If you’re looking for a free bike, or any bike for that matter, this is stuff you will almost certainly need.
Cycling without a helmet is illegal in some countries, though not in the UK. However, if you do crash and hit your head you’ll want to be wearing one.
These are a legal requirement in the UK for cycling at night. Your bike will need reflectors too. You don’t need very expensive ones unless you’re planning on cycling in unlit areas. Really cheap ones don’t tend to last very long though. Small ones are cheap and handy but the CR232 batteries can be more expensive to replace.
It doesn’t need to be very expensive lock if your bike is cheap but a lock is still essential to deter thieves. D-locks are the most secure but are expensive, inflexible and heavy. For a cheap bike a chain-style lock should be enough to deter most thieves.
You want to be as visible as possible when cycling so some sort of bright-coloured clothing is advisable. You can use a cheap hi-viz waistcoat or ‘Sam Browne’ belt. A proper cycling jacket will be more comfortable and most are waterproof too.
Getting a track pump with a gauge will make a big difference to your cycling enjoyment. They make it so much easier to pump your tyres to the right level. If you can’t stretch to a track pump a hand one will do fine.
Repair Kit and Multitool
A puncture repair kit is essential, unless you intend to take your bike to the shop to get fixed each time you have a puncture. A multi-tool is also very handy to have for adjustments and will be essential if you are using a free bike. Find the best multitool for your needs at Best Multitool For You.
It’s not always possible to patch up inner tubes and if you ever have to repair a puncture in the rain it’s much easier to have a spare inner tube. Make sure you get the right size for your bike – this will be written on the side of the tyre.
If you obtain a free bike you may also need to replace:
Old tyres can blow out, even if the treads look ok. You really need to take the tyres off the bike and check them on the inside to make sure the sidewalls are in good condition. If you are only using a bike on roads the tyres don’t need deep treads and knobbly tyres are best avoided. Schwalbe tyres are very good and not too expensive. The Marathon Plus tyres, although seemingly expensive, are virtually immune to punctures and last so much longer than most tyres they are actually very good value. Make sure you get the right size of tyres for your wheels. Mountain bikes and many hybrids generally takes 26″ tyres wherease racing bikes and many commuting bikes take 700c. It will normally say on the existing tyres what the size is.
If the chain skips or creaks while you are pedalling it will probably need replaced. Poor gear shifting may also indicate a worn-out chain. You will probably need a special tool to replace the chain so it may be cheaper just taking the bike to a shop and asking for a new chain.
Inspect your brake pads closely. If there isn’t much rubber left they may need replaced. You will need to make sure you get the right type of brake pads for your bike. Mountain bikes generally have Vee Brakes (which aren’t shaped like a V) though older ones may have calliper brakes. If your bike has disc pads you will need to get ones for the specific make of disc brakes.
Brake and gear cables and housing
Luckily these are fairly standard sizes on all bikes, however bear in mind that brake cables and gear cables are different sizes. It’s possible to get rid of rust by giving the cables a light sanding however it’s best to replace old cables. It will be much easier if you have special bike-cable cutters to trim the cables and housing.
If the handlebar grips are done you can remove them by squirting soapy water under the edges and working them free. Newer, better quality grips tend to have tightening bolts.
If the pedals are done they can be tough to remove so it may be an idea to take your bike to a bike shop and ask them to do it. A 15mm wrench sometimes works but isn’t quite the right shape. It is very important to remember that on most bikes the left pedal has the threads reversed so you need to loosen it by turning clockwise.