You’ll need a few essentials when you purchase your bike. A pump is an absolute necessity. If you can afford only one, we suggest a midsize compact model like the Bontrager Mini Charger, which generates quite a bit of volume so you won’t be pumping all day, but it’s small enough to pack along when you ride.
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Ideally, you’ll also get a floor pump for home use. Something like the Lezyne Classic Overdrive might cost a bit more than others, but the steel barrel and quality construction will ensure it lasts a lot longer. If you buy a floor pump, you might consider the Cannondale Airspeed Dually for your portable since it can air up both tires and suspension.
Also grab a multitool, such as the Park Tool MT-30, for making adjustments or repairs in the field.
Pedals are another key item. We strongly favor clipless pedals, which basically connect you to the bike for improved efficiency, though they take some practice. Shimano SPDs are the oldest and most reliable standard. We generally go for something like the M520, with clip options on both sides, though the M324 is great for starting out since it has a clip on one side and a platform on the other in case you want to ride without being attached.
Then there’s the cycling shoe, which is stiff enough to act as a platform when pedaling and accommodates the cleats that clip into the pedals. The biggest thing to look for when starting out is a soft rubber outsole that’s durable and easy to walk in yet rigid enough for comfortable pedaling. We like the more lifestyle-oriented designs, such as the Five Ten Maltese Falcon and the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Enduro IV.
Finally, the helmet. You can spend $500 or more on head protection, but we say start simple, because the safety ratings are all the same. Giro is possibly the biggest name in the game. The company’s Revel is good looking and well ventilated and offers the option of MIPS, a technology Giro says mitigates rotational force in a crash to help prevent concussions.
Beyond those necessities, you can spend lots of money on additional gear: apparel, sunglasses, tools, new tires, and electronics such as GPS, heart rate monitors, and power meters. The list goes on.
Skip all that stuff if you’re on a budget, with one big exception: padded shorts. You can spend a fortune—the Assos T.Rallyshorts_S7s are some of the finest and most comfortable on the market and cost a wallet-lashing $420—but the most important things are a good pad and form fit, which can be had in something like the Pearl Izumi Men’s Attack short for a fifth of the cost. The chamois will save your soft parts. Your baggies, tops, jackets, and everything else from running, skiing, or other activities will pull double duty on the bike just fine.