Family Cycling Gear Guide

Bits for Bikes

Adding accessories to your bike or body can make your biking more enjoyable and/or convenient.  Let’s look at some of the gear available and how it might be useful to your biking family.

More Gear for You and Your Bike

Panniers

Panniers (or ‘saddlebags’ if your bike were a horse) are handy for carrying all that stuff you never needed before kids! It’s much more comfortable than carrying it all on your back. Usually they attach to a rack, either front, or more commonly, back. Some clever kiwis have designed some that just attach to your front cross bar, handlebars or seat – good old kiwi-ingenuity!

Bike Racks

‘Bike rack’ could mean three things. In council-speak it is a thing for parking your bike on or against. In bike-shop-speak, racks might be for bikes to carry stuff; or they could be for cars to carry bikes. I’ll talk about Bike Parking facilities, Bike storage and Vehicle Racks later. For the practical minded amongst us, racks enable us to attach panniers, child seats, baskets and all manner of improvisations that transform our bikes into beasts of burden. Choose a quality one, and if it is for a kiddy seat, make sure it meets the weight and size specifications of the seat manufacturer.

A word of caution: Cheap racks love to break, particularly in the middle of nowhere, leaving you in the predicament of where exactly to hang your panniers now?

Cargo Trailers

For touring, or shopping trips, a cargo trailer is one way to pull your extra gear around. Or even move house. Our chariot child trailer sometimes did double duty as a cargo trailer.

20160203_205644_edited-1.jpg

A home-made cargo trailer is used to carry the ‘Fattie’ to the start of the ride. Who needs a car? Source: Hutt Valley Mountain Bike Club – ‘Orange’.

Water carrying

Water Bottles

Bottle cages attach to your bike frame or handlebars to hold water bottles. They are convenient, and you can see them, which reminds you to drink. Water bottles are easily replaced if you lose one. It takes some practice to get used to drinking whilst riding, and is a skill best acquired once you are feeling confident with your riding.

Water Packs (Hydration Packs)

On the outside these look like a backpack, and vary in size from small to huge. What sets them apart is that they have a water bladder and drinking tube, enabling you to carry your water on your back and drink without holding a water bottle. 1 litre of water = 1 kilogram, so you will have extra weight on your back, but at least gets lighter as you drink. On the downside you won’t know how much water is left until you take off your pack and take a peek, or run dry. Except for the smallest packs, most have space for you to carry snacks, first aid kit, a jacket, etc. We find them very handy for full day outings. They come in child sizes, although until a child is confidently cycling distances on their own, you probably won’t want to weigh them down too much.

Tip: The trick to keeping a water bladder from growing green and furry on the inside is to keep it (mostly empty) in the freezer when not in use. Take care if freezing it full, as water expands when frozen and you don’t want to burst your bladder.

Bike Computer / Odometer

A lot of cyclists are gear freaks. And bike computers are nifty little devices. You can pick one up relatively cheaply from bike or outdoor equipment shops, and they are a handy way of measuring how far you’ve ridden. Kids love to keep track of their distances, and might like to write them in a trip diary or travel journal. It is also useful for planning rest stops, figuring out where you are, setting snack-stop goals and regrouping points. You can get similar measurements via apps on your smartphone, but you’ll need a special phone holder and confidence in your battery life.

Clothing

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”
A. Wainwright, A Coast to Coast Walk: A Pictoral Guide

Bike Shorts (nix)

Nix are bike shorts with padding (chamois) in the area of saddle-contact (your bum). There are ‘shy-shorts’ where the padded bit is hidden beneath normal baggy shorts, or you can go for all-out lycra. At first it may feel like wearing a nappy, however on longer rides, the advantages of having some padding between your bottom and your saddle will become obvious, sooner or later! And yes, you can get them in kid sizes – have a look online.

Top Tips – preventing saddle sores: Some discomfort is inevitable as your body adjusts to cycling. Padded or gel saddles or seat covers, are alternatives to padded shorts. If you do experience some saddle sores, any cream that helps with nappy rash will assist, although of course prevention is best. Hygiene is essential, meaning clean, dry cycling shorts everyday. Use non-fragranced, plant-based, mild laundry detergent and warm machine wash gently to ensure no soap residue is left behind.

Jackets

Rather than let the rain keep you stuck inside, invest in some good rain jackets. Lightweight layers, which can be added and easily stowed, are the way to go. When buying a rain jacket, find one that is more than just shower-proof, and with some reflective strips or visibility features. For winter cycling to school and the shops I like to put my old ski jacket to use, as it keeps me both warm and dry.

Gloves

Cycling gloves or mitts are handy on long rides, offering better grip, cushioning and sweat absorption. They also provide some protection from grazes if you fall off and land on your hands. Fingerless ones are great for summer, and in the colder months, full-finger warm gloves will keep you comfortable. Gloves made for cycling will have padding where you need it.

Legal requirements

Helmets

In New Zealand you must wear a cycle helmet. Despite debates on both sides of the argument, it boils down to one thing: it is the law. Your helmet must meet an approved standard and be securely fastened.

Further advice from the NZTA:

  • Check that your helmet is the right size. It should fit snugly on your head with a minimum use of pads. It’s not a good idea to buy a child a helmet that they will ‘grow into’.
  • If your cycle helmet gets damaged, replace it with a new one.

Legal requirements for your bike:

  • Brakes on front and back wheels (just on the back if it was made before 1 January 1988).
  • A rear reflector visible from 100 metres when light shines on it.
  • If you want to ride your cycle on the road during the hours of darkness, it must have:
    • one or two white or amber headlights that can be seen from a distance of 100 metres (one of these headlights may flash)
    • one or more red rear facing lights that can be seen from a distance of 100 metres (this may be steady or flashing), and
    • pedal retroreflectors on the forward and rearward facing surfaces of each pedal (or if the bike does not have these the cyclist must be wearing reflective material).

Bells

Surprisingly, a bell is not a legal requirement in New Zealand. Act as if it were, and ensure all your bikes have bells, especially as much of your family cycling will be on shared use paths and footpaths. You can give other path users a huge shock if you silently glide up behind them. It is bad news if they swerve in the same direction that you are passing them in. A friendly ping of your bell as you approach them (not from right behind them) is courtesy. This gives them the opportunity to move aside, gather their child and/or dog close and for you to work out the safest way to get around them. Share with care.

Tools and repair kits

I like to carry the following on my bike at all times:

Pump Make sure of the following:

  1. It fits your type of bike tube valves, as there are two types: Schrader (car valve) and Presta (high pressure). Some pumps do both, some don’t.
  2. It is securely attached to your bike
  3. You know how to use it.
Spare Tube Fitting a spare tube is quicker than mending a puncture. Enabling you to take the punctured tube home and repair it in comfort (with the aid of YouTube if need be!). Make sure it is the correct size and valve type.
Multi Tool Like pocket-knives where lots of little tools fold up into one really handy wee contraption. If you are lucky it will include tyre levers. If you are even luckier you’ll know how to use the bits and pieces or someone will assist you who does (and be amazed by your preparedness!)
Puncture repair kit Small kits containing repair patches, sandpaper and glue.
Tyre Levers Necessary for separating the tyre away from the wheel rim so you can get the tube out to repair it. Get quality ones as some are too flimsy and easily broken to be of use.
Emergency cash If all else fails, have enough cash for a calming coffee, an emergency train or taxi ride.
Mobile Phone For those times when calling for help and a lift are the best solution.

Tip: when you buy a bike you may try getting them to throw in some extras, like a pump and spare tube, for free.

Floor Pumps

As well as small portable pumps for carrying on your bike, you can also get larger ‘Floor Pumps’. These come up to about knee height and their size gives you more pumping power: so you can do the job quicker with less effort. Try and get one with a gauge (so you can check that you have the correct tyre pressure) and one that does both Presta and Schraeder valves.

Locks

A lock is a handy way to deter thieves from riding off with your bike. When choosing a lock consider its size and weight, how you will carry it, and what size things you need to be able to lock your bike to.

Tips:

  • A long cable can be handy for locking all the families bikes together.
  • Combination locks are best for children: less stress about losing a key.
  • Locks are really just a deterrent, so be mindful of where you park your bike, as it will be safer in a more visible location.
  • When locking your bike, try and thread the lock around the frame, and not just the wheels, which are easily removed.
  • If bike theft is a real problem in your area, consider using multiple locks, using a u-lock or using the brand they use in New York city (‘Kryptonite’).

I’ll provide more advice on locking your bike in future posts.

Lights

A good set of lights will have you happily cycling all year round! Lights vary from tiny little LEDs to powerful rechargeable systems for nighttime off-road riding. You can even get rear lights with in-built cameras. In my house the general approach to lights is that more are better! We prefer a mixture:

  • Little battery powered lights, front and rear, kept on the bike at all times. We use ones that attach via built-in elastic bands
  • Powerful front lights when it is dark or gloomy, with long lasting rechargeable battery packs, enabling us to see as well as be seen.

Remember: White lights to the front. Red to the rear. Go for powerful lights but try not to blind anyone!

NZ Consumer (www.consumer.org.nz) have tested bike lights and can recommend some good ones. Greater Wellington Regional Council also offer some great advice at http://www.gw.govt.nz/be-safe-be-seen/We found adding lights to kiddie trailers to be a bit tricky and ended up using a LED lit reflective chest strap, designed for runners, attached to the rear handle of the trailer.

Bike storage

Where will you keep your bike when you are not riding it? How do you make sure it is protected from elements but not in the way?

  • Floor mounted bike stand. These handy stands are usually freestanding, or can be bolted to the floor. You can get a range of sizes, from single bike to multiple bikes, and some are modular, meaning multiple units can be put together to accommodate more bikes. They are easy to install, but they do take up floor space, can be prone to toppling, and it can be hard to get bikes in and out when the slots are too close together.
  • Wall mounted bike hooks. A variety of options exist, enabling you to store bikes vertically (usually via a hook on the front wheel) or horizontally (two hooks under the crossbar). They get your bikes off the floor and utilise unused wall space. But upper body strength is needed to lift the bike up and down, and you will likely get marks on your walls. Hint: you can store more bikes if the vertical hooks are installed alternately higher and lower.
  • Ceiling hoists and hooks. Options include a simple hook from the ceiling for horizontal or vertical storage, or a clever hoist that utilises pulleys to raise your bike off the floor to hang from the ceiling. They get your bikes off the floor and avoid marking walls. But (except for the pulley system) it is hard work to lift the bike up that high, and a bike hanging from the ceiling can be painful to accidentally walk into, or stand up under.
Experience: We are fortunate to have space in the garage for most of our bikes. It helps that we only have one car, as our bikes are our primary form of transport. Even then, we find bikes are competing for space with the washing, and all the usual garage and shed paraphernalia. We utilise a combination of all of the above options to keep our bikes stowed in the garage. Spare bikes (yes, we have those) go in the garden shed in a jumble with the lawn mower and garden tools.Want more? Just google “image bike storage options” and start drooling.

Tip: If you have nowhere indoors to store your bikes, consider securing them outside then covering them with a BBQ cover (the four or five burner type).

Good Kiwi Gear:

http://www.stealthbikebags.com

http://www.groundeffect.co.nz

http://www.roadworks.co

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