how to choose essential gear for cycling safety

In the fourth of our 8-part series for beginning cyclists, Genia Blaser, who recently bought her first city bicycle, shops for a helmet, as well as key safety gear.

By Genevieve Walker

Bicycle shops offer an ever-growing array of accessories for city cyclists, but some of these are more than options — lights and bells, for example, are required by New York State law. Before Genia enters the bike lanes, it’s time to assure that her ride is street-legal. Genia also is committed to wearing a bicycle helmet for safety on New York City streets, so her shopping trip includes selecting a helmet that fits properly and looks great.

Big City, Bright Lights

New York State law requires a white headlight and a red taillight. Bright city streets provide a fair amount of overhead light, but cars and other cyclists need to see you coming. So, it is just as important to be visible to cars as it is to light the way. Common light choices include:

    • Lights that come with a mount for your bike. The light can remain mounted when you leave the bike locked up. Or it can be removed from its mount and dropped in your bag to prevent theft.
    • Some compact lights are designed to wrap around a handlebar or other part of the bike frame with a flexible strap or cord. Again, these are easy to carry with you.
    • Bike lights offer different types of of illumination — LED and halogen — and use different power sources — battery power versus dynamo. Your bike shop salesperson can help you select the types that are best suited to your riding needs.

Genia’s pick:  She’ll be using her bicycle primarily for recreational cycling during daylight hours, so Genia chose a set of battery-powered Bookman LED lights. They’re simple to put on and take off, and they fit easily in Genia’s bag. For a list of additional lighting products, click here.


Bicycle Bell Selection
From this array, Genia chose an Origin 8 (black bells, front right). photo: velojoy

Make Yourself Heard

Bells might seem like fun and superfluous accessories, but they are an important safety feature for city cycling. Use them to alert and warn away pedestrians in the bike lanes or at intersections. They’re also handy for letting cyclists know that you’re passing, which is key on bridges and other narrow thoroughfares. There is no exact science (as far as we know) to deciding on the right bell, so let your eyes and ears guide you. In general, louder is better!

Genia’s pick: After ringing a range of bells, Genia chose the Origin 8 spring bell. She liked both its sound and the black finish that doesn’t call attention to itself on the street.


Shopping for a Bicycle Helmet
Paul McNamara, manager of Adeline Adeline, shows Genia a selection of bicycle helmets. photo: velojoy

6 Tips for Helmet Shopping

Many city cyclists (including all 5 contributors to velojoy) choose to wear helmets for  potential reduction of head trauma in the event of an accident. But, to clarify, adults are not required to wear a helmet in New York State; children under 14 are.

Because helmets sold in the U.S. must conform to certain safety standards, choosing one is often as much an esthetic choice as it is about fit. There are many styles of helmets, so a good place to start is to ask yourself what you find most important: ventilation, shape, coverage, or maybe even weight. Skate, or snowboarding-style helmets are popular for urban cycling. These are generally rounder than the classic road style and often heavier.

At Adeline Adeline, store manager Paul McNamara helped guide Genia’s selection. In choosing a bicycle helmet, here are some key tips to keep in mind:

    • The helmet fit should be snug, but not tight. Place the helmet on your head and if there is a back adjustment, synch that up. Wiggle your head around. How does the helmet feel? If it stays put but doesn’t squeeze, then you’ve probably got a match. Most helmets come with a variety of removable padding in different thicknesses to fine-tune fit.  If you think that just a little more or less room would do the trick, check to see if  the model you are trying on comes with these padding options.
    • Next, buckle up the chin strap. Helmets have different chin fasteners and, in general, helmets that cost a little more tend to have easier to use chin strap fasteners. Though a chin strap shouldn’t make or break your decision, a lot can ride on its comfort. So make sure to unhook and hook the clasp a few times. Try it with one hand.
    • A helmet should rest on your forehead without getting in the way of your vision. A very general rule is that two fingers of your brow should be showing beneath your helmet. Any more and you might be wearing it too far back on your head; similarly a poor fit may cause the helmet to sink too low on your forehead.
    • Some helmets are designed to be worn with a ponytail. If this is your primary     concern, then know that your choices might be limited, but that those helmets are  out there.
    • There are gender specific helmets. What this usually means is that a women’s     small will be slightly smaller than the men’s. In general the difference between them is in the colors and patterns offered.
    • A few helmets (some Bern styles, for example) can be used for other sports, such as snowboarding. Helmets that can be used for snowboarding are designed to     withstand multiple impacts, whereas the typical bicycle helmet is designed to     withstand one and then be replaced. The benefit to the classic cycling style (one     hit wonders, if you will) is that they are generally lighter. The benefit to the     multisport is that you might not have to buy another helmet once you have tested its metal.

Genia’s pick: Genia selected a Bern Macon helmet in navy blue with orange straps, both for its appearance and color and for its fit.

To learn more about helmet fit, read this article in Momentum Magazine. In addition, check out this video on choosing a bike helmet.

There are lots of things you can do to pimp your ride, but with a set of lights, a helmet and a bell, you (and Genia) are ready to hit the streets with your new bicycle.

Next up in our bicycle makeover series: How to prevent bike theft.

Top photo: Genevieve Walker

Tags from the story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *