the year as I test new gear that I can call my new favorite cycling gear.
Having now tested various hydration backpacks and hip packs, I have settled on the Camelbak Chase for mountain biking. It has the right amount of storage — 70 ounces of water and a good amount of gear, as well as plenty of handy pockets and other bells and whistles. (Indeed, it has an integrated safety whistle.) It also has an integrated protective impact panel, which can come in handy if you fall off the bike and land on your back. Not cheap at $150. But if you’re an aggressive rider, the extra protection is worth it.
That said, if you want to spend less, I’ve used the Osprey Syncro 12 on family hikes and I actually prefer its water bladder over the Camelbak system. Plus, the Syncro has a nice balance of storage and accessibility, an integrated rain cover, and costs a more reasonable $130.
There are plenty of people who ride to leave emails, texts and calls behind, but I prefer to have my phone handy when I’m in the saddle. (Obviously, I stop completely on the side of the road before engaging the screen.) Until recently, I’d often put my phone in my jersey pocket under my jacket, making it difficult — and dangerous — to access when rolling. Then I bought this Quad Lock case and mount. It has been an absolute game changer.
The Quad Lock mount sits atop the frame of the bike and I feel confident in its ability to keep my phone safe and secure, even when traversing rough terrain. When the ride is over or you pull over to take a photo, it’s easy to let go; simply pull up on the assembly’s locking mechanism and twist. The Quad Lock phone case is large — it has a raised bump on the back that matches the mount — and I’d bet it would protect the phone adeptly in a crash.
I tested a bunch of bike lights, but two of them stood out above the rest. The NiteRider Lumina Dual 1800 is light, sleek and simple to mount on a helmet or handlebars. At the second brightest setting (1500 lumens), I was able to get about two hours out of the rechargeable battery. (I also like NiteRider’s Omega tail light.)
That said, if you’re looking for something brighter or longer lasting, I recommend the Gloworm XS. It’s expensive — more than $400 — and requires carting around a substantial battery pack, but it puts out an incredible amount of light. When set to 2,500 lumens, it basically turns night into day, and I was able to get over two hours of light per charge. When I turned it down to just under 2000 lumens, my feet always faded before the light.
The third version of Chrome’s vaunted Cobra hood has hit the sweet spot. It’s the perfect weight for a cool Maine spring, and the Merino-poly blend strikes the right balance between durability, warmth, and resistance to wind, water, and dirt. There are some thoughtful design advances, including two zipped front pockets on the front and one long zipped pouch on the lower back, making it equally suitable for riding or hanging. One of my favorite, most worn dresses.
Endura’s Luminite line has become my go-to choice for wet and/or cold weather due to its lightweight construction, protective waterproofing, and comfortable fit. Currently on sale for $90, the pants feature ankle zippers and adjustable button cuffs for quick adjustments, and feature four reflective panels. The Luminite 3-in-1 jacket has proven itself in a variety of riding conditions. The waterproof, hooded shell and removable, reversible, insulated vest can be combined or worn separately depending on the temperature and conditions, and has pockets in all the right places.
Comfortable, grippy, stylish kicks that are equally suitable for mountain biking and the rest of life. The reinforced toe saved my foot from getting caught between the rock and my pedal a few times. While I love the new “Spruce/Berm brown” style, I have the older blue and orange model that is currently on sale.
My favorite headwear without a helmet.
This summer I added Hiplok’s Z Lok safety tie to my small bike bag. At 2.5 ounces, it’s almost imperceptibly light, and while it’s not going to stop a professional bike thief—I wouldn’t trust it in a treacherous city like San Francisco—the steel core is strong enough to give me peace of mind. I think about it when I park my bike on the beach.
I’ve also lent the combination-based Hiplok Spin to my son, who finds the four-digit code easier to operate than a key. It has everything I want in a lock – and a few things I didn’t know I wanted. Strong but not too heavy, reflective and wearable.
If you’re looking for an affordable water bottle to keep your water cool, Polar makes excellent 20- and 24-ounce insulated compressed water bottles in several different color options. Just add some ice and your water will stay cool — even on long drives. Starting at around $16, they’re BPA-free and come with a lifetime warranty.
I had been wearing the same bike helmet for a long time. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends replacing your helmet at least every 10 years, and mine was at least that old. After doing some research, I opted for a mountain bike helmet for added protection and, in my opinion, a cooler look. After a few trials I settled on the Smith Forefront 2 mountain bike helmet. I love it.
Most importantly, it has MIPS architecture that can reduce the impact force on your brain. It’s relatively light and breathable, and its interior features Koroyd — a layer that offers extra crash protection and a way to eliminate bugs.
The right shades are essential for riding in all weathers and all seasons, and I have a few to recommend. On the higher end, Speedtrap’s HiPER sunglasses are really good: the adjustable frame is light but strong, and the replaceable, scratch-resistant lenses, easy to get in and out, provide 100% UV protection. And they produce less fog than most other glasses I’ve tested.
For evening walks, I used the Adidas Sport SP0001, which comes with two lens options – one of which is optimized for low light levels. And finally, there’s the Smith Optics Tempo ChromaPop, which feels comfortable and safe to wear.
I’ve been using Strava to track and share walks (and runs and walks) for years. But in March, I upgraded to Strava’s subscription service, which costs $8 a month — $60 if you pay up front for a full year. I did this mainly for security purposes: the app’s “Beacon” feature allows you to choose a contact that can track your whereabouts during each trip. But there are other attractive features, including advanced training metrics and leaderboards.
I will not suggest that it is the safest option for listening to music while cycling. Many cyclists frown on the practice of wearing headphones while cycling, arguing that all your senses should be alert for danger. I think it makes a lot of sense and I won’t argue otherwise.
If you listen to music while driving (or running), you can reduce the risks with a set of headphones that don’t completely shut you off from the outside world. A pair with some version of transparency mode, like the Apple AirPods Pro, is a good bet.
Otherwise, I highly recommend the Adidas FWD-01. They are comfortable to wear, easy to operate with one hand, and loud enough to be heard even in very windy conditions. They have a built-in microphone, so you can switch to a call when needed. The waterproof knitted fabric cable is lightweight and tangle-free. And the battery life is great.
More training basics
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or health goals.