Saturday, May 25, 2019

Avoid Buying Bike-Specific Items When it Makes Sense

The more I ride bikes and the more bikes I own and outfit, the more bike-related stuff I've accumulated over the years - something I'm not happy about. Along with thoughts of paring down the fleet someday (I can get by with only 3 bikes), I've been slowly clearing out the parts bin and thinking about how I've adapted in other ways too - maybe not consciously - but by necessity and creatively, adopting a minimalist/re-use approach, using alternative, multi-function biking/hiking accessories that can be accommodated on most of my bikes.

Hardware Store Protective Eye Wear
Need clear lenses on cloudy days or to protect your eyes against dust, road dirt, and pollen? Look no further than your local hardware store. I've had good luck with stylish, safety goggles (see photo above) for less than 10 bucks. There's usually a good selection.

Inclement Weather
You know your climate and what's feasible for your personal comfort and miles traveled. For a relatively short commute, I'm digging a rubberized poncho (see above photo). The idea was born from sweating inside a coated nylon raincoat in our humid summers. I also needed rain protection for a planned multiday hike in a wet climate. I've stuck with the poncho for rainy rides for 2 years now plus I can cover my hands to keep them dry and warm.

Bungee Cords are Your Friends: knot two together for a quasi cargo net. I can't praise enough how useful bungee cords are for strapping down unexpected purchases. My favorite system is using a smaller Delta brand cargo net (with 4 red hooks), but the above photo shows how you can create your own device. My son brought the homemade net along on a NYC adventure as backup. In addition to a net I always carry a lightweight nylon bag (the type that folds into a tiny pouch), handy for unexpected purchases.

Wear What's Comfortable: I'm a t-shirt wearer in summer heat, not caring for synthetic tops because of their fowl odor after one hot ride.  Any type of stiff-soled sandals work well on flat pedals - if desired add a sock layer for extra warmth.

Cold Weather Gear
Look no further than your ski garments: parka, long underwear, warm mitts, neck gator, balaclava, or everyday winter boots.

How to Carry Your Stuff
A replacement for well-made panniers is hard to come by, especially for bicycle touring - unless you're a backpack lover or have constructed bomb-proof Kitty litter container panniers. However, I discovered that small duffel bags are a practical alternative (use that "cargo bungee" to strap it down), size is perfect on my Dahon's limited rear rack capacity and many come with a shoulder strap for handy carrying off the bike. It's also a lightweight, inexpensive solution compared with traditional panniers. And you might already have one in a closet.

A fanny pack (remember those?) is still a viable, safe way to tote personal items. Loop the waist belt around your handlebars and it doubles as a bar bag, easily removed once you're at your destination.

Clean-up Supplies
Liquid dish soap is great for cleaning grimy hands after a bike maintenance session. Squirt undiluted detergent onto hands, rub, and wipe hands with paper towels. Then clean hands as normal. In place of  Citrasolv (though I like the smell) try Simple Green (comes in bulk) diluted in a handy container - good for cleaning squealing rims, quick hand-wiping between handling parts, and grease remover on brake parts or grips (which I inevitably get dirty).

The Common Bandanna
Bandannas are multi-purpose, doubling as nose wiper, potholder for bike camping, neck warmer, hair tie, etc. Having one handy when the inevitable roadside repair happens mean you'll have a clean-up  cloth, a handy item that's easily replaced.

What would you add to the list?


  1. Not sure this counts but I have used orphan socks for storing inner tubes in my saddle bag so they don't get punctured by other stuff in the bag and for putting around a metal water bottle ala Kleen Kanteen so it doesn't rattle in the bottle cage. I also sometimes use those mini flashlights that are in hardware stores (about the size of a salt shaker) as front bike lights or to attach to my helmet with zip ties for more light.

    1. Socks count! I've even heard you can use socks for hand and arm warmers.

    2. I too use small flashlight on my helmet for extra visibility.

  2. Good tips. At one time I was buying breathable, quick dry clothing from bike specific companies then I found I could get some of the same type clothing from Wrangler and Eddie Bauer quite a bit cheaper. I almost always have a bandana and bungee cords with me. I also keep some of those cheap flashlights around for headlight use. I've repurposed various bags for bike use a few times.

    1. Since we're the same age and have multiple bikes we've had to become resourceful, eh?. I realize I'm very much like my Dad, though my duct tape needs to be leopard print and not bland grey ;)

  3. I find Buffs are good year-round headgear. In heat they keep sweat out of your eyes and in cold they can cover your head/ears without being too bulky to fit under a helmet.

    1. Buffs are a personal favorite - forgot to mention them. I also plan to use one on a long distance hike to keep my hair in check!

  4. Ponchos are great for urban cycling, but are not so good on a tour as the wind catches them.
    Why spend loads on waterproof panniers, just use a plastic rubble bag as a liner and you have complete waterproofing.
    To keep your feet dry in wet weather put a plastic bag over your socks before putting on your cycling shoes.

  5. Most of my bike accessories are in fact bike-specific. Lights, fenders,racks, trunk bag, and panniers are all made for bike use. That doesn't stop me from using them, particularly the headlights, for non-bikey purposes, but sometimes the best choice really is the bike-specific stuff. Like my poncho: I have one from Cleverhood that works better than anything else that I've tried, including four different jackets of varying levels of "waterproofness". Why should I use substandard stuff when better options exist?

    Where I agree with you 100% is in the minimalist and re-use mindset. I've been paring down my possessions quite a bit in recent years - not just bikey stuff - and naturally that extends to biking, too. My accessories purchases tend to last for 5 years or more and often show some signs of being mended (in some cases mended well; others, not so much, but still functional). I don't even like getting the obligatory water bottle or other crap in the "swag bag" for riders at some large rides. I have one bottle - a Kleen Kanteen 800 ml in stainless steel - that I use for everything (hiking, biking, beer fests, etc...), rather than an array of forgettable and difficult to clean plastic bottles.


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