Bicycles are as synonymous with Brooklyn summertime as Ample Hills cones and sky-high electric bills. Not only are they fun and festive, but as anyone who regularly travels from Park Slope to Williamsburg can tell you, a bike can be a real time saver. Twenty minutes of pedaling in the fresh air sure beats an hour navigating elaborate bus connections or long circuitous subway rides.
But the city streets can be intimidating to a new urban rider—especially with terrifying hit and runs in the headlines. Feeling like a wobbly, unprepared noob kept me from riding my bike in the city for a long time.
But that’s where stuff comes in. Glorious stuff! A few key items have really made all the difference in my riding confidence. I feel relaxed and in control, and my bike gets more weekend use than my MetroCard these days. Here are six gear game-changers and bicycle hacks that will pimp out your ride and help keep you comfortable and safe.
A Spacious Pannier
A pannier is basically just a bag for your bike. It hooks sturdily onto your rear rack, giving you the ability to easily transport a decent amount of stuff without weighing down your bod with a backpack or purse.
Most of the options I was presented with at Brooklyn’s bike shops cost upward of $80 and had a lot more bells and whistles than I really needed. At one shop I asked the guy if he had anything under $60, and he returned with a rickety wire basket that looked like something Miss Gulch from the Wizard of Oz would use. That would’ve cost me $35.
Luckily, a friend tipped me off to Banjo Brothers’ affordable, good-looking gear, and I eventually settled on their $50 Market Pannier, delivered right to my door by the blessed elves at Amazon.
It’s dynamically sized, so I can fold it out for a grocery run, or fold it up if I’m just throwing my purse in there. It’s about as waterproof as any casual urban cyclist would need. And best of all, it’s super easy to remove and attach, and it’s equipped with a shoulder strap, so you can tote it into the bar without feeling like you’re carrying a briefcase.
Not having to stress about backpack sweat, or my cross-body purse whacking my thighs and screwing up my pedaling rhythm, has been extremely freeing. If you regularly carry stuff places, I can’t recommend this baby enough.
(Of course in order to use a pannier on your bike, you also need a rear rack. They run about $30 or less, and a bike shop can install it for you for about $15 in labor. I think it’s well worth the cost, but I’m not particularly handy. You just need a screwdriver and more patience than I have in order to do it yourself.)
I’m not cool enough to always know where I’m going in Brooklyn. Google Maps has spoiled me and I am not afraid to admit it. Riding around the city without a good sense of what my next move had to be was always anxiety-inducing, but then I got hip to phone mounts.
This doodad attaches to your front handle bars and cradles your iPhone securely in view, allowing you to use your GPS app of choice without risking your safety, and without risking ruining your $400 device.
On my first few rides with this thing, I was a little jittery. But after much use I can attest that it really works. The plastic and rubber grips are super sturdy and keep my phone in perfect place. Even when I cruised right into a pothole so deep it popped my tire (whoops), this mount held my iPhone sturdily in place on my handlebars.
I’m so much more confident with a real-time sense of where I’m going and what I’m doing next. It also allows you to turn your phone into a makeshift boom box for lazy nighttime rides home. (Did I mention I like to listen to Ke$ha on my bike rides?)
An Actually Stylish Bike Helmet
Helmets save lives, and as tempting as it might be to cruise around town in just your top knot and a smile, you need to be safe out there. So get one that makes you feel cool when you wear it. Brands like Nutcase, Giro and Bern make reliably dope iterations, and they come in so many colors, patterns and styles.
I’ve got a black Bern helmet because I’m boring, but it makes me feel more stylish than my dorky old mountain biking helmet did. It’s comfortable and easily adjustable, so when I want to wear my beanie underneath it on cool-weather rides, I can loosen things up to make room.
I’m shallow, so a big bike-riding deterrent for me used to be clothes. I hated the idea of having to dress any certain way in order to ride my bike around. I felt like it defeated the purpose of easy breezy cycling if I was going to have to spend a half hour “kitting up” and pack a change of clothes.
“Just wear pants!” my male cyclist friends would scoff. But my summer uniform is mostly dresses, and I didn’t want to change that for any man, beast, or bike. And while I see many gorgeously poised women riding their road bikes in skirts like total pros, I know I am not coordinated enough to avoid flashing people while on my bike.
If flashing-anxiety holds you back too, and you can’t seem to pull off the penny in your pants trick, get yourself some teeny activewear shorts to toss on under your skirt. I’m not talking knee-length 90s-style bike shorts, I’m talking shorts so small they’re basically underwear, but are not actually underwear, and therefore will seem acceptable if exposed to strangers. You’ll avoid the fourth-grade-flashback humiliation if your skirt blows up or gets snagged on your seat, and you’ll feel more relaxed while riding. Just take ‘em off when you arrive wherever you’re going if you don’t want to wear the extra layer all day.
Yes To Carrots Cucumber Towelettes
$10 for two 30 packs
Again, with the shallowness: I used to avoid riding my bike because I get very sweaty and smelly when I ride, and then I would be worried no one would want to make out with me after.
Listen, no one likes the word “towelettes,” or even the concept behind them (soggy paper? gag), but trust me, it’s worth it to keep these on you when you bike around this summer. Upon arrival I duck into the bathroom and give myself a quick once-over with one of these guys, and I feel like a million bucks. The smell is pleasant, gender-neutral and understated, not overly perfumed or alcohol-heavy. Your make-out prospects will remain in tact, promise.
Here’s another stupid thing I used to do a lot: Forget to bring my bike lights. I’d straight up forget them as I set off for a nice ride in the sunshine, and then I’d end up taking my bike home on the bus after dark.
I like this Cat Eye pair because they involve a sturdy mount that always stays attached to your bike, and the on-and-off process to remove the lights themselves is smooth and seamless. Slide them off after you park and bring them into the bar with you (you don’t want some rude teen to steal your lights, do you?), and slide them back on for your trip home. No straps, buckles, or extra malarkey. Easy.
Never underestimate the confidence-boosting power of stuff. Now, hit the road!
Stay tuned later today for the second part of our essential bike gear roundup: how to attach speakers to your bike!
Share the road and enjoy the tweets with Jess: @JessKeefe.