It’s that time of year again, when the true spirit of Christmas is upon us: buying and receiving crap. I have this faint notion that that’s not what it’s supposed to be about, but who has time for reflection? There’s crap to buy!
So what do you get your spouse/partner/family member/friend/co-worker who likes the bicycle riding? There’s so much out there it’s hard to know where to start, and more often than not cyclists are hard to buy for, being unreasonably prone to delusional impressions of what they need vs what they want vs “I can’t possibly use that because it doesn’t match my riding kit/bike colour-scheme/ultra-precious fashion sense”. I jest (do I?), but knowing what I know about experienced cyclists, they usually have most things they need, and are too particular to get them something that they want (that they’re likely to use). People new to cycling are easier to buy things for, for obvious reasons. Both types of cyclists are easier to buy for if you go for something a bit more frivolous, but it does carry with it a slightly higher chance of it missing the mark a little or never getting used, having more to do with taste than having a strictly practical use. Nevertheless, fun is usually a bit more fun than practical is.
To make things easier, I present you with the 2015 edition of The Sticky Bidon’s Christmas gift guide™!
I’m going to try to give you a few general gift ideas to consider if you are stuck for something to buy (assuming you still do that) for the cycling recipient. I’ll cover a single, broad category of product each day and then break it up into rough price brackets (in AUD$). Today, lets start on the less-fun/more-practical side, with things that can keep you out of trouble, and get you out of it if you are already there: safety and mechanical stuff.
Before we get into it, I’ll just say this: there are many, many good products out there. My recommendations aren’t based on having tried everything and telling you what is the absolute best, but these are all what I have experienced to be good quality products, having either owned them or tried them. Obviously there are other products out there that have a similar level of quality and/or value.
Up to $50
One of the best ways for cyclists to be seen, and therefore, not hit, on the roads and paths. Maybe even the best way. I can’t remember where I read it, but blinking lights are especially eye-catching to people because they are something that is not found in nature. For less than $50 you are not going to get a set of lights that is bright enough to do anything more than alert others of your presence, and even then, they won’t be exceptionally bright, but theses days that will still get you something decent. For the most part, they will still be powered by regular old batteries, but decent quality USB rechargeable lights sets are getting into or near the $50 mark. The upside to regular batteries is that you won’t have yet another device to put have to worry about charging every few days, and if you are going somewhere with your bike that isn’t near a power source… well, you don’t need me to spell that out for you.
Recommendation: Cheaper option: Lezyne Femto light set. Small, slick design, multiple colours, really easy to put on and take off, a host of flashing and steady modes, and reasonably bright for the price and size. Want to spend the full $50 (possibly plus a few dollars)? Try the Infini Lava light set (rear here). Even smaller, just as easy to put on and take off, USB rechargeable (tip: when the low battery indicator turns on, you won’t have much time left before it shuts off), and far brighter than you would expect.
Bells. Yes, bells. You might think they’re lame, but they’re pretty useful and they don’t have to embarrass you in front of your roadie friends if you get the right one. I have a tiny one that most people don’t even spot from BBB and costs less than $10, but if you want something a little better, get yourself a Trigger Bell. You may not need it for your race day bike, but for anything else that you use for tranporting yourself from A to B in any way, discover the practicalities of a bell.
If the person is a commuter and you just want a cheaper stocking stuffer (aside from a bell), try a backpack cover. These are usually water-proof, brightly coloured, and have reflective elements built-in. Good visibility for those who won’t wear a high-vis vest.
Two easy suggestions. The first is something that a lot of people do without, but when you need one, you usually really need one. The multi tool. The loose bolt. A broken chain. A quick adjustment. If nothing else, it’s handy to have at home for any of these things too.
Recommendation: Cheaper option: Lezyne V7 or VS (a slightly more expensive silver colour) Multi Tool. Want to spend the full $50? Try the Lezyne V11 which adds a few more bits and a chain breaker. Alternatively, you could try the Crank Brothers Multi17 tool, or the Serfas STI-13 tool if you fancy a built-in CO2 inflator.
The second suggestion is a hand pump to take with you on the bike (which obviously necessitates the presence of a spare tube or patches, and tyre levers). It is when, not if, you get a pucture, so unless you like walking home, be prepared. Again, there are a number of nice pumps out there.
Recommendations: Topeak have a number of very good pumps. Genuine Innovation’s Second Wind incorporats a CO2 option into it, is small, light, and comes in carbon (if you must), and isn’t terribly expensive. I’ve had one for a few years and it’s worked a treat. I’m afraid I’m going to have to start sounding like a broken record because this isn’t the last time I’m going to suggest a Lezyne product… Give the Tech Drive HP a look. It’s within the budget, is made from CNC machined alloy, and, the feature that clinches it for me is the flex hose that all of their pumps come with. The hose takes some of the impact of each stroke, which means that there is far less of a chance of either ripping the valve from the tube or bending the core of the presta valve (which may cause it to snap) brought on by a bout of furious road-side pumping, as can happen with pumps that fix directly to the valve. Plus, the threaded attachment gives a better connection, especially when a) you are stuck with a 42mm valve in a 30mm rim (so frustrating!), and b) the tube is devoid of any real air pressure and the valve wants to retreat back into the tyre. These two things make even the best pumps with a standard thumb-lock connection frustrating to use. The Air Bleed System (ABS) is pretty good too.
Up to $100
Within $100 you will be getting a brighter, USB rechargeable light set, or a pretty bright front light on its own. Rear lights don’t tend to get frightfully expensive as their main job is to catch the eye rather than light up the road 300m ahead. If the person already has a decent rear light, a better front light is always welcome.
Recommendation: Moon Comet front and rear. These are staggeringly bright, but they aren’t focused, so the front will be for attracting attention only. Really nice design and consistent intensity for the full 180 degrees of visibility. I especially like the good quality and adjustable mount for both front and rear (can be angled), and the rear comes with an additional mount for attaching to your seat rails for a cleaner look. Just want to get a more powerful front light? Try Light and Motion’s Urban 350 for a very lightweight and minimal package, excellent quality strap, side illumination, and a superior light spread than most lights (less “spotty” in the centre), and helmet mountable right out of the box.
For the commuters out there, a really brilliant new product for visibility on the roads is Veglo, a strap-on light for your backpack, that integrates a large centre light as well as flashing and reflective straps. Fits any backpack. Definitely give this a look.
I’m surprised by the number of people who don’t have a floor pump, or a pump of any description. You need to maintain your tyre pressure if you are going to keep punctures to a minimum and you will spend less energy and ride faster if you are not pushing under-inflated, squishy tyres around. Using a little hand-pump for regular inflating rather than to get you home in the event of a puncture is annoying and unnecessarily hard work, more so for road tyres that should be 100-120psi… Good luck with that.
Recommendation: Lezyne’s Steel Floor Drive pump is a high-quality pump that will get you change back from your $100. No plastic here. You get a solid aluminum base, steel barrel, comfortable and classy looking wooden handle, a screw-on chuck that makes it far easier to deal with short valves if your’s isn’t long enough, an additional quick-chuck for disc wheels, will do 160psi, and slick-looking and easy to read gauge. Comes in different colours too. If you want to spend a bit more, there are numberous other versions.
Up to $250 (or thereabouts)
You are getting into some pretty serious power outputs at this price point. I have some opinions about using super bright lights on the road, but in the right context, brighter is almost always better. There are all kinds of lights I could suggest, so take your pick.
Recommendations: Serfas TSL-750 is more than enough for road/commute use and will give you plenty of change back from $250. Light and Motion Urban 800FC will give you more of the goodness that the Urban 350 delivers (different colour, but looks the same), plus you get the ability for a fast charge (FC) at just 2.5hrs. There will be tons of people who will tell you to just get the cheap Chinese lights that give you 1000 Lumens for $10, but not me. You still get what you pay for for most things. Some people will have no problems with theirs and tell you that you’re stupid for spending more on a light that you are depending on in the middle of the night, in traffic or bombing down some single track, than what you would for a night at the cinema (which is a huge rip off…). Still, others will get a weeks worth of use out of them before they die (sure, they’re bright for a while, but heat kills lights – that, and cheap circuitry, cheap mounts, bad optics, bad batteries…). You don’t have to spend a fortune, but… ah, do whatever you want!
For something brighter, consider the Gloworm X1 (~$250/950 lumens) or X2 (~$299/1500 lumens) if you want to chip in a few extra dollars. At this output you normally have an external battery, but if you want something extremely bright and without external batteries and cables, give the Indiglo 5 a look (also requiring a little extra cash). Again, consider the impact of running something this bright in traffic.
This last one has both lights and a different kind of safety covered in one package: the Fly6 rear light with integrated HD camera. It can be a dangerous world out there on the roads, and cameras are increasingly used by cyclists of all kinds to capture evidence of being bullied, threatened, or knocked off by motorists. The law in most parts of the world is still unfortunately heavily weighted in the motorists favour, where incidents that should be avoidable are simply written off as an accident, the motorist gets a slap on the wrist, if that, and the cyclist has a long road to recovery from the injuries, if they’re lucky. The Fly6 has just gotten better with the second version, takes up very little space on your bike, has multiple mounting options, continuously loops video for easy operation, is weather-proof, and runs for up to 6 hours. The light is bright, but not the brightest on the market. This is a camera with a good light built-in, not a good light with a camera built-in. It will cost you the full $250 plus a little extra, but it’s worth every penny if you cycle regularly.
Finally, if the person you are buying for is a little more precious to you than most, have a look at ICEdot. This little gadget will send up to 10 people the riders GPS coordinates in the event of an impact, so that if they are riding alone and the worst happens, help can be on its way. The band is a really good idea too…
So there you go. The first round of ideas is on the table. I’ll role out a few more categories this week, so stay tuned.