I am not fond of the one-size-fits-all appellation used for the removable items that belong to a bicycle: accessories. As if they weren’t an essential part of the bike itself! They’re perhaps not necessary to make it roadworthy – they’re not parts – but just try cycling without mudguards on a wet day and you’ll come to realise they are crucial to your enjoyment. Some, such as lights and bells, are even a requirement by law. So they all have their purpose, even if they are often thought of as optional gadgets. If some of the cheap plastic accessories remind me of pound shop purchases, standard features so ubiquitous and ordinary that they are overlooked and not a little dull, overall I like the accessories’ practicality, their down-to-earth, no-nonsense approach. To my eyes, they enhance, rather than encumber, a bicycle. I find a bike kitted out to do a job well, prepared for any contingency and that will do its utmost to protect me from dirt, rain and darkness, a very attractive proposition. Even if I secretly admire the power of dreams in cyclists who put their faith in utterly impractical bikes.
I like the accessories’ blend of simplicity and ingenuity, in the same way that I like that in a bike: it does what it says on the tin but it’s clever too. A kickstand – that ‘discredited bicycle component’, according to BikeReader dictionary – was the first addition to my bicycle and I couldn’t do without it now, its nondescript appearance notwithstanding. So useful, but why are they so few? And what about chain guards? Since mine broke, I regularly come home with grease stains on my trousers. The rolling-up of the right trouser leg seems an unknown custom on the Continent, which makes me wonder whether they have worked out a magic formula to remove oil stains. As for the old-fashioned skirt guards, they bring to mind the vision of cycling in a skirt, so appealing yet so daring. The wonderful world of so-called accessories!
Creativity in daily life gets my vote every time. Mudguards seem to bring to the fore our resourcefulness, and I’ve spotted them under various guises (a bit of cardboard, half of a water bottle, a cut-out length of plastic). But the prettiest accessories would have to be bells, which now come in a range of colourful designs thanks to companies like Pylones that appeal to our inner playful child. I am not including here the powerful, aggressive bells that make passers-by jump: effective but no fun. Ode to my bell: a hand-me-down from its previous owner, a wheelchair user, it comes with its share of scratches and bruises, with a history, a baggage even, and I treasure it for that. It has a mind of its own and rings whenever it feels like it, with a frequency that varies depending on the days and the mood. I play along.
‘I really should get some mudguards’, a friend sighs. My approach is the exact opposite: having a bike (or two!) is the perfect excuse to let loose what creativity I’ve got. Accessories are not extras, they’re integral to the style of a bicycle, be it retro, naff, hipster, Tour de France hopeful or run-of-the-mill commuter. Who ever thought that style was optional? And the devil is in the details: nowhere does the personality of a bike shine through better. It’s the difference between an off-the-peg, mass-produced beauty and one that’s been given that look. I sometimes think accessories are the point of the bike because they tell the story behind it. Now, what does that say about me? Indeed, I do like a good story . . .
Less is more, argue some cyclists who like the pure lines of a stripped-down bicycle. Accessories detract from the essentials: frame, wheels, saddle. Thieves seem to concur: mudguards apparently bring down the resale value of a stolen bike. I love a minimalist look too but I disagree: bike accessories are the essentials. They put a final touch to a beautiful bike and make visible how special my bike is to me, tell of the joy of a cycling way of life that is anti-speed and anti-performance. So here’s to the superfluous, the dispensable, the surplus to requirements, the futile, here’s to all the trimmings and to the cherry on the cake when the cake is too hard to be eaten. To the spice of life.